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Tokugawa Ieyasu Mausoleum

The third great unifier of Japan and the man who's life inspired the show, shogun

My visit to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu was, somewhat unbelievably, not planned. It happened completely by accident at the tail-end of my long roadtrip south, on my way back to Yamagata prefecture from Tokyo. I had been driving by that point for the entire night and was desperately in need of a rest before I made the final leg of the journey home. Furthermore, I had heard about a great waterfall called Kegon Falls that I really wanted to see. So, I looked for a random hotel near the waterfall to spend the night there. It was as I was looking on the map for hotels that I realized I'd accidentally wandered into a much more special part of Japan that I'd realized.

Tokugawa Ieyasu was the third of the three great unifiers of Japan, who pieced the country back together after the chaotic events of the Onin war near the end of the Muromachi period. This war saw the entire country torn apart, and the collapse of a centralized state. Out of the anarchy first rose the great warlord, Nobunaga, who conquered the northern and central half of the country. After Nobunaga died, the Daimyo Hideyoshi continued where he left off and succeded at last in uniting the entire country. However, the unfortunate warlord proved too ambitious. He decided to launch an invasion of Korea, which failed and ended in a humiliating defeat after China intervened on Korea's behalf and drove the Japanese forces back.

Hideyoshi died not much later, and left a council of regents in charge who were supposed to protect his son until the latter came of age and could take up the shogunate. However, this council immediately began to vie for power itself. One of the council members was Tokugawa Ieyasu, a daimyo with great ambition and talent, who eventually succeeded in subjugating the other lords and supplanting Hideyoshi's son as the new ruler of Japan. After, Ieyasu ushered in an era of great peace and prosperity for Japan - as well as a second period of isolationism which would continue uinterrupted for nearly two centuries, until American ships forced the port of Japan open.

I thought about this amazing man and his connection to Japanese history, and made the determination to visit his mausoleum. This all occurred as I was taking a rest at a lovely cafe in the forest somewhere over a river, enjoying some oolong tea while I took a break from driving to finalize my bookings for the evening. The cafe itself would have almost deserved its own trip to visit. Serving both food and drinks, it had an expansive outdoor patio area where one could sit and simply enjoy the rich nature. Many people were there as couples. I couldn't blame them - the atmosphere was extremely romantic, and reminded me of the best of what I loved about Japan. It also reminded me, somewhat ironically, of Georgia - another place I'd once lived, and which similarly enchanted me with its combination of lush forests, rivers, and mountains. But, that was long in the past. Japan was a reality now, in the present.

I made my final booking, a sort of cabin in the woods, and then drove the remaining thirty minutes to my hotel. The hotel turned out to be a very unique arrangement - a sort of old, victorian style home blended with traditional Japanese style. The lobby floor had a sunroom with glass walls all around, victorian style armchairs, and a dining hall with fine chairs and victorian style tables and dinner sets. But while the bedrooms had two beds in a perfect, victorian style on the left side, the entire right side of the room was a traditional tatami mat floor with floor-chairs and what looked like a kotatsu table without the blanket. Furthermore, there were two full, onsen-style bathing chambers inside the hotel. Only, unlike a normal onsen it was possible for the guests to lock the doors, granting themselves an entirely private bathing experience. This, I truly enjoyed.

Finding the hotel was a bit of a challenge, however. I had to drive past a number of old looking buildings first - one of which, to my surprise, was a Happy Science headquarters building. By the time I found the hotel, I was so exhausted I wandered inside wearing two different pairs of shoes, one on my right foot and another style on my left. The hotel owners, a very cheerful and friendly pair of older ladies (and an older man, who I met the next day) had a good laugh when they saw the mismatched shoes. But no questions were asked. One of the pair, a very short Japanese woman who spoke excellent English, led me to my room and explained how to use the private Onsens. I was very impressed with her language abilities and enjoyed this rare opportunity to speak fluently with a Japanese person (usually, they speak little to no English). Later, at dinner, though I hadn't purchased a meal plan in advance the hotel owners made sure to whip together a steak dinner for me on request (taking into account that I couldn't eat pork, that evenings prepared entre).

I passed the night peacefully. Planning the next day, I resolved to do three things with the time I had available that morning before I needed to take off back to Yamagata. One - I would see a smaller waterfall only five minutes from the hotel, and forget about Kegon Falls. Two - I would see the abysal valley, a walking path nearby lined with Buddhas that appeared to be a well regarded historic site. And three - I would visit the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the last of the great Shoguns who ushered in the era of peace named, in his honor, the Tokugawa (or Edo) period.

I woke up very early next morning, about 6 am, and decided I would check out early to get a start on my day. But first, I wanted to enjoy some coffee in the sunroom - since it would be a while before I had another opportunity to enjoy a sunroom like it, overlooking such a peaceful forest. Furthermore, I never say no to free coffee. I sat for some time watching the trees and sipping coffee, and was just about to leave when one of the ladies who ran the hotel found me there. I guess they'd realized I didn't have any food, because they'd prepared a small goodie bag for me as a sort of breakfast. She handed me the bag and insisted on making me a cup of green tea before I left. So, I returned to the sunroom for a second round of tea before finally checking out at 7 am, to friendly waves and goodbyes from all the hotel owners every step of the way.

The waterfall, my first stop, thankfully really did only take five minutes to reach. However, upon arriving at the parking lot I immediately changed my mind about this stop when I saw a sign with a ferocious looking bear painted on it and some kanji in Japanese which I could only assume read "warning, bear attacks". Suddenly, the thought of climbing into the mountains all alone at 7 am to hang out at a waterfall no longer seemed so romantic. I looked around and realized that part of the waterfall's stream ran right by the parking lot. So, I walked down to the stream and bathed in the cold waters for a few minutes instead. Refreshed, I quickly jumped back in the car and left before a bear could even have the chance to harass me. I'd had enough drama that week already, and wasn't feeling in a particularly daring mood.

waterfalls at kanmangafuchi abyss
This is the stream I bathed in. The waterfall was further the bears.

The next stop was the kanmangafuchi abyss valley and its Buddhas. This stop, I only wandered into very briefly, walking just far enough to see the first row of Buddhas and the river. Nonetheless, I could see why it was so well reviewed. The walking path and the river next to it were gorgeous and extremely peaceful. Furthermore, there was something charming about all the little Buddha statues, sitting there with knitted hats on their stone heads. It was a setting with personality to it, to say the least.

kanmangafuchi abyss
Entry into kanmangafuchi abyss

Entry into kanmangafuchi abyss
Entry as seen from the other side

stone buddhas of the kanmangafuchi abyss
Stone Buddhas of the kanmangafuchi abyss

stone buddhas kanmangafuchi abyss
Stone Buddhas with knitted hats and...scarves?

stone buddhas kanmangafuchi abyss
Buddhism is all about losing your head, as this guy can attest to

stone buddhas kanmangafuchi abyss
This monk looked particularly happy

river of kanmangafuchi abyss
river next to kanmangafuchi abyss

Making good for time, I drove next another ten minutes to the parking lot outside the tomb of Ieyasu. THIS was the main event, the final destination of my Japanese roadtrip that I hadn't even planned for but had somehow, accidentally, been led to. The parking here wasn't free - I had to pay 600 Yen, a steep price - but, it seemed worth it for the opportunity to see the resting place of the great general. I walked up a flight of stairs, and the first thing I noticed was the building of a museum and next to it, a map of the compound. I walked by these quickly - they weren't even open yet - and preceded towards the mausoleum.

The mausoleum stood at the end of a long dirt road. I could tell that there were other temples and historic buildings in the compound, which was altogether rather large. But for now, I mainly just wanted to see the mausoleum. I turned right and walked up the dirt road to a stone arch which seemed a promising direction. Sure enough, the moment I passed the arch I saw the entry way to a massive shrine which could only be the mausoleum. Next to it, as well, stood a 5-story wooden pagoda - the most impressive I'd yet seen in the country.

mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
dirt road leading to the mausoleum

Tokugawa Ieyasu compound
compound map

stone arch leading to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Stone arch leading to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu

5-story Pagoda at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
5-story Pagoda at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu

The mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
The mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu

The mausoleum was closed, however, so after considering for a while, I decided to walk and take a peak at one of the nearby temples. As I neared the temple, which sat adjacent to the shogunal compound (the whole compound was walled off by a thick, tall stone wall), I heard an unearthly screeching noise. At first, I thought it was more Shinto or Buddhist music - they did tend to have an unearthly, almost screeching quality to them. But, as I drew nearer, I realized it was in act only the sound of janitor running his vaccuume. Both annoyed and amused, I decided to abandon the temple and walk back to the mausoleum entrance.

sign for matchmaking kami at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
This way for matchmaking, good fortune, and good luck!

stone lanterns along the outer wall at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Stone lanterns along the outer wall of the mausoleum

stone piles on stone lanterns at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
All of the stone lanterns had these little stone piles...very cute

god of fortune at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
A statue to the god of fortune (I believe)

vacuum at Buddhist temple in Japan
Sacred vacuum of the temple

I could have left then. But, it seemed a shame, I reasoned, to come to such an amazingly historic place and not even see inside. It would be opening in just an hour. Surely, I could be patient for just one hour, couldn't I? Deciding it was worth it to be, I took a seat on a bench and waited. Waited, and waited, and waited.

The hour passed peacefully and surprisingly eventfully. It was interesting to see the goings on of a historic shrine before it opened. The first thing I noticed was a stready stream of employees, some of them in western style business suits, others of them in priest's or priestesses' robes, entering into the shrine to prepare it for opening. Some suit-clad men stood at the entrance, probably to provide security. The well-oiled machine of the tourist destination was already in motion at this early hour.

The next thing I noticed was the people. There were all sorts of visitors, mostly Japanese tourists there with their families. They brought their little kids or, in a few cases, their very bored looking teenagers. The latter made me laugh. Life really was the same everywhere. No matter where you grew up, part of childhood was being forced to visit boring historic and religious sites by your parents.

Around 8:30 - still 30 minutes from opening time - a remarkable thing happened. A priest wearing white (top) and blue (bottom) robes appeared from one of the other temples on the compound, carrying his flute. As I watched, he walked to the gates of the mausoleum and began to play the flute. He sat there playing a very simple flute melody for about ten minutes as I listened, entranced. Then, still palying the flute, he began slowly walking back the way he came towards one of the temples in the compound. I was reminded by this spectacle of the sacred nature of a place like this, in the shinto religion. Tokugawa Ieyasu was, for them, not merely a secular figure, but almost something of a divine or sacred figure himself.

flute playing priest, frontal view of the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Flute playing priest (right) at the Mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu

Ten minute before opening a thick line developed at the ticket booth, which was still closed. I took my place in it and ten minutes later, all of us made a mad dash for the mausoleum. I was impressed how many people there already were. There must have been close to fifty at least, and one large tourist group. I purchased my ticket, the staff opened the gates, and after a long wait I finally made my way up the stairs and into the compound.

The first thing I noticed at the gate was the statues of the gods of thunder and lightning - I recognized them from one of the other temples I'd previously visited. A security guard stood here to check the tickets. I handed mine and then entered inside. Immediately, I was struck by just how many buildings there were inside. Furthermore, the art style on the buildings was far from what I was used to associating with Japan. Rather than the simple, Zen style we associate with Japan today, these structures had elaborate carvings full of animal, dragon, and buddhist characters in all sorts of bright colors. The style reminded me more of India and a Hindu temple, than a traditional Japanese one. As I read the signs, however, I learned that in fact this style was typical of the late Muromachi period/early Tokugawa period of Japanese history. Which made sense, as that was a period where Japan was "not" isolated from the outside world, and may have been more influenced therefore by foreign art styles.

thunder and lightning kami at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Entryway into the mausoleum, guarded by the kami of thunder and lightning

First look at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
First look at the mausoleum

Stone lanterns near entrance of Ieyasu Mausoleum
Stone lanterns near entrance of Ieyasu Mausoleum

Tokugawa Ieyasu outer mausoleum compound
Tokugawa Ieyasu outer mausoleum compound

See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil (monkeys)
See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil (monkeys)

Lucky horseshoe talismans
Lucky horseshoe talismans, Tokugawa Ieyasu

more of the no-evil monkeys at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
more of the no-evil monkeys

Purification Basin at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Purification Basin

sign of the purification basin at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Purification Basin explanation

Water Dragons at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Purification Basin Water Dragons

There were more steps up, and more buildings. I continued along the path, observing various signs and architectural feats as I went, until I came to a gate which clearly demarcated the outer sanctum from the inner. On either side of the gate were two statue-reproductions of a Japanese general. Clearly, I'd reached the mausoleum of the great Shogun at last. I walked inside the gate and sure enough, directly infront of me was an altar. Around the altar was a white, wooden archway with black dragons painted along them. Behind these was the building where the Shogun's remains were interred.

steps leading into the inner mausoleum, at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
steps leading into the inner mausoleum compound

Yomeimon Gate, at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Yomeimon Gate

Artwork and carvings above Yomeimon Gate, at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Artwork and carvings above Yomeimon Gate

the wall next to Yomeimon gate, at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
The wall next to Yomeimon gate

statue of the shogun, at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
statue of the general, guarding the entry into the inner sanctum

It was possible to visit the remains, by taking off one's shoes and walking into the inner altar. But, for some reason I felt called to stay where I was at the outer altar. It didn't matter much, anyways, since I could see inside the shrine from where I was, and I wouldn't be allowed to take pictures past that point in either case. So, I stayed at the out altar.

the mausoleum of the great shogun, at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
The mausoleum of the great shogun himself, surrounded by black dragons

I observed the shrine for a bit and then explored the rest of the compound, which included a sacred dance hall, another walled-off area with a sleeping cat shrine (I'm not sure what that was about, and didn't go to visit since it cost extra), and a strange, upside down pillar. Apparently, perfection was seen as bad luck in that time period. So, the architects of the buildings constructed one pillar upside-down, in order to purposefully create a flaw that prevented the building from ever becoming fully complete and perfect, as once something is complete, it begins to deteriorate,

Inner mausoleum compound, at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
More of the inner compound

palanquin at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
A shrine containing a palanquin

the upside down pillar at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
sign explaining the upside-down pillar

the upside down pillar at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
the upside down pillar itself. Though, I'm not sure which one it is honestly

sacred dance hall at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
sacred dance hall of the mausoleum

sacred dance hall at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Better photo of the dance-hall building

Then, satisifed with my visit to the shrine, and awed by the presence of the man who had united Japan for the final time, I slowly turned to make my way out of the compound. Minutes later and I was through the gate, back to the dirt road, then in the parking lot and in my car. I prepared to leave this curious area, which had the great Shogun's tomb, the imperial families summer house, and the great Kegon waterfall. Though I didn't get to see everything the city contained, in seeing the mausoleum of Ieyasu I felt like I'd been awarded one last final treat for my trip throughout Japan. Furthermore, I now felt fully complete with my explorations of the country - I had seen the emperor's seat in Kyoto, I had seen the greatest Shinto shrines, I had seen the main Buddhist temples, and now, I had seen it's most famous Shogun. I could truly say that, in a sense, I had tasted a bit of everything to do with traditional Japanese history and high-society. Having accomplished that, I could leave Japan with no regrets - as I probably intended on doing, soon.

5 story pagoda at the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
A final goodbye to the 5-story pagoda, and to the shogun


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