After having what they call a writers block, I’ve finally returned to this space. It’s been a solid 4 months break, the longest I’ve taken since I launched this site. I promise to publish more regularly this year, at least one post a month or two if I’m feeling ambitious.
To kickstart the first post of the year, I’m recounting my recent day trip to Nikko; a historic and scenic city located north of Tokyo.
Ditching the hustle bustle of contemporary Tokyo, Nikko is a beautiful capture of nature, traditions, and spirituality. For many centuries, Nikko has been a sacred place to Buddhism and Shinto religions. Across this mountainous city in Tochigi prefecture, shrines and temples are scattered with stunning preserved historical landmarks. No matter where you go, the towering pines and cedars subconsciously connect you to the nuances of nature and spirituality. Nikko translates to “sunlight” in Japanese, and I must say, we were blessed with a beautiful sunny yet breezy day for an outing.
Nikko makes for a great day trip destination. With stunning luscious green landscapes to heritage sites, the city is certainly easy to cover in a day. We left early in the morning from Tokyo beating the weekend rush. The drive to Nikko gave a series of marvelous vistas as we powered through the city to the countryside.
As we approached Nikko, gorgeous dreamy snowcapped mountains welcomed us in all awe. During the winters, Nikko is a popular destination for avid skiers and snowboarders.
Getting around Nikko was pretty simple. Most of the activities lie within an area of a few kilometers, therefore this is perfect when you’re shuffling through a brisk winter’s day.
Our first (unofficial) stop of the day was the Shinkyo “Sacred” Bridge. Located in central Nikko, the bridge marks as an entrance to Nikko’s World Heritage area of numerous shrines and temples. The vermillion lacquered sacred bridge was built in 1636. It has undergone a few renovations since then and is now ranked amongst one of the three finest bridges in Japan. In the feudal era, the emperor was the only one who could cross the Shinkyo bridge. This bridge is an important cultural property that belongs to the Futarasan Shrine. In 1999 the Shinkyo bridge was registered as a World Heritage.
As the Shinkyo bridge has emerged to become a popular tourist spot, it was extremely crowded when we went. We decided to only drive past it and view this beauty afar to avoid the jostle.
Driving past the Shinkyo bridge we headed towards the extravagantly decorated Toshogu shrine, another World Heritage site in Nikko. Hands down, this is one of the most famous shrines to visit in Nikko. The intricately detailed and decorated shrine was built in 1617. The Toshogu shrine served as the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the founder of the Edo period, also known as Tokugawa Shogunate. The Tokugawa Shogunate was the last feudal military government to exist in Japan from 1603 to 1868. All leaders that were part of this government were referred to as Shoguns.
The magnitude of artistic detailing that has gone into building this momentous shrine is unbelievable. The Toshogu shrine comprises of more than a dozen buildings encompassing the cedar forest. While touring the shrine, I was left amazed by the countless wooden carvings in gold leaves that decorated the structures. It is said that the decorations here are not seen elsewhere in Japan. As you enter the shrine, a large ‘torii’ gate welcomes you following an elaborately adorned storehouses, a five-story pagoda the ornate Yommeimon Gate and the Honjido Hall that features the “Crying Dragon.”
Toshogu consists of both distinct Buddhist and Shinto elements. This is because up until the Meiji period it was common for places of worship to have coexisting religious aspects. However, while the rest of the country erased Buddhist features from shrines and vice versa, Toshogu did not carry out the same due to the two religions being so intensively integrated with each other already.
Our last touristing spot was the notable Nikko Edomura, also known as Edo Wonderland. This is a historical theme park recreating life in Japan during the Edo period. I really enjoyed the concept behind this recreated village. I’ve been to the Edo Museum in Tokyo a number of times as part of school trips back in elementary school. However, being able to step back in time to 17th century Japan was fascinating. From the culture, characters, cuisine, games, performances and activities, the village mirrored the Edo period to the dot. My favorite part was seeing the village staff dressed in traditional Edo-Period costumes, speaking olden-style Japanese; to the point where they referred to “yen” as “ryo.” I was truly fascinated by the mannerisms that were once innate throughout the Edo period.
Nikko made up for a wonderful and fascinating day-trip. It’s amazing to see how much beauty, culture, traditions and historical significances we are encircled around. Seeing how Japan has evolved since the Edo period up until today is phenomenal. Particularly seeing how these historical elements are part of modern-day Japan just goes to show how important it is to be grateful of your roots, receptive towards other religions and to acknowledge the past that defines our present.