Side Quest: Nikko

Today we head to Nikko in Tochigi prefecture. Nikko has been on our list of places to see in Japan since the first time we visited way back in 2009. This weekend we finally make our way north of Tokyo to check out this popular tourist destination.

Driving from Tokyo to Nikko. Even though Japan’s public transportation is amazing, sometimes the American in me just wants to go on a road trip. It’s also nice to be free of bus and train timetables.

Fog greets us as we make it into town.

We head over to the national park that holds Nikko’s most famous shrines and temples.

The Shinkyo bridge stands at the entrance of the park.

A large boulder marks the entrance to the shrines and temples.

We head up the stairs through the forest to our first stop, Rinno-ji Temple.

The temple is currently undergoing restoration, which is expected to be completed in 2020. To protect the site, a large warehouse is constructed around the temple.

I snuck a picture of the progress. The restoration project basically deconstructs the entire temple and assesses each individual piece. Can the piece be salvaged? Do we need to make a new part to replace the old one? After all the sections are accounted for, the temple is reassembled and refinished with shiny new lacquer.

We step out through the garden around back and head to our next stop, Tosho-gu Shrine.

Tosho-gu Shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.

We pass under the torii gate that marks the entrance.

A large pagoda sits just inside. The fog almost shrouds the top of the pagoda from view. But soon enough the fog clears as we start exploring Tosho-gu.

We are a little too early for this year’s autumn leaves, but there are speckles of color throughout the forest.

Some of the buildings in the complex look like any other shrine, if not a touch more adorned.

But much of the compound was an ornate, fortress-like system of structures.

One of these structures holds the Omikoshi or portable shrines.

The portable shrines are almost as fancy as the shrine itself.

Many beautiful embellishments adorn the buildings. The level of detail is in stark contrast to a typical shrine.

Dragon heads breath fire from the brim of a lantern.

Golden rivets shaped like flowers support the towers.

Intricate patterns blanket the undercarriage of the roof.

The details found around the grounds include some world-famous works, like the wooden carving of the hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil monkeys. Unfortunately the one that is pictured is a replica. The real carving is being restored.

This shrine is also under restoration, but not to the point were it needs be covered entirely.

White and gold lion dogs flank the Gate of Sunlight. I would love to see this gate unabated by the restoration efforts.

Another famous work is the sleeping cat, a small unassuming carving located above the gate leading to Ieyasu’s tomb.

Stepping through the gate we start our climb up to the tomb.

Lots of people want to visit Ieyasu.

Finally. Almost to the top.

A final gate protects the enshrinement.

The mausoleum itself returns to the simple aesthetic found at most shrines.

Back down the steps we stop at the Crying Dragon.

Inside the building we are directed to the main room with a large dragon painting on the ceiling. After a short explanation, a Shinto priest claps two special wooden blocks together inside the room to imitate the cry of a dragon.

After finishing up at Toshu-gu, we head over to Taiyuinbyo as the fog starts to roll back in.

Taiyunbyo is the tomb of Ieyasu’s grandson Iemitsu. Iemitsu thought highly of his grandfather, and lead the effort to make Tosho-gu the lavish mausoleum that would befit Ieyasu. In turn, Iemitsu was entombed close to his grandfather in a grand, but not too grand, fashion.

The complex is a elegant mixture of black and gold.

At least Iemitsu kept the dragon lanterns.

The mausoleum is slightly more ornate than the rest of the shrine. After visiting the major shrines and temples of the park, we drive back to hotel.

The fog stays pretty thick as we walk around in search of dinner.

Kind of eerie when you can’t see very far.

Nikko is a great place to visit. While you can hit up the main points in one weekend, an extra day or two lets you enjoy other parts of Nikko. There is a lot of touristy stuff to do, but you can also step out a bit further and explore the natural sights around the area.

I wish we had gone sooner. I definitely want to visit again.