Nikko – a place to recharge
Nikko is a small town North of Tokyo. It has a forest filled with 103 most magnificent structures, temples, and shrines built by the Tokugawa Shoguns. Nikko takes a part in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
JR pass holders, can reach Nikko for free by switching train lines. To get to Nikko from the city of Tokyo take Shinkansen train from the Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya
(about 1 hr) then connect to the JR Nikko line (43 minutes from Utsunomiya to Nikko). There are many tourist that go from Utsunomiya; therefore, you will see which station everyone gets off to explore the city and the park.
Once you are in Nikko just follow the main road up the hill, or simply everyone else. About 10-15 min later you will reach visitor center on your left. It is a great place to stop to pick up some maps. The park is quite big and if you want to know where to go, maps will be very useful. Volunteer there speak very good English. You will need the whole day in Nikko, walk around the park, and get back from where you started. It gets completely dark at 6pm; therefore, plan well. At the end of October, there are lights displayed in the park, thus you may want to stay later to see them in the dark.
To enter the park, you will have to cross a bridge that is parallel to the Shinkyō (神橋) bridge. A red wooden bridge that can be accessed if you purchase tickets for $3.50. But it is well photographed from the main road bridge. According to the wikipedia.com , in feudal times, only the shogun was permitted to cross the bridge.
During our stay in Nikko, we visited all the major temples and shrines. The architecture and the details are very rich. You will take great pictures. Moreover, a walk in the forest filled with cedar trees is very relaxing and refreshing.
To see and enter most of the temples and shrines will cost you anywhere from $2 to $12 depending of the size and how important it was in the history.
People come to these shrines to pray, to ask for something from their Gods or just to pay respects. Visitors write on the pieces of paper or even small planks of wood, and leave different kinds of notes with the prayers, hopes, and wishes.
At many places by paying small fee you can pick a small folded card with a small message for you, but t is all in Japanese.
Rinno-ji Temple has been under construction for some time and according to one Japanese who spoke to us, the plan is to renovate for two more years. The whole temple is covered, but the front of the building has an actual size picture of the shrine. These Japanese children are kneeling on the ground so their teachers could count them and to make sure no one is lost.
This was my favorite, Shoyo-en Garden, a Japanese garden that was initially constructed in Edo period dating between 1603 and 1867; however, it underwent changes in the beginning of 19th century.
In the garden there is a pond, stone lanterns, bridges, tiny paths, fences, pagoda, and a small tea house.
This is Shoyoen, Rinnoji. During the summer it is all deep green color and it looks magical.
You can go inside the main building and observe the garden through the glass walls while relaxing on a bench.
You will see these gates walking everywhere across the park.
At this temple you may purchase Japanese Buddhist beads. Beads are traditional tools used to count the mantras recited while meditating. If you look inside the large bead while pointing at the light, you will note a small Buddha inside.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have anyone speaking English and help us explain more about these beads.
Five story pagoda Gojūnotō, dated 1818 is located outside Tōshō-gū shrine. It was stunning!
A path outside Tōshō-gū shrine complex. It also holds there wise monkeys that everyone is so eager to see in the park. Tosho-gu shrine is also elaborately decorated with multicolors and gold.
Kanmangafuchi Abyss is a path lined with jizo statues. You will definitely need a map to reach this path, since it is outside the main park where all the shires are. But don’t get dissapointed if you cannot figure out the map. In any place the security is very helpfull, they even have additional maps that they can give you and direct you. We truly enjoyed this path. Jizo statues are decorated with red hats and bibs. Walking by these statues makes you feel like in a movie – feels so mythical.
Once you pass the statues continue on walking and once you go up the hill, look left, where you will see an old burial site, as we believe.
The path continues along the river and surrounded by trees.
Once the pat lined with the statues ends, do not turn around, continue walking for at least another 15 minutes, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the park, mountains, and medieval looking bridge. If you look carefully on the left of the bridge, under neath the trees, you will see more Jiso statues dressed in red. Legend says that the statues change places from time to time, and a visitor will never see them in the same order twice. We were also told that no one ever is able to count the statues and get the same number.
Nikko World Heritage site is another magical place in Japan. You will be surprised and impressed!