Friday, March 9, 2012

Arriving Nikko

Road Trip
We drove north to Nikko in our old car with the plan to visit Edo Wonderland (think dress up like ninjas and samurai) for a certain Moose's birthday. With an afternoon arrival time and sleeting rain, we posed the option of puting off our ninja day until tomorrow. The kids were an easy sell as they could see the value of a whole day versus a half day to be a ninja.

New Plan
The new plan was to explore World Heritage site shrines and temples- Toshogu Shrine, Rinnoji Temple, Futaarasan Shrine. After walking up a long flight of stairs, the large site gave us pause. We decided to go down to the main street to eat lunch. Serious fuel was required first.

We found a small noodle shop that offered soba and udon along with yuba the sheets of tofu that are on every menu here. After our meal, the Mule insisted on showing me a display that caught her eye. It was pinned to a cork board and turned out to be pieces of origami folded paper to make a koinobori children's day display of the flying carp flags. After realizing how it was made, we noted that the numerous three dimensional cranes and dragons decorating the shop were made in the same fashion. My daughter asked the proprietress who had made them and then announced, "Mama the obasan (old woman) made them herself!"

Origami Koinobori in Nikko by the proprietress of a soba shop
Nikko appears to be set up for crowds and tour groups. Perhaps the rain, snow, and cold are keeping tourist away, but with the one year mark of the earthquake only days away, I wondered at the quiet town and sites but was selfishly glad to have so much space and beauty to ourselves. My husband suggested I use this as entree for a travel book on The Out of Season Tour Sites to avoid Crowds in Japan. I'd buy it.

Refueled, we returned and purchased a ticket to take in the World Heritage sites, one of the more expensive museum/temple tickets we've purchased at 2700¥ per adult. We thought it was all-inclusive, but noted there were still add ons as we went along. It was a bit of sticker shock, but considering the scale of restoration to maintain the place, the cost is not surprising. We were short on time so we stuck with our ticket offerings.

We began at the Japanese garden which has evolved over four hundred years. Thankfully we were all wearing heavy boots, warm winter clothes, and carrying umbrellas so the weather was not a hindrance to our enjoyment. It is barely spring, but the garden's stone path, mountain views, and pond offered a feast of green layers and wet textures that kept my camera clicking despite my troubles balancing ski mittens, an umbrella, and making adjustments to the camera. There is, of course, a perfect view looking from one of the bridges toward the mountains that takes nearly the whole sweep of the garden into your eye.

Japanese Garden in Nikko World Heritage Site
Balancing ski gloves, umbrella, & the camera- trying to get some photos of all this beauty
Upon exiting the garden, we entered a museum that showcased the history of the site and the shoguns. There were tidbits in English throughout. My children declared the museum the best ever, but they love history, museums, and it was warm.

A massive building covers the original temple and has a painting of the temple on the fabricated wall that almost tricks your eye into believing you are looking at the actual sight momentarily. You do go through the original temple as well as down below which is not something we have done before. The site must have been impressive in it's day as it is large, colorful, and related buildings are spread up the mountainside giving rise to the meaning of splendor here in Nikko, but photos were not permitted in some places.

Note the painting of the World Heritage Site behind the ticket booth in Nikko
Despite my familiarity with priests and monks in Kamakura, an impressive number of them were about at the site. One monk caught my eye as another monk tried to keep an umbrella over him as he hurried along. Several others were toting boxes. I regret I did not get a shot of the monk's shoes with the clear plastic covering the toes and keeping the toe socks white. Nikko has a strong mix of Buddhist and Shinto elements within the sites- a pagoda, sutra library, a statues of a few gods.

We traipsed up the mountainside enjoying giant cedar trees, the numerous stone lanterns, and the great breadth of space in which to take in the colorful buildings. There was minimal whinning about the long walk and an abundant supply of steps. The rain, sleet, snow fell steadily and provided plenty of distraction for umbrella twirling children with stairs to climb.
Large cedars line the road in Nikko at the World Heritage Site
Pagoda, Nikko
lanterns, Nikko
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil- monkeys in the background
We closed down Rin-no-ji Temple (Sanbutsudo), the last on our tour ticket, as the kids took a long look at the third shogun's samurai armor on display at the right side of the temple altar. Despite my frozen feet, I wondered at the connection between a temple and a samurai, they seem intimately linked here.

As we splashed along a wide, empty, gravelly road, it came to me that the European cathedrals of my youth had displayed many a knight's armor, not so close to the altar but still within the church building. The connection lies in the patronage of the warrior and his religion.

A monk closed the temple doors as we made our exit, being the last and only visitors there at the close of day. He kindly passed his kairo hot pad to the Mule for continued usage. Hours later it was still warming her belly and hands. We piggybacked on the site's closing to hurry our children down the mountainside, calling, "Hurry! They're locking the doors!" as we splashed down the stairs and bypassed puddles. My husband and I were interested in getting warm, and it was tea time.

A Birthday Treat
We celebrated the Moose's birthday in a quirky coffee shop with mismatched funky chairs, leather menus, and the creamiest milk tea we have ever been served along with gateau chocolat, whipped cream, and a very soft rendition of Happy Birthday. We recounted the day he was born was another sleeting, snowy day- trapped on the GW Parkway with a mama in labor, a nervous dada because mama was in pain and the traffic at a dead stop for nearly forty-five minutes, along with a Mule that cheerfully talked a mile a minute even then- now she can do it in two languages.

Our birthday Moose

Thanks to fabulous gadgetry, we were able to navigate easily to our hotel. The munsters insisted on hot soaks in the onsen before dinner. I already wish we could stay longer!

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