Nikko: The Shinto and Buddhist Temples and Shrines of Nikko
Nikko Travel Blog› entry 5 of 12 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
Smoke waft through the air in front of the Rinnō-ji Temple where a large incense burner is located.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!