Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Wake up!

Cameras, spare batteries, some food, water, tickets…let’s go! Today we are going to visit Nikko and we want to beat the crowds. That’s why we leave so early and in such a hurry.

We admire the television tower against the dawn, that’s the only view that we are going to have of it. We enter the metro system and we have to find our way to the train station. Ioan is not feeling very well, sleeping on the floor will do that to someone who is not used to it. Then we wait in line to board the train. Ooops, not ours, better get out of the way. Two more minutes and our shinkansen stops exactly to the sign. We have less then an hour to eat. In Utsunomiya we change the trains and 40 minutes later we arrive in Nikko.

I’ve read on a flyer somewhere that the train station is designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Maybe, but it doesn’t look like (find an answer here )

We orient ourselves, decide to skip once again the bus and just walk uphill. It is a large boulevard, plenty of space for the side-walk, full of restaurants, most of them closed. There is a contrast between the early hour and the growing number of people on the street. It would be a lesser crowd if it would be a normal Monday, but the Japanese celebrate today, in the Happy Monday System, the Health and Sports Day, which means MANY people. 

The boulevard ends in a T at the foot of a green hill. We’re actually on a bridge viewing another one, a painted red, old-style wooden bridge. It is privatized, people pay a fee to walk on it and take pictures. We enjoy it from our distance.

We cross the busy street and enter a secluded place. Just like that…The city’s sounds are filtered and muted by the trees…several staired alleys spread the visitors…and we’re in a different world. A sign politely asks us not to enter the stone wall. We have no intention, but it is nice to know that it is possible.

We look over the map and move towards Tosho-gu Temple. There are many temptations here, a museum, a garden, but this is our first time in Nikko and we want the essence. We find ourselves on the main bulevard, a wide space hemmed by hedges and trees. I tread on the thick rock carpet and I’m thinking that it is made like this on purpose, to slow me down, to have time to separate myself from the quotidian and tune into my surroundings. From here on, the concentration of people on square yard grows directly proportional with time and distance to the main attractions. Slow rise stone steps lead to the Ishi-dorii, the stone entrance gate. The space opens up, like a piazza, accomodating the many groups and on one side, a future stage for some event, overshadows the five story pagoda. Opossed to the stone gate there is the Omote-mon, with the two deva kings protecting the entrance to the complex. We buy our tickets, climb abrupt stairs, present some of them to the eversmiling person, and we’re in.

The stone gate

Omote-mon, above our heads.

Can you guess what animal represents this sculpture?

It looks more like a courtyard, with smaller stone gate in the middle of it. On the sides are the three sacred store-houses: the upper one has two elephant carved in relief and is the repository for the sacred portable shrines, used in the annual festival. They are all walled up, and even if they were open, I don’t know what would have interested us: they used to stock up the Tokugawa memorabilia, in boxes hidden in bigger ones, deposited in coffers. We will see some of it in the museum.

The three sacred store-houses

Yes, these are elephants, like the other sculpture from above!

Facing them is the only unlaquered building in the complex. It looks more like a shed (being a Japanese one, it is still beautiful), that has sculpted in bas-relief the famous three monkeys. We find out that there is more to know about them, they are part of a story:
A mother monkey looks far into her child’s future and the child looks up at the mother.

The three little monkeys tell us that children should see no evil, hear no evil and talk no evil.

Then the child is about to become independent.

He becomes ambitios…

…and then frustrated in life and he looks desperately down the cliff, while one of his friends is cheering him up.

He is love sick!

The newly wed couple is going to sail together the rough waves of llife together.

She is an expectant mother and we can go back to the first scene.

Further on we can see in the another house the beautifuly laquered sedans, used for transportation. They look like the ones in the “Shogun” movie, made after the book with the same title by James Clavel.

A little bit up the road, on the left side is the entrance to the Crying Dragon, but we are going to stop here later.

And then we should be able, but are not, to see the Yomeimon, the Yomei gate, the most wonderful, colorful, almost perfect gate. It is covered  because it is restored for the 400-years anniversary. But look what a camera can see: parts that are finished, others that are cleaned, ready to be painted. We learn from the pamphlet that when they build this gate they considered it to be perfect, and so, in order not to upset the gods, they’ve deliberately installed one column upside down. The gods did not punish them for offering something that is not perfect.

The last one is the upside down column.

When we exit from under the gate, we find ourselves in an L shaped yard hugging the temple. It has a heavily sculpted, colorful wall, more to uplift the small, white and natural wood color, Kara-mon, the Chinese gate. The Tokugawa clan would have entered through this gate in the temple, between the ascending and descending dragons, but we go on the side, take our shoes off, deposit them on the provided shelves, and wait in line on the laquered wooden floors. A Japanese monk guide gives details about what we are seeing. I catch only separate words. When the group that was inside leaves, we climb the steep stairs to sit on the tatami in the Oratory. Separated through mobile walls there is another enclosure where people with pink papers have a religious service. The priest has golden robes and a special head-dress. I couldn’t help but to notice the way he was chanting was similar with the Christian service. I return my attention to our monk-guide. He translates only the essential. He is blessing us, waves above our heads a religious object (a stick with flowing cut white paper), after that we all clap, and they bow their heads in prayer. We are encouraged to climb the few steps down in the Stone Room, where there is an altar, and I admire the craftsmanship. We have just a little time to glide next to the gift shop and back the steep stairs, laquered wooden floors and shoes, before the next group fills the space.

Through the Karamon and up into the Oratory.

The Karamon and the wall seen from the inside, facing the Yomei-mon. 

We follow the map toward the Inner Shrine of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Another check point for other tickets, right before the Sleeping Cat, a famous feature of the temple. This is a small sculpture, right above the gate that leads to the stairs to the shrine. It is said that it looks life-like. Not now, with its peeling paint. It is supposed to represent tranquility, after chasing away all the “harmful mice”.

The cat is right above the sign, next to the man's head.

The two hundred stone stairs are climbing in a steep manner between tall cedars. Moss adornes them. I’m not the only one huffing and puffing, lots of other people do, including young ones. Once we get to the lower court of the shrine we notice an elder lady lying down, covered with a blanket and some people comforting her. Soon enough we see the paramedics coming, wearing jikatabi, traditional boots, and carrying a soft strecher. In the air a helicopter is hovering close by. We continue toward the shrine. Ieyasu not only wanted to be shogun, but wrote in his testament that after his death he was going to be worshiped as a god. His grandson took care of the details. Another set of stairs, a squarish stone yard with bronze animals in a small clearing between the trees. On one side there is a wooden shrine where people can hang prayers and bow their heads.

Split tree, still living.

Sea of roofs, seen from Tokugawa Yeyasu's Inner Shrine

We return to the main temple’s yard, only to find it litteraly crowded. It is the design of the place that makes it feel like this, the same number of people would make no difference in Versailles. We step asside to take more pictures, and I adjust my personal space to an even lower limit.

Next stop the Crying Dragon (the one that we skipped when we entered): the story goes that in this particular building there was a painting on the ceiling, drawn in India ink by Kano Yasunobu (17th century), of a dragon that was heard groaning when people clapped their hands in prayer. The drawing was destroyed in a fire in 1961. Now we could enter in groups and listen as a monk would demonstrate, by clapping two wooden boards, a perfect echo only under the newer  dragon’s head.

On our way to the museum we catch ourselves enjoying a group of three couples dressed in kimonos as they are posing for themselves. Every time that I see someone in kimono I think I should wear my national costume in a similar situation in both my countries.

The museum is a modern building with a classic air. We stop to watch the two short movies that are provided: one about the museum, the other one a persuasive animated presentation of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I presume the truth is somewhere in the middle, he was an inteligent man who lived in his time and some remember him for his honorable intentions of uniting and consolidating Japan, others for his shrewed and secretive tactics,  assuring his family with a long and unchallenged reign. We are not allowed to take pictures and so we move along between swords wonderfully crafted and objects that once were in Tokugawa’s life, including a folding fan, on which he wrote himself.

Life is a long journey bearing a heavy burden.
There is no need to make haste. Accept travails as the norm and discontent will never haunt you.
When desire floods your heart, hearken back to tribulations endured in the past.
Forbearance is the foundation of lasting prosperity. Anger is the foe plotting your downfall.
Drinking only from the chalice of victory without tasting defeat poisons the soul.
Cast blame on yourself and never others. Want is always better than abundance.

We are totally spent. We don’t want to see anything else, though there are plenty of things to be admired. The guide book said we should plan for two days in Nikko, but I am happy that we didn’t follow the advice. I feel that for this trip, as little as we’ve seen from Nikko, is enough. 

Going back toward the train station is different for us. We are hungry, our only meal was breakfast early in the morning and a snack. Ioan wants to repeat yesterday’s experience with a hot soup before the trip back home. We search almost every restaurant window for prices. All of us balk at the 2000 yen dish, no matter how fanciful or exotic is. For that money we could all eat from the convenience store and have desert too. Adding insult to injury, we have no reservation for the train (Mihai did not want to stiffle our freedom to leave early or late from Nikko). It is really, really crowded, like rush hour, but in the train. The boys manage to find a surface on which to lean in, lost in their screens, one searching for next days transportations, the other in his endless chess games. I scootch in a luggage space, but I can’t stay long, I feel boxed in.

Rice with pickled radish, wrapped in nori (seaweed).

I admire a mother of two little boys, one in a stroller, the other one, around 3-4 years old, on his feet. For the whole length of the trip they were quiet, shared little food, comforted each other and bothered no one. When the older brother got tired from standing, he sat on his hunches and played with his younger sibling. He did not ask to change places, or to be held. And when they left, they bowed quietly to their neighbors.

On our way home we do some shopping (including beer and a very good sweet red wine). After we eat, we wash our clothes and put them to dry in the tiny bathroom, which has a timed setting for drying clothes. Life is good.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post and beautiful photos. Thank you so much for sharing.


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