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Nikko, Tosho-gu

A snowy river in Nikko

From Sapporo it will take five train changes, the crossing of the Tsugaru Strait, and 605 miles of travel before one arrives at Nikko the city of sunlight. Keep in mind that train travel is a very up-market experience in Japan. And trains are very clean. Their seats are like seats in a business class section of a modern commercial airliner; with all kinds of electric adjustments and buttons. Often smiling women dressed like a flight attendant, circa 1970, will greet you. The Shinkansen or Bullet Trains are certainly fast and hit speeds of 130 kilometers or 80 miles per hour.

Lavishly decorated shrine complex of Nikko Tosho-gu

The sleepy little country town of Nikko is located 87 miles north of Tokyo and is nestled in the magnificent Tochigi Mountains. These mountains are just west of the main city and are part of the Nikko National Park. This park contains some of the country's most spectacular waterfalls, scenic trails, mountainous landscapes, lakes, hot springs, and wild monkeys. And let's not forget the many hot springs or onsens that Nikko is famous for. An absolute must see. Be careful when walking in Japan as you will no doubt come across rows of Bodhisattva. These sites are memorials for dead children and require your respect.

If natural wonders are not your cup of tea then Nikko has a rich history. It has been a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries. In 766 Shodo Shonin established the temple of Rinno-ji there. The temple of Chuzen-ji followed in 784. Then there is the lavishly decorated shrine complex of Nikko Tosho-gu; completed in 1617. Nikko also offers the mausoleum of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and his grandson Iemitsu. And you may enjoy the Futarasan Shrine too, which dates to the year 767.

A raptor in Nikko

A recommended place to stay while visiting Nikko is the hotel Kanaya. Built in the 1930s in a western style, which was popular at the time, it was once grand. It has become a bit rough around the edges these days, but is a colorful, safe, clean place to stay when in town. There is a Buddhist Bible in all hotels in Japan. A message from the Buddha: To conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer thousands in battle. It is a man's own mind, not his enemy or foe that lures him into evil ways.

We will continue heading south, in my next installment of traveling in Japan.


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