ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Shrine

DAY 4 (2/3): RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.28

After two days of hiking in Kamikochi (上高地), it was time for us to take a dip into one of the famous onsens of the Japanese Alps.  Out of the many hotsprings in the region, we picked Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉) because of its unique milky water.  “Shirahone” literally means “white bone”, referring to the milky colour of the calcium carbonate rich hot spring water that resembles white bone soup.  Shirahone Onsen is located at the eastern side of Mount Norikura (乗鞍岳) in the Northern Japanese Alps, in a secluded resort village tucked away from the country road between Matsumoto and Takayama.  Public transportation to Shirahone Onsen remains scarce throughout the day, as most local visitors would go by their own cars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a 8:25am bus from Kamikochi to Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal and National Park Gate, where we switched bus for Shirahone Onsen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal and National Park Gate serve as an access hub for Kamikochi visitors.  Due to the restrictions on private cars and tour buses, many would park their car in Sawando and hop on a shuttle bus for Kamikochi.

DSC_6989From Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal, our local bus drove along a river gorge and through a series of tunnels before reaching Shirahone Onsen. We get off at right at the village entrance.  Time was still too early to check in at our ryokan.  We dropped down our backpacks at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館) and ventured outside hoping to tour around the village and grab a bite.

DSC_6818Looking down to the gorge from the main village road, we were disappointed to discover the damaged public onsen bath.  Probably damaged by local flooding, it seemed the public bath would be out of service in the near future.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a Monday morning and Shirahone village was extremely quiet.  Other than a souvenir shop, almost everything was closed including the tourist office and the main restaurant.  We were fortunate to stumble upon Baikoan (煤香庵), a traditional restaurant/ hot spring facility owned by Yumoto Saito Ryokan (湯元齋藤旅館), the oldest ryokan in the village.

DSC_6820The restaurant at Baikoan was not open, though the staff kindly made us coffee and chatted with us for a bit.  He told us that outside of summer holidays, most restaurants would be closed on weekdays.  All shops and restaurants were having difficulties to find helpers.

DSC_6828The dining hall was filled with interesting objects from the area, including a small “bear”.

DSC_6831Fire pit and hanging iron pot are common household features in the Japanese Alps.

DSC_6824Suggested by the staff, we each rented a towel and tried out their outdoor onsen.

IMG_6325At Baikoan (煤香庵), we each had our first dip into the milky water of Shirahone Onsen, the famous hot spring water with minerals that were said to work wonderful things to the body.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the hot spring bath, we spent some time wandering in the village, checking out each of the buildings, small shrines, wild flowers, etc.

DSC_6844Near the village entrance, we found a long row of small stone kannons lined along a lush green wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 33 kannons were donated by visitors in the Edo Period who came to Shirahone Onsen for curing their illness.

DSC_6863Right by the main road Route 300, a series of small waterfalls known as Ryujin Falls (竜神の滝) was a little surprise.

DSC_6866Down from Route 300, we descended into a densely vegetated gorge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the bottom of the gorge, we walked onto a wooden bridge to photograph a water cascade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wooden bridge was quite wet and covered with green moss.

DSC_6931The water cascaded out from a cavern about two hundred meters from the bridge.

DSC_6994Back to the main road, we climbed up a small berm to check out a small Shinto shrine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore checking in at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), we stopped by the main village shop to get some snacks and drinks.

 

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DAY 2 (1/5): SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U, Bagan, Myanmar, 2017.12.24

After a full day in Yangon, the second part of our trip would take us north to Bagan.  In the 9th to 13th centuries, Bagan was the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that united Myanmar.  Near the former royal capital Mandalay, Bagan is over 600km north of Yangon.  We chose flying to save time.  There are several local airlines that offer the service.  We picked Air KBZ, one of the guidebook recommended private airlines, and bought our tickets online two months prior to the trip.  To maximize the time in Bagan, we chose the 7:15 flight and left Yangon’s Loft Hotel before dawn.  We arrived at Yangon Airport in no time.  After checking in, we had a noodle breakfast at a cafe in the boarding area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong several eateries we ended up sitting down at Gloria Jean’s Coffee in the boarding area for breakfast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlack coffee and Shan noodles represented a set breakfast with a local twist.

DSC_3459Approaching Bagan, we could occasionally see Buddhist stupas in the landscape down below.  We were pretty excited as we approached the ancient capital of the Bagan Kingdom, where thousands of pagodas and stupas once stood on the dry plains near the Irrawaddy River.

DSC_3471After a little over an hour, our plane touched down at Nyaung U, the main town in the Bagan area.  Nyaung U was also where we would base ourselves in the next two days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nyaung-U Airport is a small airport that served only domestic flights.  Upon arrival, all passengers gathered at a room to wait for their luggage to be carried in by airport staff.  After picking up our luggage, we walked out to the arrival hall and was greeted by our local guide Win Thu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWin Thu took us back to our hotel Oasis Hotel to drop off our bags, and immediately began our Bagan tour by visiting Shwezigon Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in Nyaung-U.  All visitors of the pagoda are greeted by the chinthes, the traditional leogryph guardians of temples in Southeast Asia.

DSC_3539We took off our shoes and entered one of the two remaining entrance halls.  The entrance hall was crowded with pilgrims, tourists and vendors selling all kinds of religious offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance hall is a stone-paved covered walkway leading to the central pagoda compound and the gold gilded central pagoda.

DSC_3492Before approaching the golden stupa, we stopped by a pavilion with statues depicting the Buddhist story of the Four Sights: when the 29-year-old Siddhārtha left his royal palace for the first time and first met an elderly man, sick man, dead man and an ascetic.  The four sights led Siddhartha to realize the real sufferings in life, and inspired his decision to embark on an ascetic journey towards enlightenment.

DSC_3499In Shwezigon, there are shrines dedicated to local deities such as the Nat God.  Like many local deities, Nat predated the arrival of Buddhism in Myanmar and still remained popular today.

DSC_3477Completed in 1102 AD, the golden pagoda of Shwezigon Pagoda is believed to house a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.  The bell-shaped stupa represents the architectural tradition of the Mon people of ancient Myanmar.

DSC_3514Many visitors gathered around a tiny pool of water to check out the reflection of the golden pagoda.  According to our guide Win Thu, the king also used the pool of water to inspect the construction of the stupa.

DSC_3520The pagoda has a central solid core, with steps at the four cardinal directions rising from the base up the terraces for pilgrim’s worship.

DSC_3516Shwezigon Pagoda is the largest and most popular Buddhist temple in the Bagan area today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWin Thu led us to the back of the pagoda to check out the famous Chayar Tree.  The tree is famed for its year-round blossom, unlike other trees of its kind which would only flower at a certain period of a year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the back of the pagoda, we also found a small building housing local deities that predated Buddhism in Myanmar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore leaving Shwezigon Pagoda, we passed by a number of small prayer halls that surrounded the golden pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found our way back to where we came.  It was time to move on to the next designations in Bagan.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 1 (6/9): GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

At 4pm, we left Downtown Yangon and headed for Shwedagon Pagoda, probably the most iconic sight of the city if not the entire Myanmar.  Our taxi stuck in busy traffic and it took us half an hour to arrived at the east gate of Shwedagon Pagoda from Downtown Yangon.  We specifically chose to visit the pagoda in the latter half of the afternoon, as we planned to stay at the pagoda compound till dusk when the golden stupa would glow in the flickering candle lights and flooded lights.  At the east gate, we took off our shoes and left them on a shelf, and squeezed in a lift with the locals to head up the Singuttara Hill where the central pagoda and the main terrace were located.  From the lift tower, we crossed a link bridge over to the main terrace.  The first glance of the golden spires of Buddhist shrines was quite overwhelming.  Beyond the the various ornate shrines, prayer halls, and planetary posts, the majestic 99m central stupa known as the Shwedagon Pagoda stood proudly at the heart of everything.  Fully gilded with gold, this central stupa dwarfed all other stupas, shrines, altars, statues, and prayer halls on Singuttara Hill.

Probably erected by the Mon people between 6th and 10th century AD, the Shwedagon Pagoda has been the centre of Myanmar’s Buddhist universe for centuries.  Legend has it that the original stupa at Singuttara Hill was dated to 2600 years ago, when Taphussa and Bhallika met Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and brought back 8 of his hair as sacred relics.  A stupa at Singuttara Hill was built to house the hair.  The stupa evolved throughout the centuries, as shrines and prayer halls added by different kings and donors, and the height of the stupa increased several times during history until the present 99m.  The pagoda wasn’t always covered in gold in the past.  In the 15th century, Queen Shin Sawbu donated gold plates equaled to her own weight to be riveted onto the stupa surface.  Since then, cladding the stupa in gold had became a tradition for rulers.

We took our time wandering around the 114-acre pagoda site.  After an hour or two meandering through all kinds of Buddhist structures and visiting the interesting photo gallery, we sat down at the open space at the northwest corner near the Friday planetary post to chill out, waiting for the sun to set and candles to lit up.

DSC_2869Our taxi dropped us off at the east gate of Singuttara Hill.  We followed the locals to take an elevator up to the main terrace level.

DSC_2880Once we reached the main terrace, we were immediately overwhelmed by the fine details and golden ornaments of the surrounding shrines and prayer halls.

DSC_2907In the midst of everything stood the majestic 99m Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_2946We circled the pagoda and stopped by some of the interesting shrines.  Chinthe, the legendary half-lion, half dragon creatures are commonly found as guardians in Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia.

DSC_3013It was hard to imagine just how many gold plates were being applied onto the surface of the Shwedagon Pagoda over the centuries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 25 ton Singu Min Bell (Maha Gandha Bell) was a donation in 1779 by King Singu.

DSC_2914The big Buddha at the northwest corner of the compound is a fine example of Buddha images found at Shwedagon Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADisplayed behind glass, the jade Buddha reminds all visitors that Myanmar has the biggest gemstones and jade mining in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree out of the four main staircases known as zaungdan stairs at the four cardinal directions are filled with vendors of religious merchandise.

DSC_3018The four monumental covered staircases are all splendidly decorated.

DSC_3024Everything on the main terrace of Shwedagon Pagoda seemed to be golden in colour.

DSC_3066Away from the main circulation space around the central pagoda, we walked by a number of prayer halls and shrines.  These structures were built in different periods in history, but many were rebuilt after the 1931 fire that caused damages to the wooden structures in the compound.

DSC_3069The 150-year-old Bodhi Tree at the southeast corner of the compound is said to be descended from the original Bodhi Tree in Northern India where the Buddha meditated underneath.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAViewing the Shwedagon Pagoda from the north gate was one of our favorite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 6:30pm, the sun began to set.  More visitors arrived from the staircases at the four cardinal directions.

DSC_3096Only staff and monks are allowed to climb onto the terraces of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_3139In the Photo Gallery northwest of the central pagoda, we were able to see photographs of the treasures on the pagoda spire, including about 5000 diamonds, 2300 rubies, sapphires, and other gems.

DSC_3143One of the most famous treasures of Shwedagon Pagoda is undoubted the 72 carat diamond at the top of the spire.

DSC_3108After visiting the Photo Gallery, we sat down at the open space in front of the gallery as the sun began to set.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 1 (3/9): SULE PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

After lunch at 999 Shan Noodle House, we walked over to the City Hall.  Across the street from the City Hall stood Sule Pagoda, the iconic octagonal stupa that marked the heart of Yangon.  We decided to pay a quick visit to this wonderful monument before venturing further south.

Built in the 5th century BC, the 2600 year old was said to even predate the famous Shwedagon.  The stupa was built in the style of Mon pagoda architecture, back in the era when the Mon people was a dominant ethnic group in the region.  The Mon people was also responsible for spreading Theravada Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia.  The Mon name of Sule Pagoda is “kyaik athok ceti”, meaning “stupa with a sacred hair enshrined”.  Legend has it that the Sule Pagoda contains one of Buddha’s hairs given to merchant Tapussa and Bhallika.  The rest of the same strand of Buddha’s hairs were said to be kept at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Before the British set out to develop Yangon and its port area, Sule Pagoda was situated on an island surrounded by a swamp at the banks of Yangon River.  The British drained the area, constructed a prominent roundabout centred at the Pagoda and defined Sule as the heart of Downtown Rangoon (now Yangon).  Today, Sule pagoda remains as an iconic spot of the city, and has served as the centre stage of civilian rallies and demonstrations throughout the years.

DSC_2641We crossed the street from the City Hall to the east entrance of the Sule Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the entrance, we followed the rules and took off our shoes and socks, left them with one of the staff, purchased admission tickets and then climbed up the stairs to the main worshiping area.  This was our first experience of walking barefoot in Myanmar.

DSC_2653The first thing we saw beyond the stair was a cosy and golden altar with many pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of the covered altar was a series of small golden shrine surrounding the base of the octagonal pagoda.  It’s important for the Burmese to know which day of the week they were born in order to find the right shrine to worship.   There are eight planetary shrines around the pagoda, each represents a planet as well as a particular day of the week, with Wednesday split into two (am and pm).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWater and food can be found at the pagoda complex, usually donated by Buddhist worshipers, who believe good deeds are one of the basis for path of enlightenment.

DSC_2678Soon we reached another entrance of the Sule Pagoda.  Entrances of the pagoda are arranged at the four cardinal directions: north, south, east and west.

DSC_2680The corresponded altar of this entrance looked somewhat different than the one we first arrived at.

DSC_2685Like all shrines in Myanmar, gold is the single dominant colour of the octagonal Sule Pagoda.

DSC_2693At the Saturday shrine, another two worshipers were busy performing rituals and cleaning the altar with water.

DSC_2695Under the scorching sun, many worshipers stayed at the shaded area to mediate.  It was interesting to see many young people were among the devoted worshipers.

DSC_2699When looking closely, the fine details and craftsmanship of the golden ornaments were overwhelmingly impressive.

DSC_2700.JPGAt another entrance altar, colourful fresco depicted a number of Buddhist stories high up near the ceiling.

DSC_2706Each of the four altars has a distinct set of ornaments.

DSC_2711Other than the devoted worshippers, some locals were just hanging around in the pagoda area as if the space was a public park.  In fact, Buddhist shrines in Myanmar do serve as community spaces that welcome everyone.

DSC_2712It was relaxing to walk on bare feet around the Sule Pagoda.  Surprising we didn’t feel uncomfortable without our shoes and socks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear the entrance where we arrived, there was a group of people gathered at a pulley wire, waiting for the staff to send their prayer cards up to the pagoda by the golden prayer boat.

DSC_2714Via a wire pulley system, the golden prayer boat sends prayer cards of worshippers up to the pagoda.

DSC_2717A staff at the base worked the pulley to send up the prayer boat while a group of worshipers gathered to witness the process.

DSC_2739After one loop, we repeated the clockwise stroll around the Sule Pagoda for a second time.

DSC_2743After two loops around the pagoda, we walked down the stair where we first arrived, put on our shoes, and moved on to further explore Downtown Yangon.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR

 


DAY 5 (1/1): MEIJI JINGU (明治神宮), Harajuku (原宿), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.18

The sky was grey on our last day in Tokyo.  We decided to spend the morning at nearby Harajuku (原宿).  We moved our suitcase and backpack to the lockers in Shibuya Station (渋谷), and then took the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) one stop over to Harajuku.  Despite we had been to Harajuku a few times, we had never ventured beyond the shopping and entertainment areas.  This time, we decided to spend a peaceful morning at Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), the Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the insightful leader who modernized Japan at the end of the 19th century.  Built in 1920, the original shrine complex was destroyed during World War Two.  The shrine was rebuilt soon after the war.  We had seen photographs of the large and lovely torii gates at the forested path of Meiji Shrine.  It was interesting to see such massive and traditional wooden structures surrounded by mature trees at the heart of Tokyo, just a stone throw away from all the neon lights of youthful Takeshita Street (竹下通り) and fashionable Omotesandō (表参道).  While we were there, some buildings were under renovations for its 100th anniversary in 2020.  We took our time to walk around the compound, wrote down our wishes on an ema (wooden plate to hang at the shrine), and enjoyed a peaceful walk in the urban forest.

Before heading back to Shibuya for the Narita Express, we dropped by the roof garden of Tokyu Plaza for breakfast.  Most shops had yet opened their doors in Harajuku, and we had another quiet moment in an urban oasis.  By the time we returned to Shibuya to pick up our luggage, it finally started to rain.  The rain lasted for the entire afternoon.  It was still raining heavily when our plane took off at the runway of Narita later that day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are a few locker areas at Shibuya Station.  We almost went to a wrong locker area to pick up our luggage.  Luckily, when we left our luggage we took a photo of the locker area to remind ourselves, and that proved handy at the end.

02The timber structure of Harajuku Station is unique in Tokyo.  Hopefully this historical building can survive the massive redevelopment of the area prior to the Olympic Games.

03We loved the massive torii gate of Meiji Jingu.  The natural finish matches perfectly with the surrounding forest.

04Sake offering at the Meiji Jingu.

06The second large torii gate midway into the path of Meiji Jingu.

07Quite a number of buildings at Meiji Jingu were under renovation for 2020.

08There were a lot of visitors at the early hours of the day.

09The natural appearance of a Japanese timber structure offers the best harmony with the surrounding nature.

10Writing the Ema (wooden prayer plates) is always fun.

11After hanging our ema, we bid farewell to the peaceful Meiji Jingu.

01Time was still early when we walked to Tokyu Plaza.  Since the shopping centre had yet opened its doors, we found our way up to the roof garden via an elevator at the side.

02The roof garden of Tokyu Plaza is always a great place to hang out.  While some were having breakfast like us, there were a few dozing off at the far corners.

03Not many visitors were around.  We could admire the interesting design of the decking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking down to the intersection of Omotesando and Meiji Jingumae, the popular crossing were almost empty of pedestrians.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rain hadn’t arrived yet, and we had a relaxing breakfast at the roof garden.

 


DAY 3 (3/6): TAKINO’O PATH & SACRED BRIDGE, Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

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).

01The trail head of Takino Path was right beside the forecourt of Futarasan Shrine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail passed by the the Taiyuin and Futarasan Shrine.

03A 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.

04For a very long day hike, some visitors would climb the Mount Nyoho (女峰山, 2,465m).

05The cedar forest soon got denser.

06Along the trail, we could closely the centuries old Japanese Cedar.

12Along the way, many old cedar trees were very photogenic.

07After 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.

08After about half an hour of leisure walking, we were soon approaching the Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社) in the forest.

09After walking up the hill of Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社), we passed by a number of atmospheric small shrines.

DSC_7881Kaji 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACertain parts of the trail were covered with historical paving stones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Kodane Stone (子種石) behind an old tori gate near the Takino’o Shrine is believed to have the power of child birth.

13On 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).

14After a little over half an hour, we returned to the main entrance of the World Heritage Shrine and Temple Park.

15Across the street from the UNESCO World Heritage plaque, we finally reached the Shinkyo (神橋), the Sacred Bridge of Nikko.

16We 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.

 


DAY 3 (1/6): TOSHOGU SHRINE (東照宮), Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

140km north of Tokyo, Nikko (日光) is one of the most popular excursion destination out of the Japanese capital.  Dotted with onsen villages, ancient cedar forests, scenic waterfalls, turquoise lakes and lush green mountains, the magnificent piece of landscape is also the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the founding shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate from 1600 until Meiji Restoration in 1868.  The Shinto mausoleums of Tokugawa Iayasu and his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光) in Nikko are part of  “Shrines and Temples of Nikkō” inscribed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1999.  These historical sites draw huge crowds of visitors daily to the otherwise sleepy hilltown of Nikko.

There were so much to do and see in Nikko but we could only do a very long day trip this time.  We booked the earliest direct train, Tobu Railway’s Revaty Limited Express leaving Tokyo’s Asakusa Station at 06:30, and the last return train leaving Nikko at 19:18, leaving us about 11 hours in Nikko.  We also got the Nikko All Area Pass,  which covered our local bus fares in the Nikko and Chuzenji Lake area and discount on the Tobu train tickets.  We planned to check out the shrines and temples in the morning, and then visit the scenic Chuzenji Lake (中禅寺湖) and Kegon no taki (華厳の滝, Kegon Waterfall) in the afternoon.  As soon as the Revaty train pulled into Nikko Station at around 08:20, we were excited to see the beautiful weather.

01Our journey to Nikko began from Tobu Asakusa Station (浅草駅), a monumental terminal building constructed in 1931.

02In order to take the 6:30 Revaty Limited Express, we had no choice but to get up early and left Shibuya at about 5:30.

03The train arrived in Nikko at around 08:20.  We hopped onto a Tobu bus in front of Nikko Station for the nearby temple and shrine area.  Attempting to avoid the crowds later in the day, we decided to first visit Toshogu Shrine (東照宮), the single most popular attraction in Nikko.

04Toshogu Shrine is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years until Meiji Restoration in 1867.  Because of its historical significance, the shrine is highly popular among local Japanese.  After a short walk along the procession route, we entered through Ishidorii (Stone Torii Gate), a beautiful timber gateway erected by the powerful feudal lord Kuroda Nagamasa, into the shrine complex.

05Despite our early arrival, the Toshogu Shrine was already full of student groups and tourists.  We passed by a group of students below the Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda) as we entered the complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the central complex through Omotemon Gate (Front Gate) or Nio Gate that is guarded by a pair of Nio (仁王) guardians.

07Once entered the forecourt, we could already appreciate the meticulous relief carvings and vivid architecture features on the Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses).  Toshogu presents quite a contrast compared with most other Shinto shrines that are usually minimalist in design and natural in colour tones.

09At the forecourt, the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, houses a real horse.  This comes from the tradition made by early emperors who would donate to the Kibune Shrine in Kyoto either a white horse to stop the rain in a rainy year, or a black horse to welcome the rain in a dry year.

08The front facade of the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, featues the Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys) on eight frieze panels depicting ordinary lives of people.  The most famous panel is undoubtedly the adorable “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond a large tori and a flight of steps is the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門), the gate of setting sunlight.

11With 500 beautiful wooden carvings, the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門) is considered by many the most impressive gate in Japan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe impressive Yomeimon Gate represents the Main Gate of the Imperial Court in the entire complex.

13As far as the legend goes, Yomeimon Gate is also called the “Gate of the Setting Sun” because visitor can gaze upon it all day without getting tired.

14Impressive decorations at the gate includes a golden lion housed in a niche.

15And a lot more that depict anecdotes, legends, wise people, sages, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother famous feature at Toshogu is Nemurineko, the tiny carving of the sleeping cat on the beam of a hallway.  A work by master carver Hidari Jingorou, the napping cat under the warm sun is a depiction “Nikko”, which literally means “sunlight”.  It marks the entry point of the path that ultimately leads to the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) on the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking the earliest direct train from Tokyo and came to Toshogu immediately upon arrival, we thought we could enjoy a bit of peaceful time at the highly popular shrine before the tourist groups came.  That totally didn’t happen as the shrine was already full of student groups when we arrived.  Walking up to visit the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) was not a peaceful journey at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust a few minutes of short walk led us to the hill platform of the mausoleum.  Compared to the shrine buildings downhill, the mausoleum carries a more harmonic relationship with the natural surroundings.

19The bronze urn on the hill contains the remains of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the most powerful shogun of Japan before the modern era.

22The calligraphic sign Tōshō Dai-Gongen (東照大権現) near the mausoleum is attributed to Emperor Go-Mizunoo (後水尾天皇) from the 17th century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe curved archway of Karamon Gate (唐門) symbolizes the authority of the Gohonsha Main Shrine Hall behind.  Despite the renovation scaffolding, we were able to enter the hall as a group to have a peek of the space where events and festivals would be held annually.