Nikko Travel: A Complete Guide to Rinnoji Temple
Rinnoji Temple is the only Buddhist Temple as part of Nikko’s World Heritage Temples and Shrines. The most well-known structure of Rinnoji is Sanbutsudo Hall (the main hall), however, there are many buildings scattered throughout Nikko that are a part of this temple. Rinnoji is dedicated to the Buddhist gods associated with Nikko’s three holy mountains; Senju-Kannon for Mout Nantai, Amidanyorai for Mout Nyohou and Bato-Kannon for Mount Taro.
When visiting the World Heritage Shrines and Temples of Nikko, I suggest visiting Shinkyo Bridge first before making your way up the stairs and hill that leads to Rinnoji Temple.
From Tobu-Nikko Station, take the bus to stop 7, Shinkyo Bridge (this is a popular stop, so most buses stop there. Make sure to read the signs and ask the bus driver if you are unsure). The bus ride takes about 7 minutes.
If you wish to go straight there, take the World Heritage Sightseeing Bus to stop 82, Shodo Shonin zo mae and walk the rest of the way to the temple. The trip will take just over 10 minutes.
** Note: These details are true at the time of publishing. Please see the Tobu Nikko Bus website for more accurate and up to date details on the bus timetable and route structure.
Monk Shodo Shonin
Shodo Shonin (Shonin meaning holy priest or saint) (735 AD – 817 AD) is a prominent Buddhist priest known as the founder of the holy site of Nikko. After arriving in Nikko in 766, he built Shihonryu-ji Temple (now known as Rinnoji Temple) to honour Nikko’s three holy mountains; Mount Nantai (Nantaisan), Mount Nyohou (Nyohousan) and Mount Taro (Tarosan). He then went on to establish many other temples and shrines dedicated to these mountains (including Futarasan Shrine) to establish the extensive holy site that we see today.
Although Shodo Shonin’s places of worship are scattered around the mountains, they act as sub-temples and sub-shrines under the care of Rinnoji Temple and Futarasan Shrine. Interestingly, Shodo lived at a time where Shintoism and Buddhism were so closely intertwined that there was no distinct difference between the two. His sacred spaces were simply built to honour the mountain gods and Buddhist gods associated with Nantaisan, Nyohousan and Tarosan. The Meiji Period saw the end to this in 1868, when the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order came into effect, legally requiring all Shinto elements to be removed from Buddhist sacred sites and vice versa. Most of the temples and shrines in Nikko merged the two religions so intricately that it was impossible to separate the two, making Nikko’s sacred sites a rare example of how the two religions co-existed before this period.
Shodo Shonin’s remains are interred in Kaizan-do, a sacred hall which forms a part of Rinnoji Temple. Make sure not to miss this, as it is located quite remotely on the north-eastern corner of the temple.
He is also honoured with a large statue located at the front of Rinnoji, at the entrance of Nikko’s World Heritage Site. This statue acknowledges his importance as the founder of this sacred area as well as his religious contributions to Japan.
Tokugawa Iemitsu and Taiyuin Mausoleum
Tokugawa Iemitsu was the third Shogun (military/samurai leader of Japan) of the Tokugawa Period, better known as the Edo Period. His grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasu is an important figure in Japan’s history, known as one of the three main leaders responsible for uniting Japan. He is buried and deified at Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine, located just next to Rinnoji Temple.
When Tokugawa Ieyasu died in 1616, a small shrine and mausoleum was built in accordance to his will. He was subsequently buried in this mausoleum upon its completion 1617. The shrine was simple and muted at first, however this changed when Tokugawa Iemitsu renovated the shrine in 1636. Iemitsu transformed the shrine into a lavish monument decorated with hundreds of intricately carved designs, white accents and gold detailing. To this day, Toshogu Shrine is one of the most beautiful shrines in Japan and is the only one in the country that features this style of décor.
Upon Tokugawa Iemitsu’s death, a mausoleum similar to Toshogu was built in his honour. It was built using the same labourers as Toshogu, however strict rules were placed on them not to build anything that would rival the grandeur of his grandfather’s shrine. The mausoleum has been formally recognised as a temple at a few points throughout history, but ultimately became a part of Rinnoji Temple rather than a temple in its own right. It is now called Taiyuin and can be visited as part of Rinnoji Temple or as a separate site.
Rinnoji Temple is comprised of Sanbutsudo Hall (main temple), the Treasure Hall, Harukaen (Japanese garden), Jokyodo (treasure building/dojo), Daigomado (secondary hall), and Taiyuin (mausoleum of the Tokugawa Iemitsu). Chuzenji Temple is also a part of Rinnoji Temple, but is located about an hour from the main temple by bus.
Sanbutsudo Hall is one of the largest wooden structures in Nikko and houses stunning and imposing golden statues of the original Buddhist gods of Nikko’s three holy mountains (Mount Nantaisan, Mount Nyohousan and Mount Tarosan). These statues are absolutely stunning and seeing them in person is an experience I will never forget. Unfortunately, Sanbutsudo Hall was undergoing extensive renovations when I was there, so the whole building was covered by scaffolding and a special viewing route was developed to stay safely away from the construction workers. Thankfully, the construction work has now ended, but it is a good idea to check the most recent status of the temple by viewing the live camera of Sanbutsudo Hall before you visit.
Just behind Sanbutsudo Hall you will find Daigomado, a building that houses both the temple gift store (selling good luck charms with English descriptions) and a beautiful worship space. If you are collecting goshuin stamps, you will not be able to purchase them here. The goshuin stand is located inside Sanbutsudo Hall near the exit, providing stamps for ¥300.
Taiyuin is a mausoleum for the Third Shogun of the Edo period, Tokugawa Iemitsu, located 10 minutes north west by foot from Sanbutsudo Hall. This beautiful golden structure is an unmissable part of Nikko, so don’t let its distance from the main temple deter you. I recommend seeing Toshogu Shrine before heading over to Taiyuin.
Entry to Rinnoji Temple is a bit tricky, as there are many things that you are able to see that are spread out around Nikko’s World Heritage Site. As someone who is not familiar with all the names of the temples, it can be confusing to try and figure out what kind of ticket you want judging from the names alone. Here are your main options:
- **RECOMMENDED** Rinnouji Combined Ticket (Hondo (Sanbutsudo Hall) + Taiyuin (Third Shogun Iemitsu’s Mausoleum)) = ¥800 adult, ¥400 child. This allows you access to the main hall and the beautiful mausoleum.
- Treasure Hall + Harukaen (Japanese garden) = ¥300 adult, ¥270 child. Personally, I would skip this. It’s not super impressive and the garden is a bit lackluster unless it’s koyo season. If you choose to do this, make sure to visit before or directly after you finish at the main hall, as Taiyuin is a bit of a walk from here. The museum is English friendly, so you will have some context as to what each piece is.
- Sanbutsudo Hall only = ¥400 adult, ¥360 child.
- Taiyuin only = ¥550 adult, ¥495 child.
The best part about buying tickets at this temple is that you can use your Suica Card! This is something I did not see anywhere else in Japan, but it was especially useful here as the entry fees for Nikko’s temples and shrines are higher compared to others in Japan.
For more information on their ticket prices, click here.
Rinnoji Temple is open every day from 8am – 5pm (April – October) or 8am – 4pm (November – March) depending on the time of year.
Special events held at the temple will result in the irregular closure of some areas throughout the year. Visit the temple’s website for more information on these closures.