Tuesday, December 12, 2017

【Traveling Nikko 1/2】UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Japan ✪ Travel Nikko's Major Shrines, Temples, and Historic Buildings

The World Heritage city Nikko (日光) is two hours from Tokyo.
It's a place where you can enjoy nature, hot springs, resorts, 
and many cultural and historical masterpieces. 
We drove around Nikko to check out those places!

Traveling Nikko 1/2 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Japan

Travel Nikko's Major Shrines, Temples,

and Historic Buildings

*We got a special tour, 
learning things that weren't mentioned in our tour books!*

Getting to Nikko
 You can get to Nikko from different stations/routs,
but the easiest and cheapest way
is taking Tobu Railways from Asakusa Station. 

Another plus is at the Tobu Tourist Information Center Asakusa
(on the first floor of the Tobu Asakusa Station),
you can purchase discount Nikko tickets.
There are a variety of passes for international tourists
to go with your itinerary.
Tobu Discount Ticket Info (English)

For this specific trip,
we got the Nikko City Area Pass.

The tickets are 2,670 yen (roughly $24),
valid for two days and gives you access to
a lot of areas in the Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen area.

Arriving at Nikko
 We got to Tobu Nikko Station in less than two hours
and right outside of the station
are bus stops and car rental companies. 

You could easily take the World Heritage sightseeing bus,
but since we were having a two day adventure
and going to places besides Nikko's shrines and temples,
we rented a car from Nissan Rent-a-Car.

And off we went~!


The World Heritage Sites of Nikko

✬Shrines and Temples✬

In 1999,
Nikko was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The shrines and temples are considered to be 

sacred spots of one of the most famous 
Japanese warlord (shogunate) clans, Tokugawa. 
Everything is surrounded by beautiful nature,
making it a different from Tokyo's busy city.

There are plenty of World Heritage shrines and temples,
but we only went to the 4 main ones:
Toshogu Shrine

Futarasan Shrine
Taiyun Temple

Rinnoji Temple

They're really close to each other
so we were able to explore the area with no problem.


National Treasure - Yomeimon Gate
Toshogu Shrine was built in 1617
for Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogunate of the Edo period. 
The shrine consists of 55 buildings and lots of stairways. 
It's currently under reconstruction,
but you can still see a lot and take nice pictures!

Tokugawa clan crest (photo source google)
The Tokugawa clan crest, the triple hollyhock,
is a very recognizable crest all over Japan .
In Meiji,
when the there was a call for the end of the shogunate
(known as the Meiji Restoration),

this crest was often used as a symbol to oppose the Japanese royals.

 Something really impressive about the stone torii gates
at Toshogu Shrine is that they were brought over
from Oita Prefecture (previously Chikuzen).

If you look closely on the sides,
you'll see gold engravings 

saying just that (in Japanese of course)!

The tour guide told us a lot of things,
one was that Nikko made a Tokyo Sky Tree chart
comparing the height difference,
because people often come to Nikko from Asakusa.

So they wanted to correlate the two!

Five story pagoda - Gojunoto 
Originally constructed in 1950,
the five story pagoda was donated 
by feudal lord Sakai Tadakatsu.
It was burned down in a fire
and rebuild to represent
earth, fire, wind, water, and heaven.

 At the Toshogu Shrine,
you can rent audio guides for 500 yen.

We saw people with them and 
it was different from your usual "cell phone type" guide.
You are given a map, pen, and headphones,
and you take the pen and point at where you are on the map,
and it electronically reads to the headphones
giving you the information!
It was really cool!

Nikko Toshogu Shrine Map

Toshogu Shrine is said to be Kanto's most effective power spot,
so many people come to this shrine not to only take pictures,

but to make wishes.

Shinyosha (Portable Shrine Building) 
Here are three kilns dedicated to the gods for a sacred matsuri
held in the spring (May 18th) and fall (October 17).

The Yomeigate is the most famous part of the shrine.
It's covered with cravings of wise men, children, lions,

and other traditional designs.
The lavish engravings and colors of the shrine
was later redone by the third shogunate,
Iemitsu Tokugawa (Ieyasu's grandson).

These are the parts that makes Toshogu Shrine
so famous and said to be the most beautiful shrine in Japan.

Despite being a Shinto shrine,
there are a lot of Chinese influences.  

 Where the Yomeimon Gate is the most famous part of the shrine,
the shrine over all is most famous
 for being the place where Tokugawa's grave is.
So up, up, up we went!

Tokugawa's grave

5 Special Things 
to Look Out for
at Toshogu Shrine!

Shinkyusha (Sacred Stable) with the 3 Wise Monkeys
The Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha)
was where the sacred horses were kept.
There weren't horses when we went unfortunately,
but if you looked closely you'd see the monkeys 

carved around the stable.
Where most people know this spot

for the three wise monkeys,
but we were surprised to hear
that there is so much more than that!
In fact,
the monkeys were carved there 

as guardians to the horses,
and these carvings tell a story!

The story goes as:

We are born, taken under our parents' wing.

As children,
we are told to not listen, say,

 or see bad (evil) things.

Once we become adults,
we sometimes become alone. 

But we eventually find a companion and friend,
looking up into the future 

(which is why the monkey on the left is looking up).

And even through rough times,
they will be there.

Then we are adults and find our soulmate. 

Together, we cross the waves created in life. 

we life is created again (she's pregnant),
and the story starts over from the beginning!!!

 Mysterious Animals
You'll notice many of the buildings decorated with
mysterious animals...
can you guess what they are though?! 

The one on the right may be easy to figure out,
but what about the animal on the left??

Well, the right is an elephant,
and the left is a giraffe!

Why do they look that way though? 
It's because Japan didn't have a lot of these exotic animals,
so they had to guess what these animals looked like
going off what they read/heard.

Photo source: Kirin Beer
Although a bit different,
some of you may recognize the giraffe 

from the popular Japanese beer Kirin.
Kirin is Japanese for "giraffe",
and it looks that way for the same reasons as above!

Downward Komainu
If you go to any Shinto shrine,
you are likely to see lion-dog looking statues.
Normally at the entrance,
these lion-dogs, called Komainu (狛犬),
are seen as guardians of the shrine.

At the Toshogu Shrine though,
they have Komainu looking down!
No one was really sure of the reason why,
but it was something really rare!
So we took a picture of it! 

Imperfect Carvings
If the tour guide didn't point this out to us,
we never would have noticed.

At the Yomeimon Gate,
there are 2 sets of 4 pillars on each side.
3 of the 4 pillars have carved designs facing down,
and 1 is opposite.
No, this wasn't an accident,
it was on purpose!
Why though?
Nothing in life is 100% perfect,
so they believed the shrine should be
expressed the same way.
If 99% is perfect/complete,
it still leaves room for growth and improvement. 

Nemuri Neko (Sleeping Cat)
If you pass under Yomeimon Gate, 
turn right and enter the avenue leading to the shrine at the back,
you will see the "Sleeping Cat" overhead, 
a national treasure created by Hidari Jingoro. 

On the other side are 3 birds!
What's the story behind the cat and birds?
the cat is originally there to protect the grave of Tokugawa.
And normally if a group of birds were around a cat,

the cat would eat them.
the cat is sleeping!
So it's a symbol showing that there is so much peace
the cat doesn't need to kill the birds
and can just rest.

⏰Hours: 8am~5pm (4pm from Nov. to March)
*Admission ends 30mins before closing

Toshogu Webpage (JP)


Futarasan Shrine is another shinto shrine
that is right next to Toshogu Shrine.
Where Toshogu is the most popular of the two,

Futarasan is the oldest. 

Originally dedicated to Nikko's mountain deities,
it's a popular spot for couples and those wishing for love.

 There are many parts for rituals for couples to do.
It's believed to bring them happiness or

Nikko Futarasan Shrine's sacred tree for marriage 

550 years of power!
Your wishes are said to come true 
by going through this old tree trunk. 

"Cleansing" from the sacred spring

The Shinkyo Bride (神橋) is a part of the Futarasan Shrine
and is ranked as one of Japan's most beautiful bridges!
💗We'd have to agree💗

⏰Hours: 8am~5pm (4pm from Nov. to March)
Futarasan Website (JP)



The Taiyuin is the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogunate,
Iemitsu, grandson of Ieyasu (who is at Toshogu Shrine). 

As mentioned before, 
Iemitsu reconstructed the Toshogu Shrine,
so you will see a lot of similarities in the lavish design.

 There are often these two gods at the entrance of temples.
But have you ever noticed one of the mouths open,

and the other closed?
In Japanese the alphabet starts with "a" (あ),
and ends with "n" (ん).

When you pronounce "a", your mouth is open,
and closed with "n".
So the open mouthed god represents the beginning,
and the closed mouthed god represents the end.

Pretty cool huh?!

Hall of Worship (Haiden)
This is where people go to pray to Iemitsu.
 The hall of worship and inner shrine
are connected making an H shape.

The main hall (Hoden)

Look at all that gold!

Another mysterious animal!
It's a tapir.
I had to google what a tapir looked like,

but the one on this temple is way cooler than the real thing!

⏰Hours: 8am~5pm (4pm from Nov. to March)



Sanbutsudo Hall
The Sanbutsudo Hall of Rinnoji Temple 
is designated as an important cultural property
 as the largest wooden building in East Japan. 
It was built in the Heian era, 
and currently being refurbished but said to be completed after 2020.

 Inside are huge golden statues of about 7.5 meters tall,
of deities Bato Kannon, Amida, and Senju Kannon.

From L to R - Bato Kannon, Amida, and Senju Kannon
Kannon is the goddess of mercy
and you can see her at many temples all over Japan.

Kannon is know to have many different appearances,
so you probably have seen her without realizing!

The three inside Sanbutsudo Hall are some of the more popular ones.

Bato Kannon - traditionally popular among warriors,
especially before a battle,
Bato Kannon was believed to protect them from illness and death.

Now farmers are mainly the ones who come to pray
to Bato to protect their farm animals (hence the horse head).  

Amida -
Amida is known as one of the meditation and wisdom Buddhas.
You are most likely to see Amida 

and the 4 other wisdom Buddhas around Japan.
Senju Kannon - Known as "Kannon of the 1000 arms", 

she holds many items in each hand to help save you.
Things such as a spear, arrow, and mirror. 

Normally you can't take pictures of these beauties,
but we had special permission. 

⏰Hours: 8am~5pm (4pm from Nov. to March)

Rinnoji Temple Webpage (JP)


The World Heritage Sites of Nikko

Historical Hotel and Museum


Opening in 1873 
and existing as a registered National Heritage of Japan,
Kanaya Hotel is the oldest western style hotel in Japan!
This hotel is special and unique in the sense that

it's ran all through Meiji, Taisho, Showa, and Heisei periods!

After the Meiji Restoration,
everything in Japan was greatly different.
Many foreign travelers had difficulties 

finding places to stay overnight, especially in Nikko. 
It was then a Japanese man by the name Zenichiro Kanaya
invited a Dr. Hepburn to stay with them,
and the talk of opening a hotel for travelers began!

Many worldwide famous people have stayed at the hotel.
Such as Gandhi, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt,
American aviator Charles Lindbergh, etc.
What surprised us the most were
Albert Einstein and Helen Keller!!!

 Above is the room where Einstein stayed.

 And here is where Helen Keller slept!

 The long tailed bird carved on the pillars at the entrance
is also at the Miyanoshita Onsen Fujiya Hotel in Hakone.
The hotel manager told us that Helen Keller loved this bird carving.

Old Encyclopaedia Britannica 
There is a good blend of both Japanese 
and Western culture throughout the hotel.
Along with fixtures savoring its 100 years of history.

Nikko traditional craft, "Fukube"
The large fruit calabash, or gourd, 
are famous in the Tochigi prefecture.
It was in the 1700's that people hallowed out the gourd
and used them as a charcoal holder.
Now though,
it is used to make dolls, vases, and Fukube lamps.

Outside of the hotel is a beautiful garden
and area to enjoy lots of trees.
We came at the perfect time 

to enjoy the autumn leaves🍂

Kanaya Hotel Website (ENG)
Google Maps


The Kanaya Cottage Inn was originally
a place for samurai warriors to stay during the Edo prd.

 However it was also a place for travelers
to stay at while the Kanaya Hotel was being renovated.
During that time,
English explorer, Isabella Bird,
passed through Nikko and stayed at
the Cottage Inn for roughly 2 weeks.

Inside her travelogue,
she mentions the Kanaya Cottage Inn
and founder Zenichiro Kanaya!

Today that travelogue,
"Unbeaten Tracks in Japan",
is considered an important historic document.

 The Cottage Inn is your traditional Japanese wooden structure,
but has many special characteristics that you would see in many samurai
residences during the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

Shoin Zukuri style residence
 For example, the low ceilings. 
In most, if not all,
of the open rooms,
the ceilings are purposely low so that
enemy samurai couldn't bring out their sword and attack.

Original clock
There are also many secret nooks and crannies
that made it easy for samurai to escape!
It was like a mini castle!

Similar to the Kanaya Hotel,
the Kanaya Cottage Inn has a beautiful
Japanese style garden in the back.

*Next door the to entrance is also a bakery and restaurant!
The bread there is said to be famous!

History House Hours: 9:30am~4:30pm (from 4/1 to 11/30)

10am~3pm (12/1 to 3/31)
Cottage Inn Restaurant: 9am~5pm (from 4/1 to 11/30)
10am~4pm (12/1 to 3/31)
Kanaya Hotel Bakery: 9am~5pm (all year long)

Kanaya Hotel History Museum (ENG)
Google Maps


Where to Stay?

Nikko Station Hotel II

We stayed at the newly opened Nikko Station Hotel II 
which is about a 5min walk from Tobu Nikko Station.
Then about a mile (2km) from Rinnoji Temple,
so it was pretty convenient. 

The rooms aren't very spacious,
but they're clean and 

the beds big and comfy enough to sleep on.

 Free WiFi and other basic needs are of course available.

The hotel main entrance is closed from 11pm to 6am,
so if you're out during these times
be sure to have your card key!
And if you aren't scheduled to arrive before then,
you should contact the hotel.

⏰Check in: from 3pm
Check out: until 10am

Languages: English and Japanese
No pets allowed
Nikko Station Hotel Ⅱ
Google Maps


That was it for day one!
Next we'll share with you the beautiful greenery
and landscape of Nikko!


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