Last weekend was a long weekend, with Monday being Marine day. So with three days off, traveling to a place like Nikko is ideal. Nikko is the home of Toshogu Shrine, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, but also has over 1000 years of Shinto and Buddhist history, beautiful scenery, and hot springs (^-^)v
My friend Reiko and I had planned on going to Nikko for some time. Despite living most of her life in Japan, she had only been to Nikko once. And despite our best intentions, plans weren’t finalized until the day before. Nikko is seriously one of the best places to take a day trip if you are visiting Tokyo. It’s really gorgeous, and has so much natural beauty, history and culture.
If you plan to stay overnight in Nikko, it is best to chose a hotel, pension or ryokan that includes dinner. Not many restaurants are open in the evening. Previously I have stayed at the Turtle Inn, popular with foreign tourists thanks to Lonely Planet, which is a lovely place to stay, however this time Reiko found a pension for us to stay in. We stayed at L’ESCALE, a charming French restaurant and pension in the Kirifuri Highlands. I cannot rave enough about this place!
L’ESCALE, as i mentioned, is French themed. Dinner is a French five course meal, including salad, soup, fish or vegetable dish, main dish, and dessert. All meals are cooked by the owner and his staff, and it seems to be a family run operation. The owner speaks some English, so people who don’t speak Japanese should be comfortable. The rooms are large and comfortable, and the rates are quite reasonable, and include dinner and breakfast. It is a hike from the station, but you can catch a taxi for less than 800yen. And it is also within walking distance to the World Heratige site (ie, Toshogu Shrine), and the Nikko Beer factory (which made Reiko very happy).
Unfortunately we had a very late start on Saturday, and didn’t make it to Nikko until late afternoon, so we went directly to the pension and had dinner. Sunday was a lot more active. After leaving the pension we walked to the World Heritage site, and along the way we passed a horse riding place, the Nikko Beer factory (where we stopped for a drink), and a fishing place.
Eventually we arrived at Toshogu Shrine, and bought a multipass for 1300yen, which gave us admission into Toshogu, the tomb of Ieyasu, and Honji-do. Toshogu Shrine is a splendid place. It has many elaborate carving, beautiful paintings, and gold leaf everywhere! At the time of rebuilding (originally it was much smaller) it cost billions of yen, and it really shows.
Within Toshogu one of the first things you’ll notice are the carvings. ‘Sanzaru’ is probably the most famous carving, and in English is known as ‘Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil’. These three monkeys are one of the first graphical representations of the phase, but on the same building you will also notice a number of other monkey carvings. In fact all the monkeys represent all stages of life.
Some of the other carvings can be rather strange in appearance. The artists hadn’t actually seen many of the animals in real life and had to rely on their imaginations. Opposite the monkeys is a prime example of what an elephant *doesn’t* look like. But many of the other animals are mythical beasts like dragons and kirin, so I guess we can forgive them.
When entering the tomb of Ieyasu, above head is a small carving of a sleeping cat – ‘nemuri-neko’. This carving is also very famous with the Japanese, as a symbol of the peace that the Tokugawas bought to Japan. And then it’s a climb of over 200 steps to get to the tomb. It can be pretty taxing on a hot and humid day
Inside the Honji-do the ceiling is painted with a large dragon. When standing under the dragon’s head if you clap the sound will reverberate, and only in that spot due to the acoustics of the room. Pretty smart if you ask me.
Its easy to spend most of the day at Toshogu, there is a lot to look at inside and outside the shrine. When we finally stopped for lunch (pretty late at 3pm), we walked down to the main road to find some Yuba ryori – Tofu skin dishes. Nikko, as well as Kyoto, is famous for Yuba. Its kinda plain in taste, but with some soy sauce I think its a yummy and healthy dish.
By the time we finished lunch it was quite late, and in Nikko many places close at 5 or earlier, so we found our way back to the pension to relax before dinner (which was really really good!).
On Monday we went to a glass blowing factory to make our own blown glass tumblers. I have to admit this was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Unfortunately it seems they only speak Japanese at Glass Studio Punty, but the staff really do most of the work in making your creation so its not so hard. And if you aren’t in Nikko the next day they will send your creation to you by mail.
After overheating in front of the kilns, we made our way to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park. On the grounds here are buildings that have been used by the Imperial family as a summer villa since 1899. The actual buildings weren’t all built at the same time, and some were moved to Nikko from other places, but its very interesting to see Meiji era architecture that combines tradition with western styles. Much of the villa is carpeted, but still very Japanese in design. And the gardens were also very beautiful.
So after spending the afternoon there we had to make our way back to Tokyo and back to ‘real life’. It was a lovely, relaxing weekend overall!