In the mountains, two hours by train from Tokyo (by Tobu line from Asakusa station), there is a holly place which is famous at the same time for buddhism, shinto and political history : Nikko (日光), the "Sunlight" of Japan, the right place to spend a week-end in November, when the leaves are red and the air is so pure. Follow me !
Lucky me : Look at this sky, from my window seat. Nikko is more meaningful when the sun shines, and the autumn sky did not fail to bless the trip.
Up there in the mountain, the climate is definitely fresher ; gloves and scarf are required ! The greatest point of Nikko is, according to me, its natural landscape, with its volcano-shaped mountains, its lakes and its waterfalls. From Nikko station, you can take a bus to Chuzenji lake (two days bus pass available for 2700 yen), and enjoy this scenary :
Water, stones, sky. Nikko has something solemn that even Nature reflects.
In Japanese, the word for waterfall, taki (滝) means "water dragon". So poetic. In the case of kogen falls, the dragon is long, white, slim and pure, shining in the sunlight like a long clear ribbon.
There are many small waterfalls in Senjohara plateau, and beautiful trees too - even if in late November, most of the colors were gone already. It's winter already in these high places ! Still, I could have a nice shot of flaming branches.
Not so bad for a rest of colors.
Toshogu Sancturay is the jewel of Nikko. The site has been finished in 1636, in the memory of Ieyasu, foundator of Tokugawa shogunate. This smart warrior-politician managed to unify the country in the 16th Century (before him, Japan was a patchwork of lands constantly disputed by clans) and to build the base of the Tokugawa's 250-years supremacy in Japan, until Meiji period. He was also the one who chose the Kanto region as the new capital of Japan, over the traditionnal Kyoto.
The shrines here are shinto, but so colourful, red and gold just as Chinese buddhist temples.
This is the symbol of Nikko : the 3 monkeys of wisdom. One does not hear what he shouldn't ; one does not tell what he shouldn't; one does not see what he shouldn't. This was a free lesson for the lords and politicians who had to wait for the shogun's leave to enter the Yomeimon gate and expose their demands or projects.
200 steps to reach the tomb. Yalla.
Ieyasu's tomb is very impressive, at the top of the hill, and all made in carved bronze which was much more precious than gold in Japan at this period.
The holly forest
The surrounding forest was just amazing : 16 000 cedars, most of them more than 300 years. Tall and magnificent trees...
This one is a kami, a Japanese god, as shown by the characteristic rope around it. People were sending money in its empty trunk and praying.
The giants of the forest...
... and color gifts everywhere.
World Heritage Park
The sanctuary belongs to a larger area classified as World Heritage by the Unesco. The park is full of old stone walls, ancient gardens and beautifully carved roofs. And trees. Trees. Trees !
During Edo period, only the Emperor could walk on this bridge across the Daiya river. It is still closed to the public, but only because of its historical value, I guess. I hope. Whatever.
The Monkey Experience
Alright : my most striking memory of Nikko will be... the monkey I saw in the woods. A baboon, to be more precise, and big like a medium-sized dog, with a pink face and long grey-brown hair. Like this. Unfortunately the meeting was too short and I could not take a picture. I was astonished to see it like that, randomly, in this familiar-looking forest, and the Japanese around me saying "Why, this is nature, there are trees, so there are monkeys...". Hey, for a French, monkeys are in the zoo, not in the forest ! Come on, guys, that is so exotic !...
Can't believe I saw this, in its big version, and in real, a few meters from me...
... everything is normal.
To the question "what should we eat at Nikko?", unfortunately, I don't have the answer. Only kakis, there were so many on the trees. For the rest, I found no typical food but this steaming "shogun curry", super-black and sweet type, that made my day...
Shogun curry !
Anecdote : In Nikko hotel, no Bible in your drawer but the Teaching of Buddha.
And that was my Nikko experience. Nature, History, Colors... What else ?