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Nikko: The Shinto and Buddhist Temples and Shrines of Nikko

Nikko Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 12 › view all entries
Nikko: JR Nikko Station

Did I really visit the shrines? Or was it more of a hiking experience that challenged my body on how fit or rather unfit I have become? Still, I blame it on sleep deprivation since arriving in Japan - running on only a total of 9 hours of sleep in the past 72 hours.

I used my JR Pass for the first time today. I arrived in Nikko after a 2-hour train ride from Ueno via the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsunomiya, and to Nikko via the JR Nikko Line. I had to wait for about 45 minutes for the JR Nikko Line since I just missed it when I arrived at the Utsonomiya Station. Wandering around the station, there were a lot of shops to check out. Most of them sell the local food specialties so if you have the time, definitely check out them out. The train ride was packed with people going to Nikko. I forgot that it was a holiday that day so there weren't only tourists like me venturing out to Nikko, but Japanese people as well.

Nikko: town center and bus stop area
It was a lovely day to be out. The temperature wasn't humid compared to the previous days, with just a light, cool, fall breeze added to the semi-cloudy day.

I arrived at Nikko Station and asked for the train schedule back to Utsunomiya before I continued on my walk to the town center and up to the shrine. It is a 30-minute walk uphill from the train station to the hilly woodlands where the temples are located. There is the option to take the bus to where the temples are, but I opted out of it since I wanted to see the town as well. On my walk, I passed by stores and restaurants, possible places I could check out if I had the mind to do some souvenir shopping.

Before reaching the shrines, I came across the Shin-Kyō, a red, sacred bridge over the Daiya River, reconstructed from its 17th century original. It is a well photographed spot with the Nikko's natural scenery as its background. Unfortunately, because I visited too early for the foliage season, there weren't much autumn colors to be seen behind the bridge, but the sunlight gave my photos an ethereal glow to them.

Nikko: Shin-Kyo Bridge
I crossed the street and hiked up the serene hills toward the temple Rinnō-ji.

At the booth, I bought a ¥1000 combination ticket, covering the entrance fee to Rinnō-ji Temple, the shrines, Tōshō-u and Futarasan-jinja, and Taiyuin-byo Mausoleum.

Nikko: dragon-designed fountain?
The combination ticket excludes the entrance fee to the Nemuri-Neko (Sleeping cat) and the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu which is an additional ¥520. I recommend buying this combination ticket if one do not want to go and see the Nemuri-Neko and tomb of Ieyasu.

Smoke waft through the air in front of the Rinnō-ji Temple where a large incense burner is located.

Nikko: Sambutsu of Rinno-ji
I fan the smoke all over me before climbing up the stairs to the Rinnō-ji. It was said that the smoke has healing powers. The Rinnō-ji is a Tendai sect temple founded 1200 years ago. There are guides that will tour you around the temple, but they only speak Japanese. Inside the Rinnō -ji are three of the largest wooden buddhas in Japan located in the Sanbutsu-do (Three Buddhas Hall). The central image is Amida Nyoria, one of the main deities in the Mahayana Buddhist cannon, with the 1000-armed cannon, Senju, the deity for love and compassion, and the horse-headed cannon, Batō, whose special domain is the animal kingdom.
Nikko: taking the smoke at the temples
By the side hall is the healing Buddha, with his ring finger over a medicinal bowl - the medicine finger or kusuri-yubi. When I arrived at this hall, this poor Buddha was being thoroughly groped by old Japanese women, as they hoped the Buddha's me dicinal touch transfer to them and give them a healthy life. Needless to say, the staff watching this particular buddha was greatly amused at the hysterics of these old Japanese women. I squished myself in, quickly touch the Buddha's hand before exiting the temple. There is also the Homotsu-den (Treasure Hall), where 6000 treasure related to the Rinnō-ji are housed, with an additional fee not included in the combination ticket.
Nikko: Tosho-gu

I continued on to the famous of all the Nikko World Heritage site, the Tōshō-gu Shrine. Tōshō-gu is a storied Shinto shrine, meaning it is in levels. I didn't quite grasp this concept  until I found myself with aching legs as I hiked up and down the endless flight of stairs from one part of the Tōshō-gu shrine to another. It is here where the famous sacred storehouses are located. At its entrance is a huge stone torii, and passed it, is a five-storey pagoda, with no foundation but a long suspended pole that will maintain its equilibrium in the event of an earthquake. The pagoda was dated to from the 1650 and was reconstructed at 1818.

Nikko: Large torii gate of Tosho-gu
I climbed up the stairs to go through yet another stone torii, Omote-mon, with two Deva kings flanked by its side, to get to the main shrine where the three sacred storehouses, Sanjinko, are located. Of the three sacred storehouses, the Shinyosha, the sacred stable is the most famous with its allegorical, relief carvings of monkeys that demonstrates the three principles of Tendai Buddhism: "hear no evil", "speak no evil", "see no evil". The colors seemed to have faded though since it is exposed to the weather all year round, unless I'm mistaken.

Across from the sacred stable is the other storehouse with an imaginative relief carvings of elephants. It was said to have been done by an artist who had never seen a real elephant.  It is a very nice set of relief carvings, coated in gold, filled with colors and depth. A granite font is located at the end of the storehouses, where worshipers cleanse their hands, and rinses their mouths prior to entering the temples, according to the Shintō practices.

Nikko: Tosho-gu - five-storey pagoda
I decided to skip such practices for hygiene reasons... that and the lines was quite long.

Another set of stairs led me up to the drum tower and belfry. To its left is the Honji-dō, known for its ceiling paints of crying dragon, Nakiryu. With yet another set of stairs, I went through the Sunset Gate, Yōmei-mon. This gate is very elaborately designed. As I looked carefully, I can distinguished the intricate, colored carvings, and paintings of flowers, dancing girls, and mythical beasts, and Chinese sages, as well as the dazzling gold leaf that adorned this gate. However, it looked to be out of place in a Japanese shrine with its Chinese style. To its left is a storage house for portable shrines, mikoshi, used during festivals. 


Tōshō-gu's main hall, Honden, and hall of worship, Haiden, are across the enclosure.

Nikko: Tosho-gu - One of the three sacred storehouses
The outside seems to be under-renovation. I decided not go in as it holds worship services. On the right, a crowd gathered. A ticket booth guarded the entrance, so I paid the ¥520 fee since it wasn't included in the combination ticket. The line moved slowly. Curious, I followed the crowd. A small wooden sculpture of a sleeping cat was what these Japanese people were taking pictures of frantically. Nemuri-Neko, sleeping cat, is famous all over Japan for its supposedly lifelike appearance. I certainly don't see it. Past the Nemuri-Neko, an uphill path through tall, towering cedar trees and three, high flight of stairs leads to the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I hiked the stairs along with young and old Japanese people. Sufficed to say, we were all short of breath and felt the strain on our legs by the second flight. With one flight of stairs still to go, I persisted. Reaching top, I was ecstatic of my achievement. As do the others who occupied the benches - a designated resting area? I found an empty spot to rest for five minutes before I forced myself to get up and walk.
Nikko: relief carvings of elephant
 

I cursed under my breath. In front of me was yet another flight of stairs. You have got to be kidding me! Shaking my head, I climbed it up. Why not? I was already there. Finally, I reached the tomb of Ieyasu. Tokugawa Ieyasu, an important person in Japanese history as one of the most powerful man in Japan. He was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years from 1600 when he seized power until the Meiji Restoration in 1868 ended the feudal era. Ieyasu was appointed as shogun in 1603 and remained in power until 1616. Although not very well liked and popular in his time, Tokugawa was said to be feared and respected for his shrewdness and leadership abilities. The temple in which faced the entrance was crowded. A monk held prayer. I stayed for a couple of minutes before I continued on, around the temple where Ieyasu's tomb is located. The hike back down was very much easier.

I left Tōshō-gu for another shrine, Futarasan-jinja.

Nikko: Tosho-gu - Sacred stable's famous relief carving of monkey - "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil"
A 15-minute walk along a cemented path through the towering cedars, I found Futarasan-jinja to be less crowded and I guess lavishly decorated than the two previous shrines I had visited. Founded in 782 by the Shōdō Shōnin, the Buddhist monk who introduce Buddhism to Nikko, Futarasan-jinja is the protector shrine of Nikko. It is the oldest shrine in Nikko, with the current buildings dating back to 1619. The shrine is dedicated to the Shinto gods, kami, of Nikko's three most scared mountains, Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho, and Mt. Taro.  I went through another large stone torii and up the flight of stairs to the shrine's main area. I took my time wandering around the shrine. A ceremony was being held in the haiden, hall of workship. Bells tolled. I wandered into one of the shrine's 'houses'. The Daikoku housed several temple scrolls encased in glass, prayer beads, swords, and a bell.
Nikko: Tosho-gu - Sacred stable's famous relief carving of monkey
I don't think it was meant for tolling, so I dropped a ¥100 into the collection box, clapped twice, bowed, and clapped twice again, before saying a quick prayer and left.

Isolated from the rest of the shrines, Taiyuin-byo is both a mausoleum and a Buddhist temple of the third Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu's grandson, Iemitsu. I especially like Taiyuin-byo compared to the other temples and shrines for several reasons. It was a smaller shrine located in a cryptomeria forest. Another high flight of stairs led me to the gate, Nio-mon, flanked with guardian deities on each side. Each deity has a hand up, to welcome those with pure hearts, and hand down, to suppress impure hearts. The exterior of the main hall, Honden, is lavishly decorated but more sedate than the Tōshō-gu. Dozens of lanterns stood in front of the main hall with relief carvings of birds decorate the the perimeter that surrounds main hall.

Nikko: Tosho-gu - entrance and crowd
I would love to have seen the shrine at night with all the lanterns lit up. It would have been a very lovely scene - if not creepy.

Exhausted, I took a brief respite by the bus stop where there is a small, open air restaurant before returning to the train station. After quick browse through their limited menu, I decided on some soba noodle soup with chicken. Staffed with only two people, the service was surprisingly quick. I left 45 minutes later, rested, full after a large bowl of soba noodle soup for ¥600, and ready for my walk back to the train station. I took the different route this time, passing through from stores and restaurant, more tall cedars, before exiting at the same area where I began my hike to the the shrines. As I walk downhill to the main streets, I stopped at shops along the way to find something to buy as a souvenir. Nothing caught my eye so I continued on. Then I found it! The Japanese dragon store I was told about not to miss. This store sells paintings of Japanese dragons, done by the artist at the store itself.

Nikko: Tosho-gu - Font where worshippers cleanse their hands and rinse their mouths prior to entering the temples
I wanted to buy several paintings, but I had no time and there were already a lot of orders ahead of me. If I only remembered on my way to the temples, I would have placed my orders then and pick them up on my way down and return to the station. As a souvenir, I took pictures of the artist while making another painting. 

I arrived at the JR Nikko Station with five minutes to spare before the train for Utsunomiya arrived. I was happy to grab an empty seat and saw myself facing a guy that I remember seeing at the small restaurant by the shrine. I guess he recognized me because he struck up a conversation. He was from Poland but studied university in the U.S. Through the train ride back to Utsunomiya, and the transfer to Tokyo, we talked how we both were exhausted from hiking up and down the shrines of Nikko and compared itinerary - he was going to Izu-Hanto for the onsen, and to Hakone, neither of which coincide with my itinerary.

Nikko: Tosho-gu - the line at the font
We arrived in Ueno Station and parted our ways.

I arrived at the hostel, took a shower, packed my luggage, ate dinner and slept. Ready for next destination. Mt. Fuji-Hakone and the onsen-ryokan for my birthday!

Airportman says:
I loved Nikko when I was there in 2000. I didn't go when I was in Japan in 2007 and 2008, hopefully next time I'm in Japan, I will go.
Posted on: Jul 26, 2009
ellechic says:
thanks, chris! i highly recommend going here. either the spring or autumn season. there are other places to see in nikko, but i didn't get to check out the other sites in the area bec i had no time and i was already exhausted.
in all of the temples and shrines, i love taiyuin-byo the most because of the lanterns and it's located, even if the tosho-gu is the most lavisly decorated and considerably larger.
Posted on: Jan 17, 2009
reikunboy says:
great blog, I've been waiting for you to write this. I haven't been to Nikko yet but hopefully I'll go this year.
Posted on: Jan 17, 2009
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Nikko: JR Nikko Station
Nikko: JR Nikko Station
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Nikko: town center and bus stop a…
Nikko: Shin-Kyo Bridge
Nikko: Shin-Kyo Bridge
Nikko: dragon-designed fountain?
Nikko: dragon-designed fountain?
Nikko: Sambutsu of Rinno-ji
Nikko: Sambutsu of Rinno-ji
Nikko: taking the smoke at the tem…
Nikko: taking the smoke at the te…
Nikko: Tosho-gu
Nikko: Tosho-gu
Nikko: Large torii gate of Tosho-gu
Nikko: Large torii gate of Tosho-gu
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Nikko: Tosho-gu - five-storey pag…
Nikko: Tosho-gu - One of the three…
Nikko: Tosho-gu - One of the thre…
Nikko: relief carvings of elephant
Nikko: relief carvings of elephant
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Nikko: Tosho-gu - Sacred stables …
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Nikko: Tosho-gu - the line at the…
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Nikko: Another large stone torii …
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Nikko: Tosho-gu - more relief ca…
Nikko: Tosho-gu - more  relief car…
Nikko: Tosho-gu - more relief ca…
Nikko: Tosho-gu - gate guardians
Nikko: Tosho-gu - gate guardians
Nikko: Tosho-gu - Yomei-mon
Nikko: Tosho-gu - Yomei-mon
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Nikko: Tosho-gu - Nemuri-Neko
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Nikko: Tosho-hu - relief carvings…
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Nikko: Tosho-gu - Tomb of Ieyasu …
Nikko: Tosho-gu - Tomb of Ieyasu -…
Nikko: Tosho-gu - Tomb of Ieyasu …
Nikko: Tosho-gu - Tomb of Ieyasu -…
Nikko: Tosho-gu - Tomb of Ieyasu …
Nikko: Tosho-gu - lanterns
Nikko: Tosho-gu - lanterns
Nikko: path to other shrines
Nikko: path to other shrines
Nikko: cedars that lined the paths
Nikko: cedars that lined the paths
Nikko: Futarasan-jinja - for luck?…
Nikko: Futarasan-jinja - for luck…
Nikko: Futarasan-jinja - mini tori…
Nikko: Futarasan-jinja - mini tor…
Nikko: Futarasan-jinja - sacred po…
Nikko: Futarasan-jinja - sacred p…
Nikko: Taiyun-byo - entrance
Nikko: Taiyun-byo - entrance
Nikko:
Nikko:
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Nikko: Taiyun-byo - lanterns and …
Nikko: Taiyun-byo - gate guardians…
Nikko: Taiyun-byo - gate guardian…
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Nikko: Taiyun-byo - the Nio-mon g…
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Nikko: Taiyun-byo - Honden, the m…
Nikko: Taiyun-byo - Honden, the ma…
Nikko: Taiyun-byo - Honden, the m…
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Nikko: Taiyun-byo - perimeter
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Nikko: relief carvings along Taiy…
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Nikko: pathway down to Nikko's ma…
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Nikko: cedar trees
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Nikko: Japanese Dragon Art store
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Nikko: Japanese Dragon Art store …
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Nikko General Tips & Advice review
Combination Ticket covers Nikko's World Heritage Sites Entrance Fees
For ¥1000, this combination ticket, sold by the ticket booths near Sanbutsu-do in Rinnō-ji and outside the Omote-mon gate in Tōshō-gu, is a great … read entire review
Nikko
photo by: Shakar81