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3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Nikko - Lake Chuzenji-ko - Kegon-no-taki Fall - Nikko-sannai

Southern Tohoku

3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Southern Tohoku / Nikko - Lake Chuzenji-ko - Kegon-no-taki Fall - Nikko-sannai (Toshogu Shrine - Futarasan-jinja Shrine - Rinno-ji Temple)

With its nature and remains, Nikko has so many great sightseeing spots that it is hard to see everything even if you spend a whole day. First I went to visit Lake Chuzenji-ko. To get there you have to climb Iroha-zaka, a sloping road with lots of sharp curves. Iroha-zaka is said to have been given its name (from "saka", meaning curve) because it has 48 curves, the same number as the 48 characters that make up the basis of Japanese writing. The surrounding mountains are known to be particularly wonderful during the season for autumn leaves, and in autumn the roads are often jammed with long lines of cars.

Lake Chuzenji-ko is about 25 km in circumference, and was formed by a damming effect when Mt. Nantai-san erupted. The lake surface is at an altitude of 1,269 m, making it one of the highest lakes in Japan. First, I visited Futarasan-jinja Chugushi Shrine on the lakeshore, and then went for a walk round the edge of the lake. Futarasan-jinja Shrine consists of three shrines, and Chugushi is one of the main shrine buildings in these. It gets its name ("inner shrine") because it is located between the main shrine of Nikko-san and Okumiya Shrine on the summit of Mt. Nantai-san, which is behind this main shrine.

The stately, red lacquer shrine gate is wonderful by itself, but there are other things inside the shrine precincts that should not be missed: the "Honden" main shrine building, which is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property, the "Haiden" shrine for worshipping at, and the treasure house, which has a display including the biggest sword in Japan and a mikoshi portable shrine from the Nanboku-cho Period(1336-1392). As Chugushi is at the middle of Mt. Nantai-san, from there you can have a good scenery of Lake Chuzenji-ko.

If you want to enjoy more of the lake scenery, a good way is to get on a sightseeing boat. There are all sorts of sightseeing courses, from a short trip that just goes to the other side of the lake to a round-lake tour(operating from April to November).

After visiting these shrines, I set off for Kegon-no-taki Fall, enjoying the scenery around Lake Chuzenji-ko as I went. As soon as you get out of the town of Chuzenji Hot Spring, lined with souvenir shops and inns,you arrive at the entrance to Kegon-no-taki Fall. Kegon-no-taki is one of Japan's three great waterfalls. Water flowing from Lake Chuzenji-ko falls straight down from the top of a 97-meter sheer cliff, making it a natural wonder. The fall is narrow for its height, giving the impression that the water is blasting out. There is a free-of-charge view spot at the top of the waterfall, and you can descend by elevator to the area near the waterfall basin. The sight of water spraying right in front of your eyes and the roar of the fall make a wonderful spectacle.

After making the most of the nature at Nikko, I went to Nikko-san'nai, which is registered as a World Heritage Site. Nikko-san'nai consists of two shrines, Toshogu Shrine and Futarasan-jinja Shrine and one temple, Rin'no-ji Temple. It is a large area of holy ground, where the Buddhist and Shinto religions are brought together. Its history goes back to the middle of the 8th century and the building of Shihonryu-ji Temple, the predecessor of Rin'no-ji Temple. Nikko-san'nai contains nine constructions designated as National Treasures and 94 designated as Important Cultural Properties. Just visiting the highlights there takes at least three or four hours.

First I went from Omote-sando Avenue to Rin'no-ji Temple. Behind the wide, straight temple avenue can be seen the biggest stone shrine gate in Japan, the Ichi-no-torii of Toshogu Shrine. Combined with the size of the avenue, this makes a magnificent sight. If you walk a little way along the avenue, on the right you can see a large stone pillar and a black gate, on which are written the words "Nikko-san Rin'no-ji - Mt. Nikko Rin'no-ji Temple". Rin'no-ji is a famous historic temple that used to receive princes from the imperial family as priests during the Kamakura Period (1192 - 1333). There are buildings and pagodas of various sizes scattered throughout the temple precincts. One of these, called Sanbutsudo, is 32 meters wide and 25 meters deep, making it the largest building in the Nikko-san'nai area. If you look at it from close up, you will be overwhelmed by its size. The outside of the building is painted with red lacquer and is very impressive. There are three golden statues of Buddha inside. Each statues are about 8 meters tall and shining. You can go right up close to these to take a look.

Next I went to Toshogu Shrine. After you pass under the Ichi-no-torii shrine gate, on the left there is a 35-meter high five-story pagoda painted in red lacquer. Toshogu is the area between the Omote-mon front gate and the rear. Toshogu was built in 1617 to enshrine Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the first of the Tokugawa family shoguns and started the Edo Bakufu government (also known as the Shogunate). The precincts contain gorgeous shrine buildings decorated with intricate sculptures and gold leaf. When you walk through the front gate, on the left stands Shinkyusha stable, which contains eight sculptures of monkeys expressing different aspects of a person's life. Of these, the three sculptures expressing childhood are especially famous. One of these monkeys is covering its eyes, the other its ears, and the third its mouth, and together they represent the moral imperative to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". If you walk further, you come to Yomei-mon Gate, which is said to be the most graceful construction in Toshogu's main shrine building. This tower gate is 11 meters high and built in two levels. It is decorated with 508 brilliantly colored sculptures, each of which is marvelous. Without realizing it, you can end up looking at them really closely. Other things that should not be missed include a sculpture of a sleeping cat in the Higashi-kairo Kuguri-mon Gate, made by the famous architect and sculptor Hidari Jingoro; a ceiling picture painted in the Haiden worshipping shrine that contains 100 dragons, all of different design; and roaring dragon ("naki-ryu") painted on the ceiling of Honjido. The roaring dragon is so named because if you strike a piece of wood immediately under the picture, it resonates and sounds like a dragon roaring.

After visiting Toshogu Shrine, I went to Futarasan-jinja Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to three gods: the god of Mt. Nantai-san (also called Mt. Futara-san), one of the symbols of Nikko, and the gods of Mt. Nyoho-san and Mt. Taro-san, two mountains behind Mt. Nantai-san. When you have passed under Shin-mon Gate, the Haiden worshipping shrine is right in front of you. Rare for the buildings in Nikko-san'nai, this has a simple appearance with no sculptures or other designs, but this gives it an impression of strength. Behind this worshipping shrine is the Honden main shrine, which was built in 1619 and is the oldest building in Nikko-san'nai. There is also a small spring called Futara Reisen (holy spring) in the corner of the main shrine building, and two types of water flow from this: "sake no izumi - the sake spring" and "chie no izumi - the knowledge spring". If you drink these they are said to improve eye conditions and restore youth. At the resting place to the side of Reisen, you can taste coffee and tea made with water from the spring.

After a brief pause at Reisen, I headed for my hotel. There are lots of inns and hotels in the area around Nikko-san'nai, and there are also a large number of places to stay at Chuzenji and Yumoto Hot Springs near Lake Chuzenji-ko.