Archive for the ‘Nikko’ Category

nikkō tamozawa imperial villa memorial park   10 comments

Sunday, July 30:  I am so tired and soggy from the rain in Nikkō that I’m tempted to forgo any more sights and simply return home.  However, I see on my map it’s not much of a detour to see the Nikkō Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park, built in 1899 as a retreat for Emperor Taisho (Prince Yoshihito at the time).  It was also used by three emperors and three princes until 1947.

According to Tamozawa Imperial Villa was built in Nikkō from parts of a residence that originally stood in Tokyo.  At a sprawling 4,500 square meters, the building has 106 rooms. The Villa harmonizes architecture from three eras: Edo (1603-1868), Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926).

hydrangea on the grounds of Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Before being moved to Nikkō, the building was originally the Tokyo residence of a branch of the Tokugawa family and was later temporarily used as the Imperial Palace.  In Nikkō, it was enlarged into a summer residence and retreat for the Imperial Family, but it suffered neglect after World War II.

The Imperial Family is a long line of emperors who ruled Japan, with limited or symbolic authority, for some 1500 years.  It is commonly accepted that they have all descended from the same family. The imperial crest is a 16-petaled chrysanthemum flower ( Emperor).

entrance to Tamozawa Imperial Villa

The villa was opened to the public in 2000, after extensive renovation works.

gardens at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa is one of the largest remaining wooden buildings in Japan. The interior of the villa is an odd mix of Japanese and Western styles. Many floors are carpeted, and elaborate chandeliers hang from the ceilings. Yet the villa’s Japanese elements, such as sliding paper doors, painted screens, and tatami flooring are prominent as well, according to Tamozawa Imperial Villa.

gardens on the interior


Although still impressive in size and grandeur, Tamozawa Imperial Villa currently occupies only one-third of its original area. It now functions as a museum and memorial park.

I love the painted screens that show romantic images of Japanese nature, nobility and landscape.  The painted paper sliding and cedar board doors of the Villa were transferred from the Edo-naka-yashiki residence of the Kishu Tokugawa family. At the villa, two pairs of decorated sliding doors were installed in the stair rooms on the northern side of the study area and 9 pairs of cedar board door paintings were placed on the first and second floors.  These wall paintings were works by the personal painters of the Kishu Tokugawa, as well as many other masters.  The subjects of the paintings vary widely.

painted screen

detail of painted screen

painted screen

The manicured Japanese style garden surrounding the villa is all green in late July, but its maple trees boast autumn colors in late October and early November.

garden at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

gnarled tree at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

garden at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

garden at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

view of the garden from inside Tamozawa Imperial Villa

gardens at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

gardens at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

gardens at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

gardens at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

gardens at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

grounds at Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

By 11:15, after exploring the nooks and crannies of Tamozawa Imperial Villa, I make my way back to the Turtle Inn to pick up my bags; I left them there to hold for me after I checked out this morning.

walkway back to the Turtle Inn

little bud

Goodbye Turtle Inn

I say goodbye to the Turtle Inn and its turtle army and I’m on my way back home by 11:30.  It’s a long haul to get back to Fuchinobe, and I admit I get a little lost in Tokyo on my way home.  But I make it safely and finish packing up my two large suitcases to have them picked up tomorrow to store in the airport for a week, until August 7.  I have to get my apartment thoroughly cleaned for the inspection on Tuesday, hand my bicycle over to Graham, and then I’ll be on my way to Hiroshima.

Total steps today: 12,418 (5.26 miles).

nikkō: kanman-ga-fuchi, bake jizo & jokoji temple   12 comments

Sunday, July 30: This morning I’m down in the breakfast room at the Turtle Inn by 8:00, gobbling down some bread and a huge plate of fruit.  Random strangers are seated sporadically throughout the dining area.

Dining room at the Turtle Inn

I’m also surrounded by an invasion of turtles, which must be either the inspiration for the hotel’s name, or the manifestation of it.

Turtle at the Turtle Inn

stacks of turtles

By 9:00, I’m walking along the Daiya River toward Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss and the famous Narabi-Jizo (Bake-Jizo).  I’m following one of two historical walks from the Nikkō Historical Walking Map.  I did the Takino’o Path yesterday and today, I’m walking the Kanman Path.  The weather can’t seem decide if it’s going to rain or not; the sky is sporadically spitting, and then it’s not.  Either way, it’s dark and dreary, as my entire time in Nikkō has been.

Daiya River

I come to the Stone Park where there are some interesting stone formations and previews of the Jizo statues to come.

Stone Park entrance

moss-covered stone

The gate along the Kanman Path

Soon, I have my first glimpse of Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss.  This scenic area of the Daiya river was formed by the lava from an eruption of Mt. Nantai.  It is said that Priest Kokai named this abyss ‘Kanman’ because the murmuring of the stream sounds like a recitation of the last word of a sutra, “Kanman.”

first glimpse of Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss

stone lantern

It isn’t long before I come to the Narabi-Jizo (Bake-Jizo), a line of stone statues of Jizo, dressed in red bibs and caps.  Jizo is a bodhisattva (bosatsu in Japanese) who is the protector of children, expectant mothers and travelers. He is also the protector of deceased children, including miscarried, aborted or stillborn infants.  According to one folk tale, the dead children go to a kind of purgatory where they must pile stones into towers to make merit and be released. But demons scatter the stones, and the towers can never be completed. Jizo hides children in his robes to protect them from these demons and save them, according to ThoughtCo.: Jizo Bosatsu and his Role.

Here, there were once 100 stone statues of Jizo, including two big ones, called ‘Oya Jizo’ (Parent Jizo), before the flood in 1902. Today, there are 74 statues standing in a line.  The statues were carved by the disciples of Archbishop Tenkai (1536-1643).




Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss



At Narabi-Jizo, caps, bibs and sometimes toys are left by grieving parents who have lost a child.




The Reihi-kaku Divine Tower is a small building on a rock.  The original tower was built in 1654 by the priest Kokai as an oratory.  Priests lit a holy fire in this tower and prayed for world peace. However, the flood of 1902 washed this tower away, and the current building was rebuilt in 1971.

Reihi-kaku Divine Tower

Reihi-kaku Divine Tower



Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss

Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss

Here is a YouTube video of a walk among the Jizo statues:

I turn around and retrace my steps, heading to Jokoji Temple, which became a family temple (Bodaiji) after moving to this area in 1640. This temple enshrined Amida Nyorai (General Savior of Mankind).

gate to Jokoji Temple

Jokoji Temple

water pavilion at Jokoji Temple

Jokoji Temple

At Jokoji Temple, there are many stone figures, but I don’t know the significance of them.

figures at Jokoji Temple

Jokoji Temple

figures at Jokoji Temple

figure at Jokoji Temple

figure at Jokoji Temple

Kanman-Oya-Jizo-On-Kubi, the head of a parent Jizo, was washed away in the flood of 1902.  After the flood, local people discovered the head in a riverbed and enshrined it at Jokoji Temple.  Its facial features seem to have been washed away.


Sugegasa Higiri Jizo is enshrined in this small wooden building. Jizo is wearing a Japanese hat (kasa) of sedge (suge). It is very rare for Jizo to have such a hat on his head. It is believed if you pray to this Jizo for something you want to be realized on a certain day, your wish will be granted. Many people come here to pray for their wishes.

Sugegasa Higiri Jizo

The cemetery at Jokoji Temple is atmospheric and seems to evaporate into the surrounding forest.

cemetery at Jokoji Temple

At Jokoji Temple, three Jizo sit in a simple wooden building.  The one in the center was built in 1550 and is said to be the oldest stone Buddha in Nikko. This Jizo is called Michibiki Jizo.  “Michibiki” means “to lead” or “to guide.” People believed that this Jizo would lead a dead person to Buddha’s world.  The other two Jizo were called “Mimi-dare Jizo;” it is believed these two Jizo can cure ear disease.

Michibiki Jizo

Michibiki Jizo in the center, and the two Mimi-dare Jizo

reclining moss-covered figure at Jokoji Temple

After leaving Jokoji Temple at 10:15 a.m., I make my way to Nikkō Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park.  After that, I’ll have to be on my way home for my last two days in my Fuchinobe apartment before leaving on my one week holiday. 🙂



nikkō: rinnoji temple, shinkyo sacred bridge & yutaki falls   16 comments

Saturday, July 29:  After visiting the Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple, I retrace my steps to the temple I bypassed earlier this morning, Rinnoji Temple.  It is apparently Nikkō’s most important temple, founded by Shodo Shonin, the monk who introduced Buddhism to the area in the 8th century.  It’s now 11:00 a.m. and I’ve already visited three of the area’s shrines and temples; I’m happy to be making good time despite the rain.

On the way I pass the Sōrin-tō, a 15 meter-high bronze pillar that serves as a symbol of world peace and purifies the back demon gate of Nikkō Toshogu Shrine.  It contains 1,000 volumes of holy Buddhist sutras. Shogun Tokugawa Iyemitsu requested that Monk Jigen Daishi build the pillar in 1643.  Its design imitates the treasure tower at the temples on Mt. Hei (Heizan, Tendai sect headquarters).

The light today is just not working in my favor. 🙂

The sōrin-tō bronze pillar

I pay the fee and enter the Rinnoji temple’s main building, the Sanbutsudo, which houses fabulous gold lacquered, wooden statues of Amida, Senju-Kannon (“Kannon with a thousand arms”) and Bato-Kannon (“Kannon with a horse head”). The three deities are regarded as Buddhist manifestations of Nikkō’s three mountain deities which are enshrined at Futarasan Shrine, according to Rinnoji Temple. These are amazing statues, but sadly, no photography is allowed.

The Sanbutsudo Hall is currently undergoing a major renovation, scheduled to last until March 2019. During this period, the temple hall is covered by a huge scaffolding structure with a picture of the temple on the front.

Rinnoji Temple under renovation

While standing in line, I run into Christine from Luxembourg, who I met last night when I first arrived in Nikkō. It turns out I will run into Christine quite a number of times on this trip, and surprisingly, even later on my trip to the south!  She and I walk around this temple together.  Unlike me, who woke at the crack of dawn and have already been to visit three shrines, including the largest, Toshogu, Christine has just woken up and gotten started, so she is heading to Toshogu after this.  We will have to part ways when we leave Rinnoji.

We are allowed to take one picture, shown below, but we’re not allowed to photograph the Buddha statues.

inside Rinnoji Temple

We walk up a series of stairs to see the ongoing renovation, under cover from the rain.  We are able to take some pictures of the work in progress on the roof.

Around the Rinnoji Temple are small shrines, ema, and Shoyoen, a small Japanese style garden.

After Christine and I split, I revisit the Shinkyo Sacred Bridge, which I saw last night in the dark.  I already wrote about the bridge here: travel and arrival in nikko.

Nikko World Heritage Site

Shinkyo Sacred Bridge

Shinkyo Sacred Bridge

The bridge is part of Futarasan Shrine, which I visited earlier; a small part of the shrine sits here beside the river.

Futarasan Shrine

Near the bridge is a statue of Itagaki Taisuke (1817-1919), a politician of the Meiji period. When the pro-shogunate troops occupied Nikko San’nai and tried to destroy temples and shrines, he saved the temples from destruction.

Statue of Itagaki Taisuke

I stop for a lunch of yuba ramen near the Shinkyo Bridge.  It’s rather tasteless compared to my yuba monk’s meal last night.  I finish lunch about 12:30.

Yuba ramen

Near the restaurant, I hop on a bus that makes its way up a mountain for nearly an hour to Yutaki Falls.  I had no idea the bus ride would take so long, but it makes a multitude of stops along the way.  I don’t get to the falls until about 2:00. My goal is to start at Yutaki Falls and then follow the Senjo-ga-hara Hiking Course.  I had read about this popular hiking course in a blog post. The trail passes the Chuzenji Lake in the Nikko National Park. The course supposedly takes 2 1/2-3 hours and is mostly on flat ground through woods and marshland.

Yutaki Falls is one of the three famous falls in Oku-Nikko. The other two are Kegon Falls and Ryuzu Falls. The 70-meter high, 25-meter wide waterfall sits at the southern end of Lake Yunoko.

Yutaki Falls

After watching the waterfall for a while, I embark on the walking trail.  I pass a fisherman near the waterfall and then head into the forest. It’s still raining steadily.

A fisherman at Yutaki Falls

the path to Senjo-ga-hara Plateau

I love this kind of forest where the trees are spaced out nicely and there is lush undergrowth. Luckily it’s not muddy because the path has a wooden walkway.

the wooded path to Senjo-ga-hara Plateau

I’m the only fool walking through the forest on this rainy day.

the wooded path to Senjo-ga-hara Plateau

the wooded path to Senjo-ga-hara Plateau

the wooded path to Senjo-ga-hara Plateau

the path to Senjo-ga-hara Plateau

the wooded path to Senjo-ga-hara Plateau

mossy tree

It’s still raining so steadily that after a while, and after not seeing another human being, I start to regret that I embarked on this hike at this late hour of the day. I begin to worry that the walk might take me longer than 2 1/2-3 hours, and that it might get dark before I make it to the end of the hike at Shakunage-bashi bridge.

About 40 minutes after starting the hike, I see a sign for Kotaki Falls, only 5 meters high and not as famous as Yutaki Falls or Ryuzu Falls. I head to the falls.  There is still not a soul in sight.  I see from my map that there’s a parking lot at Kotaki Falls.  While I’ve been contemplating backtracking to Yutaki, instead I follow the sign to the parking lot.

Kotaki Falls

This forest is so green and lush!  Not to mention wet.


mossy tree

close up of mossy tree

sign to the parking lot

almost there!

relief in sight 🙂

I actually end up at the same parking lot where I started the hike, so I’ve come full circle.  In a little shop, I find a man grilling shioyaki.  I don’t partake but instead buy myself a drink and go out to wait for the bus in the rain.


About halfway down the mountain, at one of the bus stops, Christine hops on the bus.  It cracks me up that we keep running into each other.  She has been to another waterfall and is on her way back down into the town. I tell her I’m stopping to have my yuba monk’s meal again, but she still doesn’t want to eat out.  No matter.  I stop again and have a beer and my delicious yuba monk’s meal.


It’s been a long rainy day, and I’ve been on the go since 7:30 a.m. Though it hasn’t been a cold rain, I still look forward to getting into the hot onsen and having an early night.  I still have more to squeeze in tomorrow before I head back home to Fuchinobe. Sadly, rain is forecast tomorrow too, but of course, I’m always hopeful the sun will win out.

Steps today: 18,648 (7.9 miles).

nikkō: futarasan shrine & rinnoji taiyuin mausoleum and temple   8 comments

Saturday, July 29: After leaving Toshogu Shrine, I trudge through the rain down a long path edged with stone lanterns. I’m heading to Futarasan Shrine, founded in 782 by Shodo Shonin, the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikkō.  The current building dates from 1619, making it the oldest shrine in Nikkō.

walkway to Futarasan Shrine

Futarasan (“two rough mountains”) Shrine is where the surrounding mountain deities are worshiped, and though not as fabulous in appearance as Toshogu, this atmospheric temple, set in the midst of towering Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar), is Nikkō’s spiritual heart.  The revered deities are related to Nikkō’s three most sacred mountains: Mount Nantai, Mount Nyoho and Mount Taro.  The Shinkyo Bridge is also part of this shrine.

torii to Futarasan Shrine

The worship of mountains is an ancient Shinto practice that was integrated into Buddhism when it entered the area in the eighth century. The mountains, considered both as frightening guardian spirits and providers of life due to their flowing rivers, have been worshiped in the islands since Neolithic times (Japan experience: Futarasan Shrine).

I’m afraid I don’t know the significance of the various figures of Futarasan Shrine, but some of them seem quite fierce.

lion at Futarasan Shrine

Haiden at Futarasan Shrine

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

Below is the Daikoku-den, with an interesting figure standing outside and beautifully decorated ceilings inside. While I’m inside, I suddenly can’t take pictures because my camera card is full.  When I put a new one into my camera, I can’t get it to work and I take it in and out and turn my camera off and on, to no avail.  After sulking about a bit, I decide to remove the battery and then put it back in.  Voila, that solves the problem.  It’s so annoying and frustrating to have problems with a camera while traveling.


figure at Daikoku-den

ceiling inside Daikoku-den

Many of the cedar trees have been chopped down and the trunks are preserved at this shrine.

cedar trunk

There are smaller shrine areas within Futarasan Shrine where people solemnly worship.  One area has a pond. Another has a boulder pile topped with small white pebbles.  Yet another has a pile of wooden hearts.  I don’t know the meaning of any of these little sacred spots.

Futarasan Shrine

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

I leave Futarasan and continue walking down another long path to Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple.  The mausoleum was built for Third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu. Taiyuin is the posthumous name of Iemitsu.  Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum was built in the same architectural technique and style as Toshogu Shrine, but on a smaller and more modest scale.  I enjoy this shrine more than Toshogu mainly because there are so few people here. 🙂

entrance to Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple

stone lanterns at Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple

water pavilion at Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple

After leaving the water pavilion, I climb steps to the lavishly decorated Nitenmon Gate, guarded by two heavenly kings.

Nitenmon Gate

A drum tower stands to the left of the gate, and a belfry to the right.


The Nitenmon Gate is gorgeous with its vivid colors and fanciful wood carvings.

details of Nitenmon Gate

details of Nitenmon Gate

details of Nitenmon Gate

Nitenmon Gate

The Karamon Gate stands in front of the praying hall (Haiden).  A pair of cranes and a white dragon embellish its transom. Karamon means Chinese and the gate is gilded with pure gold. Pigeons are carved on the decorative fence.

Karamon Gate

Karamon Gate’s decorative fence

Inside the Karamon is the Haiden, or Worship Hall, the main structure of Taiyuin. It is designated as a National Treasure.  The Honden, the Inner Shrine, is connected under the same roof to the Haiden, in the shape of an H.  Prayers to Iemitsu are offered here.

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Next to the halls at an innermost area is Tokugawa Iemitsu’s mausoleum.  The design is influenced by Chinese Ming Dynasty architecture called Ryugu Zukuri.

Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum

details of Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

It’s time for me to make my way out of this shrine to my next destination, so I retrace my steps through the various gates.

Nitenmon Gate

Nitenmon Gate

I love studying the detailed carvings on the elaborate Nitenmon Gate.


I make my way past the belfry and the drum tower.

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Next, I retrace my steps back down the hill past Futarasan Shrine and then past Toshogu Shrine to Rinnoji Temple, which appears to be going through a major renovation.


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 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


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.



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


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

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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