Originally established in 1626 by Tôdô Takatora as a private project in honor and worship of the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shrine was considerably restructured in 1651, to match the gongen-zukuri architectural style of Nikkô Tôshûgû, the grand shrine established that year by Tokugawa Iemitsu.
Diplomatic missions from Korea and Ryûkyû visited Nikkô several times in the 17th century, but from the early 18th century onward, they paid formal visits to Ueno Tôshôgû instead, as part of efforts to curtail the extensive costs of these missions.
The shrine was hit by a bomb during World War II, but fortunately it was a dud and the shrine suffered relatively minimal damage. The Main Hall, Karamon gate, and several other buildings, as well as the shrine's stone torii, and fifty large copper lanterns have been recognized by the Japanese national government as Important Cultural Properties.
The main stone torii at the entrance to the shrine, designated an Important Cultural Property, was donated by Sakai Tadayo in 1633. A side torii facing towards Shinobazu Pond was relocated to Ueno from Momijiyama Tôshôgû (within the grounds of Edo castle) in 1873.
Most of the main buildings of the shrine - including the main hall (shaden), Chinese-style gate (karamon), and sukibei wall around the chief inner section of the grounds - date to 1651, and reflect the same gongen-zukuri architectural style as Nikkô Tôshôgû, built by many of the same carpenters and sculptors that same year. All are lavishly decorated in gold leaf and bright red, green, and other color paints. Carvings on the exceptionally elaborate karamon include some number of works by Hidari Jingorô, who is also credited with many of the most famous carvings at Nikkô. Two dragons by Hidari, carved into the gate, are said to fly to nearby Shinobazu Pond every night to drink. The carvings on the gate and on the sukibei wall depict over two hundred species of plants and animals.
The grounds of the shrine include over two hundred stone lanterns, donated to the shrine by various daimyô as demonstrations of loyalty to the Tokugawa shogunate. Fifty copper lanterns stand among them, and one particularly large stone lantern, donated by Sakuma Katsuyuki in 1631 and dubbed Obake-tôrô ("Monster Lantern") for its exceptional size, stands just outside the shrine.
A small shrine to tanuki (raccoon-badger) spirits also stands within the Tôshôgû grounds. This shrine was relocated to Ueno in the Taishô period, after disasters occurred at every location within Edo castle it was placed in. Since the shrine's relocation to Ueno, however, it is said to have brought only good luck.
A camphor (J: kusunoki) tree located just to the left of the main hall is said to be the oldest tree in the entirety of Ueno Park, having stood there for over 600 years.
- Pamphlets available on-site.