Sunday, October 02, 2005

Finally made it out to Nikko, great day

So finally, after 4+ months of living close (40Km) to one of Japan's most important cultural treasures, I finally made it out... it was certainly worth the wait and I think I'll actually head back later this Fall once the leaves start to change a bit more.

Met up with Shige, Tomomi and Yoshiko this morning and we headed out in Shige's roomy and comfortable Chevrolet Trailblazer, tunes pumping out of the stereo and cool air whipping in from outside. The plan? Have some soba, visit Toshogu, Lake Chuzenji, a foot Onsen and finally Kegon Falls. Within a few minutes of taking off, I was reminded once again just how small of a town this is when I glanced into the vehicle next to us at a stop light and came face to face with Bodo, the French speaking German financial guy I see at the Lion's Head once in a while. With barely any traffic on the way up, we zoomed into the mountains just outside of town and were immediately surrounded by some lovely scenery.

We stopped at a Soba shop in Imaichi where Yoshiko's mother used to work, lovely setting in an almost-open-air setting... had some great Soba and Tempura... which I unfortunately did not photograph. Here is a picture of the grounds behind the Soba shop.


Also near this lovely Soba shop was A nice section of the "Cedar lined avenue" which was created over 370 years ago. The road has been built on special blocks so that passings traffic does not compact the soil and damage the trees. Each of the thousands of trees along this road are numbered and tended to... quite an amazing project they've got going on.


Before I go into the details of the day any more, let me explain quickly the reason Nikko is considered such an important place. First and foremost, it contains the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for 250 years. Tokugawa Ieyasu was essentially a military leader who vanquished his many ennemies and thus brought an end to years of strife within the nation. Ieyasu intended to forever be the guardian of Japan. To this end, a year after his death and burial in his hometown in 1616, he was moved to Nikko. It was believed that Demons originated in the North, and that is why he chose Nikko, to the North of the capital of Edo (Tokyo) as his final resting place. He essentially wanted to be placed in harm's way in order to better protect Japan. While Ieyasu had asked for a "small shrine" to be errected, the third Tokugawa Shogun ordered the shrine to be built to the level of oppulence which we see today.

We were lucky enough to have a local power-player with us which meant we were given special access to all the sites within the Toshogu, for the low price of NOTHING! Usually runs at a few thousand Yen if you want to get in to all the exhibits. Seems Yoshiko's dad is a man of some importance in the area and was able to secure us the appropriate paper work... THANKS! The first item of note which we encountered was the 5-storied Pagoda (36 meters high), just outside the gates of the Toshogu shrine.


This building was initially built in 1650, but burned in 1815 and was rebuilt. The interior is hollow, with no floors from bottom to top. In the middle of the Pagoda hangs pillar with a diameter of 60cm which runs from the very top of the building down to 10cm from the floor to protect the Pagoda from quakes... I guess the floating pillar will absorb any movement during a quake???



Here be the gate to enter the shrine complex. I love pictures of these gates, don't quite know exactly why... maybe their connection with the mystic world makes them appealing to me? Regardless... they make for lovely photos.


One of the most popular carvings from amongst the thousands of carvings, statues and artwork scattered throughout the shrine is this one of the "Imaginery Elephant."


The reason it is called an "imaginery elephant" is that the chief painter, Tanyu Kano had never actually seen an elephant when he created this, which is why there are a few differences with what we all know an actual elephant looks like.


Another famous carving is of course the "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys which spun off the famous (yes I am using the F word) saying. Scott and I formulated our own perspective on this saying and it's origin within the Shrine dedicated to the Tokugawa Shogunate. After a couple of beers and other things at the home of Isao, our most gracious guest\student, we discussed this carving for a bit and decided it fits in nicely with the military dictatorship which was the Tokugawa shogunate... and on which Japan is based today. Essentially, this is a message which says don't snoop around and don't speak up... be a good little Japanese citizen and let the Shogunate do what it needs to. Kind of makes sense now why they've let the government destroy the countryside, pollute the air and spend billions on useless monuments... (yes I have finished reading Dogs and Demons by the way... so you'll see tidbits of bitterness like this one come out once in a while... lol)


Close to the monkeys, the holy grail of Nikko... the Toshogu Shrine's Gate (at the top of the stairs) called Higurashino-mon or "The Gate where people spend all day long to look". This gate is so ornate and well decorated that there are actually rows of benches where people can sit to admire it.


It is covered in over 500 individually carved and painted sculptures... how amazing is that? And that's just the outer gate to the shrine! On either side of the gate are statues representing the guardians which are protecting this shrine against evil spirits.


Here's me, Tomomi and Yoshiko.


Inside the shrine, everything was covered in paintings and carvings... it was quite overwhelming actually... here's what I thought was an interesting shot with the reflection.


Another popular carving at Toshogu is also a National Treasure of Japan, and signifies peace. It is located at the foot of the 200+ steps leading to the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu. On one side of the carving is this sleeping cat, on the other side is a sparrow. If the cat awakens, the sparrow will be eaten, and yet for the moment, the two are able to co-exist. Since Tokugawa Ieyasu brought peace to Japan, this is meant as a reminder I to never re-awaken the fury that is war.... though I guess a few leaders in the 30s and 40s didn't pay much attention to this carving...


Also inside the shrine was a building housing the Crying Dragon. The accoustics of the room and of the decorations within it are such that a traditional japanese wood-block instrument when struck will not make a special sound unless it is struck in an exact location. This location corresponds to directly beneath the head of a huge dragon which is painted on the ceiling. When the blocks are struck there, an eery echo resounds through the chamber... which some equate to the crying of a dragon.... interesting... though having never heard a dragon crying (they're usually pretty happy burning stuff when I see them) I have nothing to compare the echo which I heard today with...

After a couple of hours putting around the Toshogu shrine, we piled back into the Shige-mobile and headed off into the mountains in search of the elusive Lake Chuzenji. After climbing into the mountains using a series of switchback roads... quite unnerving really... we arrived on the shores of Lake Chuzenji... This lake, with a circumference of over 25 km was formed when Nantai-san errupted some 20,000 years ago and lava blocked the flow of water down from the mountains. This lake sits at an elevation of 1269 meters above sea level and has a depth of 163 meters.... very nice to be up on the side of a mountain, by a lake... surrounded by moutains... very... peaceful. Here are my companions for the day... Yoshiko on the left, Tomomi in the middle and Shige on the right.


There was one section of the lake which was illuminated by sunshine... quite interesting lighting effects.



We sat down and had a quick bite at a lovely little lakeside cafe... I had the salad... which was accompanied by a heck of a view... and a bunch of tomatoes... and cottage cheese... lol


After lunch and a quick walk around the lakefront, we headed further into the mountains to an Onsen area where we enjoyed a foot hot spring, free of charge in a small outdoor facility. The water was piped in at about 43 degrees in one section, and around 38 degrees in another... and the bottom of the hotter pool was covered in abbrassive rocks... which made for some great foot care... my tootsies feel great now!

After the foot bath, we headed out to the final spot for the day, Kegon Falls, for a quick look-see. Of the 48 waterfalls surrounding Nikko, these are the highest at 97 meters... in fact these are the highest in Japan. While these falls are gorgeous in their own right, they are also accompanied by a rather morbid history. Since 1903, when an 18 year old high school student committed suicide there by plunging from the top of the cliffs, these falls have been a popular location for those who wish to end their life. Over 200 people have ended their life here, and barriers and fences have now been errected to prevent all but the most determined individuals from jumping.

Some say that ghosts roam these falls, as a result of the deaths of so many people. While you can't really see in these low resolution pictures... the ones I have on my computer seems to have some odd colourations in some places, and blurryness in others... could it be???





Finally, before heading out, I took this snapshot to show you just how close we were to being actually IN the clouds... it was a most amazing day.


I had plans with someone for tonight but a death in the family has postponned them to a later date... which gave me the opportunity to put pen to paper (so to speak) and get these pictures out there. Tomorrow? Lunch with Kanako-sensei at Praktica... if I feel like it when I roll out of bed... pretty relaxed day ahead after all this travelling.

And a great big THANK YOU to Suda Isao-san for the great big bundle of information he gave me on Nikko yesterday. I read through it this morning and it certainly made for a more interesting day... I was spouting off facts left right and center, greatly impressing my Japanese companions... lol Did you know that Tokugawa Ieyasu was 75 when he died? Now you do... lol THANKS Isao!

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1 Comments:

Anonymous riezo said...

Michel,
Hi.what a beautiful photos!!!
wow, amazing!!!
I really like them.

I need some nice stuff,too...I am very tired lately....

6:16 AM  

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