The shrine and temple buildings, together with their natural surroundings, have for centuries constituted a sacred site and the home of architectural and decorative masterpieces. The site continues to function today as a place of religious rituals and other activities which maintain its traditions, both physically and spiritually.UNESCO World Heritage citation for the Shrines and Temples of Nikko
Nikko is a place which can be visited again and again. It had been over thirty years since my previous visit, and I’d forgotten how very impressive it is. If you read through this one post about a single gate in the enclosure, you’ll realize that I’m serious. What you see here is the karayotsuashimon (唐四脚門, literally ornate four leg gate). The curved gable (karahafu) over the gate is said to be a Japanese invention, so I’ve used the reading “ornate” for the first character 唐 instead of the alternate “Chinese”. As you can see from some of the photos, all four sides of the gate have this curved gable, hence the appellation four-legged (四脚) for this gate (門).
As I gawped at it, The Family pointed out the paired dragons on each side of the gate: one rising, the other descending, done with a mixture of techniques called jimonbori (relief carving) and ukubori (embossing). I was equally drawn to the doors: each quartered and illustrated. Unfortunately, I don’t have close ups of the paintings. Only extremely important persons are allowed to pass through these doors: the descendants of Tokugawa Iyeasu, the first shogun, turned into the reigning god of this place, were among them. The rest of us have to go around and take a side entrance.
If you are not one of the many people posing for selfies or photos in front of it, then the details of the gate can keep you standing there looking, and thereby making sure you photo-bomb others’ selfies. All the details in white are carved in wood and painted, the rest is urushi (laquerwork) and metalwork. At the lowest level, just above the lintel is a panel which shows nobles queuing up to pay tributes to a seated emperor or shogun (I don’t know which). At the ends of the panels you see two musicians, one beating a drum, the other with a gong. Above them are panels representing more rarefied powerful beings. I loved the carving of the bull which you see here. The pillar on the side (with the ascending dragons) are topped by an ornate bouquet of flowers which could be the variety of chrysanthemum called the atsumono. The gate is loaded with symbolism which I cannot decipher. Is the chrysanthemum a reference to the emperor, or a symbol of longevity?