Archive for July 29, 2017

nikkō: a rainy morning at toshogu shrine   7 comments

Saturday, July 29:  I leave my hotel by 7:30 a.m. in hopes of getting ahead of the crowds to Toshogu Shrine in Nikkō. The forecast is for 100% rain all day, and already the showers have started. I have my umbrella, so I’m as prepared as I can be in this muggy weather that’s too hot for a raincoat.

I walk past the misty Daiya River on my way up to the shrine.

The Daiya River

Nikkō is known for its brightly lacquered ancient shrines, aged moss clinging to stone walls, soldierly stone lanterns, vermilion gates, whimsical wood carvings and towering cedars. It is known for its ostentatious display of the glories of the Edo period (1600-1868) and the wealth and power of the Tokugawa shogunate.  Spread out over a terrain of forested and hilly terrain, it is an amazing spectacle.

It’s too bad I have to wade through a deluge on the day I’m here to see it.

a mossy stone wall

The lavishly decorated Toshogu Shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a lush forest. Unlike the simple shrine architecture traditionally found in Japan, here elaborate wood carvings and vast quantities of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings.  The shrine contains both Shinto and Buddhist elements, like most shrines did through the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when Shinto was deliberately separated from Buddhism. At Toshogu, the two religions were so intermingled that the separation was not carried out completely, according to Japan-guide.com: Toshogu Shrine.  The shrine was listed as a World Heritage site in December 1999.

So I don’t have to keep repeating myself, all parts of this shrine are designated as Important Cultural Properties unless otherwise stated.  I will mention the ones that are National Treasures.  All information is from the Toshogu Shrine website.

It seems I have beat the crowds when I first arrive. I pass through the Ishidorii, the stone torii gate leading into the shrine.  Ishidorii Gate was dedicated in 1618 by the feudal lord of present day Fukuoka Prefecture. The stone for the gate was transported by ship from Kyushu to Koyama and then manually hauled over land to Nikkō.

Up ahead I see the Omotemon, the Front Gate.  It is also called Nio Gate because of the two guardian deity statues positioned on the left and right.

first torii at Toshogu Shrine

Just inside the torii gate is the Gojunoto, or the Five-Story Pagoda.  It was dedicated in 1648 by Sakai Tadakatsu, the feudal lord of present day Fukui Prefecture. It was destroyed by fire in 1815 and rebuilt in 1818 by Sakai Tadayuki, a feudal lord of the same lineage.

Though I try my best, it seems impossible to get a decent picture of it.

I love the ancient moss-covered stone lanterns found throughout Toshogu Shrine.

Torii at Toshogu Shrine

lanterns at Toshogu

Just inside the Omotemon are the Sanjinko, or three sacred storehouses: Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse), Nakajinko (Middle Sacred Storehouse), and Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse). Harnesses and costumes used in the Procession of 1,000 Samurai, a part of the Sacred Processions held in spring and fall, are kept in the storehouses.

Below is the Shimojinko, or Lower Sacred Storehouse.

Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse)

Nakajinko (Middle Sacred Storehouse) (L) & Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse) (R)

Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse)

Shinkyusha Stable is a stable for the shrine’s sacred horses. There is a frieze of eight panels of carved monkeys running around the building, depicting the lives of ordinary people. Monkeys have been regarded as guardians of horses since ancient times.

Shinkyusha (Sacred Stable) & Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys)

The “Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil” carving of three monkeys is particularly famous.

Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys)

The Three Wise Monkeys are up to all sorts of shenanigans. The ema at Toshogu display a variety of animals.

I pass through another torii gate, heading toward the elaborate Yomeimon Gate.

Yomeimon Gate as seen through the torii

The Omizuya is used to purify body and mind.  Here, worshippers wash their hands and rinse out their mouths before worshiping the enshrined deity. The basin was dedicated in 1618 by Nabeshima Katsushige, feudal lord of Kyushu-Saga.

Omizuya (Water Purification Building)

Omizuya (Water Purification Building) -detail

Upper Sacred Storehouse and Drum Tower on higher level

Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses)

Upper Sacred Storehouse

Upper Sacred Storehouse

Upper Sacred Storehouse

Bell Tower at Toshogu Shrine

Toshogu Shrine: Drum Tower in back

The Kairo (Corridor) is designated a National Treasure. The exterior wall of the building extending to the left and right of Yomeimon Gate is decorated with intricate flower and bird carvings that are considered among the best in Japan. All the carvings are single-panel openwork painted in vivid colors.

Kairo (Corridor)

relief carvings on the Kairo (Corridor)

Kairo (Corridor)

Bell at Toshogu Shrine

candelabra

The beautiful Yomeimon Gate, designated a National Treasure, is said to have been given the name “Main Gate of the Imperial Court.” It is also called “Gate of the Setting Sun” because one could gaze upon it all day. It is covered with over 500 carvings depicting traditional anecdotes, children playing, sages and wise men.

Yomeimon Gate

Yomeimon Gate

Yomeimon Gate

details: Yomeimon Gate

Guardian at Yomeimon Gate

guardian at Yomeimon Gate

detail Yomeimon Gate

details on Yomeimon Gate

details on Yomeimon Gate

Yomeimon Gate

Drum Tower & Honjido Hall

At nearly every shrine in Japan are colorful sake barrels.  These are kept under cover, and I take an opportunity to get out of the rain to study them more closely.

I don’t know the significance of Kaguraden Hall, but it has colorful intricate carvings like the rest of the halls at Toshogu.

The rain has been falling steadily, but at this point in my journey, buckets of water start falling from the sky!

Kaguraden Hall ??

Kaguraden Hall ??

Kaguraden Hall ??

The Karamon Gate, designated a National Treasure, is painted with a white powder chalk and features intricate carvings of Kyoyu and Soho (legendary Chinese sages), the emperor and his audience, and other scenes.

Behind the Karamon Gate is the Main Shrine, the most important area at Toshogu Shrine, which is being renovated. Sadly, I’m unable to take pictures of it. Designated a National Treasure, it consists of the Honden (Main Hall), Ishinoma (Stone Chamber), and Haiden (Worship Hall).

As you can see, my camera lens keeps getting wet and I have a few smudges on my photos.

Karamon Gate

Karamon Gate

The Shinyosha houses the three portable shrines used in the Sacred Processions conducted in spring and fall (May 18 and October 17).

Shinyosha (Portable Shrine House)

Sakashitamon Gate marks the start of a long flight of stairs that leads uphill through the woods to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 – 1616), the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which effectively ruled Japan from 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Sakashitamon Gate

Ieyasu was known to be careful and bold, yet calculating, switching sides when it benefited him. He was not very well liked nor personally popular, but he was feared and he was respected for his leadership and his cunning. He was also at times merciless and cruel, and though he was at first tolerant of Christianity, that changed after 1613 when Christian executions sharply rose.

The Kitoden (Prayer Hall) holds weddings, rituals for new-born babies, and other ceremonies.

Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

guardian at Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

huge cedar tree

By the time I’m getting ready to leave Toshogu, the crowds have descended, as can be seen in this picture.  I’m glad I got here early.  I didn’t expect to encounter many people on such a rainy day, but of course I should know better by now.  Nothing keeps the Japanese inside on a weekend day!

a colorful group photo

moss-covered lanterns

cedar tree

It is a shame that I happen to visit this most elaborate of Japan’s shrines on such a miserable day.  But as it is likely I will not visit this place again in my lifetime, there is no choice but to soldier on.  And that’s exactly what I do as I leave Toshogu Shrine and walk down a long pathway toward Futarasan Shrine.

 

 

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travel & arrival in nikko   9 comments

Friday, July 28:  This weekend is my last before I’m officially released from my teaching contract on Tuesday and I begin my last one-week holiday in Japan.  Although classes ended on Monday, we wrapped things up on Tuesday, and we had our final meeting with the administrators on Thursday, we still were required to be available to come in within an hour if we were called about any problems with the student grades.  I figured by Friday around noon if I hadn’t heard from anyone, I’d take off for Nikko, north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture.

It’s quite a convoluted trip to get to Nikko from my home in Sagamihara, but after several metro changes within Tokyo, I’m finally on the Limited Express Nikko-Kinugawa Kinu line which has reserved seats and takes me directly to Nikko.  Through the train window, I get glimpses of rural Japan, which I haven’t seen since I’ve been living close to Tokyo for four months and haven’t taken any trips outside the metropolitan area.

view of farmland out the train window

views from the train

farmland north of Tokyo

train window views

farmland on the way to Nikko

more farmland

I’m surprised to have the train almost to myself for the whole hour and a half trip.  I even take a selfie; these never turn out well for me.  This is maybe the best I’ve ever taken and it’s still bad.

It’s close to 5:00 when I finally arrive to dark skies and sputtering rain. I hop on a bus to my hotel, the Turtle Inn, as directed by Tourist Information.  On the bus I meet Christine from Luxembourg. She’s traveling alone as her husband couldn’t take time off work.  She’s planning to go some of the places I’ll go next week when I move out of my apartment: Hiroshima, Miyajima and Nara.

It turns out she gets off the bus at the same stop as I do, as she’s planning to walk to the Narabi-Jizo (Bake-Jizo), a line of stone statues of the Buddhist Guardian deity Jizo; she has to walk by my hotel to get there.  On our way, I see a restaurant someone told me about that serves a monk’s diet.  I know my hotel doesn’t serve dinner, so I decide to stop for dinner and a beer.  I invite her to join me, but she’s on a mission.

restaurant in Nikko

The restaurant is cozy and the monk’s meal is delicious!  It features yuba prepared in a variety of ways.  Yuba, a food made from soybeans, is also known as tofu skin, bean curd skin or bean curd robes.  During the boiling of soy milk, in an open shallow pan, a film or skin forms on the liquid surface. The films are collected and dried into yellowish sheets known as tofu skin. It may sound a little strange, but it’s really delicious!

The menu below outlines what is in the monk’s diet: Nimono (boiled food): rolled yuba, village potato, carrot and shiitake mushroom.  Yuba with sweet miso topping and koyadofu.  Yuba and vegetable with dressing. Tempura. Yuba-flavored Konyaku / fresh (sashimi).  Miso soup with yuba. Yuba cooked in soy sauce and rice. And finally, for dessert, seasonal fruit — apples and kiwi. Of course, I enjoy a beer too!

“Yuba” festa – monk’s diet

“Yuba” festa – monk’s diet

After leaving the restaurant, I walk down toward the misty River Daiya, following the directions along the river to my hotel.

fog rising off the River Daiya

Nikko

By around 6:20, I am walking along the road toward the Turtle Inn, arriving there 10 minutes later.

The road to the Turtle Inn

Turtle Inn

bicycle at the Turtle Inn

After settling in at the Turtle Inn, I decide to take a walk to the Shinkyo, the vermilion lacquered Sacred Bridge built over the River Daiya.  The innkeeper suggested that I should see it at night all lit up. It’s designated as an important cultural property and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1999.

Shinkyo, The Sacred Bridge

According to legend, in 766 AD the Buddhist monk Shodo came to Nikko to teach Buddhism.  The rapid current of the River Daiya stopped his progress.  In those days, it was customary for priests to light a holy fire and ask for divine help.  A god appeared on the other side of the river and threw two snakes that entwined themselves into a bridge for monk Shodo. He was then able to cross the river and build the Shihonryuji Temple, where he could teach and practice Buddhism.

Shinkyo, The Sacred Bridge

The current Shinkyo was constructed in 1636, but a bridge of some kind had marked the same spot for longer, although its exact origins are unclear, according to  Japan-guide.com.

Shinkyo, The Sacred Bridge

Nikko World Heritage Site

Although, my camera is a bit shaky here, I like how the photo turns out.

Shinkyo, The Sacred Bridge

Shinkyo, The Sacred Bridge

It isn’t long before rain comes down in a deluge.  Luckily I have my umbrella.  I splash back to the hotel, where I immediately change and head for the individual onsen.  There are a couple of small onsens shared by all people at the hotel, but they are used individually. It feels good to have a hot bath before I settle in to my futon for the night.

Sadly, the forecast in Nikko for the whole weekend calls for rain, but as always, I’m hopeful that the sun will prevail. 🙂

Steps today: 12,187 (5.16 miles).

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