Last week, my parents came to visit us, so we decided to take a couple of days and drive to Nikko! Nikko is a beautiful mountain town about 2 hours away. We stayed at the Nikko Lakeside Hotel and I can't recommend it enough! It was right on Lake Chuzenji and just down the street from several shops and the Kegon Falls. We scored a great price on agoda.com, which was just icing on the cake. The rooms were big and the location was absolutely perfect.
After driving to Nikko, we went straight to check out the shrines. We didn't have a lot of time before closing, so first we went to see the Rinnoji Temple, which has the kannon with a thousand arms. We don't have any pictures of this temple because the building is being completely renovated and no pictures are allowed of the statues inside the building, but, it was really incredible to see! Just behind the temple are beautiful gardens, and we happened to see some of the last cherry blossoms of the season!
The next shrine on our list of must-sees was Toshogu Shrine. I am so glad we didn't miss it! This shrine is said to be one of the most ornately decorated shrines in Japan. All of its buildings were absolutely beautiful! It's also known for 3 carvings and paintings: the "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" monkeys, the sleeping cat, and the crying dragon.
Upon entering the shrine's grounds, you first pass through a giant torii gate, and then immediately pass a beautiful 5 tiered pagoda. I don't think I'll ever get sick of the torii gates or pagodas in Japan; they are definitely two of my favorite types of ancient Japanese architecture. And, they are so iconic, so much even that every time I see one I have to pinch myself to know that what I'm seeing is actually real and that I actually get to live here!
The grounds are full of buildings, all having served different purposes at one point, but all of them unique and beautiful. We especially loved seeing the "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" monkeys carved into one of the buildings. And, so, then we, of course, had to recreate the famous gestures ourselves! We all thought it was pretty funny, except for Benny who was not very amused.
We continued to walk around and through the shrine, seeing the crying dragon painted on its ceiling and doing geisha poses (or "kimono poses" as Clara likes to call them), ninja, and sumo poses in front of the different buildings.
Right behind the main area of the shrine are a bunch of stairs (like a couple hundred . . . ) that lead up to another smaller shrine at the top of the mountain. The walk was incredibly beautiful--the path is completely surrounded by gigantic redwood trees and it was all so green and majestic. The natural beauty of the forest was just as beautiful as the ornately designed temples we were visiting!
Seeing Toshogu Shrine was such a highlight for me. It is fascinating to see how people used to live, how they [still] worship, and it is mind boggling to think of the construction of such incredible buildings built so long ago without any of the technological advances that we enjoy today.
After arriving back at the hotel, although it was only around 6:00pm, we discovered that much of Nikko had closed its doors for the night! And, by "much of," I mean all except for a tiny little supermarket and even tinier bakery, which were set to close within an hour or two! So, we rushed to the two little shops and bought an assortment of yogurts, fresh strawberries, bread, and the very best sashimi! It ended up being quite a delicious meal! However, in the future, we will be prepared with knowledge at least that the town goes to sleep early, and that food plans must be made!
The next morning, we wandered outside to check out Lake Chuzenji. We were hoping the paddle boats and swan boats docked along the shores would be up and running to rent, but the weather wasn't quite warm enough yet. So, instead, we just walked around a bit, enjoying the sheer beauty of the lake.
Then, we continued down the main road to the Kegon Falls, which were spectacular. We somehow timed it just right and we had the observation deck all to ourselves!
After admiring the falls and then walking through the town and doing some souvenir shopping (Clara got a Monchichi doll and Will got a stretchy, rubber banana--so random and funny), we hopped into our trusty Stepwagon and headed out to Edo Wonderland, which was actually our main reason for going to Nikko in the first place! However, upon driving up to its gates, we were quite disappointed to learn that it is closed on Wednesdays! Which, of course, is the day that it was. We felt especially bad for Will who had been looking forward for quite some time to go and visit the ninja village. The good thing is, though, that we live here and can go back another time! This time on a Tuesday perhaps. Or a Friday. Just not a Wednesday!!! And, regardless of Edo Wonderland being closed, we really had a fantastic time in Nikko and we'll definitely be going back!