Nikko - Encyclopedia

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NIKKO, one of the chief religious centres of Japan. The name belongs properly to the district, but is as commonly applied to the principal village, Hachi-ishi, which is 91 m. N. of Tokyo by rail. The district is high-lying, mountainous and beautiful, and is in favour for summer residence. The chief mountain range is known as Nikko-Zan (Mountains of the Sun's Brightness). A Shinto temple seems to have existed at Nikko from time immemorial, and in 767 its first Buddhist temple was founded by Shodo Sho-nin (the subject of many strange legendary adventures); but the main celebrity of the place is due to the sepulchres and sanctuaries of Iye y yasu and Iyemitsu, the first and third shoguns of the Tokugawa dynasty. Iyeyasu was buried with amazing pomp in 1617, and Iyemitsu, his grandson, was slain in 1650 while visiting his tomb. From 1644 to 1868 the "abbots" of Nikko were always princes of the imperial blood; thirteen of them are buried within the sacred grounds. Though the magnificent abbots' residence was destroyed by fire in 1871, and the temples have lost most of their ritual and much of their material splendour, enough remains to astonish by excellence and bewilder by variety of decorative detail. Of the numerous structures which cluster round the shrine of Iyeyasu, it is sufficient to mention the cylindrical copper column (1643), a guardian against evil influences, 42 ft. high, adorned at the top with a series of lotus flowers, from the petals of which hang small bells; a five-storied pagoda (1659), 104 ft. high, with the signs of the zodiac carved round the base; the gate of the Two Kings, with its figures of unicorns, lions, tigers, elephants, mythical animals and tree-peonies; the vermilion-coloured timber enclosure to which this gate gives entrance, with three great storehouses, a sumptuous stable for the sacred horses, and a finely fashioned granite cistern (1618) for holy water; and the Yo-mei-mon gate, which with the contiguous cloister is covered with the most elaborate carving, and gives access by way of another gate (Kara-Mon) to the court in the midst of which stands the last and most sacred enclosure. This, known as the Tamagaki, is a quadrangle of gilt trellis-work 50 yds. square; within it stands the "chapel" or oratory (or rather a series of chambers), in the decoration of which gilding and black lacquer have been lavishly employed. The tomb of Iyeyasu lies apart about two hundred steps higher up the hills, in the shadow of tall cryptomerias - a single light-coloured bronze urn or casket standing on a circular base of three steps with a stone table in front on which rest a censer, a lotus-cluster and a stork with a candlestick in its mouth, the whole enclosed by a high stone wall. Somewhat similar are the tomb of Iyemitsu and its surroundings; and though the art displayed is of an inferior character, the profusion of buildings and embellishments is even more remarkable. Hotoke Iwa, the hill on which the tomb stands, is completely covered to the summit with trees of various tints. There are numerous temples and shrines of minor interest in the locality.

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