May 10, 2009


From Kinugawa Onsen it is a short train ride to Nikko, famous worldwide for its temples and shrines and also its hot springs. Most visitors travelling up from Tokyo arrive at the Tobu Nikko Station, but a couple of hundred metres away is the rather more picturesque, but older JR Nikko Station which dates back a hundred years or so.
Under the station entrance is an artist's impression of the roaring dragon, one of the features of the Toshogu Shrine, though it has to be said that this version isn't a patch on the huge charcoal image on the ceiling of the shrine.

The river that runs through Nikko is both very wide and heavily sculpted in true Japanese fashion with concrete and stone weirs and walls. Building up river banks in either stone or concrete is a common feature to be seen all around the country. It is both a lengthy and costly process, which no doubt keeps many contractors happy.
The main attraction in Nikko is the Nikko Sannai area which is home to some very famous and culturally important shrines and temples that have been recognised as World Heritage sites. The first place to see is Rinnoji, a temple complex originally established in the eighth century.

Inside the main building there is the huge Three Buddha Hall, with (obviously) a trio of huge statues of Buddha in different poses.

After leaving the grounds of the complex, there is a dusty road leading up to the entrance of Toshogu, a shrine dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which heralded the start of the Edo period.
As well as being historically significant, the whole complex is filled absolutely amazing examples of traditional Japanese architecture and craftsmanship, such as the five-storey pagoda.

Another of the famous features of Toshogu are the relief carvings of the Three Wise Monkeys on the Sacred Stable building.

The next of the really famous views at Toshogu is the Yomei-mon Gate which features an incredible amount of detail in its relief carvings, meaning you could easily spend an hour or more looking at each part of the gateway.
There are so many fine examples of detailed carvings and bright colours on show that it's difficult to know where to focus your attention as you try to take in as much as possible on your way through the complex.

Above the shrine is the tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa, and to get there you have to pass through the Sakushita-mon Gate, famous for the carving of the Sleeping Cat. This ornate carving is actually quite small, but is deemed a national treasure as it is supposed to prevent any evil spirits gaining access to the tomb.
After passing through the gate there is a long climb up two hundred stone steps to the tomb.
Next to the tomb is the wishing tree, what's left of an old cedar tree which dates back a few centuries.

Even after the splendour of Toshogu, there is still more to see, and the next place on the itinerary is Futarasan Shrine, again dating back some twelve centuries or so.

Like all shrines, there are different ways to tell your fortune. In this Wheel of Fortune-style example, you spin the wheel and your fortune is determined by which type of snack lands in front of the arrow. No doubt a more recent addition to the shrine.

The last area to visit in the Nikko Sannai area is the Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple, which is also the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa.
All of the gates are guarded on the left and right hand side, both inside and out by elaborately carved statues of different gods.

To summarise, it's difficult to express in words just how impressive the whole area is and for anyone visiting Japan, this has to be a must on the itinerary.
Temple-hopping is thirsty work, so after taking the bus back into town it was time for some refreshing kaki-gori (shaved ice).
A nice contrast of colours and textures which caught my eye.A Showa period sign outside a shop that had long since gone out of business.
Being just about two hours away from Tokyo, Nikko is well worth a visit for anyone who hasn't done so before.

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