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Mystery of Hiyoshi Toshogu Shrine

Posted by Scott on June 25, 2017

If you want to get out of the hustle and bustle of Kyoto, or have been to Kyoto before and wish to see a little bit more of the country, maybe heading towards the Largest Lake in Japan, Lake Biwako will offer a great opportunity to do this> I means you will be seeing Shigawa Prefecture, and also means you can discover some amazing history without seeing hundreds and hundreds of other people.

Hiyoshi Toshogu is also known as a “Rei-Byou” or a Shrine that holds the Spirits of an ancestor or very highly ranked person, in this case that highly ranked person is no other than the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun (1543-1616). I had heard and read about Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine which is located approximately 400 meters to the right of Hiyoshi Toshogu and Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine was my main goal for today. But I literally just happened to stumble on the Hiyoshi Toshogu, which without a doubt became my “treasure” for the day. I originally thought the spirit/remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu were located at the Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, but I was mistaken. It is here at the Hiyoshi Toshogu that Tokugawa Ieyasu has his spirit deeply lodged.

I wouldn’t say I have any divine power myself, but I must have had a little luck on my side. Today was Thursday and I found out later that Hiyoshi Toshogu, is only opened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However, when I arrived at the Karamon (front Gates) of Hiyosho Toshogu (which were shut) there was a sole gentleman raking the stones. * The Karamon Gates themselves are an Important Cultural Asset of Japan. The “gate keeper” as I will call him, kindly started to talk to me in a little English, and when he realized I had been in Japan for over 2 decades, he told me to hold on for a minute, and he actually went into the closed off Toshogu, and opened the front gates for me. So even though it was Thursday, and from the kind generosity of this Gate Keeper, I was let into the grounds of Hiyoshi Toshogu and had them all to myself. I also now had a personal Guide (The “Gate Keeper”) and he let me in to many secrets and interesting facts about the Hiyoshi Toshogu, which don’t seem to be anywhere on the internet.

There are only 2 humans that have actually become Gods in Japan, and one of those is Tokugawa Ieyasu. There are over 500 Toshogu in Japan, but only 3 of these have actually had the remains and spirits of Tokugawa Ieyasu reside inside of them. The most famous is Nikko Toshogu in Tochigi Prefecture. Then there is the Kunozan Toshogu in Shizuoka Prefecture. The last was now looking at me in the eye, in the form of Hiyoshi Toshogu. A little known fact is that the Nikko Toshogu which holds some of the mortal remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, was actually created after Hiyoshi Toshogu. Hiyoshi Toshogu is the model for the design and architecture for the Nikko Toshogu Shrine.

Built in 1623 Hiyoshi Toshogu has been repaired only 4 times with the last time being approximately 50 years ago. It lies at the base of the Heizan Mountain poking it’s existence out from a forest that once was totally burnt down by Oda Nobunaga along with the Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, in order to gain power over his enemies. (Shrines are places where Gods reside so after burning down a place of Gods, he was betrayed and killed shortly after as a sort of divine punishment). Tokugawa Ieyasu found peace at the Shrines, and through rebuilding several smaller shrines at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, he found many followers and allies, and for doing all these good deeds, became a God like figure himself which lasted for 265 years.

Hiyoshi Toshogu became an Important Cultural Asset in April, 1917. However a little known fact I was told by my personal guide, was that Hiyoshi Toshogu was also once a Japanese National Treasure, but for some reason was delegated to the rank of Important Cultural Asset.

Walking into the grounds, my friendly Gate Keeper pointed to the wooden tigers above the Shrine doors. Two facts; firstly the Tigers represent the birth year of Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was born in the year of the Tiger. Next fact (not so known), one of the tigers has it’s mouth opened and the other doesn’t. This is relatively rare as you would usually only see this at the entrance of the Temples in the likes of the Niomon with their guardians. The Gardens of the Temples and these Tigers depict the first breath of life taken when coming into the world shouting and screaming with your mouth open. And the closed mouth is how you depart (quietly) from this world bound for the beyond.

Another little known fact is the dragons on the pillar below the tigers, represent the birth year of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandchild’s year, the year of the dragon. 

Walking around the side of Hiyoshi Toshogu, you can see that there is a front section and rear section and a slightly lower section that joins the Front and the Back together. Hiyosi Toshogu was the first to create this style of design which literally links the front main Worshipping Area to the Back sub worshipping area. (Nikko followed this design when later built). The front of Hiyoshi Toshogu and the right side offer a great feel to the 400 year old history that surrounds the Shrine. Even being last repaired some 50 years ago, the faded colors of the front and right-side show the toll it has taken by the factors. The rear and left side of the Shrine offer more color to the wall paintings and all the detailed wooden carvings that line the upper parts of the walls. You can distinctly see the family crest of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the very detailed “Kaeru-mata” with Crane, Rabbits and other animals.

Like the colors that were used in it’s creation, Hiyoshi Toshogu still shows you that the six primary colors (yellow, blue, green, red, white and black), just obviously lighter than the Edo period.

 

After taking a couple of walks around Hiyoshi Toshogu, I was mesmerized with the place, and then the Gate Keeper hit me again with a very mysterious and intriguing tale.

 

All Toshogu Shrines face East (TO from TOshougu means east), and there is a great mystery around this. You can draw a straight line from Nikko Toshogu to Kunozan Toshogu and then another second straight line from Kunozan Toshogu to Hiyoshi Toshogu. Finally you draw a 3rd final line from Hiyoshi Toshogu to Nikko Toshogu Shrine and you have a perfect Triangle. Not only a perfect triangle, but with all Toshogu Shrines facing East, people can worship in the same position no matter which Toshogu you are at. Also, all Toshogu will be facing the Nothern Stars in the Skies, which is known to be the Ruler of the Gods, and a place where Gods are created. Definitely not a coincidence. Another fascinating point, is that of Mt Fuji’s location compared with the Toshogu Shrines.  Fuji or “Fushi” which means #no death / immortal” can be found directly on the line coming from Nikko Toshougu to Kunozan Toshougu. Found directly infront of Hiyoshi Toshougu can be found “Oumi-Fuji” or the Mt Fuji of Oumi area. This smaller but same shaped Mt.Oumi Fuji is located directly on the striaght line from Hiyoshi Toshogu to Nikko Toshogu.  OK, this is beyond mysterious, but absolutely fascinating. Once you walk out of Hiyoshi Toshogu, there is a little cobble stone path taking you down the main entrance of Hiyoshi Toshogu. My mentor the Gate Keeper, mentioned that if you walked in a straight line out into the Biwako Lake, you would just be to the left of Mt Oumi Fuji. However, if you walked straight out of the door of Hiyoshi Toshogu and walked to the Lake, you would find you self on the Oumi Fuji mountain itself. The Hiyoshi Toshogu was purposely designed slightly angled differently from the main path to the Shrine so the Shrine and only the Shrine was symmetrical to  Mt.Oumi Fuji.  

I felt something click inside of me, and something told me I was here for a reason. I still haven’t worked out that reason, but I know I need to get back to Hiyoshi Tosogu soon. This mysterious location is trying to tell me something. 

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