Now I understand why the people who’ve been to Japan prefer the ulu places rather than the bustling CRAZY city. Man, just trying to get to the tourist info section to get my rail pass in Shinjuku station is a killer. I’ve covered a distance of 1.5 km in the station itself only to realise the office is open at 10.30 am. I felt like dying… Luckily the Ikebukuro (1 station away) office opens at 9.30am. And from Ikebukuro I took the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya to transfer to the JR Nikko train.
Nikko is a lovely tourist spot with all the greenery and old historic stuff which the people are proud of. And after killing my knees from climbing the slopes and steps, they have a very valid reason to do so.
Of course, as usual, I couldn’t find the inn the same way I got lost in Shinjuku. But I find the residents here really friendly and warm. Especially the elderly people who stop and chat with me. Different from Tokyoites. Of course the charm about getting lost is finding something unexpected.
Pretty lilies growing near a drain
I got lost but hey, the Daiyawara River rocks!
It was already 2pm when I found the inn and after dumping my backpack, I walked towards Shinkyo bridge (took me 5 mins *pant pant*) to begin discovering the World Heritage sites.
Shinkyo bridge in the evening...
Shinkyo in the day~ First stop.
Rinnoji, Toshogu, Futarasan. START! And the ascent begins~
The nice thing about Nikko being a tourist trap is the tourists! I came to a fork with 2 flights of stairs leading to opposite directions. The 2 German tourists sitting on the steps told me lots of people took the left direction so I did and I arrived at Rinnoji Temple where 3 great Buddha statues were housed. It was neck-breaking to marvel at the 3 intricately carved golden Buddhas because they’re almost touching the roof and there’s not enough space to step back. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited. And even if I could sneak a shot with my handphone, the photo would be too dark to see.
Rinnoji Temple which houses 3 great Buddha statues.
After Rinnoji, I climbed a slope towards Toshogu Shrine area. And from a distance I can see the 1st gate, a simple torii and a sign carved ‘Toshogu’.
Getting only this far doesn't count. I only wanted to take a picture with the 'Toshogu Shrine' sign, haha.
Past the torii gate and there’s a flight of steps leading to the first gate and ticket counter. This is only a warm-up session to what’s to come.
Warming up session. First gate to Toshogu.
Through the gate is the courtyard where the famous monkey carvings and the 2nd gate to the Toshogu Shrine is. Omigod. The founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, is probably Japan’s version of France’s notorious Louis the 16th. Everything must be spectacularly ostentatious and no amount of gold leaf or artisan is spared. Every inch is worth appreciating for it’s artistic beauty and intricacies.
The stable where the monkey carvings are.
See, Hear and Speak no Evil. What about Smell?
Yogic monkeys... (sweat)
The courtyard with steps leading to the 2nd gate of Toshogu Shrine
The 2nd gate. Check out the carvings~
The 2nd and Final gate to Toshogu Shrine itself. Picture time!
The outer part of Toshogu Shrine. The inner building is so awesome!!! Especially the white stone dragons, on each pillar, are so life-like and gravity-defying. The carvings and ceiling is so awesome I stood there for 10 mins with my mouth open. Too bad photos are prohibited. Darn.
Toshogu Shrine is really a must-see. It’s worth the climb and the ticket. The white dragons that are floating out from under the roof are so delicately carved and so life-like. The flames and clouds were swirling about them and their claws outstretched as they menacingly seem to roar at anyone trespassing the holy ground. The inside of the shrine is even more awesome with the ceiling full of animal carvings and rows of golden dragons over the altar. Unfortunately, no photos. Means I’d have to come back again or buy their photo book.
Next I visited the famous Sleeping Cat which is right over the threshold to a flight of steps leading to the highest point of the shrine area. The climb was hell. Everyone was panting when we reached the top only to see a tree, a bronze crane and a bronze lion. But it was very cool and moist up there. And it seems you can only buy the sleeping cat charm over there.
The Sleeping Cat
The gateway to a hellish climb.
When will this ever end?
More climbing until we reached the 1st gate...
...All the climbing for these...
After burning all the calories, I headed for Futarasan Shrine which was just next to the bottom of Toshogu Shrine. No more climbing. It’s walking time! Personally, the highlights of Futarasan Shrine would be the animal paintings and the cool sword which is as tall as me. The 1st thing I thought of was Sephiroth’s Masamune~kyaa~vvv
Futarasan Shrine courtyard
Futarasan Shrine with a few animal paintings of wolf, deer and horse...
I paid for a ticket to enter an area with small shrines and small holy springs (ponds). Well, the long sword is worth the ticket. Kyaaa~so kakko ii!!!
Imagine Sephiroth's Masamune... ...
Daikoku-God of Wealth
I tried this wheel of fortune (Daikoku version) where each spoke has a different type dessert or snack such as dango, cake, chocolate etc. I spun the thing and the cake stopped at the arrow. The chart told me I should be careful. Yep… When I reached Taiyouinbyo, the place was shut. So I continued the next morning after checking out from the inn.
A high caloric Wheel of Fortune
That night, I decided to try some Yuba, a type of smooth soybean skin. It’s more delicate than the ones we have for Yong Tau Foo at home. There’s yuba don, yuba shabu and yuba hors d oevres. The set costs about SGD 11.
Yuba set~ tastes so delicate and light, I feel healthy.
And for dessert, I bought a banana Castella cake from the 7-11. It’s the shape and packaging that caught my fancy.
Here's how I eat my banana!!! Just imagine if I were to perform f*llatio (I'm going to be single for life if all the men in the world see this ^^)
Isn't it cute? The cake tastes like ripe banana and the center is made of white bean paste.
Next morning, after a lovely breakfast made by the innkeeper, I checked out and headed for Taiyuinbyo. It was more climbing…
Fruit platter, hard-boiled egg and hot buttered toast
The 1st gate into the main courtyard.
The 2nd gate, guarded by the thunder and wind gods.Fierce fellas.
After more climbing up 3 flights of steps, the shrine. It's as far as we could go as the path to the top is closed off. Thank goodness...
There’s just a large intricate lantern thingy made of bronze links and chains, hanging from the centre of the room.
The closed off path to the top. Yay! No more climbing!
Finally, I cleared the World Heritage course in Nikko! Too bad there wasn’t enough time to visit Chuzenji Lake and temple as it is a 40-min bus ride from the site. Well, next time… because I love the cool weather and environment here!
Goal! I finished seeing the world heritage sites.^^
Pretty flowers everywhere, even in drains!
Pretty ajisai bushes everywhere~
After that, I went back to the inn to collect my luggage and play with the inn’s dog, Chocolat. It’s time to catch the JR Nikko train back to Utsunomiya station where I’ll transfer to Yamabiko shinkansen heading for Sendai.
I bought a brown rice bento where brown rice mixed with peanuts and black fungi is wrapped in sweet beancurd pockets. It was lovely to chew and tasted really delicious.
Brown rice bento (about SGD 6)At one station, I saw a Pokemon shinkansen! Jeez, these critters are everywhere! I know ANA has them plastered all over its plane.Pokemon shinkansen: Bobbafett!!!
The shinkansen was so smooth and fast, I reached Sendai in an hour where I checked into a hotel near the station. For dinner, the concierge recommended their city’s signature dish, Gyuutan, cow’s tongue.
Gyuutan set (about SGD 16)
I don’t exactly like to eat barbequed meats so I did not enjoy it so much. I find it too rich for my taste. Each piece is dripping with juice which I think my brother would appreciate. When I bit and chewed, the juice just filled my mouth. It reminds me of eating pig’s tongue which I like in my kway chap. Only bigger, juicier and a little tougher.
As I’m typing this blog, the whole room started shaking and I really freaked out. Faark!!!!!
It was minutes later the news reported there’s 6.8 magnitude quake in Iwate prefecture. Seriously, I was scared at first and already had the door open. Eeks, Chihaya san had told me the northern Tohoku area is susceptible to quakes. 助けて～(T_T)