Thursday 27th April 2017 – Nikko
Wayne and I had extended our JR Rail pass for an extra week as we had more time than the rest of the group, so got up early today and navigated the route north of Tokyo and into the mountains and forests of Nikko. It’s a couple of hours by train from Ueno station, but having left at 6.30 we were ahead of the crowds and lucky enough to have a lovely day.
The bullet takes you to one stop, then a local train drops you in Nikko a couple of kilometres from the main sights. We wandered up through the local town to the Shin-kyo, the sacred spot where monk Shodo Shonin was said to be carried across the Daisy River on the backs of two giant serpents. No serpents today, but now it’s a lovely bridge with a tree-lined backdrop over crystal clear water.
The main area with all the temples is now a World Heritage Site, and the temples and shines sit on a wooded hill, with stone walk ways through the cedar forests. Originally, in about the 8th century a hermitage was established here and it became an area for training Buddhist monks, but then it was chosen as the site for Tokugawa Leyasu to be laid to rest (the warlord who set up the shogun method of rule) and a giant shrine was built using a huge workforce – completing all of the work in 2 years flat.
The walk up to the main sight the Tosho-gu, is along a stone path, with stone walls covered in moss surrounded by huge trees, so it’s all very scenic. Tosho-gu is really decorative compared to most of the shrines we’ve seen in Japan, closer to the temples and shrines in Hong Kong with the greens and blues, and most decorative of all is the Sunset Gate, which is a dazzling gold, white and multi coloured entry to the main area. It’s being restored at the moment but they’ve completed most of the gate so we were able to see the main part.
It gets a bit wacky inside, with a stable with a real white horse (all the ones we’ve seen to date have had a plastic horse), temples with carvings of elephants which are a bit odd (apparently the artist had never actually seen a real elephant) and lots of carvings of animals at the top of all the walls – the most popular of which seemed to be a small cat..
We wandered around for a couple of hours, then headed back to the station for our return trip to Tokyo as this evening was our fair well supper and there was the promise of karaoke! We met the group back at the hotel and headed down towards Ginza for a supper of Yakatori – small things served on skewers, grilled on a fire in the middle of the room. We had tofu, chicken and leek, beef, Wayne of course went off-piste and had chicken livers, all washed down with the local beer. A final food group we hadn’t tried and a great way to say goodbye to our travel buddies..
A group of us then headed back to Ikebukuro for Karaoke – basically a small room in a huge tower of a building with a karaoke machine serving alcohol…. what’s not to love??