As a very special treat for the 100 year anniversary of the municipality of Kawagoe, the main hall of the Senba Toshogu is open to the public for the first time in more than 70 years. The shrine is normally only open on Sundays. Moreover, on Sundays while you can pray in front of the outer hall, you can’t see into it and the honden¹ is completely sealed off. So this is really is an unique opportunity. One of the wonderful guides today told us that even he, who has been volunteering at the shrine for years, had never seen inside the honden¹ until this month.
In addition, you can actually enter the haiden² (outer hall), during the special opening period of the shrine. That is also a rare honor at Senba Toshogu Shrine. You need to take off your shoes to enter, but the security guards will provide you with plastic bags to carry your shoes with you. The room is actually quite small, but you can see into the heidan³ too. Both are open to the public until Wednesday November 23rd only. See ‘The Tour’ paragraph for cost and further details.
¹A honden is the place where the ‘kami’ God resides. As such, it is very rare to have access to any honden. Even at Toshogu, even though it is ‘open’ to the public right now, you can’t actually go into it, just admire it through the doors from the outside. ²The Haiden is the outer hall, the one that is in front of the honden and generally open to the public. ‘Open’ as in you can see it, approach it and pray in front of it, but you generally only enter a haiden for a ceremony. ³A heidan is behind the haiden and is a hall of offerings.
Senba Toshogu Shrine
Senba Toshogu Shrine is a very special shrine indeed. It is one of the three great Toshogu shrines in Japan. The other two are the Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi prefecture, which is the most famous, and the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine in Shizuoaka Prefecture. The reason these three Toshogu shrines are the three most significant, of about 120 Toshogu shrines in all of Japan, is because they each contain tablets written by Emperor Gomizuno.
The Senba Toshogu shrine enshrines the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was established by the famous Buddhist priest Tenkai in 1633, seventeen years after Ieyasu’s death. All the architecture of the shrine are designated as National Important Cultural Assets. Such as, the Zuishinmon gate, torii gate and shrine buildings. Moreover, there are thirty-six paintings of poets belonging to the shrine that are national treasures of Japan. Other significant features include, but are not limited to, the 13 pairs of stone lanterns, 12 pictures of hawks transferred from Edo Castle and Zuishin guardians and wood carved Koma-inu dedicated by Iemitsu.
The hanachozu at Semba Toshogu shrine is particularly stunning. Moreover, the font itself is a stone chozu-bachi and it has a dragon head water spout.
It costs 500 yen for this special event. It is well worth it and then some, in my humble opinion. I had the most enjoyable hour at Senba Toshogu shrine today and it was mostly due to the volunteers. Never have I met such a wonderful warm group of volunteers at a location like this. There was such a pleasant atmosphere due to the friendliness and amicability of the reception staff, tour guides and security staff. I was very fortunate too, to meet Kawagoe90 san who is the artist behind the stunning hanachozu on the grounds.
Moreover, the money goes to an excellent cause. The honden needs some repairs, particularly to the roof. Our guide told us the cost, I think he said 18 oku yen. I am not sure I remembered the figure correctly, but I am certain beyond doubt that he said ‘oku’ which is a hundred million. So if you visit you not only get to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity, you also get to contribute to the costs of maintaining this important cultural asset of Japan for future generations to enjoy.
Please note, photos are strictly forbidden in the honden, heidan and haiden and of the honden from the outside. You can take photos of the haiden from the outside, and of the pair statues and the hanachozu. Also, anything at the bottom of the stairs! Also, only limited English is available. To be truthful, you would need a good grip of Japanese to understand all the incredible details about the features of the designs of the shrine. And they really do give amazing, in-depth details. I learned so much today.
However, there were also elements that were beyond my Japanese capabilities, but I got the gist. I also finally found out why there are no guardians in the Zuishin-mon gate and got to see the wood carved Koma-inu dedicated by Iemitsu. Among so many other things… seriously, just go check it out. You will walk away with a wealth of information and see some magnificent cultural properties.
Event: Special opening of the Senba Toshogu Shrine 仙波東照宮特別公開
Venue: Senba Toshogu Shrine 仙波東照宮, 1-21-1 Kosenbamachi, Kawagoe, Saitama 〒350-0036. View on Google Maps.
Dates: Until public holiday Wednesday November 23rd.
Hours: Accessible between 10 am and 3.30 pm.
Cost: 500 yen
Senba Toshogu Shrine is on the same grounds at Kitain, which currently has a Chrysanthemum festival on. You can use the Kitain parking, it costs 500 yen for the day (flat rate). If you are coming by public transport, it is within walking distance of all stations, it takes about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the station. Hon-Kawagoe station is the closest. If you are using one of the kawagoe tourist / loop buses the bus stop is the same as that for Kitain.