Sunday, March 30, 2014

nikko - toshogu shrine

After spending a night in a bed that was set up on the floor underneath a bunk bed (literally had to crawl to get into it), woke up at the crack of dawn to meet Ellen to head to Nikko. The cheapest way to Nikko from Tokyo is by taking Tobu Railways which start off at Asakusa Station. I only had a couple of minutes to buy my rail pass and to make the train or risk missing it and waiting an hour for the next train. On top of not being able to find the station it had also started to rain.

I chose to visit Nikko because it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and on my bucket list of things to see in Japan includes trying to see all the world heritage sites. Nikko is most famous for the Toshogu Shrine which is all we really saw because the rain was so heavy that we didn't have the energy to explore other places.

shinkyo bridge stands at the entrance of nikko's shrines and temples

Toshogu Shrine is special not only because it enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu but because the buildings are so extravagantly decorated which isn't seen in Japan. Upon first entering the paid area you will pass by lavishly decorated sanjinko (storage houses). The most famous carvings of Toshogu can be found on these buildings.

look closely at those elephants - they were carved by an artist who had never seen elephants
hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil monkeys
dressed for the weather in front of the main hall

There is an area where you will have to take off your shoes in order to enter - do it! It is so worth it. A lot of people couldn't see what they were taking their shoes off for and since it was raining, thought it was too much trouble to do so. The boring hallway leads to the inside of the main building and allows for a closer view of the amazing architecture. Pictures aren't allowed inside but I'm sneaky so...

the white paint is also very unique and made everything very pretty

The third of the famous carvings of Toshogu can be found on the Sakashitamon Gate. Judging from the crowd of Japanese tourists clustering around trying to take pictures of this carving I would say it's the most popular of them all.
nemurineko - sleeping cat (don't get why it's so popular)

The gate marks the start of some super steep steps made treacherous by the rain.

These steps will lead to something amazing. Isn't that usually the case? 

We were seriously disappointed when we climbed all those steps and all we saw was this. I was expecting something seriously amazing and super intricate like the halls and buildings below. I had no clue what this was even for. After doing some research I found out that its the mausoleum of
Tokugawa Ieyasu. An important place for sure but in my opinion not worth the climb - I suggest skipping this section if you don't have the time or the physical endurance.

I recommend visiting Honjido Hall which features a dragon on the ceiling. A priest will clap two pieces of wood together which due to the acoustics of the building will produce a ringing sound. So cool! Pictures are not allowed here and neither is clapping your hands to see if the ringing sound can be reproduced. The priest reprimanded me for it and no, clapping won't cause anything to happen. Again I was sneaky so here is the dragon!

After all that rain we decided to go soak in an onsen (nakey times)! So hilarious as I sat there trying to be inconspicuous these old Japanese ladies are talking to me which I hadn't even noticed because I was trying to avoid eye contact with people and I never pay attention to Japanese. Ellen tells me the ladies are saying to me "Your friend, she's so white right?" and just kept going on about how white she is. I'm pretty sure these ladies would have just talked about Ellen behind her back but because her so called "Japanese" friend was with her that would have been too rude! Haha Ellen had to translate and she told the ladies I didn't understand so their conversation became about how come I couldn't speak Japanese and how I looked Japanese despite being told that I'm American. The whole Asian American bit never gets old...

The Details
Access: Tobu-Nikko - Tobu Railways from Asakusa (Tobu/Subway) Station; there is more than one Asakusa Station so make sure you're at the right one
There are a variety of rail passes offered by Tobu Railways that include round trip train tickets to and from Tokyo, unlimited travel in certain areas and free or discounted admission to some places. A majority of these passes are only available for foreigners and that includes foreigners living in Japan. They didn't require a passport or ID so if a Japanese person spoke English well enough they could potentially pass or have a friend buy a pass for them.
website (useful for looking up the time table or information on the passes and where to buy them)

What and where to eat in Nikko
Across from the Sunkus convenience store within walking distance of the train station
Didn't have my camera so don't know the name but hands down the best ramen I've ever had in Japan! Want a bowl of that ramen right now. Get some - you will not regret it!

Toshogu Shrine
Hours: 8am-4/5pm depending on the season
Admission Fee: adults - 1300 yen (the most expensive entrance fee I've ever paid!)

Nikko Guesthouse Sumica
Dorm Rooms from 2600-3000 yen a bed
Highly recommend this hostel with an awesome location and great staff members who helped me booked bus tickets for my next trip. Would stay here again if I ever come back!
TIP: I recommend booking through their website rather than through hostelbookers or hostelworld because when you send them your information they don't ask for a credit card number so you don't have to pay a deposit (like the websites) and there won't be any charges for cancellation (there is a cancellation policy but not sure how they can enforce it without knowing your credit card number).

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