Nikko National Park is reputed to be one of Japan’s most beautiful nature parks. It is located 125 kms north of Tokyo; about 2 1/2 hours by bus. It is a mountainous region with shrines, temples, rivers, lakes and bridges scattered throughout its area. Our day excursion took us to three of its sites that are easy to each – Toshugo Shrine, Lake Chuzenji and Kegan Falls.
The Toshogu Shrine is one of Japan’s most lavishly decorated Shinto shrines. In it, is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which has been dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site,so for the Japanese it is a very significant place. The shrine was originally built in 1617 and is deep within a forest of enormous cedar trees. Some of these are now so old that they need to be supported with wire ropes and cables. True to form for us, the central shrine building was being renovated and was under wraps. We are waiting to go somewhere one day where all of the major attractions are in full view and not under repair.
However, the other buildings in the shrine area (all with a world heritage classification) were certainly interesting and impressive structures. On the gable of the old stables, where the sacred horses were once kept, is the original carving of the three wise monkeys – see no evil her no evil, speak no evil. I had always thought that this was a Buddhist carving and located somewhere in India. I was quite surprised to see that it comes from Japan. So much for my knowledge of the world!
Our second stop was at Lake Chūzenji which we reached on a road that climbs up the spur of a steep mountain. It climbs over 1000 metres and has twenty very tight hairpin bends. I always find that forested areas outside Australia are very interesting. The trees have a different shape and colour and on the way up the mountain we could see bright green new spring leaves that contrasted nicely with the dark trunks of the trees. Azaleas grow wild here and every now and then there was a flash of red through the trees from the flowering azalea bushes.
At the top, we found the large lake which was was created 20,000 years ago when nearby Mount Nantai erupted and blocked the river. The lake has a surface area of 11.62 km² and a circumference of 25 km. It is 163 metres deep. By the time we reached it, the weather had become cloudy and foggy. There wasn’t much of a view other than the low cloud across the lake but I did my best to take some photos that had some photographic merit. Perhaps on a bight day this might have been a good place to visit but for me it was quite underwhelming.
The nearby Kegan Falls were the last stop on our excursion. They were formed by the river being blocked by lava flows. About twelve smaller waterfalls are situated behind and to the sides of Kegon Falls, leaking through the many cracks between the mountain and the lava flows. At 97 m high, it is one of Japan’s highest waterfalls. We didn’t have a lot of time to see them and the view from the lookout area was relatively uninspiring.
Overall. we had an interesting day, but the trip we did to see Mt Fuji earlier in the week was much more impressive. We returned down the mountain along a second winding road – this one having 28 hairpin bends and some impressive views through the forest. Fortunately, the traffic for the rest of the way back to Tokyo was flowing very smoothly and we were back at our hotel at 6.30 pm.