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Much Ado About Nikko

JAPAN | Friday, 23 August 2019 | Views [144]

Jizo — Protectors of Children and Travelers

Jizo — Protectors of Children and Travelers

IT ISN’T OFTEN THAT THE FIRST PLACE YOU VISIT in a new town is a cemetery.  And not a famous one like Arlington National Cemetery or Normandy, either.  We had to work with a map and the lady at Nikko’s Tourist Information Center just to figure out where we might have been.  


    A peaceful resting place          


                         Moss-covered Buddha


                                         A line of Buddha images

Connie spotted Kannon-ji Cemetery — if that is indeed where we were — on our way to Nikko’s main attraction, the Shrines and Temples of Nikko UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The drizzly Nikko morning and towering cedars just added to the otherworldly atmosphere of this unexpected find.  Flowers and incense left from Obon showed that we weren’t the only visitors but we may have been the only ones not here to honor our ancestors.  A sacrilege perhaps, but I couldn’t resist snapping photos of the moss covered markers  and one enormous image of the Buddha.  


     Made from snakes? "I hate snakes!" (Indiana Jones)

THE VERMILLION SHINKYO BRIDGE CROSSES the Daiya River at the sacred spot where legend has it, two giant serpents became a bridge on which Buddhist Priest Shodo was carried across.  It is one of the most photographed sights in Nikko and today it hosted a wedding ceremony.  The kimono-clad couple stopped in mid-span while the groom sailed a paper plane over the river.  We don’t know the significance but we hope it brings them many happy years together.


       For Good Luck

WE ARE SPENDING FOUR NIGHTS IN NIKKO so we weren’t rushing to the The World Heritage Site.  We still had another mile or so go from Shinkyo to Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss.  The name is a bit misleading.  Yes, there is a canyon of sorts under towering cedar trees with the Daiya rushing through.  But there is much more.


    Cairns in the Abyss                       Jizo all in a Row

Those of you who have followed our travels know that Connie is a master trip planner who usually saves the best for last.  All I can say is she will have to up her game to surpass the 70 Jizo statues that line the riverside trail.  Each of these stone effigies, protectors of travelers and children, wears a red knit beanie and a red bib to ward off evil spirits.  As ones who need all the protection we can get, we say “Domo arigatou.”

           Protecting Kids and Vagabonds

THE SHRINES AND TEMPLES OF NIKKO WORLD HERITAGE SITE covers 50 hectares with more than 100 structures. Not coincidentally, it all began with the Holy Priest Shōdō, he of the bridge, who founded a hermitage at Nikko in the mid-8th Century.  Serving as a training ground for Buddhist monks, Nikko prospered as a sanctuary for religion where Buddhism and Shinto could merge. 


                    Bronze Tori Gate

Our visit today was mostly recce.  As large as some of the temples are, it is still easy to get turned around and, gods forbid, miss something.  A map helps, but it’s not foolproof.   By the time you reach the top of the third tier of uneven stairs, everything begins to look fuzzy.


 Lanterns from Shoguns


                        Prayer Bells

We limited ourselves to the Futarasan Shrine area which strangely includes the Shinkyo Bridge.  Stone lanterns line the road, each “donated” by a shogun hoping to curry favor.  To the uninformed — which would be me — the significance of one shrine versus another is wasted.  Even the nuances in architecture are indistinct.  But the overall effect is stupefying — much like with the soaring cathedrals of Europe or Middle-Eastern mosques.


     First Gate to Futarasan Gravesite



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