Towards the end of November, we went to Nikko 日光, a small city in Tochigi Prefecture, for the incredible autumn colors. Most people recommend going there late October or early November to see the wonderful display of colors. We thought we were too late, but we weren’t disappointed. We originally planned to stay for two days, but as I was scouring the internet for a room, I learned that we needed to book at least 3 months in advance. O.M.G. Three months！Σ(￣□￣;) This place must be a gem.
By the way, it took about 3 hours to travel from Asakusa, Tokyo to Tobu-Nikko. So make sure to get a seat or it’s going to one heck of a looong ride.
We passed through some agricultural parts of Tochigi Prefecture, which is one of the biggest suppliers of vegetables in Tokyo area.
After the long train ride, I was proved right. As soon as we disembarked we were greeted by this wonderful sight. Starry eyed, I lifted my camera up to take some photos. Unfortunately we weren’t the only admirers present. People were flocked around this particularly beautiful red flaming tree, taking group photos, selfies, and just some plain old photography. It took about 15-20 minutes of waiting to get the view all to ourselves. It was cold, I wanted to go to the toilet, but the wait was worth it. Tadaah! (*￣▽￣)ノ~~ ♪
I stared at it for some time expecting it to burst into flames through sheer will power, but it never happened. ( 〃▽〃)
Oh well, I amused myself picking up some fallen Japanese maple leaves, or momiji. One interesting fact is that momiji (Japanese maple) and kouyou (turning of the leaves) have the exact same kanji, 紅葉.
We walked around the station area and found this stone basin with spring water trickling from a bamboo tube (I think). The tiny sign on the right says, “Delicious Nikko Crystal Water. Please help yourself,” and we did. Thankfully we weren’t in Wonderland or else we would be in great trouble.
My husband and I chose to walk to the shrines since there was a long line at the bus stop, and the traffic was moving slowly. It wasn’t really such a bad idea. With a great sunny yet cool weather, walking was a bliss.
But before that, we had some lunch at soba restaurant alongside the station exit. Nikko is known for yuba 湯葉, made from a film that forms from the surface of boiled soymilk (otherwise known as tofu skin), so we decided to have some yuba soba for lunch.
When I saw they have yuba sansai soba 湯葉山菜そば, I immediately ordered it. I particularly like sansai soba because sansai 山菜 means mountain vegetables (they usually put 7 kinds of wild mountain vegetables). 山 is the kanji for mountain, which is commonly read as yama or -san; and 菜 is part of the kanji for yasai 野菜, which means vegetable(s). Actually I don’t know the names of the mountain vegetables, but I do know that they taste great!
With happy [and heavy] stomachs, we proceeded with our adventure.
We saw some funny stuff along the way…
This one was outside a kimono/yukata shop. I don’t know what the shop owner wanted to say but it did put a smile on my face and made me stop and take notice.
So… is the kimono beautiful? hideous? The monkey’s expression is priceless.
I think it looks lovely- the design, the way the colors match, would you agree?
I couldn’t help but let out a small laugh. I’m pretty sure the designer had good intentions. It’s just me and my crazy brain.
We wanted to see the dog, but didn’t. The sign did get us curious about the story behind it. We were too shy to go in and just chat with the owner and not buy anything from the shop. Normally the dog or dogs would just be lounging about the shop. I hope nothing serious happened.
It was a long walk from the train station to the World Heritage Site. I just immersed myself into the picturesque sights and sounds around us – the old style Japanese houses and shops, the flowers and trees, and the people.
We spotted a road by the hillside hidden behind some houses that climbed all the way to something that looked like an entrance to a hidden temple. Hidden because its existence wasn’t advertised anywhere.
Oh the joy we had in our hearts as we excitedly climbed up to take a peek at what is inside this intruiging gate. If it was an old house, well, at least we got some good cardio exercise.
And then, we were greeted by this:
(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
Lucky! We happened to find Kannon ji temple! There was no crowd (yet) and the view was absolutely enthralling. We wore the Cheshire Cat grin as we walked around listening to the sound of silence, other than the sound of crunching gravel under our feet, and marveled at the beauty of the place. Several minutes later, some other tourists found our secret shrine, and so it was time to get away.
We weren’t able to see the Buddha inside the temple, but found this sign right outside the building. It’s probably not very clear, so I’m retyping it verbatim:
This temple is the Buddhist temple named Kannon ji. When Kukai, a representative priest in ancient times in Japan visited here, a picturesque spot was deeply impressed on his mind. So he carved an image of Buddha and founded a small temple in 820. This is the origin of this temple.
Between the medieval ages and the modern ages many people began to live at the foot of the slope of this temple. Accordingly this temple became a family temple of these people. So a priest settled down at this temple. Now the 24th priest of this temple stays here.
As you know, the origin of Buddhism came from Buddha in India. According to his teaching, Buddhism teaches us that all men are equall, and Buddhism aimes at their perfection of themselves by their own effort and also aimes at getting rid of their troubles. This is the teaching of Buddhism.
The image of Buddha, situated in the middle of this temple building, represents the completed human nature of Buddha, namely it represents wisdom and merciful heart supremely.
Essentially, Buddhism was not idol worship, but as you know, according to the invasion to the East by Alexander the great, the Greeks who transmigrated happened to know Buddhism at the north-west part of the river Indus, Gandhara district, and they represent Buddha in the shape of Greek carving. This is the biginning of the image of Buddha. Gandhara art, and idol worship of Buddhism.
After that, the Gandhara art came to Japan through silk road and china. Here at Nikko we can find the influence of Hellenism culture in this temple. Thus an alternating current of international culture had been occured from ancient times and in enormous scale.
Good luck in your tour in Japan. And remember Nikko, and this temple.
(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
The famous Shinkyo 神橋 bridge. There’s a fee of ¥300 to be able to go in and cross the bridge to the highway on the other side. As the legend goes, the Buddhist priest, Shodo Shonin built this bridge in order to cross the strong currents of Daiya river.
Nikko is indeed a marvelous place. It is considered to be one of the power spots in Japan. It’s full of history, well preserved shrines and temples, in addition to the already wonderful natural surroundings. However, one has to be prepared to shell out a few bucks if you really want to go inside the shrines at the World Heritage Site. The lucky ones who are in Japan can go back once or twice in a year to see the sights at different seasons. Must Love Japan has written down the fees for each shrine and temple.
Check out these websites:
- Nikko Kinugawa Travel Guide for a very comprehensive read on access, sightseeing spots and more.
- Tobu Railways for bus passes within Nikko, and access information- usually from Asakusa, Tokyo.