Thursday, July 29, 2010

Japan Part 3 - Day Trips: Nikko

Nikko is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. Set in the hills about 90 minutes north of Tokyo amid giant cedar trees and a luscious landscape of moss, Nikko was the only place we visited in all of Japan where we got a break from the humidity. In fact, the combination of fog and altitude made it downright chilly.

And because we went in the middle of the week, we had a good portion of the place - other than a few scattered tour groups, including about 10 visitors who had all brought their same breed of over-sized beagle out for the day - to ourselves. Just the way we like it.

Japan seems to be fairly covered in moss. In the countryside, it's all vividly green rice fields, but in the cities and around all of the old temples and shrines, its this lovely-looking moss.

This is one of the most famous sights in Nikko, the Yomeimon Gate, at Tosho-gu. So much skill and effort went into building this thing that its creators worried that its perfection might anger the gods. As a result, the final supporting pillar was placed upside down as a deliberate error and expression of humility. Don't you just love stories that like?

Here's another view of the Yomeimon Gate, taken with our cute little Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s.

The history of Nikko stretches back to the 8th century, when it was a hermitage and training center for Buddhist monks. Like many shrines and temples in Japan, Tosho-gu, which was built as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the warlord who established the shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years, has had some of its structures rebuilt over the years (earthquakes and other natural disasters seems to make rebuilding a necessity), but many of the original buildings remain standing and have been wonderfully preserved.

Ritual hand washing is an important part of visiting Buddhist temples. You do this at a tsukubai before entering the temple, pouring water over your hands and/or rinsing out your mouth. The source of water for the tsukubai in the picture above was a small waterfall that you might be able to make out just below the statue on the hill.

Stay tuned for more about Japan later in the day!

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