29th February: Nikko – Traffic Chaos

Walking on past the Hachiman Temple, I saw a curious chain of events unfolding in front of me.  The truck you see above, an LNG tanker, had been slowly progressing up the hill when its wheels started spinning in the snow and ice and it had to stop at the side of the road.  You can see a couple of cars passing it.

Another truck has come up behind it and there are some cars behind that.  The car on the left is parked at a strange angle and my guess is that it is abandoned after traction problems.

As an aside, it can sometimes be easy to lose track of your camera settings when it is encased in a weather cover.  I suspect I had it on manual and had forgotten to adjust for changing light.  The image out of the camera looked blown, almost completely white.  Image quality would have been better had the exposure been correct but it’s amazing what you can pull out in Lightroom.  Provided, of course, that you are shooting RAW.

Here there is some more traffic coming down the hill past the truck.

Now that they have gone, the second truck pulls out to overtake.  I keep on walking.

The second truck got in trouble too.  Half-way through the passing manoeuvre, wheels started spinning and it slid sideways towards the right hand side of the road.  The road is now completely blocked.  This is the main road through Nikko and there are no side roads to divert through here.  If the road stayed blocked, getting through would require going back about 10 kilometres to the motorway.

Fortunately, when the truck went to try and overtake, the car behind it stayed where it was and did not move up into the vacant space.  The first truck to get stuck, the LNG tanker, was able to carefully slide back and create a space for cars to drive through.

And now the cars are able to continue, directed through by the truck driver from the LNG tanker.  Not enough room for the Kinetsu truck waiting behind though.  I didn’t stay to watch what transpired further.  I had a plane to catch.

It just goes to show that your travel plans need to be appropriate for the conditions.  The previous day was fine as the weather report had predicted.  I would have had no chance of getting up and down the hill to Lake Chuzenji and beyond in these conditions.

Even so, I was concerned that I still had to take the rental car back downtown.  There were some narrow side streets to go through to get there and I really didn’t want to encounter any oncoming traffic on them.  Fortunately I didn’t and I drove very slowly back to the rental car company without any misadventures.

From there, I caught the train back to Tokyo and later that night, a plane back to Australia….

29th February: Nikko – Hachiman Shrine

Here we are at the end of the Kanman Path, at an impressive pedestrian suspension bridge over the Kanmangafuchi Abyss.

On the other side of the bridge there were a few more statues in a park, probably statues of Jizu or else another boatsu.

The snow had become particularly heavy.

I had wanted to explore the Nikko Botanical Gardens but unfortunately they were closed (probably due to the conditions) so I walked on.  The entrance to the Hachiman Shrine is just over the road on the left.  I was glad I was not driving, more of that in the next post.

The entrance to the Hachiman Shrine.

In the grounds of the Hachiman Shrine, this is a minimalist sculpture to the Japanese God of Gardening, dating to the Heisei era.

This boatsu, covered in snow and also at the right of the previous picture, is sitting on a lotus leaf.  Being brass, it has weathered much better than the stone statues.

Meiji Restoration and modern period (1868-1990)

Commodore Perry steamed into Yokahama Harbour in 1854 and forced the opening up of Japan to trade.  Attempted armed resistance merely demonstrated how far behind the West Japan had fallen in its military capacity.  This led to a gradual breakdown of Tokugawa authority and sporadic mini-rebellions until the final eclipse of the Tokugawa government with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This then produced a remarkable series of changes.

By 1871, all daimyo had surrendered their lands to the Emperor, creating the first centralised political system in Japanese history.  A national army was created from 1873 along Western lines, open to all social classes.  In 1868 there were nearly two million samurai in Japan.  Their rights were slowly restricted until they were forbidden to wear their distinctive hairstyles and carry swords and their identity as a military class was abolished.  Rebellions proved ineffective.

Some Buddhist sects were seen as closely associated with the Tokugawa regime so some sects and temples were suppressed and Shinto was separated out from Buddhism.  The Fuke sect was banned altogether.  These were monks who wandered around Japan wearing a basket over their head and playing a flute.  It sounds like an urban myth but it’s not.  They were a Zen sect who believed in direct spiritual experience by playing a flute while separated from the distractions of the outside world.  The problem was that there had been many samurai and Tokugawa spies passing themselves off as such monks.

During the Meiji period, Japan systematically adopted Western practices in education and in social, industrial and military organisation.  They won a war with China in 1895 and one with Russia in 1906 and were allies with Britain during the First World War.  The period of liberal democracy in the 1920s morphed into military dictatorship and war.  After the Second World War there was a time of hardship and some significant social unrest until Japan became perhaps the World’s most successful economic powerhouse, at least until the end of the 1980s.

29th February: Nikko – Kanman Path

The morning of my last day in Japan….

The owner of the ryokan (accompanied by his collie) is shoveling snow from the pavement behind my rental car.  This was the coldest day with heavy snow falls that winter, or for that matter the coldest such day in the last five years.    Unusually cold and snowy winter conditions for Nikko.

This is a view along the street where I was staying, including one of the neighbours clearing snow.

I took off for a walk along the Kanman Path, close to where I was staying, with my camera safely encased in a waterproof cover.

The image above shows a gate of the Jiunji Temple, and you may also be able to see that gate in the distance in the preceding image.  Jiunji Temple was built in 1654, washed away in a great flood in 1902 and rebuilt in 1973.  I didn’t visit the Temple (which wasn’t open anyway) but walked in the other direction along the path.

This is a view of the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, said to be created in an eruption of nearby Mount Nantai.

Along the Kanman Path there are around seventy statues of Jizo, though there were around one hundred before the 1902 flood.  There is a legend that the presence of ghosts or spirits makes it impossible to count the number of statues.  (A passing Yanomami Indian would successfully count them as many, using their counting system of “one, two, many”.  I didn’t notice any Yanomami Indians at the time, though.)

The line of Jizo statues is variously called Bake Jizo (Ghost Jizo), Narabi Jizo (Jizo in a line) or Hyaku Jizo (one hundred Jizos).

This is a view across the Kanmangafuchi Abyss to the Nikko Botanical Gardens.

This is the normal route into the Reihi-kaku, piled high with snow.  The Reihi-kaku is a small pavillion and you can see its roof in the background to the right.  The original Reihi-kaku was built in 1654 but washed away in 1902.  The current structure dates from 1973.  A holy fire burned in the original building but not in its modern replacement.

This is the Kanmangafuchi Abyss from Reihi-kaku, a particularly meditative viewpoint.

A last look back at the lines of statues of Jizu.

Further on, here is a small Shinto temple beside the path.

And this is nearly at the end of the path.

28th February: Nikko – Lake Chuzenji

At the side of Lake Chuzenji there were several flocks of waterbirds, probably hibernating and perhaps hoping for handouts from tourists. It was very cold and late in the afternoon, so they were quite still. There were more of these at Lake Kawaguchi, near Mt Fuji.

These are the rare Japanese Hollow Swans; I’m not sure of their Latin name. These are the ones that didn’t manage to fly south for the winter, to warmer destinations such as Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia. Huge crowds of people gather in Cambodia to watch them fly in and try to keep out of their way when they land.

I would have liked to show you photos of them diving for fish but I haven’t been able to see this. I also understand that their mating rituals are something to behold. The cries they make when they bump into each other on the water can also be quite strange. They have been known to cause problems when they grow tired of flying and try to land on greenhouses.

Everything you read on the internet is true.

With the last image, it is now dark and I have just commenced on the journey back to Nikko, the lights in the distance.  If you click on the image to bring it up in a larger size, you will see curves in the road and some taillights through the trees in different places.

I did manage to take a wrong turn on the way back in that distant valley, onto a motorway leading off into the distance.  However, since there was no traffic in either direction, I managed an illegal U-turn to get back on course….

28th February: Nikko – Nihon Romantic Highway


I continued towards Lake Yunoko along the curiously-named Nihon Romantic Highway.  The two images above show views across the Senjogahara Plateau,  which is a swampy floodplain when not covered in snow.


Some kilometres further on, this is Yudaki Falls, which drains from Lake Yunoko and is very close to that lake.


On the far side of Lake Yumoto is Nikko Yumoto Spa where there is a small settlement.  At this time of year, this is the end of the road.  They hire boats out here in summer.


These boats weren’t going anywhere in a hurry.


A few minutes walk further on, here we are looking back along the length of the lake.



Looking over at the side of the valley, I was struck by the patterns of the trees in the snow in the far distance.



On the way back now, this is at the other end of Lake Yunoko.


This is looking back along the lake towards Nikko Yonoko Spa.  The water in the foreground is not frozen because it is naturally heated by thermal activity.  I didn’t check water temperature because with snow and ice at the edge of the water,  I might have risked falling in to do so.


This is a footbridge over the Yuwaka River as it drains out of Lake Yunoko on its way to Yudaki Falls and Ryuzu Falls.



Here we are above Yudaki Falls, with a view of the countryside beyond.


This is a small locked hut with the nearest other building miles away.  You can see part of the footbridge in the left background.  The signs are all in Japanese but they’re clearly saying “Go away!  You can’t come in!”.  I think it has to be a small thermal baths of some kind.

28th February: Nikko – Ryuzu Falls

Ryuzu Falls is the other end of Lake Chuzenji from Kegon Falls. It is not nearly as large as Kegon Falls but quite charming in its own way. Its name means Dragon’s Head Falls, the idea being that it snakes down the hill in a series of cascades and then comes out in two forks like the horns of a dragon.  Walking up the trail to the top of the hill, I had to be very careful about the ice on the path.

28th February: Nikko – Kegon Falls

The previous night I had hired a car, confident that this would be a fine day.  I headed off out the back of Nikko, up a very steep and winding road towards Lake Chuzenji.  Here, we are about two-thirds of the way up and the building is the station and restaurant for the Akechidaira Ropeway, which was closed at the time.

This is the view looking back towards Nikko, with various other conurbations in the distance.

On the left, the road crazily zigzags up the mountain, while in the distance there are many barriers on the mountainside, presumably to prevent erosion.  In the valley there are waterfalls over a succession of weirs, presumably for flood control.

Click for much larger view.

Looking further up, here is the horizon, a stitched panorama of many images.  You can see a much larger view by clicking on the image.

Having arrived at the top, it was a very short drive to the entrance for Kegon Falls.  Access is particularly easy because there’s actually a lift (that’s probably elevator in American) that goes down to various platforms at the bottom of the valley.  The falls are nearly 100 metres high, so the drop for the lift is greater.  It being winter, the falls were partly frozen and partly flowing.  This is looking towards the base of the falls from one of the lower platforms.

Across the valley, there was some nice light on some trees on a ridge (looks better in the larger view with the black background if you click on it).

At the bottom of the falls, the water picks its way down a rocky slope.

Water and icicles.

Frozen and unfrozen waterfalls.

Ice, rocks and water below the bottom of the falls.

A lone tree across the valley.

The top of the falls, from a long way away and a long way below.

These are basalt columns caused by volcanic activity.  The waterfall itself results from a barrier after a volcanic eruption which I surmise must have created or enlarged Lake Chuzenji.

A steep water schute near the viewing platforms, on the other side to the waterfall.

An overall view of the waterfall.  The light’s not really optimal but wasn’t able to wait for the sun to come around.

27th February: Nikko – Rinno-Ji

Rinno-Ji is the oldest Temple in Nikko, dating to 766AD.  Originally called Shihonryu-ji, it was renamed in the seventeenth century. It is said to hold some remarkable treasures, so I was interested to see it.

I wandered around a large warehouse-style building a couple of times before I realised that rather that being a museum, as I had assumed, the building was encasing the original Rinno-ji Temple and this is why there was a depiction of the temple around the doorway to the building.

Inside, there is no access to the inside of the temple and the temple is in a state of reconstruction.  Probably everything is disassembled, repaired and then reassembled.  You can see many of the components of the building laid out systematically in the foreground.  There are no nails, screws or metal bolts visible and this is because traditional Japanese construction does not use them.  Instead there are multiple interlocking mortice-and-tenon type joints.  In one of the near large beams you can see a number of holes for these and if you look closely at some of the other beams you may be able to see a number of the male joints to fit in such holes.

27th February: Nikko – Tosho-gu


Not far from Taiyuin-byo is Tosho-gu.  This is the shrine of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun.  It was greatly expanded from the “small shrine” he requested to the grand complex you see today by his grandson Iemitsu.  The first two images (above) are painted carvings from below the roof of one of the Sacred Store-Houses.

The original three wise monkeys, dating back to the seventeenth century.  A painted carving under the roofline of the Sacred Stable.



This is the Sacred Fountain, dating from 1618.  There is a granite basin with water for purification, covered by an ornate Chinese-style roof.

This is the Honji-do, not open at the time (or maybe just not open) so I wasn’t able to see the “crying dragon” painted on its ceiling.

The temple complex is built on the side of a hill and goes up from one level to the next.  You can see on the left a wall to another level.  Here I’ve just temporarily gone back a level for an image of one of the Sacred Storerooms.

Here we are looking back on the elaborately carved Yomeimon GateOne of the twelve columns was deliberately carved upside-down, an imperfection to avoid antagonising jealous spirits.  Looking closely at the full-sized image, I think it is the middle one to the right, though I did not know to look for this at the time.


These elegant structures and sculptures are up a long stairway above the main temple complex.  I think the tomb of Ieyasu is close by.

Roofs of temple buildings from the long stairway, on the way down.  I think these are the roofs of the main temple complex.

Here is the famous “sleeping cat” which is above the gate to the steep stairs.  There were too many people milling around to get an image on the way up, so I got one on the way down.

This is a detail from beneath a roof not far from the sleeping cat.

These, I believe, are sake barrels.  There were about 200 of them stacked in a long line.



These are some of the painted carvings on the Yomeimon Gate, that you may be able to see in context if you look closely at the previous image of that gate.



These three look as though they are nearly adjacent under a roofline.  They would be close to the Yomeimon Gate though I’m not sure exactly where.

This is a detail from the Haiden or Sanctuary.

This is on the way out and is a detail of one of the Sacred Store Houses we saw earlier.

This pagoda was originally donated by a daimyo in 1650.  What stands here, though, is a copy reconstructed in 1828 after the original caught fire.

Tokugawa Period (1600-1868)

Tokugawa Ieyasu brought an end to the long period of civil war and introduced a period of stability that lasted for several hundred years.  The early Tokugawa shoguns made a number of changes to ensure the Warring States period could not recur.  Only samurai were allowed to bear weapons and the capital was moved to Edo (now called Tokyo). Daimyo (or feudal lords) had to reside in Edo for specified periods and leave their wives behind when they were not there.    Movement around the country was also greatly restricted.  By these measures, the Tokugawa shoguns greatly reduced the possibility of regional or peasant revolts.

There had been hundreds of thousands of Japanese Christians in the early seventeenth century but these were gradually suppressed and many executed.   A long period of relative isolation then started, with contact to the outside world restricted to just a few specific locations and tightly controlled.

The samurai classes were allowed to exercise political power whereas the merchant classes were not.  Conversely, it was deemed undignified for samurai to engage in trading activities.  Consequently over time this led to many poor samurai with less effective power than they might have liked and some wealthy merchants with more power than they were supposed to have.  Social strains had been emerging before Commodore Perry steamed into Yokahama Harbour in 1854.  It is not clear whether in the absence of Western contact the society was stagnating or would have retained social dynamism of its own accord.

The Japanese Government attempted some half-hearted resistance to Perry but their military capabilities were too inferior for this to be a realistic option.  Enforced trade and opening to the West was the result.  This then set in motion the train of events that led to the great changes of the Meiji Restoration….

27th February: Nikko – Taiyu-In

I arrived at the Taiyu-In Mausoleum when it opened, which from memory was 9am.  Fortunately, there were very few people around at this time of day.  This is the Niomon Gate, the lowest gate.  The stone lanterns at the side are donations from daimyo.

This is one of the Nio warrior gods at the Niomon Gate, trying to ensure the wrong kind of visitors don’t pass.

Through the Niomon Gate and up the stairs to the left, this is the Red God of Thunder at the Nitenmon Gate.

Further on and up several flights of stairs, we are now looking through the Yashamon Gate to the Karamon Gate, which in turn leads to the main temple buildings.

Fodor’s Japan (2012 edition), otherwise a useful guide, has an image of this gate described as being in Rinno-Ji, which is a different location and clearly wrong.

This striking structure is the drum tower in front of the Yashomon Gate.  There is a similar structure on the other side of the path (behind us) which is the bell tower.  Sadly, these two towers are no longer in use.  The drum is said to signify positive/ birth, while the bell signifies negative/ death.

These are two of the four statues of Yasha, a fierce guardian spirit at the Yashomon Gate.

This is the top of the Karamon Gate that we were looking through to earlier, with huge beams covered in gold leaf and wonderful wooden carvings, a foretaste of things to come.

These are the main buildings of the inner sanctuary, the Haiden and the Honden.  The Haiden contains a famous seventeenth century lion painting while the Honden (usually closed to the public) contains a giant gilded Buddha statue and a wooden statue of Tokugawa Iemitsu.

This is the tomb of Tokugawa Iemitsu, whose mausoleum this is.  This is as far as you could get, though.

Tokugawa Iemitsu was the third Tokugawa shogun and ruled from 1623 until his death in 1651, although his father had effective control until 1632.  He centralised power and replaced previously powerful daimyo with his own appointees.  He also curtailed regional power by introducing the system where daimyo had to spend fixed periods of time in the capital Edo (now Tokyo) and leave their wives there when they were absent.  As well as that, he completed the suppression of the Christians that had begun under his father and restricted access to the outside world to a few specific groups and places.

The preceding three images and the following images show some of the wonderful architectural details as I walked out again from the inner area of the Taiyu-In Temple – edges of the roof, cornices and elaborate painted wooden relief sculptures below the roofline.  I took larger, overall images as I walked in and found details as I walked out.