If you’re planning a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Nikko in the near future, you’ll be missing out on two of the most famous original wood carvings in the area.

Of the many shrines and temples in the famous Nikko region, located 125 kilometers north of Tokyo, one of the most revered is Tōshō-gū. Built in 1617 and dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose remains are enshrined within the grounds, a visit to Tōshō-gū is at the top of the list for many visitors to the area.

▼ At the entrance to the shrine is a large stone torii gate
and a beautiful five-storey pagoda.


▼ The temple grounds are shrouded in forest and
contain a large number of intricately decorated buildings.


One of the most popular sites at the temple is the world-famous “Three Wise Monkeys”, a prized wooden carving that sits beneath the eaves of the stable that houses the shrine’s sacred horses. Part of a series of eight carvings that represent the arc of life, the Three Wise Monkeys remains the most well-known, depicting a trio of youths covering their ears, mouth and eyes respectively, as the young are taught to hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil.



Constantly exposed to the elements, the wood carvings are in need of repair, with the shrine announcing the commencement of restoration work to all panels, which will begin once fine weather returns in a few days. Until restoration work is complete in March 2017, a replica of The Three Wise Monkeys will be put in place, while the other seven pieces will be replaced with photographic panels.

▼ This photo of the Three Wise Monkeys, taken six months ago,
shows the extent of the chipped and faded paint on the carving.


▼ Even from a distance, the damage is still visible.


In addition to the restoration of the stable carvings, the popular “Nemuri Neko” carving will also be restored. It was removed from the shrine yesterday, scheduled to return by the end of the year, with a replica standing in its place in the interim.

▼ Both the stable carvings and the “Nemuri Neko” haven’t been restored in 60 years.


The famous wood carving was created by Hidari Jingorō, a famous craftsman who was fascinated by cats and specialised in carving them in astonishingly lifelike detail. A national treasure in Japan, the Nemuri Neko, or “Sleeping Cat” was carved in the early Edo period (1603-1868) and is said to symbolise peace, as it co-exists with a sculpture of a sparrow on its underside.


Located at the entrance to the stairs that lead to Ieyasu’s tomb, the Nemuri Neko is so beloved it features on a number of amulets, goshuin stamp books, and omikuji fortunes.





The recent announcement is the latest in a number of restoration projects undertaken on the site by the Association for the Preservation of the Nikko World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples. It will be interesting to see what the wood carvings will look like once they’ve been restored and are back to their original positions in 2017!


Source: Asahi Shimbun
Photos © RocketNews24