The site of today’s adventure was Nikko, a famous tourist area north of Tokyo. Nikko is most famous for being the home of Nikko Tosho-gu, a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is known as one of the most impressive shrines in all of Japan.
Since our train ride was an expected three hours, we actually got an early start to our day. Our goal was to get to Kita-Senju, where we would board a limited express train with reserved seats. Unfortunately when we got to Kita-Senju, nobody could give accurate information on what to do next. I asked five different people and got five completely different answers. With minutes before the train left, a train station employee rushed us to the platform without tickets, but got us to the wrong train. We eventually gave up and took the regular express train towards Tobu Nikko station.
Going to Nikko was the first time that we actually got out of the greater Tokyo area. It was strange to finally be out of the grip of the massive city. The city itself is surrounded by mountains and trees, and was further from the ocean than I had been in my entire time in Japan. The weather was beautiful, and we happily started walking the 2.3km from the station towards Rinno-ji temple.
Rinno-ji is a complex of 15 Buddhist temples founded in year 766. Highlights include 3 large gold leaf Buddha statues and a large meditation garden. The buildings we saw were the oldest I had seen so far in Japan – nearly 500 years older than the Daibutsu in Kamakura. It really is an awesome experience being in a place that has been around for 1200 years. Canada is a fairly young country, so the “old” buildings are in the range of 300-400 years old, mere children compared to the structures in Rinno-ji.
After our time wandering around Rinno-ji, we headed towards the main attraction – Tosho-gu. We walked for another half kilometer from Rinno-ji to the main gate of Tosho-gu, the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I was looking forward to this as Tokugawa Ieyasu was one of my favourite figures from Japanese history. He continued the work of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in restoring a central government in Japan after over a hundred years of warring kingdoms. Tosho-gu was built in 1617 and dedicated to Ieyasu.
Unlike many plain shrines in Japan, Tosho-gu is showy and elaborate. Detailed, colourful carvings cover every wall and gate. There are beautiful statues everywhere. Tosho-gu is also home to the famous wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). I could post all of our pictures and they still wouldn’t do the shrine justice. It is quite simply a must visit place in Japan.
We explored the entire shrine, and took a brief rest near the resting place of Ieyasu himself. By this time we were all getting hungry, and left the shrine in search of food. We ate delicious noodles at a small soba and udon stand outside of the shrine. Our day was fantastic already, but we weren’t done yet.
(2014 update) Rinno-ji is closed for restoration until 2020. If you are in Japan and have the time to make a day trip from the Tokyo area, go to Nikko. Seriously.