Tosho-gu housed the last shogun government in Japan between the 17th and 19th century, but today the temples and shrines here are a popular tourists destination.
The town of Nikko itself seems to have lapsed somewhat since the region’s popularity swayed following the current emperor’s decision to separate Buddhism and Shintoism. However, the World Heritage park is, by contrast, beautifully kept and popular all year ‘round.
Heavy-set cedars stand in like with stone lanterns, and, irrigating the temples and shrines, water runs along the sides of the road from the mountain as a living piece of insight into how Tosho-gu would have looked and felt when still in use.
THE ROAD TO TAKINO-O JINJA
If you choose to leave the main tourist sites, you will immediately find yourself alone. Following the outside of the temples, I walked beside tall walls constructed from large slabs of moss covered stone. Farther still, leaving the main temples and shrines behind, the stream that feeds the complex now widens, and before long the old road is visible. This is the road that generations of locals have used to visit the numerous shrines in the area.
On the way up the old road, I saw a Shinto shrine and a temple somewhat hidden amongst immense cedar trees. I could see something behind the shrine in the rock, and so, after finding a path with fewer spiders, I made my way to what was six Buddhist statues carved from stone. These states live in a naturally eroded depression in the rock. The sense of being in this place, and completely alone in the peaceful quiet, was my favorite thing about Japan: that you can fall upon places this, which fill an Australian with such a sublime sense of age and time, and a kind of “alone-ness” that is more like solitude than loneliness.
At the top of the road lies an old staircase. At the top of the stairs, visitors pass through a Torii gate to the Takino-o Jinja shrine beyond, and to the left, the water rushes now as a steady and wide stream.
Torii gates signify the mental or ‘ego’ switch from the personal to the collective. In sociological theory, this is know as the sacred-profane dichotomy. The sacred and the profane states are not associated with good and evil, good and bad, or any such attributes of morality. For Shintoists, passing through a Torii means leaving your personal thoughts and feelings outside (the profane), and while inside the shrine, focusing on the collective (the sacred).
The hike to Takino-o Jinja
The walk doesn’t take too long, i’d say an hour all up, depending on how long you stay at the shrines. Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, the walk is easy, and is a gradual ascent before a short stair climb. Would be suitable for nearly anyone willing.
Things to see: Shinto and Buddhist Shrines, moss covered stone lanterns, moss covered everything, historical water source, old ‘pilgrams’ road’.
Things you won’t see: Huge crowds
Things to look out for: spiders; snakes (I nearly stepped on one!)
How to get to Nikko?
The cheapest way that I found to get to Nikko from Tokyo (without a JR rail pass) was to catch a train. The train was owned and operated by a private company called Tobu Spacia. Just a word of warning: ensure when you get on the train that the carriage is going to Nikko. I didn’t realise this and was a bit surprised when the train split in half! I was lucky enough to be in the first carriage going to Nikko, and so watched in amazement as the carriage in front left without me! The front half of the train continues beyond the turn-off for Nikko.
I stayed in a local backpackers, which is a house run by a very friendly young man named Hiro. I would highly recommend staying here, as Hiro makes everyone feel at home and there is a great sense of community between visitors as you live together in the house. Apart from being in a beautiful location on the river bank, it is also the closest you can stay to Toshu-gu. I booked through Hostel World, and at the time of writing there was only two backpackers in Nikko.
Back to Nikko