My parents stayed for 10 days, so we had another weekend we could spend together (I had to work during the week). After browsing the alternatives, we decided to go to Nikko, for a trip of two days. This time we had more time for planning the trip, so it was less hectic. We found a great special ticket, which includes traveling from Tokyo Asakusa (東京浅草) to Nikko (日光) both ways and all public transports in Nikko for four consecutive days. You can look up the details here: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2358_002.html
However note that you are only allowed to take local trains (local means a slow train, which stops at every station) from Asakusa and that the journey will take approximately two and a half hours. Also note that from Asakusa you have to enter one of the two forth most wagons, as the train will split and the bottom part will go elsewhere.
On the other hand, if you want to plan what to do on your trip to Nikko, you should refer to Wikitravel:
Thanks to the Wikipage above, we had no trouble making out a good cheap hostel this time. But since we were in the お盆週 (Obon Week) most of them were booked out, all except one: The Turtle's Inn. The Turtle's Inn is located right next to the 大谷川 (Daiya River), there are two bus stops right near by and the proprietors are very kind. Also when you check in, they give you a good map and locate any shight of interest on it and when best to visit it. The rooms are traditional Japanese (see pictures) and it got a small but cozy お風呂 (Japanese Bath). Last but not least the best argument for this Inn is, that all the sights of 日光 are no more than a 10 minutes walk from it. You don't even need to take a bus.
After the check in, and because we knew sight close at 5 pm in Japan, we decided to start with the nature of 日光 in the mountains nearby. So we took a bus, which took us all the way through or better up the mountains until we reached at a small nice village next to 中禅寺湖. At first we wanted to walk around the lake itself, but once we found out, that the only way to do so is walk on or right next to the street we turned around after about 1 kilometer. The lake was crystal clear and really beautiful. If we would have packed our bath shorts and if the lake wouldn't have been filled with boats, we would have just jumped in. Boats yes, pedal boats in the form of swans or helicopters, your choice (see picture).
華厳滝 Kegon Watterfalls
Right so we turned around and watched 華厳の滝 instead. The waterfall is really amazing and you can look at it from different positions next to an observatory. They even built a lift, that takes you all the way to the ground, so that you can watch at it from above as well as from below (You have to pay for the lift though...). From the top platform (this one is for free) you also have a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains. Also if you look closely you can spot two other smaller waterfalls (below platform) and can see that the whole mountain of the main waterfall is being corroded by the water, which already comes pouring out on many places of the rock. In fact it looks like the water cut the rock horizontally through its belly.
Afterwards we wanted to explore the nature by hiking, since it is predestines for that and by foot is the only way, you are allowed to enter the natural protection zone. Alas we couldn't decide for a road, since most of them took 6 or more hours and we only had 4 left. So we went a little bit up the street into higher mountains without map or path and eventually turned around, after having recognized that it doesn't lead anywhere. At least we were able to see one single wild monkey crossing the street. It took the poor chap almost half a minute and five more to finally vanish in the forest, since he/she was apparently crippled. That's probably why she didn't even care for us and let us watch her all the way.
Valuable information for you, in case you are planning a similar trip to 日光: The last bus from this area leaves at 8 pm, so you have plenty of time for hiking, if you arrive at for before midday.
クリスト教会 Christian Church
Believe it or not, right to our bus stop (西参道 バス停) is a christian church. When we came back from the mountains, we decided to look inside. As european churches you can enter every time, and it has seating rows just like we know them. Though you could easily guess it was a Japanese church, since you had to take your shoes off... ;)
Also I think it is pretty ironical finding a christian church here, since 日光 is the place three famous 徳川 将軍 (Tokugawa Shogun) are buried, and it was under the reigh of the 徳川 将軍 that Japanese christians were persecuted. So it is kinda nice to find a christian chruch right next to their grave.
神橋 Sacred Bridge
Before we returned to the Turtle's Inn, we went a bit in the direction of the station to see the famous red 神橋. We went at night, because the woman at the inn told us it was lit at night and very romantic. Alas the picture did not turn out that well, but you can guess the looks from it. This bridge was formerly forbidden for anyone to take except for the 天皇 (Tenno), since it leads up to his mountain residence here in 日光. And in fact it was the 昭和天皇 (Showa) 裕仁 (Akihito) who took refuge here during WW II.
the bridge at night
and during the day (stolen from google)
含満ケ淵 Ganmangafuchi Abyss
The next day we started walking in the direction away from the station. In this direction lies a nice garden, the 含満ケ淵 Ganmangafuchi Abyss, a nice stone bridge, small shrines on the way, a nice graveyard and finally the やしおの湯 (Yashio Hotspring).
We missed hiking the day before, but this made up for it more than we had hoped for. The path to the spa is wonderful and you are able to see very nice nature, forests and some othe interesting things underway. The most interesting of this is a path called the Ganmangafuchi Abyss. I think the name relates from the really wild river rapids. The wonderful dreamy thing about this path however are the guarding statues on the way. They are supposed to protect you from falling into the Abyss, while allowing you to have a glimps on it. And in fact not a few of them had lost their head or more (even the entire body) when rescuing human sould from the abyss. When we reached the spa, it was still one hour until it would have opened, thus we only looked at it from the outside and went the same way back again (it really is nice enough to walk it twice!).
the park, where we had breakfast in
the daiya river gone wild
good that we were protected by these guys
the yashio spa
the stone bridge
and the view from it
東昭宮 Toshogu Shrine
Alright now that both our hunger for hiking as well as for nature was saturated we decided to pay 日光's sights a visit. Another tip for future 日光 tourists: there is a special entrance ticket for 1000 ￥en which allowes you to enter the five most popular shrines. Since one of them costs about 600 ￥en, it's already worth it, even if you only visit two.
We started with the most famous one, the shrine of 将軍徳川家康 (Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu), Japan's most famous Shogun. As he himself was not modest and had a similar look on hiself (being the greatest shogun and all), he decided to abondon Japanese principles of modesty and the beauty of the simple things and adapted Chinese extravagance for his shrine and the temples in 日光. Therefore instead of two colors and simple design, as you can for example see at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto (see my other Post), the temples and shrines in 日光 are full of colors and even ornamented with gold, silver and other treasures.
There are three especially nice things in this shrine:
Right at the beginning is horse stable with a poor wretched horse in it, that is constantly photographed and touched by tourists. On top of the stable there are several carvings displaying monkeys. One of them is the world famous carving of the three monkeys, which refuse to see, to hear and to speak (see picture). The originate from this very shrine. In spite of many interpretations the original intent of the artist was the busshist ideal of being unaffected of the world. So that what you hear, what you see and what you speak has no influence on you.
Proceeding you will see a really huge gate ornamented again with gold. It is really huge and is covered by many many little golden plates.
Last but not least there is a hall where a monk explains some facts about dragons and uses Japanese wooden instrumental sticks as well a the special form of the hall in a certain position to mimic the cry of a dragon. On the ceiling of this hall, you can see the very dragon, he is talking about.
the idea of chinese extravagance imported by the great shogun
the three wise monkeys
the magnificent gate
tokugawa ieyasu's guardians
倫王寺 Rinnoji Temple
The next temple is the home of three enourmous Buddha statues, which might have been impressive, if we had not seen already the 1001 Buddha statues in Kyoto. Nonetheless having the five temple ticket, it's worth seeing.
逍遥園 Shoyo Garden
Right in front of the 倫王寺 is a very nice garden. However note that the garden is not covered by the five temple card and you have to pay another 300 ￥en entrance fee. You can walk around the garden and enjoy the nice gardening arts. There is also a nice trick: The garden has a gate to a museum of Japanese treasures. If you pay for the garden you can use this gate and enter the museum for free. Or you pay for the museum and do vice versa. However maybe the people even had this in mind, and you can enter both paying only one time, on the other hand we are in Japan and nobody does anything like this ... except us ;p
二荒山神社 Futarasan Shrine
After refreshing ourselves with some カレー,うどん and そば (Curry Rice, Udon and Soba, see Post about Japanese Cuisine) we decided to pay a final visit to the last shrine covered by our temple ticket. The most impressive thing about this one, were the awesome guardian statues (see pictures) and the countless lanterns.
After having seen every temple covered by the temple ticket, as well as a nice deal of 日光's nature, we decided to call it a day and returned to 日光 station.
日光 is really a wonderful place, even or because of that it is partly crowded with tourists (luckily only the shrines and temples). Together with the waterfalls and hiking tracks near lake Chuzenji, it makes for a wonderful two days trip.
Reporting for you from Japan's most wonderful spots
mika, who would have loved to sleep in the teddy bear house (see Wikitravel link above)
before going for a bath in the お風呂 of the Turtle's Inn
oh my son, cant's you even lace your shoes?
have I taught you nothing...
my mother wanted a photograph of a Japanese traditional toilet
and of course more people in 着物 (kimono)
note how nice he combines the old with the modern