Every visitor who comes to Nikko would be impressed by the century-old cedar forests surrounding the shrines and temples. What looks like a natural forest is in fact partially orchestrated by people 400 years ago, creating what we now called the Cedar Avenue of Nikko (日光杉並木), a 35.41km tree-lined path with 13,000 Japanese Red Cedar. The Cryptomeria tree (Sugi), also known as Japanese Red Cedar, is the national tree of Japan. We didn’t walk the Cedar Avenue of Nikko, the world’s longest tree lined avenue in Nikko, but instead, had our own close encounter with the magnificent cedar trees in a along the Takino’o Path. We came across the Takino’o Path from online research. For about an hour, the trail led us through its tranquil cedar forest and peaceful Shinto shrines. We began our journey from the Futarasan Shrine, passed by the Takino Shrine (瀧尾神社) and ended at the Sacred Bridge of Nikko, the Shinkyo (神橋).
The trail head of Takino Path was right beside the forecourt of Futarasan Shrine.
The trail passed by the the Taiyuin and Futarasan Shrine.
A few minutes later, we arrived at a small shrine by the path. It reminded us of Kumano Kodo, where we enjoyed a few days of hiking on the Kii Mountains of Kansai.
For a very long day hike, some visitors would climb the Mount Nyoho (女峰山, 2,465m).
The cedar forest soon got denser.
Along the trail, we could closely the centuries old Japanese Cedar.
Along the way, many old cedar trees were very photogenic.
After the crowded and relatively noisy experience at the Toshogu Shrine, only five minutes into the trail brought us to a completely opposite world of tranquility and lush green.
After about half an hour of leisure walking, we were soon approaching the Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社) in the forest.
After walking up the hill of Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社), we passed by a number of atmospheric small shrines.
Kaji Sadayoshi, a supporter of Tokugawa Iemitsu, built the Undameshi No Tori (運試しの鳥居). Like many visitors, we tested our luck by throwing a pebble through the hole between the two horizontal members of the tori gate.
Certain parts of the trail were covered with historical paving stones.
The Kodane Stone (子種石) behind an old tori gate near the Takino’o Shrine is believed to have the power of child birth.
On our way back out of the forest towards Shinkyo (神橋), we passed by Kannon Do Shrine, the Shrine of Safe and Easy Delivery of Child or Kyosha-do (香車堂).
After a little over half an hour, we returned to the main entrance of the World Heritage Shrine and Temple Park.
Across the street from the UNESCO World Heritage plaque, we finally reached the Shinkyo (神橋), the Sacred Bridge of Nikko.
We didn’t pay the admission fee to walk onto the Shinkyo (神橋). We walked over to the nearby bus stop for a ride to Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖). Beside the bus stop there was an interesting telephone booth made of a recycled gondola.
It was a short walk from Todaiji to Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), the most famous Shinto shrine in Nara. The main path to Kasuga Taisha was a pleasant walk in the woods. First there were just old trees along the path, but soon came the stone lanterns. As we get closer to the shrine complex, more and bigger clusters of stone lanterns appeared. Over three thousand lanterns dotted in and around Kasuga Taisha. Every year, during the festival of Setsubun Mantoro (February 2-4, Spring Festival) and Obon Mantoro (August 14-15, Bon Festival), thousands of lanterns at Kasuga Taisha would be lit up at once.
Atmospheric stone lanterns and old trees lined the path leading to Kasuga Taisha.
Deer is considered to be messengers of the gods. They could be seen all over Nara Park, including the grounds of Kasuga Taisha.
There seemed to be never-ending rows of stone lanterns on our way to Kasuga Taisha.
We passed by the Treasure Hall before entering the main shrine complex. The Treasure Hall houses a number of relics from the old shrine.
Before entering the complex, we passed by a huge wall filled with names of donors.
From the lantern lined path, we walked up the stair to enter the main vermilion complex of Kasuga Taisha.
Close up of the moss-covered stone lanterns near the main entrance.
Many lanterns were written with prayers from donors who made contributions during the 60th renewal of the shrine. Traditionally Shinto shrines in the Ise Jingu would be demolished and rebuilt every 20 years to celebrate the concept of impermanence. Since the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century, only the damaged parts of the shrine would be repaired instead of replacing the entire building.
After the entrance, we passed by the wooden pillars that supported the Heiden and Buden (幣殿・舞殿, Palace of Offerings and Dance Palace).
Then we came to a gravel courtyard dominated by the Great Cedar Tree (社頭の大杉). The ancient cedar was about 800 to 1000 year old.
Next came the most prominent building in the courtyard, the Chumon and Oro (中門・御廊, Central Gate and Veranda).
Spreading both directions beyond the Chumon, the Oro Veranda is full of suspended lanterns.
The 10m tall Chumon is the central gate in front of the Main Sanctuary of the shrine. Many visitors line up to come in front of the Chumon to pay their respect.
Vermilion is the dominant colour at the shrine, while green, brown and beige are also used in the ornaments.
Each metal lantern along the Oro Veranda and East and South Cloister looks distinctive.
The small shrines near the South Cloister blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings, especially during autumn times.
There were so many lanterns in Kasuga Taisha. How nice if we could visit the shrine again during Setsubun Mantoro or Obon Mantoro Festival when they were all lit up.
Even the shadow of the lanterns look amazing under the afternoon sun.
After the main shrine at Kasuga Taisha, we headed into the adjacent cedar forest to check out some of the auxiliary shrines.
One of the auxiliary shrines we visited was Meoto Daikokusha (夫婦大国社, couple shrine). Dedicated to the Shinto deity for couple relationships, Meoto Daikokusha is popular for visitors hoping for happy relationships and successful match-making.
Some local visitors and even tourists came wearing traditional kimono dresses.
There were many quiet shrines in the forest, each had its devoted supporters.
We visited several of the auxiliary shrines. The last one we saw was Golden Dragon Shrine.
It was late afternoon and we were a little tired and hungry. Following the two rows of moss-covered stone lanterns, we slowly walked out of Kasuga Taisha.
Near the exit of the forest path, we saw a herd of deer outside the forest right by a beautiful grassland.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan