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The rarely updated blog of Joel Dixon

Viewing blogs tagged Nikko

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nikko, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 29/03/2015 14:45:23

A good friend of mine has been working in Japan this past year - and I'd promised myself that I'd come to visit him before he returns. Sure enough, he's leaving Japan in April - so Pao and I have hastily organised a trip through the land of the rising sun. We went with March / April to catch the blossoming of cherries, and managed to time our stay with a popular Spring festival in Takayama.

We decided to start our trip with a few days in Nikko to relax and unwind after 10 hours in a tiny aeroplane seat. Nikko is well known for a bunch of shrines and beautiful scenery - which is probably why it was jam-packed with tourists (mostly from Japan or neighbouring Asian countries).

Mount me
Nikko has some beautiful views, but the temperature was certainly on the "ball freezing" end of the scale

After landing in Narita we immediately caught a train up to Nikko, dropped our bags at the hotel and headed out to see the sights. Rinno-ji was under repairs so we couldn't see a lot of the intricate carvings, but were afforded a much closer view of the golden Buddha statues inside.

Wile E
I tried to stop a few people from taking photos of this temple once I eventually discovered it was just a painting on the scaffolding. I think there was some language barrier causing them to look at me strangely.

We continued to the jewel in Nikko's temple crown - Toshogo Shrine with incredible carvings and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu. In the Honjido Hall there is a painting of a dragon on the roof, and a monk would hit two blocks of wood together to make a normal noise. When he hits the blocks under the dragon's mouth, the acoustics caused the sound of a crying dragon to be produced - which was pretty cool but took me a second to understand what was being said. Everything throughout the attractions were well organised and laid out but as most tourists were from within Japan English was used very sparingly. It was a new experience to not be part of the touring group with the most attention given by the locals - kind of fun.

I love this carving of elephants done by someone that had never seen them (only heard about them). I still think he did a better job than I would have even if I was sitting on an elephant at the time of carving

Smell It
The earliest examples of the three wise monkeys, and the only example of the fourth wise monkey Joelzaru

Just a cat
Nemuri-neko the sleeping cat. Apparently the artist Hidari Jingoro took eight months studying the carving of wood before making this piece. It looks pretty great - but am I wrong in expecting a better return from eight months of carving study? I suspect Hidari's time was spent similarly to Albert Einstein after winning the Nobel prize

Yuba, or tofu skin, is quite famous in Nikko. Turns out tofu skins is just as distasteful as the rest of the tofu

Part of my "maybe if we have time" list was Takino'o Shrine which was a bit of a walk away. I'm very glad we did find time for it as it was one of my Nikko highlights. After walking along a serene stone path through trees, we came across a torii gate with a small hole at the top - if you could throw a stone through the hole within 3 attempts it would result in some extra luck. I managed to thread the needle on my second attempt - which proves just how lucky I am (sulf-fulfilling torii gate I guess). The rest of Takino'o was beautiful and a must-visit as far as I'm concerned. A lack of other visitors really helped with the whole experience.

Spooky Scary
We really enjoyed the slow walk up towards the shrines

Lucky Man
Pao was unlucky as she wasn't able to take the photo while the stone was going through the hole in the torii. Explains why she was unable to make the throw herself...

Apparently torii gates mark the transition between the sacred and the profane. I'm surprised I was able to pass through without being zapped by lighting or something similar

After a brief visit to the sacred bridge of Futarasan Jinja (which was pretty average to be honest) we grabbed dinner at Hippari Dako which was delicious and quite fun. Previous diners have covered the wall and ceiling with postcards, drawings, currency and poems - it was fun to browse through them while eating.

So Rude Leaving Rubbish
The restaurant equivalent of office space

After dinner we headed down to Kanmangafuchi Abyss which is most popular for the Bake Jizo, or Ghost Jizo, that are lined up looking over the river. These statues appealed to me for two reasons. Firstly, they were wearing spanking red capes and knitted beanies - and secondly some had clearly lost their head and a feeble attempt had been made to replace it.

One of the nicer examples of a Bake Jizo

Not so much
It might be hard to tell from this picture - but this statue does not have his original head

We managed to consume all of the major shrines of Nikko in day one - so day two was spent covering more of the "if we have time" attractions. We took a bus through the Iroha-zaka sloping roads - with an interesting name origin - in which 48 hairpin turns to cover 400+ meters of elevation in 3 kilometers to get to Lake Chuzenji. To be honest, while the area around the lake were nice and snow-filled, the lake itself was nothing too special.

One of the slopes up to the lake - very Gran Tourismo!

The second "if we have time" was quite awesome - the Tamozawa Imperial Villa was erected in Nikko in 1899 and provided a great insight to life back then (if you're an emperor - which I'm sure I would have been). After a quick dinner, well-earned bath (in the semi-private onsen) and early night we were ready to say goodbye to Nikko.

The emperor could only afford paper windows it would seem - not so great at keeping ninjas out if my research is accurate

Villa Out
It all looks so pristine and lovely - I wonder if the emperor had neighbours that would shit him off?

This is the 1st in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015

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