Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Tochigi Prefecture
N36 44 51 E139 36 38
Date of Inscription: 1999
Criteria: (i)(iv)(vi)
Property : 50.8 ha
Buffer zone: 373.2 ha
Ref: 913

The shrines and temples of Nikko, together with their natural surroundings, have for centuries been a sacred site known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces. They are closely associated with the history of the Tokugawa Shoguns.

The Shrines and Temples of Nikko form a single complex composed of one hundred three religious buildings within two Shinto shrines (The Tôshôgû and The Futarasan-jinja) and one Buddhist temple (The Rinnô-ji) located in an outstanding natural setting. The inscribed property is located in Tochigi Prefecture, in the northern part of Japan’s Kanto region. The religious buildings, many of which were constructed in the 17th century, are arranged on the mountain slopes so as to create different visual effects. The first buildings were constructed on the slopes of the sacred Nikko mountains by a Buddhist monk in the 8th century. Today, they testify to a centuries-old tradition of conservation and restoration as well as the preservation of religious practices linked to a site considered to be sacred. They are also closely associated with prominent chapters of Japanese history, especially those relating to the symbolic figure of the great Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).

The unusual character of the property is the result of a combination of very important long-standing values: the 50.8-hectare property provides evidence of a long tradition of worship, a very high level of artistic achievement, and a striking alliance between architecture and the surrounding natural setting, and it serves as a repository of national memories.

Criterion (i): The Nikko shrines and temples are a reflection of architectural and artistic genius; this aspect is reinforced by the harmonious integration of the buildings in a forest and a natural site laid out by people.

Criterion (iv): The Nikko shrines and temples is a perfect illustration of the architectural style of the Edo period as applied to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The Gongen-zukuristyle of the two mausoleums, the Tôshôgû and the Taiyû-in Reibyô, reached the peak of its expression in the Nikko shrines and temples, and was later to exert a decisive influence. The ingenuity and creativity of its architects and decorators are revealed in an outstanding and distinguished manner.

Criterion (vi): The Nikko shrines and temples, together with their environment, are an outstanding example of a traditional Japanese religious centre, associated with the Shinto perception of the relationship of man with nature, in which mountains and forests have a sacred meaning and are objects of veneration, in a religious practice that is still very much alive today.

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4 replies »

  1. We made a trip to Nikko, two hours away by train from Tokyo. We were rewarded by the spectacle of the Kegon waterfall which projected an almost zen-like beauty, as we listened to the sound of its water plunging into the ravine in the valley below, and enjoyed some of the most incredible autumn colours among the surrounding trees.


  2. Nikko is an interesting one to visit; it’s home to multiple temples, the iconic Shinkyo Bridge, the picturesque Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji, as well as a dense cedar forest. What’s special about this place is the atmosphere – a thinly veiled fog often hangs over the entire area, adding an element of mystery and intrigue. I especially like how Nikko offers a unique blend of culture and nature – perfect for a tranquil escape from city life.


  3. Nikko was the very first day trip we took in Japan, and I don’t think I could have started off with anything better. The amount of places to visit, the good food and the natural beauty – whether it’s autumn or not – make Nikko a must-see for anyone visiting Japan for the first time. Yes, it’s a long day trip from Tokyo, with about four hours of travelling time in total, but I can guarantee that the memories of Nikko’s sacred tree-covered mountain of temples will linger for a lifetime.


  4. I had the best time hiking around Nikko thick forest discovering random shrines that looked like it was there for hundreds of years. Such a great experience! Such a beautiful peaceful place, and it’s only 2 hours away from Tokyo!


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