On my recent trip to Japan, we decided to take a day trip to Nikko, just a 45 minute train ride from Utsunomiya where we were staying! Once at the train station we bought bus tickets which let us get on and off buses without having to pay a fare each time. There were 2 different combo options. One was to visit the a few shrines (Toshogu Shrine being the major one) in town and then the second added a visit to Kegon Falls. We opted for the shrines and waterfall!
Our first stop was at Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the first Tokugawa Shogun. There are many notable things to see here, so much so that it needs its own post! The most notable are the “Sleeping Cat”, the “crying Dragon” and the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys. The shrine is huge with over a dozen buildings on the complex, so large that it deserved its own post!
Through a wooded path you can get to Taiyu-in Temple and Taiyuinbo Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to lemitsu Tokugawa, the third Tokugawa Shogun. For a small fee, you can wander around through the gates and ornate buildings until you reach the main temple. After taking off your shoes, you can enter the first room of the Taiyu-in Temple to see elaborate decorations.
Right next door is the Nikko Futarasan Jinja shrine. This was described to us as more of a local shrine and was packed with people. Many people had purchased fortunes on ribbons and they were tied in areas around the shrine. Along the path up to the shrine there was a small structure for love wishes/prayers. One of them was loosely translated for us as “I wish I had a good boyfriend.”
Nikko Futarasan Jinja shrine
Nikko Futarasan Jinja shrine
We stopped for a quick lunch in town before the 50 minute bus ride to Kegon Falls. The restaurant had many booths that closed off with decorative sliding doors for privacy. I tried Katsu, a fried pork loin with a side of shredded cabbage. To dress the Katsu you powderize some grains and add tonkatsu sauce to the mix. After lunch we wandered through shops waiting for our bus. We visited the Kanaya Hotel Bakery and tried a bread roll with sweetened azuki beans inside. It was delicious!
Back on the bus, the road to Kegon Falls was long and winding up the mountainside. It took about 50 minutes from central Nikko to get to the stop. The Kegon Waterfall is almost 100 meters tall and the only outlet for Lake Chuzenji. We wondered around visiting shops, doing some souvenir-shopping around Kegon Falls until we made our way to the shores of Lake Chuzenji. The views were beautiful and a great ending to our time in Nikko!
This summer I was lucky enough to have a work trip for 2 weeks in Utsunomiya, Japan. Only a 45 minute train ride away, we had to head to Nikko, Japan for a day! Our main stop of the day was Toshogu Shrine. Toshogu is a World Heritage Site and the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun (first General as it was translated for us). The shrine has dozens of decorative buildings on the complex including a 5 story pagoda and various gates, each with their own guardians. There is an entry fee to get into the inner shrine (1300 yen) but so many areas to explore once inside.
The first significant buildings we came across were decorated storehouses. The most recognizable includes the storehouse with “see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil” monkeys all around it. Across the road there is a store house with 2 elephants carved on top. These are known as the Sozonozo Elephants or imagined elephants. At the time the Japanese had only heard stories of elephants from nearby countries. The artist who carved the piece had never seen an elephant before, he used only his imagination!
Off on the edge of the complex we followed signs to see the famous Nemurineko or “Sleeping Cat” carving. The carving is at the top of a doorway so be sure to look up or you may miss it like we did at first! We went through the doorway and up a long flight of stairs through the woods. The walk is a bit of a hike but the forest surroundings are beautiful along the way. At the top of the stairs is Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum. Many stop to pray at a tree at the top that is said to bring good fortune.
The main shrine building is open to visitors to see the elaborately decorated building but you must take off your shoes before entering. Unfortunately photographs are not allowed inside so you will have to visit to see the beauty for yourselves!
The last area we explored was Honjido Hall home of the “Crying Dragon”. Once again you have to take off your shoes to get inside. They let groups of people in at a time for a demonstration of the “Crying Dragon”. The “Crying Dragon” is painted on the ceiling and the demonstration includes a man clapping together 2 pieces of wood around the hall. It never echos until he is directly underneath the dragon’s eyes! Sadly, once again no photos were allowed inside.
The Toshogu Shrine complex is large so be sure to give yourself 2.5 hours at the very least to see everything. If visiting in the summer be sure to stay hydrated as this involves quite a bit of walking in the hot sun. Before going into the the shrine be sure to stop at the purification fountain to wash your hands and lips. If you are in Nikko or looking for a day trip to nearby, Toshogu Shrine is definitely a place to see!