Shrines and Temples of Nikko

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Things to do


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February, 2016

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Whilst staying in Tokyo, we took a self-guided day trip to Nikko, a World Heritage site, and a train journey of just under two hours.

On arrival, we visited tourist information where we obtained excellent maps (in English) and purchased ¥500 (£3.30) tickets for the shuttle bus which does a constant circuit around the main shrines and sights. We decided to get off at the furthest point and walk back down to the station which we estimated was around 1 to 2 miles.

Our first stop was at what we thought was the famous Shinto Toshogo Shrine established in 1617. We later discovered it was actually the Buddhist Rinnjoi Temple – Nikko’s most important temple. To be fair it was day two of our three week trip and hadn’t learned yet to distinguish a temple from a shrine and we were just starting to be self-guiders.

This was our first encounter with the flowing water generally found at the entrance. We drank the cool water directly from the copper cups on long sticks but, later realised there was a protocol to how you purify yourselves by rinsing your mouth and hands – needless to say we hadn’t followed it. Having walked up a fairly long set of steps, we found at the entrance to the large complex, four huge colourful, but evil looking statues: Kendara was white, Omarokya Blue, Bidara red and Abatsumara Green.

On walking further back towards the station, we came across the Toshogu Shrine which comprised of many buildings and a five-storey pagoda (they are always 3, 5 or 7 storeys). We had to pay an entrance fee and take our shoes off – the mantra is ‘shoes off, no photos’. The seats were low and we would have preferred something to help us get up, rather than the shoe horns to take our shoes off.

To the right of the main shrine building was the Sakashitamon Gate, where we saw a famous carving of Nemurineko the black and white sleeping cat. We then puffed and puffed up 207 steps to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Leyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. There was lots of renovation work was being undertaken and much of the building was shrouded.

We were now starting to feel confused and a little ‘shrined out’ so headed back down into town, crossing the Shinkyo Bridge, a bright red photogenic affair and ranked as the third finest bridge in Japan

There was still snow on the ground in certain places and the day was decidedly chilly. We found a restaurant for lunch and to warm us up, we all chose the curry of the day with rice and salad.

We continued walking back down into the town and sat in the lovely warm waiting room for our 3.20pm train back to Tokyo. This was a good day, but we all felt that having a guide, particularly so early in our trip, would have been helpful as the sites were complex and fairly difficult to navigate.

Helen Jackson

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