Nikko, or how to bury a warlord

On Saturday, Rob and I decided we were sufficiently motivated to wake up before 4 am and make a 4-hour trip with a 14-month-old to Nee-ko. Nikko, way north of Tokyo, is famous for being the burial site of the first Tokugawa shogun and a place of great scenic beauty. We went on a navy tourism office-sponsored tour that included a cozy bus ride, which to me beat a three-hour train ride with lots of transfers even if it meant catching the bus a 04:45 (the navy does not mess around, even with “fun”). The bus stopped at a Japanese highway rest stop for breakfast, which was awesome. It had clean bathrooms, all these automated coffee machines where one could get a steaming hot cup of fresh-brewed coffee if one could figure out the buttons, and wasabi-flavored Kit Kats.

Anyway, Chip mostly slept peacefully as the bus rumbled north under the rising sun and, due to summer vacation traffic, we were in Nikko by about 9:30. Getting off the bus was like disembarking in the Pacific Northwest. The shrine is set in a forest of giant cypress trees, and stone surfaces are covered with a layer of moss and ferns. The air was clear and it was warm in the sun and cool in the shade with a nice breeze, which is definitely not how I would describe the Yokosuka environs right now.

Chip discovers moss.

The Toshogu Shrine, another World Heritage site (check!), was built in the 17th century by the grandson of the first Tokugawa shogun to honor his grandfather. The Tokogawa shogunate was the last shogun dynasty of Japan, and ruled until the 19th century. The lavishly ornate shrine took two years to build and, as my guidebook says, contains “everything a 17th-century warlord considered beautiful.” Add 1-year-olds to the list. Chip was entranced by the carvings of peacocks, lions, leopards, tigers, golden elephants, unicorn/lion/dog-hybrid things, ducks, and monkeys.

Gate of the Toshogu shrine.

This is one of the first visual representations of "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

This was actually my favorite part. Here is a brass candelabra that the Dutch gave to the shrine in the 1600s, which reminded me of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I could just picture Jacob tallying the candelabra in the account books, even though it predates him and he is, of course, fake. I don’t think it would look out-of-place in some Baroque church in Amsterdam. The preservationist in me wonders if it should be left outside in all the Chinese acid rain, but it seems to be fine.

After the shrine we got to go see lots of nearby waterfalls. They were very impressive, and it was lovely to stand in the cool mist of them. The Nikko area used to be a summer retreat for 19th-century expats. They were on to something. I’m sorry our quasi-imperial lifestyle no longer allows for summer retreats in cool places. Or servants.

Kegon Falls, 320 feet. This is apparently Japan's most famous waterfall.

Yudaki Falls. I'm not sure how many feet exactly.

Ahhh, the great outdoors. And a cigarette.

This was a beautiful meadow in the national park where, if I understood our guide correctly, a battle between the mountains took place.

Both waterfalls are located in Japanese national parks. Seeing them, and Hakone last month, makes me so grateful for American national parks. Thank you, National Park Service, for not boring elevators into pristine cliffs so that I can more easily reach the 4-tiered observation deck/souvenir shop overlooking the Yosemite Falls. Thank you, National Park Service, for not building ropeway gondolas over the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. Thank you, National Park Service, for not putting noodle shops on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

After the waterfalls we headed home. Except for a brief crying bout that earned us only one annoyed look on the bus, Chip was a champ. He slept until we stopped for dinner (ramen noodles at a highway rest stop!) and then slept again until we got home around 9:30. Totally worth the long day for the warlords and the waterfalls.

I'm Chip Watts. Nowhere is off limits.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lucy
    Aug 24, 2010 @ 14:36:36

    I heart Chip Watts at Japanese waterfalls! What a great trip, Alden – and a great post! Miss you all. xoxo


  2. Betty
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 00:14:55

    Chip is adorable! What a traveler-


  3. Betsy
    Aug 30, 2010 @ 18:27:46

    Y’all are training Chip well! He’s lucky to have such adventurous parents. Can’t wait to join in the fun in December.


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