I realized that I’ve included some pictures from Japan in my Postcards but I haven’t actually written about my time there. No time like the present.
My cousin, Natalie, was teaching English just outside of Tokyo. I had recently graduated from college and was still searching for a job. I also had a leftover plane ticket – and by leftover I mean this was back when if you needed to cancel your trip, your ticket could be transferred for a small or non-existent fee. I’d had this ticket since my sophomore year of college for a spring break trip that didn’t happen. How many times was it transferred? I don’t know, but two years later I was able to tell my cousin yes when a trip to visit was suggested.
We (my cousin, her mom, her grandmother, and I) went up into the mountains to Nikko for a day trip. This was our last excursion and my last roll of film. I was aware of Mount Fuji, but I never really thought about Japan’s landscape in-depth. So I was more than pleasantly surprised to walk out of the train station (which had an Alpine feel to it) and see snow-covered mountains. Thus far most of what I had experienced on my short trip was in and around Tokyo.
The four of us made our way from the station up the road in search of Nikkō Tōshō-gū, a Shinto shrine. On the way we passed Shinkyo Bridge, a red bridge which belongs to another Shinto shrine Futarasan jinja. The bridge was being restored and was covered up but at this point in the trip I felt I had seen enough red bridges – kinda like the Celtic cross in Ireland, there’s only so many you can see until you feel you’ve seen them all. Then we entered the grounds of Rinnō-ji, a complex of Buddhist temples, and stopped at Sanbutsudō, the temple’s main building. Further up the moutainside and deeper into the forest was the complex of Nikkō Tōshō-gū.
The thing that I found most remarkable about the shrines and temples was the detail. Everything was so ornate and colorful; even those structures being restored, which had been stripped of all color were beautifully intricate and powerful. Unfortunately, the quality of my camera wasn’t able to even come close to doing the buildings justice.
The Royal Stables was one of the more simplified structures. But who should I find there in elaborate carved panels lining the tops of the stable doors? Sanzaru, of course! Mizaru, who sees no evil, Kikazaru, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, who speaks no evil. Also at Nikkō Tōshō-gū is Nemuri Neko, the sleeping cat. We didn’t get to see him because he was undergoing some restoration.
The quiet around the complex, even with a large number of people visiting, was impressive. If you combine the history, the beauty, the craftsmanship, and the serenity, this place definitely had a magical quality to it. Visiting Nikko was by far my favorite stop of the entire trip.
On the forty minute walk back down to the city and the train station, the reality that my time in this wondrous country was coming to an end began to sink in. Japan was another one of those places that I never thought I’d travel to. So yay for my cousin teaching there, and yay for better airline ticketing rules, otherwise, I might not have been able to catch this glimpse of Japan.