Buddhist Priest Tenkai, who was followed by the three successive shoguns (Ieyasu, Hidetada and Iemitsu Tokugawa), and Takatora Todo were called to Ieyasu's bedside, who was critically ill, in 1616, and given Ieyasu's dying wish that he wanted to make a place where all three of them could rest in peace forever. Tenkai received a residential site (the present Ueno Park) of Takatora Todo and other feudal lords, founded Toeizan Kan-eiji Temple, and built many temples and branch temples in the precincts. "Toshosha," the predecessor of Toshogu, was founded in 1627 as one of those temples. Later, Toshosha was granted a shrine name by the Imperial Court in 1646, and became "Toshogu." The present main building was rebuilt by Iemitsu Tokugawa, the third Tokugawa shogun, in 1651. It is said that the luxurious main building corresponding to Nikko Toshogu, which was erected in Nikko in 1617, was built for people in Edo who could not visit Nikko Toshogu. Although, in addition to Kan-eiji Temple, many temples and branch temples were burnt down during the Battle of Ueno, one of the battles in the Boshin Civil War, in 1868, which was fought between the shogunate and Imperial troops at the hill of Ueno, Ueno Toshogu survived the war. It also did not collapse in the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred in 1923, escaped later war damage, and still remains as it was.
There are so-called "Gosanke Toro," or stone lanterns of the top three branches of the Tokugawa clan, beside the Chinese-style gate, which were dedicated in 1651 by the Tokugawa families in Owari, Kii and Mito. The lanterns are placed in order of Yorinobu Tokugawa (the 10th son of Ieyasu), a member of the Kii family, Yorifusa Tokugawa (the 11th son of Ieyasu), the Mito family, and Mitsuyoshi Tokugawa (son of Yoshinao, the 9th son of Ieyasu), the Owari family from the gate side. The dragon-like ornaments, attached to the copper roof, are "Shin," an imaginary animal, which is said to breathe spirit from its mouth and form mirages. Images of heavenly maidens are carved on the fire boxes.
More than 250 dedicated stone lanterns are placed in the precincts.
The gate is officially called "Kara Hafu-zukuri Simon-kyaku," or Chinese-style gabled four-post gate, and designated as a nationally important cultural property. Relieves of rising and descending dragons by Jingoro Hidari, a carver in the early Edo Period, are carved on the both sides of the gate. Openwork of golden and flower pheasants are placed at the top of gate, and cuckoos related to a Chinese legend are engraved on the inside of the gate.