So how bad can weather be on an outing in Japan? Pretty bad if you’re hoping to take some cool photographs of Shinto temples, sacred lakes, and tall waterfalls. Kongo took off for an 11-hour trek to Nikko, Japan, about 150 Km north of the capitol but three hours away on the tour coach. The weather leaving Tokyo was dreary and overcast. It got worse as we traveled into the mountains. Kongo started thinking optimistically, like maybe there would be this cool, wispy mist cascading over the lush, cedar forested mountains with rays of sunshine streaking through clouds and highlighting sacred temple sites. No. It was just wet, gray, and soggy. It was also cold. But that’s the adventure part, right? Right.
The Toshogu Shrine is one of the most visited and sacred Shinto temples in Japan, dating back to the the early 1600s. It is dedicated to the memory of Tokugawa Ieyasu (affectionately known as Yasu), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. This shrine marks the beginning of the famous Edo period of Japan nobility and a period of prosperity, unification, and peace that was set in motion by the famous Shogun, “Yasu.”
The temple complex consists of several buildings that combine Shinto and Buddhist principles and architecture set in a beautiful Japanese cedar forest. Lots of gold leaf. Lots of pagodas. And, at least on the day Kongo visited, lots of rain and fog which is good for the cedars but not so good for those who will probably not see this place again.
About 30 seconds after passing through the main entrance and getting his tour ticket punched, the skies opened up. Like it was pouring and wasn’t about to stop anytime soon. Kongo bolted the tour group and found shelter under a temple overhang where he rubbed elbows with a boisterous bunch of Russian tourists trying to edge him out of his dry spot. That didn’t work. The monkey barred his teeth and then ended up standing in the rain to take their iPhone picture huddled together in rain gear. It’s a jungle out there. Mrs Kongo, who rarely is not perfectly dressed for any occasion, scammed a pullover from her good friend Betty to stay warm. Kongo bolted her too when the rain started and didn’t see her again until he got back on the bus a couple of hours later.
Kongo passed the opportunity to hike up 200 stairs to the actual gravesite of Shogun Yasu. It really was just too wet but he did have to admit that even with the soaking rain the temple area was quite beautiful. Had it been a bit dryer the monkey would have deemed it inspiring.
Even on this dismal day there were plenty of visitors. It’s like a thing. If you’re doing the shrine it doesn’t matter. Rain or sh(r)ine.
Now here’s the interesting part. Monkeys are an integral part of this shrine. Who knew? In fact, the sacred mountain (with 48 hairpin turns on the road to the top) actually has wild monkeys roaming about. We saw some while coming down the mountain and the group went…well, bananas. One of our troop asked our guide, “What kind monkeys are these?” (Kongo rolled his eyes) The tour leader responded, after some deliberation, “Japanese monkeys.” You can’t argue with that. There are even monkey crossing signs on the road to warn motorists to be careful. This was Kongo’s kind of place!
Leaving the mountain behind, Kongo lunched at a quaint tourist cafe (the Maple Inn) on the shores of Lake Chuzenjinko. It is actually a pretty big lake in the crater of a now (hopefully) extinct volcano.
From there it was off to see the third highest waterfall in Japan, Kegon waterfall.
Notwithstanding the image above (courtesy of Japan.guide.com) Kegon no taki didn’t look like this when Kongo visited. You could hear the waterfall but it was hard to see through the fog and rain.
To get to the observation platform you take an elevator down 100 meters. The monkey can only imagine how spectacular it would be on a sunny day.
So rain comes to every travel adventure sooner or later. You have to roll with it. Today you also had to roll with another three hour dive back to Tokyo in traffic. Fortunately, the free bar in the executive lounge that the monkey could access through his upgraded room (save your Marriott points) was still open when the monkey got back to his hotel. After a few drinks, all was right with the world.
Tomorrow he boards the ship and sets sail for Hokkaido. Stay tuned.
Travel safe. Have fun.