Toshogu Shrine - Yomeimon
The Yomeimon, erected in 1636, is one of the outstanding piece of architecture in Nikko. It is the most elegantly decorated among the shrine buildings of Toshogu, and constant efforts have been made to maintain it especially its beautiful decorative sculptures. The Yomeimon is extremely grand, and its decorations consists of not only paints and color, but also includes intricate metal fittings and ornaments.
"NIKKO - Part 1"
The Tobu station looks like a giant chalet. When I went outside, the first impression was of... Vermont. Nikko is surrounded by low mountains, and the fall foliage, at least in town, was at its peak. After a quick lunch at a touristy restaurant on the main square (I had ramen with yuba, which is a paper-thin form of tofu that is rolled up and steamed -- a Nikko specialty), I still had a couple of hours to kill before checking into my hotel. Unfortunately, the coin lockers at the station were all engaged, so, daypack in hand, I set out on a long, circuitous wander around Nikko. This is the main street.
After a couple of hours dragging my luggage around Nikko (fortunately, I had packed VERY light -- my entire kit for the week consisted of a single daypack), I walked up the hill to the hostel. See recommendation on the main Japan page. This is truly a fantastic place.
The following day was memorable. At breakfast, a Japanese family overheard me talking with some other gaijin about my plans -- or lack thereof -- for the day. So they invited me to join them in the brand-new BMW for a tour of the mountains around Nikko.
The road from Nikko up to Lake Chuzenji is called "Irohazaka Drive" -- those five syllables are the Japanese "ABCs." It supposedly has as many curves as there are kana in the hiragana syllabary. Whatever its lexicographical significance, it's a beautiful drive.
The area around Lake Chuzenji was noticeably colder than Nikko, but still very touristy. We drove to the top of a mountain pass, where we stopped at a viewpoint and looked back at the lake.
We continued our adventure by stopping at a coffee shop on the lakeshore; the chalet was built in the style of a Yukon cabin by actual Canadian builders. Perhaps to defray this expense, the coffee cost 800 yen with no refills.
After Chuzenji, we took a series of increasingly narrower and more tortuous roads up into the mountains. On the way, we passed several herds (is that the right word?) of temple monkeys cavorting in the fallen leaves. At the very top, there were traces of snow on the road... winter was clearly only a couple of weeks away.
Our final stop for the day was at a place called Ryuo Gorge. A short, and thus very crowded, path leads down to a bridge over a deep chasm; nearby a series of waterfalls crashes down the cliff wall past a small shrine.
"NIKKO - Part 2"
The Itohs (my hosts for the day) dropped me off at Imaichi, from where I took a short train ride back to Nikko.
The following day, I set out to explore Nikko's main attraction - the Nikko National Park, consisting mainly of the Toshogu temple complex. The first one I visited was eerily deserted; in fact, I think I may have strayed into a restricted area. In any case, it was beautiful, and very red.
I then wandered over toward the Rinnoji temple, which, even at 9:30 on a mid-November Monday morning, was jam-packed with visitors. Rather than joust with the crowds at the temple, I opted instead for the garden and museum complex. The garden is tiny, and also crowded, but still provides a quiet refuge from the throng. The museum is outstanding; its collection includes dozens of priceless scrolls, screens, and other artwork.
A wide avenue, lined with yakitori and souvenir vendors, leads to the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the first Tokugawa shogun by his grandson. This five-tiered pagoda stands in the square in front of the shrine gate.
A short walk down a stately, wide avenue leads to perhaps the main attraction, the Futarasan Shrine and Daiyuin Mausoleum complex. When I visited, the mausoleum (where the above-mentioned Tokugawa founder is entombed) had just re-opened to visitors.
I had one last stop to make in Nikko: the Ganmangafuchi Abyss. It's really more like a small gorge, but is still spectacular. The pathway is lined with jizo statues, dressed in little red outfits. A vigorous stream rushes through the ravine, and strategically placed shrines and gates make this the image of Japanese perfection.