Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Located in Tochigi Prefecture north west of Tokyo, Nikko has been a worthwhile destination for centuries. The primary draw for the past couple of hundred years is Tosho-gu, the shrine that is the final resting place for Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Tosho-gu was built by Ieyasu's son Hidetada, and enlarged by his grandson Iemitsu. They needed a grand and glorious gesture to show the power and wealth of the still new Tokugawa Shogunate. Japan had just come out of a long period of civil war and disunity, and the Tokugawa made every effort to forestall any slide back into chaos. That their own heads would have been first on the chopping block in that event was certainly an added motivation.
The various shrine complexes are set a short ways up from the town itself, and an easy walk from the train station. Nikko is a very popular day trip from Tokyo, and it is easy to see why. It provides a remarkable contrast to Ieyasu's old capital, with the tall forests and ornate shrine buildings a far cry from the busy streets around Shinjuku.
Nikko is rather unique in Japan, far more gaudy and ornate than is usually the case in Japanese religious buildings. In that way it shares a certain aesthetic similarity with some of the traditional buildings I saw in China, bright and colorful as opposed to the more standard unpainted wood.
Indeed, Nikko can be overwhelming to the senses, especially when you factor in heat, crowds and a surfeit of steps. (I was at Nikko three days after Fuji, and had mostly recovered, but the steps triggered a measure of Post Traumatic Mountain Stress Syndrome in my calves.)
I have been to Nikko before, by myself over five years ago. That trip was during a very chilly mountain March, so I was quite glad to return with friends. Though the occasional drizzle merely made the late August heat even wetter and stickier and made the dirty snow piles of March an attractive alternative.
After an extra fee and a hike up more stairs into the woods you come to the burial place of the man who unified Japan. It does seem ironic that once you get past the Rococo meets East Asia styling of the shrine buildings, Tokugawa's mausoleum is an understated bronze cylinder that still holds whatever remains of his ashes, these hundreds of years later.