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N-N-N i k k o.

February 14, 2011

Sunlight greeted us on Sunday but did not warm us..

Traveling to Nikko (the name means “sunlight”) National Park with two Thai post-docs was great fun and I was able to relax a bit more without having to worry so much about train and bus schedules. We set off really early, 6 am, and reached Nikko by about 9 o’clock. From train station we took a bus to Ryuzu Falls.

We then hiked up in the snow next to the waterfalls, which although a beautiful venture, led to soaking of my sneakers and subsequent freezing of my whole body.











Yindee’s photo of cold tourists.










Thankfully the scenery and my company were distracting enough to help me not think of my cold feet.

Came down to the lake Chuzenji via a twisty road on a crowded bus and went to lunch.

I has a local specialty – rice pilaf, which was made with ketchup. Seriously. Thankfully, no one Turkish or Uzbek was present at the restaurant to scream in terror at such dish. It was tasty, and we were hungry from all the snow.

Nikko’s sacred volcano, Mt. Nantai (2486 m), is in the background (Yindee’s photo). Japan-guide says 20,000 years ago it erupted and blocked the valley, thereby forming Lake Chuzenji (above).

Next stop was the famous Kegon Falls but on the way there we encountered curious little creatures and stopped to chat with them.








And here are the falls:

No, I will not stop taking pictures in the diagonal, don’t even ask.

Finding Nikko’s shrines proved to be slightly challenging but that’s only because I wasn’t the one navigating 🙂 We exited at the right bus stop but went the wrong way. No big deal, we found the shrines.








This is the primary attraction of Nikko – Tosho-gu Shrine, dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa and his legacy. In brief:

In 1600 Ieyasu Tokugawa won the battle of Sekigahara against Hideyori, a young successor to previous ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (famous Osaka castle belonged to him), and attained absolute power over Japan. For the next 15! generations Tokugawa clan dominated the shogun title. Curiously, term shōgun is actually an abbreviation of Sei-i Taishōgun, which means commander or general; /seii taisyoːgun/ is literally “great general who subdues eastern barbarians” (from Wiki). Ieyasu Tokugawa became the most powerful man of Japan after that battle and established his government in Edo (today’s Tokyo). The stable period following is known as the Edo period and it ended in 1868. During that time, samurai were placed above the commoners and hierarchal order was reinforced with daimyo (lords) sitting at the top. The samurai were now educated themselves in the arts and literature since the times were somewhat peaceful. Kabuki theatre became popular during the Edo period. Even after Ieyasu’s grandson, Iemitsu, closed the doors of Japan (inside and out), Japan’s pop culture, agriculture and domestic trade prospered. External and internal political pressures led to Tokugawa Shogunate’s demise but the legacy remains. (

The Toshu-gu Shrine lavish complex houses Ieyasu’s remains. According to Buddhist custom, Ieyasu Tokugawa was proclaimed a kaimyo, an honorific name to bear in afterlife, and became Tosho-Daigongen: the Great Incarnation Who Illuminates the East. Kyoto’s imperial court actually declared him a god. The shrine required the labor of 15,000 people for two years and was covered by 2,489,000 gold sheets. Too much if you ask me. It was a bit tacky but “Tosho-gu is everything a 17th-century warlord would consider gorgeous, and the inspiration is very Chinese” (Fodor’s guide).

It happened that a wedding was being held at Toshu-gu.











It had its quite moments too:


















And it had sake!

What else are the monks going to do?

Overall, the complex was very touristy and had a disingenuous vibe too it.

And how could I forget the three famous monkeys! They could use a paint job. There’s a whole series of them, actually, showing a circular tale of children being born, not hearing, saying, or seeing “evil”, then growing up, getting curious about the world and the other sex, accepting evil, pondering life, getting pregnant.. and the cycle repeats.. it went something like this anyway..

We did visit other temples as there are so many.

We covered the Sacred Bridge (Shinkyo) last. There’s a tale about it too, something about snakes paving the path across the spring for a monk that started the religious center at Nikko.

I was more interested in getting to the Felis Cafe in Utsunomiya for dinner. It is a cat cafe that has cats living in it. No, they don’t serve cats nor do they serve cat food, we checked and double-checked. They shelter stray kitties and operate as an adoption facility in case you like a kitty or two while you’re dining at the restaurant.











This evil creature wanted to eat our food and in dissatisfaction to our uncompromising denial at feeding him tried to nibble on my coat.

The end. For now.


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