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Nikko (Part II) June 2, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Nikko (Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-aV

After going to Rinnoji, it’s a short walk up a hill to reach Toshogu. Toshogu is the main attraction in Nikko. It is a large, fantastic, complex with intricate designs throughout. Upon entering the temple grounds, you’ll be greeted by the typical torii gate, but also a large pagoda. Rinnoji is a fairly traditional Japanese temple, simple. Toshogu is the polar opposite. The main pagoda has been likened to Chinese and Korean style temples. Lots of colour and various statues of animals adorn the rafters. This creates a very interesting style where people either love it or hate it. Many people have hated this because it isn’t “Japanese”, but that is a completely different argument altogether. However, upon entering the paid area of Toshogu, you’ll see a huge crowd of people gathering around a plain wooden building. It is very small compared to the surrounding buildings and it looks somewhat out of place. This is the famous Three Wise Monkeys (Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil) building. It is the most famous image of Nikko. Three Wise Monkeys are three monkeys, one covering his ears, one covering his mouth, and one covering his eyes. There are other carvings around the building featuring monkeys in other situations, but by far, the Three Wise Monkeys are the most popular. From here, you will see a few black and gold structures along with several carvings of various exotic animals.

There are several carvings of peacocks and some of elephants. Unfortunately, the elephants look nothing like an elephant, and several sculptures looked scary. Towards the back of the complex, you will see pretty much the same. There is a second area featuring the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, for which Toshogu was built. The cost to enter is expensive, so I never bothered to enter. There is another famous carving of a sleeping cat, but I didn’t feel it was worth the extra 800 Yen. The last place to visit within the shrine is Yakushido Hall. It is a small building which can have lots of people lining up to enter. Within the main room, there is a painting of a dragon on the ceiling. One of the priests/monks will give an explanation about the hall and how banging two sticks of wood in the right place will allow you to hear the dragon’s cry. He will demonstrate that if you away from the centre, the two sticks will sound like normal. However, when he bangs the sticks in the right location within the room, it will echo and resonate to sound like a dragon’s cry. It was a very interesting demonstration, but pictures and video aren’t allowed.

After visiting Toshogu, you can head over to Futarasan and Taiyuinbyo.  Taiyuinbyo is another mausoleum, but this time it was built for Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandson.  It is smaller in scale, and it isn’t as busy as Toshogu.  It isn’t as spectacular, but just as intricate.  There are more Shinto gods guarding the area, and it’s location at the base of a mountain makes it very picturesque.  I personally enjoyed this shrine more than Toshogu, but I was let down a little as many things were undergoing renovations.  After visiting Toshogu, however, there isn’t much to say about these two shrines.  They are typical shrines without anything extremely new or interesting to talk about.

I would highly recommend that you rent a car when you go to Nikko. It is the easiest way to get to the distant locations, and you’ll have the freedom to head up to Lake Chuzenji. However, there are buses that head up and down the mountain to Lake Chuzenji, but you’ll be limited to when you can go. The road up to Lake Chuzenji is called Irohazaka. This road is famous among driving enthusiasts and street racers as it was featured in the anime/manga Initial D. The name is derived from the 48 hairpin corners that made up the original road. Iroha is the name of the 48 letters of the Japanese alphabet. Currently, there are two roads going to Lake Chuzenji. Both are one way. One heads up, the other down. Going up this road, there are two lanes. You’ll be able to see a few exotic cars and some motorcycles as they race uphill. Going downhill, there is only one lane, but you’ll see the same cars, only they’ll be going much slower than before. This road is also extremely famous in the autumn season as the leaves turn a bright red, orange, and yellow. It’s not uncommon for this road to be backed up, taking three or four times longer to travel than other season.

Lake Chuzenji itself isn’t that spectacular. Near the end of the uphill portion of Irohazaka, you can pay to take the gondola up to a lookout point. From here, you will be given beautiful views of Nikko, Lake Chuzenji, and Kegon Falls. Around the lake, you can do all of the normal things you would do at any lake. Swimming and taking a “swan boat” onto the water is popular. There are also many shops in the area that let you try Nikko’s famous food, tofu “skin”. Beware that during the winter months, most of the shops are closed due to the lack of visitors. The main attraction would have to be Kengon Falls. Standing at 98 metres tall, this waterfall is one of the tallest in Japan. Taking the elevator to the base of the waterfall is recommended as you may be able to see some Japanese mountain goats and you can have a better view of the falls. Note that in the winter months, it’s extremely cold, so dress warmly.

If you decide to spend a day or two in Nikko, hiking around Lake Chuzenji is very famous, and there are various hot springs in the area. Kinugawa is a famous hot spring resort town that is a short drive from Nikko. You may also be able to see a few monkeys running around. Beware that the monkeys can be aggressive, so keep a little distance and be aware of them if they are coming towards you.

Note:  This is part II of a II part series.  Please return to Part I for the first half of this post.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) November 18, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-miyajima

In October of 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  A city infamously known as the first city to be bombed by an atomic bomb, and famously known as the headquartres of Mazda.  While Hiroshima is a nice city, it shouldn’t be considered high on a list of cities to visit.  While it’s a mandatory place to educate children, it’s a pretty depressing city, overall.  The amount of memorials to remember the dead lives is extremely hard to take in.  For my second trip, I decided not to visit the depressing areas, but to go to Miyajima instead.  Miyajima is also one of the Top 3 Views of Japan, and between Matsushima and Miyajima, Miyajima is hands down the best.  As I approached the island from the ferry, you can feel a special energy that isn’t as common in other tourist sites in Japan.

Miyajima itself is an island located off the coast of Hiroshima.  It’s about 1 hour from Hiroshima station, and a quick 15 minute ferry to the island.  As you approach the island, you are graced with the view of the “Torii” of Itsukushima Jinja.  Torii is a gate that marks the entrance of a temple.  They can be as small as a single person, or as large as a building itself.  Once onto the island, I made my way to the shrine (Itsukushima Jinja).  The route to the shrine was full of people, and there were a lot of deer along the entire route.  With so many tourists, the opportunity to get free food, or steal some free food, is common for these animals.  While they are sacred, they can be annoying, so be careful.  They are very aggressive.  My first stop at the shrine wasn’t inside, but rather outside.  I went straight to the Torii as it was low tide.  I walked straight up to it, touched it, and was amazed by the sheer size of it.  After taking several pictures, I started to admire the shrine itself.  The shrine is built on the sand and it appears to float on the water during high tide.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t experience this, but I can imagine.  The shrine is a beautiful red and white.  Red pillars with white panels.  I was amazed by how clean and smooth the pillars were.  The craftsmanship was amazing.  I was also treated by the view of a traditional Shinto wedding.  Weddings are apparently popular at this shrine for it’s beauty.  I would consider it myself for my own wedding.  The bride and groom were, to say the least, beautiful, and looked happy.  There is even a traditional Noh theatre, but I doubt it’s used much these days.  The atmosphere of the shrine is also interesting.  You have a bunch of tourists, and lots of kids running around.  Once I had finished playing around the shrine, I headed to the ropeway.

The ropeway to the top, or near top, of Miyajima is interesting.  You can fit about 4-6 people into each car for the first section.  You CANNOT stand.  You are crammed like sardines and if you are claustrophobic, you will probably have a tough time in this one.  However, while you feel you will die because it also feels old, you will get a very beautiful view of the forest below.  I recommend either hiking up and taking the ropeway down, or vice versa.  I never hiked up or down, but I’d imagine it’s a nice hike.  The second leg of the ropeway wasn’t special.  Just a typical 2 car system.  At the top of the mountain, there is only one warning, monkey poop.  Miyajima has several monkey families living on the mountain.  If you wanted to see them, this is a good place.  Just don’t look them in the eye and watch where you walk because their poop is everywhere.  It’s a short 30 minute hike/walk to the peak where you can climb onto a large metal structure.  I recommend the walk, if not just to see the natural fawna and rock formations.  The rock formations near the top of the mountain are a lot of fun.  Kids love to climb around the big rocks, and so did I.  🙂  If you are a Star Trek fan, this will remind you of all the classic battles where Captain Kirk fought on alien planets.  Just be careful as you can easily fall or slip.  The view from the top of the mountain isn’t so special.  The metal structure is actually pretty ugly, but since less people venture to the peak, it’s more relaxing.  You could also see monkeys, but I saw none in this area.  There is another lookout at the ropeway station, however it isn’t a 360 view.

Upon returning to the base of the mountain, I decided to do a little shopping.  Hiroshima is famous for “Kaki” (oysters).  They grill oysters everywhere and the smell fills the entire shopping area.  I wanted to try some, but I don’t like oysters.  I did try some Momiji Manju.  This is basically a typical Japanese desert/snack.  It’s a little dry and traditionally filled with anko (red bean paste).  It’s not for everyone, but after a while, you get used to it.  In Miyajima, they are formed to look like Maple leaves and filled with various fillings such as macha, chocolate, and cream cheese.  I highly recommend trying it.  I also had a chance to buy one of my traditional Japanese souvenirs.  Sake.  🙂

When Japan decided on it’s Top 3 Views of Japan, Miyajima definately deserves it’s ranking.  I have recommended this to many family and friends, however, many cannot understand the true beauty of this little island.  Kyoto and Nara are wonderful cities with culture, but Miyajima is prestine and untouched.  Get away from the crowds and you’ll feel like you’ve found a secret untouched world of Japan.  One that hasn’t been influenced by the West.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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