Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Japan Diaries, part XI: Nikko

A long train journey across Kansai, through Tokyo and onwards led us to Nikko, about two hours north of the capital. Because of this proximity to Tokyo Nikko is a popular day trip for Japanese and foreign guests alike. We stayed at the Nikko Park Lodge where we encountered the most international company so far with hardly a Japanese in sight. Nikko Park Lodge is run by Buddhist monks who have a staff (volunteers? apprentices?) to take care of e.g. the front desk.

We skipped the early morning yoga practice (seven to eight – way too early for us) and one of the monks pointed us in the right direction for the main heritage sites. They were, again, stunning. It is so amazing how Japan has managed to hold on to its cultural treasures. Many of the really old art and architecture was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration (1868) and a great many sites and works were severely damaged by the many earthquakes that Japan suffers, some quite heavy. Many treasures made it through, however, or were restored beautifully.

Nikko is a real treasure trove of Japanese history with temples and shrines and woodcarvings to last a lifetime. We saw the stables of the sacred horse. We saw the sleeping cat. We saw the three Buddhist monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). We saw the sacred bridge that is only to be used by the emperor and his generals. (Oh and the sweeper who we saw cleaning the bridge.)

What we also saw was schoolchildren in great shoals (herds? packs?) sprawled around the sites. Especially where the school photographs were taken and large groups were directed by a busy photographer; all children standing in lines, boys to one side and girls to the other, all of them solemnly bored out of their skulls as is fitting for teenagers when visiting historic sites. The multitudes of black and white school uniforms was dazzling to behold.

In one of the temples a very serious affair was going on. A group of business people, mostly young man and a few women, were standing outside with solemn faces, obviously waiting for something. (Their turn?) In the temple about twelve pairs of feet were visible, one woman’s, and a priest was performing a ritual. We couldn’t exactly see what was happening and it was not an occassion to crane your neck to see. Judging by the serious faces of the waiting young professionals it was a career-deciding event. We sneaked by and left them to it. Poor guys.

In the evening we left for Tokyo, city of 12.5 million, and the final stop of our adventure. Tokyo deserves a whole new entry of its own in the Diaries. Tune in again later!

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