Ken Chin-Purcell

June 1, 2023

Japan day 17: Never say Kekko…

It was the last day our JR Pass was active, so I had booked us a day trip up to Nikko, a large area of shrines and temples in the mountains north of Tokyo.

In 1600 the daimyo Tokugawa Ieyasu won a big battle and consolidated his power as the first shogun of Japan, beginning a long line of Tokugawa rulers into the 1800’s. His seat of power was down in Edo, but he was buried in beautiful Nikko near some existing temples. This really consolidated Nikko as an important place to perhaps show your allegiance to the shogun by gifting a shrine or building a new temple, and now the place is resplendent in impressive temples and UNESCO special place designations.

Which made us a little apprehensive - would the Throng be there too? Haven’t we seen a bunch of impressive temples already? There is a Japanese saying, “Don’t say kekko until you’ve seen Nikko,” kekko meaning a satisfied sense of beauty. OK, let’s see!

On our way through Tokyo station we found ourselves in an M.C. Escher drawing.


It was a Shinkansen to Utsunomiya and a three car train on rattle tracks up to Nikko. The small town itself has a lot of quaint architecture and this old phone booth:

Right off the bat we had to admit, this was a beautiful place. Clear water river, tall trees, mountains.


The temple complex is, as it often is, on a hill, and you walk up and up to ever higher monuments. Here is an obelisk outside of the preliminary old temple founded in the 700’s. We skipped the temple itself and went for the adjacent small museum and garden.


It was a different Throng this time, hundreds of Japanese school kids. They were pretty well behaved and gave the scene an upbeat happy vibe. I realize here that I didn’t take many photos of the big buildings themselves, so please imagine very large gilt wooden temples.


As usual, Shishi everywhere.

And Michele spotted this taiko drummer. The woodwork was excellent. On the way up to Ieyasu’s tomb there is a carving of a sleeping cat above the entrance gate, which was heavily promoted for souvenirs but to me was just one of many interesting carvings.


Once past the sleeping cat there’s 240 steps up to Ieyasu’s resting place. The walkway and steps skirt past the main temple and lead to a spot up above the other buildings.


The tomb didn’t seem to be on the school circuit, so it was relatively peaceful up there. The tall cedars really completed the setting.

The shrine on top has been replaced a couple of times, but the tomb below is intact. Ieayasu abides.