Ueno Toshogu – the golden shrine of Ueno Park

ueno toshogu temple
The main entrance to Ueno Toshogu Temple.

I don’t go to Ueno Park much. It’s a popular place, but it is on the east side of Tokyo. That is far for me. One day, I was in the area for a photo shoot that had been canceled. What was I to do? I decided to go for a walk. I reacquainted myself with Ueno Toshogu!

Shishi guardian decoration on shrine wall
A Shishi guardian decoration on shrine wall.

Do you know it? It is one of the many shrines dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa. It’s right in the middle of the park, next to the zoo. I hadn’t been there in many years. With its golden walls, it is another beautiful place in Tokyo.

The golden building of the shrine is remarkable when you consider all they have seen. It survived the Battle of Ueno (1868), the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923), and the WW2 firebombings. Like Gokokuji, this shrine is a rare example of actual early Edo-era architecture in Tokyo. The government has designated several of its structures as Important Cultural Properties.

Ueno Toshogu lantern path
A lantern-lined path guides visitors to the shrine.

For me, it is all about the photography. Ueno Toshogu is very beautiful. Of course, it is with all that gold. And there are all the decorations. Animals, like birds and sushi (lions), cover the buildings. It is stunning.

A brief history of Ueno Toshogu

  • Ueno Toshogu is dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543–1616), the first Tokugawa shogun. The Daimyo Takatora Todo, who served him, built the shrine in 1627. At that time, Todo had a residence in the Ueno area. He wanted a memorial to the man he had served on his grounds.
  • Originally the shrine’s name was Toshosha, but it became Toshogu in 1645. Toshogu is the official name for shrines dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. You can find others in Tokyo and Japan. I’m sure you’ve heard of the big one in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture.
  • Iemitsu Tokugawa, the third shogun, rebuilt it in 1651. The gold leaf decoration and colorful carvings on the buildings date from this time. He died in the same year. That might have been fortunate, as he had a new, beautiful shrine waiting for him!  
  • Besides Ieyasu and Iemitsu, others are there too. One is Yoshimune. The 15th and last shogun, Yoshinobu, is there too. You can find Yoshinobu’s actual grave at Yanaka Cemetery. There is a lot of important Japanese history at this shrine.
Ueno Toshogu shrine rear
The rear of Ueno Toshogu shrine.

What can you photograph at Ueno Toshogu?

The shrine is all about architecture. If you are into that, you will be as happy as Larry:

  • There are 48 bronze lanterns on the outer shrine grounds. Daimyo from all over Japan donated them. They are only used for ritual ceremonies and are designated Important Cultural Properties.
  • A pagoda is next to the shrine. Unfortunately, you can’t get to it! It is in Ueno Zoo.
  • A Peony Garden! Ueno Toshogu has a garden full of them. They bloom twice a year: in winter and spring.

Other photo spots in the area

Ueno Toshogu details

See the shrine’s location and opening hours on the official website.

Wrapping up

The only downside to Ueno Toshogu is the entry. ¥500 for one building is pretty expensive. You can see similar stuff at Meiji Shrine and Sensoji, minus the gold wall, for free. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s worth thinking about.

But, if you are into shrines or architectural photography, I highly recommend it. And it is in Ueno Park, so there is a lot to do after your visit. You can’t go wrong with this place.

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