taiyu-in tokugawa iemitsu grave

Taiyu-in・the Grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu


(Divine Prince Who Built Up the Great Government)

2nd Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iemitsu


Honden (main hall) of Taiyūin. It's built in the same Gongen-zukuri style as Daitokuin's honden. You can see the Nakamon (middle gate) and sukibei (latticework fence).
Honden (main hall) of Taiyū-in. It’s built in the same Gongen-zukuri style as Daitoku-in honden. You can see the Nakamon (middle gate) and sukibei (latticework fence).

Yesterday’s post was a monster. But it was a real labor of love. For the first time, I was able to really visualize the size and grandeur of the Taitoku-in funerary complex. I had never seen photos of all of those buildings and the maps together in the same place before (definitely not in English), so I felt like I really succeeded in resurrecting the temple. I hope everyone else felt like that too. So far, that may be the article I’m the most proud of.

Sukibei (latticework fence) at Taiyu-in.
Sukibei (latticework fence) around the the honden (main hall).

Compared to that, today’s post may be a little disappointing. The reason is that Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Nikkō Taiyū-in are both so well known. There are volumes written about them online and in books in every major language. The sites are wonderfully preserved and can be enjoyed year round. I don’t want to just repeat what everyone else says about this mausoleum, so I’m having difficulty coming up with unique information.

Taiyu-in Nitenmon
This gate is called the Nitenmon (2 heavenly gods gate), but if you notice the plaque with kanji on it, you’ll understand that this is the second gate to the temple and that it is essentially an imperial scroll gate.
The characters say Taiyūin and were supposedly written by the emperor before being incorporated into the architecture.
I’ve heard it’s the biggest gate at Nikkō… but I’ve never measured it. If ya know what I mean…

Well, anyways, let’s start at the beginning.

Iemitsu was the first shōgun born since the establishment of the Tokugawa shōgunate. As such, he was the first heir to be groomed from childhood to be shōgun[i]. He established, or at least codified the sankin-kōtai system, which increased the size and population of Edo, thus transforming it into a sprawling metropolis with an unprecedented concentration of samurai elite. His father began restricting travel and trade with other countries, but Iemitsu is the one who essential closed off Japan from the outside world[ii]. Furthering his father and grandfather’s policies against the irritating Christians missionaries and their converts, Iemitsu set about de-christianizing Japan. He expanded Tōshō-gū in Nikkō to its current size and he is said to have visited the site about 10 times. It’s said that he lavished so much money on embellishing Tōshō-gū that some advisors feared he would bankrupt the shōgunate. But the early Edo Period was a booming time economically, so it all worked out in the end.

Water basin at Taiyu-in
A ridiculously ornate suibansha (water basin). It’s used for ritual cleaning of your hands and mouth before entering a shrine. Usually they’re not very interesting, but when we go back to the Edo-Tōkyō buildings, you’ll find that in some cases these are all we have left.

According to his wishes, his body kept for a while at Kan’ei-ji – establishing an alternating policy of burial between the two Tokugawa funerary temples for future shōguns (presumably so neither temple got jealous of the other). After preparations had been made at Rinnō-ji in Nikkō, his body was transported there[iii]. Then his son, the 4th shōgun, Ietsuna, began constructing a lavish mausoleum. Iemitsu had ordered that no mausoleum ever surpass that of Ieyasu’s, so Taiyū-in was made with darker colors, less adornment, and the size is smaller than Tōshō-gū. Actually, I think it’s the more beautiful of the two.

Oh, all of the buildings face Tōshō-gū out of respect.

Oh, and the first Tokugawa funerary temple, Kunōzan Tōshō-gū, and the second one, Shiba Daitoku-in, were built when there was no standard for mortuary complexes for the shōgun family. So, both are completely unique and don’t look like each other or anything that came after. Iemitsu’s beautiful mausoleum in Nikkō became the standard for future funerary architecture for the shōguns. Essentially, it’s an ostentatious variation of the gongen-zukuri style.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Until 1945, Tōkyō was home to two Nikkō’s – one in Ueno, the other in Shiba. The capital’s inability to pay to rebuild/restore these extravagant works of art speaks to the complete and utter devastation of the city in WWII.

Taiyuin in the mist
Copper lamps at Taiy-ūin.
Love this shot because the mist reminds me of Nikkō and the ghostly B/W shots of Daitoku-in.

Tōshō-gū is extremely ostentatious. And while Taiyū-in has much in common with it on the surface and in terms of size and craftsmanship, I think it really is reflecting a mode of architecture closer to that of some of the early Tokugawa shōgun mausolea in Edo. Unfortunately, the Edo buildings were destroyed and we can’t get a feel for how they interacted with the terrain. But the Taiyūin structures definitely work with the lay of the land for dramatic effect. Judging by the map of Daitoku-in we saw yesterday, it’s obvious the architects of Edo were also incorporating their masterpieces into the natural curvature of the land.

I don’t have anything more to say on the topic of Taiyū-in, except that it is a masterpiece of Japanese art and architecture of its day. If you have the chance to see it, you should. I guarantee you’ll love it.

Nikko Taiyu-in - grave of tokugawa iemitsu
Edo Period engineering built this.Freaking amazing!

For More Information About Nikkō Tōshō-gū:

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[i] Remember, both Ieyasu and Hidetada were products of the Sengoku Period.

[ii] Since the bakumatsu (1850’s-1860’s), the Japanese have used the term 鎖国 sakoku closed country (literally, “locked” or “chained”). Recent scholarship of the Edo Period has come to favor the term 海禁 kaikin maritime restrictions. While I’m cool with both words, the average Japanese person still uses the term sakoku to describe this isolationist policy. I’ll leave this one to the scholars…

[iii] Rin’nō-ji still oversees Taiyūin to this day.

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