One Fine Autumn Day in Nikko | Japan



As I stare at the carved maxim of the three wise monkeys pinned on an overhead panel at Tōshō-gū, the proverbial mantra it personifies was made apparent to me almost immediately; "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". Recognizing where I stood at that very moment, surrounded by temples—concealed under a canopy of autumn leaves—I couldn’t fathom how any of my senses can conjure a negative energy. 



As the yellow glare of the sun seeps through the gap of intertwining tree branches, I feel the cool wind of the fall season penetrating through my thin sweater. Proceeding forward, I gingerly slid my strides taking my sweet time and directing my eyes to the centuries-old structures around me. With each step of my feet, I can hear a feint crackling sound of fallen shrubberies—hued with a synthesis of dark red and gold—spread out on the ground like the tail end of a dotted brushstroke.

Arrival at Nikkō Town

After a couple of hours watching the fast-moving slide show of Japanese countryside from my train’s window seat, I alighted at the Tobu Nikko Railway station instantly feeling the airy wind of the city. Following a few days walking and trainspotting around Tokyo, I’ve gotten used to hearing the symphony of clackety-clack from the walking hordes of Japanese commuters. Here in this station though, the sounds of footsteps were a little muffled and the movements of the crowd were more relaxed.


A quaint town vibe greeted me outside—and a walkable one. There was a tourist bus heading to the temples outside waiting for travelers to board. I opted to proceed on foot for more sightsee opportunities. Circling my first destination on my tattered old-school map; the Shinkyo Bridge, I casually started my exploration. 


Lining up both sides of the immaculate road are small establishments; cafes and sushi joints secreting scrumptious aroma tempting my starving self.  I stopped a couple of times to check on the menu prices—each time retreating to the road—after realizing its within reach of my food budget.


After fifteen minutes, I reached a curve where I turned left, and immediately, I caught sight of a red lacquered length arching stunningly across the Daiya River. There it was; the sacred bridge erected in 1636 at the entrance of Nikko's Futarasan Shrine. Raved to be as among Japan's three most beautiful bridges, Shinkyo Bridge—which is now off limits to people—is such a Zen sighting blending beautifully against the green forests behind and the clear waters streaming underneath.

Shrines and Temples of Nikkō – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Buoyed by excitement, I advanced with hurried steps into the grounds of Futarasan Shrine where the foliage-covered grounds mirror a Jackson Pollock unfinished canvas. Inside the complex, the crowd seem to thicken as a Mounted Archery competition is being held. I stood among the spectators as I watch a few archers wearing colorful traditional Samurai armor and Kamakura-era clothing, fired three arrows at the stationary target while riding their respective horses at full gallop. 


Following a foot path that passes through a small forest, I started marveling at the small temples and shrines that seems to increase in size as I go further. The 400-year old Shintro Shrine—flanked on both sides by old giant trees—met my gaze and dropped jaw as I could only mouth the word "Wow".


As the three wise monkeys; Mizaru, Mikazaru and Mazaru attract a crowd of onlookers all marveling at its 17th century carved form by Hidari Jingoro—to depict man’s life cycle—I continued to the other temples and shrines of all sizes.


I passed by the 1619 Honden—considered as the most sacred building in every Shinto Shrine—It is here where the three Futarasan deities are enshrined. Nearby, are the Haiden worship hall, and a giant Tori leading to more worship halls and hondens.


The Shrines and Temples of Nikkō covers 103 structures built inside two Shinto complexes: Futarasan Shrine and Tōshō-gū—as well as a lone Buddhist Temple; the Rinno-ji. These three complexes are all located beside each other and can be explored in a day. Inscribed collectively as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, these sacred buildings are also classified as National Treasures of Japan and Important Cultural Properties.


As my mind reels from a morning filled with newfound learnings; about feudal Japanese history, I started feeling hunger pangs. Taking a break from my educational exploration, I walked towards a long line of people standing near a white tent. I saw them ordering food I initially thought was an ordinary Japanese dish. It turned out to be Soba Noodles (buckwheat), which is one of the local dishes Nikko is known for.


As I sat to chow down my food, I let out a sigh of relief at finally resting my weary feet. Looking at the reddened tree leaves and the blue sky above me, I nodded at the invisible Gods—whom the many shrines and temples in Nikko were built for—and delivered a short message; “Arigato for letting the universe bring me here”.

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Nikko is two hours by train from Tokyo. The largest airline in the Philippines, Cebu Pacific flies non-stop to Tokyo (Narita) from Manila and Cebu.