This Tuesday’s choice of holiday snaps are of Nikko, Japan. It is a small town with World Heritage shrines and temples in wooded hills above the town. It is how you imagine old Japan to look. There are towering cedar trees, moss-covered stones walls, rows of stone lanterns and gilded shrines.
The farmer and I visited Japan in May 2008 and, using our Japan railpass, we found it an easy country to get around. We took one of Japan’s very fast trains, the Shinkansen, from Tokyo and then changed to a small local train to Nikko. A bus from the station takes you along a winding road up to the World Heritage site. It’s about a 40 minute walk back down to the station and on the way there’s time to admire the red, sacred Shin-Kyo Bridge. The original bridge was constructed in the 17th century for use by members of the imperial court. I’m not sure how the rest of the population crossed the river.
Nikko’s history as a sacred site dates from the 8th century when a hermitage was built to train Buddhist monks. In 1617 it was chosen as the final resting place for a famous warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu. His grandson built the Shinto shrine, Toshu-gu, in his honour. All the shrines in Nikko are made up of more than one building. The five-storey pagoda of the Toshu-gu shrine is 34.3 metres high and has no foundations. Instead it contains a long pendulum that swings during an earthquake to keep it upright. How clever is that?
Futarasan-Jinja is the protector shrine for Nikko itself and is Nikko’s oldest shrine. It was here that we saw a white horse kept in a stable. It was a gift from New Zealand. Maybe Nikko is twinned with somehwere like Kaikoura in NZ. It’s probably a green, damp and hilly place too.
We spent the whole day at Nikko and still didn’t get to see everything. It was well worth the trip from Tokyo. The train passes through countryside with rice fields and distant mountains that still had snow on them in May. And despite what the guide books say, Nikko wasn’t too crowded.