Many people call it a mystery, a miracle, or even the will of the gods that Toshogu still stands as it is. While the world around it burned on several occasions, crumbled in major earthquakes, and although the Ueno War was fought out around it in 1868 , followed by the fire-bombings in the next century during the Second World War, Toshogu remained.
The original shrine is said to have been built initially in 1627 by the warrior Todo Takatora, daimyo of Iga and Ise. It is Ueno Park's most famous religious structure -- dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Tokugawa Ieyasu did not just become the leader of Japan by mistake; he was very shrewd in the first place and a master at manipulation. It should not be called co-incidental that a man Like Ieyase, who made becoming the Shogun of Japan the most important goal in his life retired only two years after he reached this goal, making him the shortest ruling Shogun, with the exception of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the very last Shogun, 264 years later.
Ieyasu understood very well that the Shogunate's rule would be limited if it were just a military and political power. However if a religious element were put into place as well, the possibility of perpetuating his family line would surely be enhanced. There is no doubt that the people who surrounded him had vested interest in the Tokugawa power and highly contributed to cementing their base. Therefore handing over the Shogunate to his son Hidetada can be seen as a political move.
Ieyasu left Edo for Sumpu Castle in Shizuoka in 1605 from where he pulled the strings in the background till his death 11 years later. It can be believed that Ieyasu did all he could to entrench Tokugawa Bakufu. One of his wishes towards that was his enshrinement as a deity, so after his death he first was enshrined in Kunozan close to the castle where he retired. After that he was enshrined in Nikko, present-day Tochigi Prefecture.
To make the religious aspect the utmost serious matter, consent from the emperor was needed. Naturally the necessary political wrangling took place, but the important title of "Toshugu" was posthumously bestowed on on Tokugawa Ieyasu by the emperor in Kyoto, regarded by the Japanese as a god himself. Toshogu means "Eastern Light". Since the sun has always been associated with divinity, Toshogu is also translated as "Sun god of the East". After Tokugawa Ieyasu had been proclaimed in fact a deity, opposition against the Tokugawa Shogunate had not only become a political matter, but a religious aspect was added as well. The fact that the imperial household was economically fully dependent on the Shogunate contributed highly in the persuasion to grant this title in 1646. After that, to honor of Ieyasu, all over Japan more than 200 shrines were built under the name Toshogu. Many of these shrines were built beside Buddhist temples that were connected to the name Tokugawa. They are recognizable by the Tokugawa Seal.
The Ueno Toshogu was erected in 1651 by Ieyasu's grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu. Like Nikko's Toshogu Shrine, it is elaborately decorated with brilliant red, blue, green, and gold ornamentation. The pathway leading to the shrine is lined with massive stone lanterns, plus 50 copper lanterns donated by feudal lords from all domains in Japan.
To the right of the pathway is a five-story pagoda, covered entirely in lacquer and constructed in 1639.
The shrine grounds are also famous for their peonies, which bloom both in spring and in winter.
The most important thing here is however the shrine, with murals by a famous Edo artist, Kano Tan-yu, and armor worn by Ieyasu. Note the lions decorating the arched, Chinese-style Karamon Gate -- legend has it that when night falls, they sneak down to Shinobazu Pond for a drink.
Ueno Toshogu was declared a Tokyo municipal shrine in 1873, and in 1907 the Haiden , Karamon and Mizu-Gaki were declared National Treasure.
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