Lost In Japan: Day 10 – Nikko

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

This was the day that our trusty JR Rail Pass ran out. It’s been a good friend over the last week and has given an extraordinary peace of mind when it comes to Japanese train travel. Definitely a must when we return.

So, since today is our last day we used it to venture 2 hours north of Tokyo into Nikko. It meant a Shinkansen both ways and meant that we have added two more Shinkansen route names to our talley (Nasuno on the way in and Yamabiko on the way back).

We were not about to make the same “forgetting to eat” mistake that we made on our Himeji day. So whilst hubby grabbed something that looked like a hockey puck made of rice I grabbed… yakisoba in a hog dog bun. Before you judge me, I only went for this because I saw people go nuts for it in an episode of the World God Only Knows anime.

We arrived to Nikko at around 11:30 and despite it being so close to midday the surrounding mountains were nearly all shrouded in fog.

So there I am in a t-shirt surrounded by people in jackets and gloves. In the hours before we leave Nikko it starts to get so cold that you can see your breath. My cheeks started to feel rather numb by the end of the day. In fact, they weren’t exactly full of feeling by the time we reached the Shinkyo Bridge around midday. Good thing I’m a Brit is all I can say.

The World Heritage area of Nikko is only a 30-ish minute walk from the JR station. Here there are four main temples/shrines to visit (we missed out on the Futurasan Shrine) with quite a bit of renovation activity taking place.

The first temple you come to is the Rinnoji Temple. It has been undergoing some form of restorative work since 2007 and it is not due to finish until late 2019.

Because of this it was not allowed for any pictures to be taken within the area. It did, however, afford us the opportunity to take a far closer look at some of the statues which would otherwise be behind temple regalia.

The two main statues that stood out included a large golden wood statue of a many armed Buddha figure and a series of smaller statues that represented the different signs of the Chinese zodiac. Of the series the one representing the Rooster was particularly impressive since it was the only black one and had a backdrop of rising flames.

Uniquely, this ‘work in progress’ allowed us to see what they were doing to restore the temple. Think of it as a giant 3D jigsaw where they had perfectly catalogued and piled the pieces for later construction. It was fascinating.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 51/100Sight: Tōshō-gū Shrine
Location: Nikko, Japan
Position: #374

And now the reason we came to Nikko – the Toshu-gu Shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I did little to no research about it other than where to find it, and was probably all the better for doing so.

It was all go at the shrine. School parties, a bonsai exhibition and, yes, even a wedding was happening. Added to that, there was some extensive restoration being done to one of the big gates. So, I am not entirely sure that we saw Toshu-Gu at its very best.

Still, there was plenty to admire including extensive and elaborate carvings, a huge pagoda whose top is equal in height to Tokyo SkyTree (due to the mountains elevation) and many other beautiful buildings that required the removal of shoes. But hey, I had on sensible socks today!

It also had a massive great staircase leading to the inner shrine where he is actually buried. I swear, I have seen so many more stairs on this holiday than I normally do in 6 months.

Our final religious visit of the day was the Taiyuin Temple. Interestingly its the same as the Toshu-gu Shrine, just on smaller scale. This made the appearance of near identical drum and bell towers make a lot of sense.

My favourite part of this temple had to be the four guardian statues based on Indian deities. The white one looked particularly ferocious.

Now, but the time we were done with all the temples it was approaching two. It meant that it was a bit late for us to be going to the nearby lake and sample some of the autumn leaves. So we pondered a plan over some food in a local restaurant/gift shop. After wrestling with the Nikko free wi-fi and giggling over the dysfunctional waiting staff (it appeared to be a large family) we decided to walk around a bit.

Luckily enough, there was a well signposted circular walking route in Nikko so we just followed that for the 4km it had left. In doing so we got to some really breathtaking views of the mountains, forest and river.It also lead us through the Kanmangafuchi Abyss (abyss being a synonym for gorge) where we passed a whole lot of statues wearing red hats and bibs. I later found out that some of these hats and bibs are left by parents who have lost their children and want to make sure they are safe in the next world. Seeing new every red hat in this long line really tugged at my heart.

So, a Shinkansen ride later we were back in Tokyo. It was my hope that this would be the day that I get to tick off the Akita Hinai Jidori Chicken item off of my food list. There was a place that offered this on the second floor of Tokyo Station. However, the moment we walked in everyone looked at us very confused and a cook came from behind the counter, crossed his arms saying “No” whilst quickly ushering us out. All I wanted was a piece of chicken.

Feeling hungry and dejected we went down the floors looking for food. That’s when I found…

Character Alley! I never realised this existed, but on B1F of Tokyo Station there are 10-15 stores each dedicated to either a studio (e.g. Ghibli, Jump) or to a particular franchise (e.g. Pokemon, Nijntje, Rilakkuma). When I saw the Ghibli store there was no longer any dejection, only the yearning for ALL THE THINGS!

So whilst hubby busied himself buying a location-specific Pikachu plush wearing a train driver uniform, I wandering around the Ghibli store mesmerised by all the merchandise. Should I get the gorgeous statue of the Baron from a Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns? The My Neighbour Totoro toilet seat cover? A Porco Rosso mug? Choices!

After making a purchase we became more in need of food. Hubby had been groaking at my Katsu Curry so I agreed to have it again when we came across San Marco. Where the chicken place kinda shattered my faith in Tokyo Station restaurants this rebuilt it completely. Who cares if I had two Katsu curries in one day! This was delicious and it looked so gorgeous with the fried vegetables acting like rice jewels!

Full and happy it was time to head back to base camp where it is now time for me to snuggle up with my new Totoro friend and rest up for tomorrow’s next adventure.

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