While at Futarasan we had seen several local families with small children dressed up in traditional costume, clearly here for a celebration. The festivities were focussed on a building to the right of the shrine itself and one mother there was more than happy for me to photograph her children, even encouraging them to pose for me (photo four).
When we left the shrine we encountered this family group just outside and again there was no problem with us taking some photos. We then followed the rickshaw as the children were taken for a ride along the path between here and Toshogu, escorted by their proud parents and stopping at intervals for more photos, both by their won photographer and a few other tourists who had by now joined us. A woman nearby during one of these sessions, who I think may have been a family member, was kind enough to explain to me what was going on.
She told me that it is the custom in Japan for children to be taken to a shrine to be blessed on reaching three, five and seven years of age. In the past, the lack of medical expertise and knowledge meant that to get through infancy was something to be celebrated, and each milestone on the journey was marked in this way. Today when childhood mortality is thankfully much less of an issue, the custom of thanking the spirits for the good health of a child remains. It seems that this family must have one child at each of these ages: a boy of five and girls of three and seven. The seven year old was very solemn, like a little lady – clearly after two previous such celebrations she must have considered herself an old hand and responsible for keeping her younger siblings up to the mark!
At the far end of this path the rickshaw turned back to Futarasan and we turned our attention to lunch
We stopped for an early evening drink in the Little Wing cafe on Nikko's main street and were pleased to find that they served the local pilsner style beer, Nikkoji, as we'd been keen to try it. We found it pleasant enough though not really any different to other Japanese lagers, all of which are very palatable but unremarkable. It was maybe a little less fizzy than some of the others however, so depending on how you like your lager (personally I like a bit of a head) you may want to give this a try. The ones we tried were bottled and I’ve read that the draught is better so that’s something to look out for. You should also look out for the same brewery’s Premium Ale as I’ve read good reviews of that (it wasn’t available in the Little Wing), and I gather that they also sometimes have seasonal brews, such as dark, amber and special ales.
We had a very pleasant half hour or so here, enjoying the beer and a chat with a local guy at the next table, who had lived and worked for some years in California and thus spoke very good English. He was killing time over a coffee while waiting to pick his son up from football practice and was glad of the chance to refresh his English skills in a conversation with us.
But after a while we decided to move on in search of dinner as I’d read that restaurants in Nikko close early. This is very true, and we were lucky to find a meal at the Kanaya Hotel
- Beer Tasting
Omikuji are fortune telling paper slips found at many shrines and temples. Randomly drawn, they contain predictions ranging from daikichi ("great good luck") to daikyo ("great bad luck"). By tying the piece of paper around a tree's branch, good fortune will come true or bad fortune can be averted.
You tend to see mostly young girls and ladies doing this.
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
The stone cups
On leaving the Jokoji Temple we took a short stroll around the nearby streets, partly to get our bearings and plan where to eat later. These streets have channels on either side, filled with running fresh water making its way down to the Daiya River below. My attention was caught by some unusual looking stone structures that sat on the edge of these channels at intervals. A nearby information sign, in English as well as Japanese, helpfully shed some light on their purpose:
“They are water pipes, built in the Taisho Era, to bring water from the nearby spring. Linking the pipes are bowls carved out of individual stones.
In summer the water is cold, in winter it is warm. Let the water run through your fingers and experience how it makes you feel.”
Well, I let it run through mine and on a chilly afternoon in October it felt pretty cold! But the sound of running water and the frequent sights of it make this part of Nikko a pleasure to walk through, giving the town a sense of freshness and reminding you that here you are among the mountains.
After exploring this area for a short while we headed back to the Turtle Inn Annexe to warm up before coming out again to seek dinner.
- Historical Travel
Selling vegetables - but where is the vendor?
I passed by this vegetable stall on the main road without a vendor. Basically you pick whatever you like, and deposit the money into the can to the right of the yellow container. The Japanese radish (daikon) in the middle are free!
Not sure if it is a permenant stall, but I saw this on the main road between the hostel that I stayed at (see accomodation page) and the sacred bridge.
Some shrines here belong to...
Some shrines here belong to the holiest of Japan and one expects some more respectfull behaviour around them. Some tourists do not know how to behave in these places, but maybe it helps to know that among the places are burial-grounds. Let yourself not be a part of the noisious tourists.
Japanese language is one of the most complicated! Three types of characters. Anyway, here's some useful phrases to keep in mind in case you need help.
IN AN EMERGENCY:Help! Tas'kete!
Call the police Keisatsu o yonde kudasai!
Thank you Arigato gozaimasu
Excuse Me Sumimasen
I don't understand Wakarimasen
Do you speak English? Eigo o hanashimasuka?
How are you? Ogenki desu ka ?
Good morning Ohayo gozaimasu
Good afternoon Konnichiwa
Good evening Konbanwa
Good night Oyasumi nasai
Good bye Sayonara
May 17 & 18 and October 17 are particularly popular as rather elaborate festivals are held on these dates with omi koshi (carrying the Toshogu deity through the streets with a portable shrine) and hundreds of people parading in traditional costumes, which are stored at Toshogu Shrine. There is also a Nikko Ice and Snow Festival during the first two weeks of February near the Chuguji Shrine at Lake Chuzenji. Many ice sculptures are erected and there are fireworks and other daily events.
There is a Consumption tax of 5% on all goods purchased. This includes meals at restaurants and hotel charges. Overseas visitors are exempt from this tax on large purchases outside of hotels and restaurants. There are rebate counters in the larger stores. An additional 3% sales tax applies on hotel accounts over yen15,000 and restaurant bills over yen7,501 per person.
Take your shoes off
Do remember to remove your shoes before entering the temples. The locals are very polite if you forget, but it sure does get you a big smile if you remember.
Who cares if you have a hole in your sock, take it off as well :)
Tours from Tokyo
It is possible, although somewhat tight, to see all the main attractions in Nikko in one day through a guided tour from Tokyo. Tours usually operate from April - November.
Shoes - removing
Be sure to wear shoes that can be easily taken off. You need to remove your shoes visiting the insides of temples.
Japan is the virtual nonexistence of violent crime. If you leave your briefcase or camera in a taxi, often it will be returned before you realise it's missing.
A reminder that the electrical unit is 100V; 50 Hz (Tokyo and eastern Japan), 60 Hz (western Japan). Be sure to take whateve adapters you need incase they are not available at your hotel.
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