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Published: February 12th 2020
Our second full day in Japan we caught an early train (they're all early trains!) to Nikko to visit the Tosho-gu Shrine. Nikko itself was also quite lovely, cool and forested, and the town was super cute. Tōshō-gū is a lavishly ornate Shintō complex within which Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), the first shogun and founder of the Tokugawa Bakufu (Japan's last feudal military government) is enshrined. Tokugawa Ieyasu played a pivotal role in unifying Japan and, a year after his death, Tokugawa Ieyasu was enshrined at Nikko, elevating his status to divinity.
Tōshō-gū's vibrant colors and flamboyant carvings stand in stark contrast to much of Japan's more spartan design. The Yomeimon Gate is Japan's most lavishly decorated gate, covered with 508 detailed carvings of children and elders and mythical beasts and a masterpiece of Edo-period craftsmanship. The stable of the shrine's sacred horses bears a carving of the Three Wise Monkeys; the first "sees no evil," another "speaks no evil," and the last "hears no evil." The three monkeys teach children how to avoid bad things in life by seeing, speaking, and hearing no evil.
It's vast, it's crowded, it's totally worth a day of your time. Just try to
get there early to beat some of the crowds. Personally I loved the scenery and all of the stone and bronze lanterns, including the fascinating Dutch lantern, a gift from the Dutch East India Company presented to the shōgun in 1643.
Lunch at Meguri in town is highly recommended (if extremely slow) but you need to arrive early before they sell out. Try the delicious yuba set lunch; it's worth the wait.
Also recommended is the vegan ramen at T's Tantan in Tokyo. There are several branches with various ramen styles, and the golden sesame ramen and the black sesame ramen are equally delicious.
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