I love Japan, and always will. It's a perfect marriage of past, present, and future. There're meikos, geikos and geishas entertaining tired businessmen in tiekwood teahouses, shinto shrines rising up between office buildings, women walking down the street in traditional kimonos and dolce and gabbana bags, and well-dressed school-children checking out the futuristic sony inventions. The best part of all is that it's all genuine. The Japanese don't put on a show because the tourists are there to watch. Sumo doesn't exist as an over done attraction, along with teiko drumming, pachinko, flower arranging, and tea ceremonies. Japan would still hold onto it's history and identity, even if the rest of the world stopped watching.
I hopped on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nikko within an hour of arriving in Japan. Nikko is home to the some of the most celebrated shogun temples in the countries history. The cold little town pearched on the edge of the mountains is very unassuming considering the treasuretrove of historical temples and statues in the surrounding woods. I arrived to a light cold rain and a half hour walk to my hostel. The Nikko Park Lodge is excellent, if anyone is looking for a place
to stay I highly reccommend it. Once I'd tracked down a map and had a chat with one of the tour guides at the lodge I set out to find the Tosho-gu temple. Tosho-gu contains 5000 carvings, many by Korean artists, including the three monkeys and the sleeping cat. The work is very intricate, covering almost every surface of the temple and it's massive torii gates. After wondering around for a few minutes trying to make my camera work in what was now very cold and heavy rain, I decided to give up for the day and walk back to the hostel. I got lost on the way back though which worked out to my benefit as I ended up finding the ghost statues (many stone samurai lining the banks of Nikko's river). They're called the ghost statues because you can count them walking one direction and when you count again on the way back you'll always come up with a different number (I had 77 one way and 79 on the way back). Each statue is different and in the middle is a smiling samurai mocking the people who try to count the countless statues. By the time I
got back to the hostel I was soaked through and very tired. Although I had planned to go to one of the surrounding onsen (hotsprings) to see the Macaca monkeys warming themselves from the cold weather, I ended up climbing under my electric blanket (I'm so glad the hostel had those) and falling asleep around 8pm.
The next morning I woke up at 6, packed up and took the long walk back into town to store my lugggage before heading back to Tosho-gu. There I was able to go through the entire temple, to Yomei-mon, a gate through which only the highest ranking Samurai were allowed to pass. In the Yakushido building which holds the crying dragon: there's a dragon painted on the roof and when you clap two sticks under the dragons mouth the sound echos (roars) but everywhere else in the building the clapping is dull and quiet. I spent the morning strolling through Hon-gu, Shihonryu-ji, and Rinno-ji, taking in the elaborite sights and deep history alongside the cherry blossoms before making my way back to the train station. On the way back I passed the sacred bridge ertected to signify the journey of one of the shogun
leaders across the river on the heads of two serpants. My next stop is Kyoto, a city of living history and religious taboo.
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