The Sacred Bridge marks the entrance to the Futarasan Jinja shrine in Nikko. This beautiful red bridge, called Shinkyō (神橋) in Japanese, stretches in a graceful arch 29 meters across the Daiya River. The structure is said to have been initially constructed in the 700s, and the present design dates back to 1636. In the last 400 years, the bridge has been rebuilt many times, but always following the 1636 design. The bridge was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1999.
According to legend, a Japanese priest named Shodo needed to cross the river to pray at a sacred mountain. Unable to cross the deep and swift river (and apparently unwilling to go downstream where the river is wider and slower), the priest prayed for spiritual help. Then a God appeared and somehow built a magical bridge made of snakes. Sounds a bit improbable.
Until 1973, the bridge could only be used by officials in the Japanese Imperial Court. While it is supposed to be open to the public, during my visit, it was gated shut, probably for repairs.
Taiyuin Temple is actually part of Rinnoji Temple, but it's location is separate, its appearance is completely different, and it has a separate entrance fee, so it feels like an independent temple.
Like Toshogu Shrine, Taiyuin was also built as a mausoleum, this one for Tokugawa Iemitsu. Taiyuin is Iemitsu's Buddhist name (Buddhists receive posthumous names given by priests). The mausoleum dates back to 1653.
Although the Taiyuin was built in similar style to Toshogu Shrine, it is slightly more subdued and is built more into the surrounding forest. It's quite impressive and beautiful and I was surprised that, in spite of the number of people at Toshogu Shrine, I was nearly able to explore this site alone!
Entrance is 550 yen, but if you purchase the 1000 yen combination ticket, it is included along with Rinnoji Temple, Toshogu Shrine, and Futarasan Shrine.
Rinnoji Temple is the largest temple in Nikko. The main hall is the Sanbutsudo. It contains the temple's famous three golden statues. I went during rennovations, so the outside of the temple was covered in scaffolding but I was still able to enter and see the statues.
In addition to the main hall, behind the temple is the Dai-Gomado which was actually built as an addition in 1998 but houses old statues from the Heian Period.
Across from the Sanbutsudo is the temple's treasure hall and garden, Shoyoen Garden. The garden is a small but pleasant strolling garden. The treasure hall displays some of the many treasures acquired by the temple during its long history.
Entrance to the Sanbutsudo Hall is 400 yen. The garden and treasure hall cost an additional 300 yen. Many people buy combination tickets for Sanbutsudo and other Nikko sites.
Futarasan Shrine is one of Nikko's World Heritage Sites. Compared to the other sites which are very flashy, it may look more ordinary but it's actually the oldest site among Nikko's World Heritage Sites, dating back to 1619. The original shrine was built back in 782.
The grounds are not very large but I think every site in Nikko's 'World Heritage area' is worth visiting. The experience of seeing each place and what makes it unique is what makes Nikko such a great place. Most people think they're coming to see Toshogu Shrine but are treated to a variety of other sites that are also quite beautiful.
Entrance is 200 yen, but it is recommended to buy the 1000 yen combination ticket, which also gives you admission to Toshogu Shrine and Rinnoji Temple's sites.
The Shinkyo Bridge (meaning "Spiritual Bridge") is the first site you'll come across when walking from Nikko/Tobu-Nikko Station to the World Heritage Sites. It's actually part of Futarasan Shrine, but most visitors view it as an independent site.
It is unclear when this bridge was first built, but according to legend, a bridge appeared here after a god created it for Priest Shoto who prayed for help crossing when the river made it too dangerous. The current bridge was rebuilt in 1904. It is considered to be one of Japan's Top Three Bridges, along with Kintai-kyo Bridge in Iwakuni and Saruhashi Bridge in Otsuki (some sources also claim the Kazurabashi in Miyoshi's Iya Valley is one of the top three).
Visitors are supposed to be able to pay to walk across the bridge, but this was not an option when I visited.
Stunning in the snow, glorious shrines which still exude old Japanese culture and ?3 shrines, 2 temples? bargain tickets! Nikko has been a place of worship for more than 1,200 years and although it attracts a lot of tourists, it?s still possible to feel a sense of being alone, especially in winter when the temperatures are sub-zero celcius and the snow is falling.
Take a look at my full review at:
You should try a little mindless fun at Nikko Edo Mura. People might look down on it but the various shows are worth your time. It is also fun walk around and pretend you're taking a stroll in Japan at the time of the Shogun, Ninja, and Samurai.
This is the other major site in Nikko (please read my other tip). Which one is more spectacular it's a toss up. The Tosho-gu shrine is the first shrine you encounter in Nikko. Located up a small hill. It's the most popular and most crowded site in Nikko. The price of admission is 600 yen but it is included in the World Heritage Pass. Several site line this shrine, so give yourself about an hour to see everything in a non rushed way. Be aware that some of the steps are somewhat steep, so use caution. Highly recommended !!!!!
This shrine was built in 1653. This shrine was built for Tokugawa Iemitsu one of the shogun of Japan. It is one of the 2 breathtaking sites in Nikko. Price for the shrine is included in the World Heritage Pass. But otherwise it is 500 Yens to get in. It takes about 20 minutes to get all the way to the top. The setting is somewhat mysterious, somewhat hidden in the hills of Nikko. This is a must do for those in traveling in Nikko. Once at the top there is a small temple, where you must take off your shoes to see the shrine.
....The top site to see in all of Nikko is the Toshu-gu, the elaborate shrine complex built around the final resting place of Tokogawa Ieyasu, the unifier of Japan in 1600. Ieyasu loved Nikko's peaceful hills and shrines, visiting them when he could during his reign, and specifically asked to be buried here after his death in 1616, requesting a humble shrine. Of course, the ather of the Tokogawa Dynasty couldn't just have a nondescript place, especially since he was considered a Shinto god, so his descendants built an ornate complex of toriis, towers, pagodas, gates and worship halls that has to be seen to be believed. In fact, the torii at the entrance to the complex, built from granite, is the largest constructed during the Edo period and the five story pagoda, built in 1650 but destroyed in 1815, is noted for its earthquake-proof construction whereby its central pillar is suspended by chains at the fourth floor, oscillating to keep the tower's equilibrium during a tremor.
... Of course, if you want to see Ieyasu himself, you have to pass the sleeping cat carving and walk up several hundred steps to a quiet hilltop overlooking most of the shrine's buildings. There, you'll see a simple cylinder, guarded by a crane, where the famous shogun rests.
Without even saying the words, everyone knows the three monkeys with their hand covering, respectively, their eyes, ears and mouth -- they embody the principle that if we "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil", we will be spared evil. But what I didn't know until I got to Nikko was that the first simian representation of those tenets of Tendai Buddhism were carved Hidari Jingoro in the early 17th century at the Toshu-gu. These three famous monkeys, Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru are actually just one panel in a series of eight cyclical stages of life -- something else I didn't know -- carved along the lentil of the stables holding a sacred horse at burial temple of Tokogawa Ieyasu, the unified of Japan and the first shogun of the Tokogawa Dynasty.
...After spending an appropriate time gazing at the three monkeys, we wandered around exploring the other carvings, not knowing where to start because they are meant to be cyclical. You might say the beginning starts with a pregnant female monkey and the first panel depicts the safety of childhood, with a little monkey sitting protected in mom's lap while she stands watch for danger. The second panel is of the three companion child monkeys seeing, hearing and speaking no evil, which is followed two monkeys playing in the trees and looking heavenward. The fourth carving reveals a lonely monkey maturing and striking out on his own. In panel five, we see him comfort a despondent friend, who is on the verge of killing himself while a third monkey menacingly looks away (maybe this monkey brought about the others bad fate?). The six panel is described "He is love sick" and shows a (presumably) male monkey sullenly watching a (presumably) impossibly attractive monkey play around in the limbs. Panel seven depicts two monkeys, one in rough waters, illustrating that the pair will sail through the difficulties of life together and it goes back to where she is an expectant mother and the whole series starts over again. All the panels are worth seeing and thinking about, and they made me recall often Thomas Cole's four-painting allegorical series on the journey through life hanging in the National Gallery in Washington DC.
The Jizo statues are a line of buddhas stretching several hundred meters along the Kanman walk in Nikko. These Buddhas have been there for hundreds of years, so some of them are in worse shape than others, subject to the vagueries of weather, moss growth and river floods, but they are still maintained by locals who adorn them with knit caps and bibs. Legend has it that the number of buddhas is unknown, because you get a slightly different number each time you count them. While we didn't try this, it's not too amazing that this should be true as how do you count the just a pebble with a hat and no statue or bib (apparently there used to be a buddha here, but now it's worn down to a nub)? I'm sure you count it as a half or zero one time, and maybe 75% or even 1 the next. In any case, the walk along this stretch of buddhas is very peaceful and could cause contemplation if you're not careful.
The Shinkyo Bridge, like the Torii at Miyajima, is emblematic of Japan. Curiously, I encountered it first at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which has Kawase Hasui's beautiful woodblock print, "Snow on the Bridge at Nikko Shrine" (1930). Later I discovered the Hasue made rather a thing of block prints of temples and shrines.
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Kegon Falls are quite spectacular, with numerous smaller waterfalls as adjuncts to the principal 300' drop. (If you're old enough to remember "Twin Peaks", think Snoqualmie Falls.) The falls were created by lava flows displacing the Daiya River, at Lake Chûzenji in Nikkô National Park.
Rinnoji is Nikko's most important temple. Opposite of the temple stands the temple's treasure house with Buddhist and Tokugawa related exhibits. Shoyoen, a small Japanese style garden, is located next to the treasure house.
Fee for Treasure House and Shoyoen Garden is 300 Yen.