Autumn beauty, Tokugawas, Jizo and The Abyss….. Nikko

Friday morning we woke early, again, and decided to take a walk before breakfast to the local falls. Kegon Falls was literally a 10 minutes walk from the ryokan, which was good. It was pretty chilly in the morning. The falls height is around 97 metres, but the ferocity of the water falling made it difficult to see too much, due to the spraying mist. It was pretty, none the less, and nothing wakes you like a brisk walk in the cold morning air. Our search for coffee was in vain…. nothing opens early in Lake Chūzenji. Except the onsen.

Our kaiseki breakfast was a little less horrifying than the morning before, and we ate it early and jumped in our little car. The plan was to try to get some photos of the amazing colour of the Autumn leaves on the way down the hill. There were several places to pull over, and many people were doing the same. Some even had tripods set up on the shoulder of the road. The change in the colours over the three days we had been there was quite spectacular.

We parked our funny little car in a funny little car park, and walked towards the temple and shrine area of Nikkō. We stopped on the way at the information centre, as we had been coffee-less for several days, and it was taking it’s toll, to find out where we could get a latte. Turns out, inside the temple complex was a lovely little 100 year old house, converted to cafe, that made good coffee. We were overjoyed.

The shrines and temples of Nikkō, Tōshō-gū, Rin-no-ji and Futarasan forms a UNESCO world heritage site, the nomination includes 42 of the 103 buildings. Many of the other buildings are listed as culturally significant buildings  and/or National Treasures. The first building on the site, Shihonryuji Temple, was built in 766, by the buddhist monk, Shoto, during the Nara Period. This building was to become Rin-no-Ji. The Tokugawa Clan claimed power in Japan in 1600 after winning the Battle of Sekigahara. Tokugawa Ieyasu claimed himself the Shogun, supreme military leader, and his family would be the final shogunate family to rule over Japan, for around 260 years. The temples and shrines in Nikkō house the graves, the interned diefied spirits and the places of worship for Ieyasu and his grandson, Iemitsu, who famously closed the borders of Japan to foreigners.

Rin-no-ji comprises two areas. One is a Buddhist temple, of extreme beauty. The entire complex is lacquered in vermillion or covered in gold leaf. It is presently under restoration, though still accessible. The building built around the temple for restoration was very impressive. The five-storied pagoda, the entrance gates, the grounds, it was all very beautiful and impressive. We have seen many Japanese temples, but these were certainly some of the most amazing. Very inricately detailed and brightly coloured. The other part of this group of buildings houses Tokugawa Iemitsu’s grave, which was quite a different style, borrowed from China and very bling-y.

Tōshō-gū, the buildings containing Tokugawa Ieyasu’s shrine, grave, and many other buildings, was spectacular. A lot of precious metal, a  lot of decoration, some seriously beautiful stone and metal lanterns, and come intricate carving. The site of Ieyasu’s grave, up some 207 stone steps, quite steep, good workout, was atmospheric and there was a sense of respectfulness and historical pride. The stables, richly carved with 8 depictions of monkeys, one being the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil monkeys, captured my attention. It actually housed the horse that Ieyasu rode into the Battle of Sekigahara. I definitely geeked out over that for a bit.

Nikkō is so beautiful and so accessible from Tokyo. A 45 minute bullet train, followed by a 40 minute local train, and you are right in the heart of it. The temples and shrines are clustered so closely, that if you don’t have days to walk around Kyoto, a day trip to Nikko will certainly get your historical interest juices flowing….

After leaving the temples, we headed for a quick lunch and then to the Kanmangafuchi Abyss and the Jizo. This site was what initially attracted me to Nikko. It was awesome and I am actually going to write a complete entry on it, as I have too much to say and too many photos to share.

Back at the ryokan, we decided to relax a bit with a bottle of sake. I wrote, and Super Sake Boy decided to make the kumiko coasters that had been gifted us. This is the local wood craft using no glue, no nails and precise cutting to make beautifully patterned wooden goods. He swore a bit. He got a bit frustrated. I don’t think my giggling, or asking him if he had found his ikigai was very helpful. But, he succeeded and they are beautiful. The kaiseki was a surprise. I tried the uni (sea urchin) amd didn’t mind it. We pretty much ate everything, which was satisfying in itself. We were tired and my legs were sore from the steps….. we decided to visit the onsen. This was a brilliant idea. It was also a bit of a life changing event that I am going to write a seperate entry on. I think it helped me sleep. The fluffy beds, the full belly, the mineral hot springs, the sake. We fell into bed, satisfied and fulfilled.

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