Thursday 28 November 2013

Autumn in Japan - Nikko (part 2)

Day two in Nikko began with the alarm rudely awakening me at a time that felt way too early, but, convincing myself that the day was worth getting up for I dragged myself out of bed.

Kazu again offered to take us to the train station so we could catch the bus up the mountain to a nice place called Lake Chuzenji.  Lake Chuzenji was created about 20,000 years ago when nearby Mount Nantai erupted and blocked a river.  The mountain was discovered in 782 and is considered sacred.  It was actually closed to women horses and cows from when it was discovered until 1872.

Getting on the bus we started the 30 minute ride up the mountain-side to the lake.  At the top we started out for Keggon waterfall which is fed by Lake Chuzenji.  The waterfall is 97 metres high and is one of Japan's three highest waterfalls.  In 1927 it was declared one of the "Eight Views" which best displayed Japan and it's culture during the Showa Period (1926 - 1989).  It is also quite beautiful and spectacular.  Unfortunately, you are restricted as to how close you can get to it, and my cheap little mobile phone camera doesn't zoom in very well, but you will get the idea from these pictures.

I looked down and saw a young couple having their photo taken with the waterfall in the background.

Ahh, young love!

I plan to make a trip back here in February as the waterfall actually freezes to a standstill in winter!  Now that is going to be spectacular!

We suddenly realised that we were both pretty hungry (must have been the clear mountain air) so set off in search of something to eat.  We stumbled upon a little place run by an older couple and decided that some nice homecooking would hit the spot!

I was so hungry that I totally forgot to take a picture of what I ordered so I took a picture of it on the menu.

It looked even better in real life!

Satisfied we continued on over to the lake itself and marvelled in it's beauty.  The temperature at this stage was a crisp 1 degree Celsius and the clear mountain air made for some good photos.

It wasn't just the air that was clear, the water was too.

Reluctantly (we were on a tight schedule) we went back to the bus stop and got on the bus to head back down the mountain to see some more Autumn colour.

On the way back down, the bus takes a road called  Iroha-zaka Road.  This road that leads down (it is a one way only road) the mountain has 48 bends, the same number of letters of the ancient Japanese alphabet.  The name actually comes form the first three letters of the alphabet - i-ro-ha.  It is a spectacular road that would look even more spectacular from above.  It reminded me of some of the mountain climbs that I see each year watching the Tour de France.  While Dan held on for dear life, certain that we were going to die, I managed to take a few pictures on the way down.

The sign on one of the corners with the applicable Japanese character (this one I can read, it is "hi" the same sound as the "hi" in "hill")

Much to Dan's relief we made it to the bottom safely.  Getting off the bus we headed to the area that contains the World Heritage listed temples and shrinesThe beautiful coloured leaves looked even more impressive in daylight.

We came to some steps and feeling suddenly energized I bounded up the steps like a gazelle in the Masai Mara......

and then realised when I got to the top that it was just the first set of steps.....

Dan, on the other hand was wisely taking the steps at a much more leisurely pace.

Reaching the top we soon found ourselves at the foot of a beautiful tree-lined walkway that leads to the three most famous temples and shrines in the area.

Autumn colour was present in the trees lining the walkway and I suddenly felt the artistic juices flowing and decided to get creative!  This was the result.

Art was never my strongest subject at school!

We came across a Japanese style garden next to one of the temples that was your typical manicured Japanese garden that was looking even more impressive with the autumn colours all around.


Heading back to the path, I looked back down in the direction we had come from.


Further up the path was the World Heritage listed Toshogu Shrine.  We didn't go in on this day, but wandered around the outside grounds (on my next trip to Nikko I will write more about it)

Shown here is the main gate of the Shrine.

Just beyond the main gate on the left hand side is the five story pagoda.

The five stories represent the five elements; earth, water, fire, wind and aether.

We moved on past Toshogu Shrine towards Nikko Futarasan Shrine.  The path toward Futarasan Shrine is lined with a stone wall and the wall face appears as though it doesn't see much sun as moss was growing in abundance.

We soon arrived at the main gates of Futarasan Shrine.

Futarasan Shrine is also World Heritage listed and was first built in the year 767.  It's name comes from Mount Nantai (which we had been up earlier today to Lake Chuzenji) which is also called Futarasan.

I took so many photos of inside the grounds but I will show only a few here.  I have tried to identify these buildings from Nikko Tourist Association, so I hope I get them right!  This first one is the shrine office.

This next one is the Oratory, or place of worship.

I think this next one is Hie Shrine

A massively tall Pine tree

 Daikoku Hall

A portable shrine.

This is the building that houses the portable shrines. 

A stone that people were touching and rubbing, so I guess it is for good luck.  I gave it a rub just in case!

Mitomo Shrine.

Spiritual fountain of Futara

And some beautiful autumn leaves outside of the Teahouse of Azumaya.

It was starting to get a little late so we decided to head back in the general direction of the train station and along the way found a little entrance to another area.  I couldn't find any information about what it was on the information brochures we had but we wandered in anyway.

Through the gate there was what I assumed was a tomb of some kind (for my Japanese readers, feel free to correct me if I am wrong).

Wandering off in another direction, I took a photo that was intended to show some more autumn colour but then saw something else in the picture too (maybe you can see it, it is right in the middle).

Walking closer I saw this information plaque.  I don't know what it says so maybe, again, one of my Japanese readers can help.

It appeared to be a memorial of some kind.

Heading back down toward the town I took a few more random photos of autumn beauty

 and I couldn't resist a photo of this guy too!

One thing about Nikko is that there is water everywhere.  I come from a city that receives, on average, 546mm of rain each year, so to see all of this water everywhere I looked was incredible!

 wondered where it was coming from, and where it was going to.  So much water!

The last place we checked out before going back to the station was Shinkyo, or the Sacred Bridge which is owned by Futarasan Shrine.  There is a nice story that explains the origins of the bridge.  A Buddhist High Priest called Shodo wanted to climb Mount Nantai to pray (people at the time believed that god was in the mountains as it seemed that rain came from the mountains which enabled people to live).  He got to the edge of the river Daiya in 766 but couldn't get across as the water was flowing too fast.  Priest Shodo got down on his knees to pray for assistance.  A God appeared on the north shore of the river and two snakes were twisted around his right arm.  The God released the snakes and they transformed themselves into a bridge.  Priest Shodo and his party were able to cross the bridge safely to the other side.  After crossing, Priest Shodo looked back and the bridge had already disappeared.  The current bridge was built at the same place in 1636 and was only used by Generals and messengers from the Imperial court.  It was opened to the public in 1973 and for a small price, anyone can cross the bridge.  So what does it look like?

Very nice!

We continued on to the station to make our way back to Tokyo.

Nikko had proved to be an amazingly beautiful place to visit.  I will say, however, that it is an amazingly beautiful place to visit at any time of the year, and I recommend it to any visitor to Japan.

Well, I hope you enjoyed Nikko as much as I did.  As I have said, I am planning another visit to Nikko in February to get a winter view, which should be just as spectacular as this one.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you again soon.


  1. Racing up the stairs..? Sounds familiar... ;) The reds in those leaves are amazing! And I really love that dragon fountain, that is an impressive bit of work. Can't wait to get back there. :)

    1. Yes, I was thinking of you Matty as I was bounding up them withquickly waining energy!!
      The red colours are amazing, especially that last one. When you get back over here Nikko will be covered in white. Make sure you buy a really warm jacket before you come over, Nikko and around Fuji will be well below zero!

  2. Once again Jason you have produced another interesting description of your travels,together with pictorial splendour that exists, whenever you depart to the mountains and valleys of Japan.Perhaps the day will come,when you will be become a travel writer for The Loney Planet or some other prestige travel organisation...maybe a tour guide even.There is a place that I have been to,that you may have not and that is the Magome and Tsumago;connected by a a fairly easy half day walk.This walk can be reached by train and bus from Nagoya.I have to say.that this walk,togther with ambiance of the 2 old post towns(juku),is well worth a vist.Tsumago in particular,has retained it's old world charm to a larger degree tha Magome.Keep up the good work,Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      thanks for your kind words. As you know, this is a labour of love for me. I don't know that I would ever be able to make a living out of it, but it's fun imagining what that would be like! Getting paid to travel.....that would be nice!
      I have just had a look at some pictures of the Magome Tsumago path. It looks spectacular! It is definitely going on the list.
      Thanks for reading Noel, and take care.