What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Nikko: Day 2, Part I

 Here Comes the Rain Again...

After a good night's sleep, we were up early and looking forward to another day in Nikko.  Then we looked out the window:  Rain. Rain. Rain.  Monkeys.  Rain. Rain.  More monkeys.  More rain.  At least we got to see some monkeys, right?  We didn't have time to contemplate the meaning of another day slogging through the rain, though, because our allotted breakfast time was 7:30 to 8:30, and it was already 8:00.  Time to go!  We headed downstairs (in our yukata, of course) for something nice and warm to help us start our day.  Behold, the traditional Japanese breakfast:

A little smoked fish, rice porridge with pickle, and miso soup to start your day?  Maybe a little fresh salad, too?  Me neither.
Fact:  Everyone has their limits.  I can slog through the rain.  I can endure two lovely children who insist on fighting constantly in that "brotherly love" kind of way.  I can skirt around a language barrier for months at a time.  I can conquer foreign subway systems, and I can even stomach paying $2 for an apple now and then.  However, I cannot enjoy a traditional Japanese breakfast.  Frank can.  (But then, he will eat anything.)  I tried.  I ate the rice porridge (which was salty, not sweet), and I ate the fresh melon.  I even ate the salad, because fresh vegetables here are hard to come by.  But that's it.  No more.  I am a yogurt, toast and banana kind of girl.  I need my mint tea.  I ate it, but I didn't like it.  There, I said it, and I don't feel guilty about it.  This kind of sums it up:

Before going to Nikko, I knew we'd be having a traditional Japanese breakfast for two days in a row.  Anticipating mutiny from the kids, I packed an unopened box of frosted cornflakes.  I am proud to say that I did not eat them, though the boys had emptied the box by the time we left on Monday.

After breakfast we headed back to our rooms to prepare for our second day of Nikko in the rain.  We all got dressed, and with an unflagging sense of optimism, I dried our shoes with a hairdryer:

Word to the wise:  shoes on the tatami mats are not kosher.  Technically, we did not walk on the tatami with shoes, but I did have to place them on the mat to dry them, because that is where the electrical outlet was located.  I made sure to clean up thoroughly, though I do feel bad about my ugly American moment.

Then, out we headed to the main attraction:  the Nikko World Heritage sight.  The rain has slowed to a drizzle, and we were lucky enough to catch the hotel shuttle to the site (maybe our luck was changing?), which is made up of four enormous religious sites:  Toshogu Shrine, Rinnoji Temple-Sambutudo, Futarasan Shrine, and Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple.  I am not a bucket-list kind of person, but if I were, this would be on my list.

Though most foreigners would likely recognize Nikko as the birthplace of the "Hear no evil; speak no evil, see no evil" monkeys, here's the thirty-second "real" history of the site:  Nikko has been known as a religious area since at least the 8th century, when the Rinnoji temple complex was first built.  The Toshogu shrine was then built in the 17th century to memorialize Ieyasu Tokugawa, the Shogun who is credited with unifying Japan.  His shrine was originally built to his specifications in Nikko (on a much smaller scale) but was later "improved" to its current grand scale by his grandson, Iemitsu Togukawa. (He was the third Tokugawa Shogun.  Mitsu means third.)  Iemitsu left clear instructions in his will to build a mausoleum.  It was named Taiyuin.  That's really much more information than I meant to include.  The links to a much better job of explaining the intricacies of Nikko's religious and secular history.  But, I did want to give you a little context before showing you the photos.  

First, let's get the monkeys out of the way:

Which one are YOU?
The funny thing is that the monkeys are carved above the entrance to a stable for the two sacred horses that are kept at the Toshogu Shrine.  Unfortunately, the sacred horses were out being exercised, so no photos of them.  Sorry.  Also, many of the shrines and temples do not allow photos inside, so my photos are limited.  The pages in the Nikko Perfect Guide provide additional pictures, though.

This map is of just the Toshogu Shrine at the World Heritage Site.  Lots to see and many stairs to climb.
Next, we faced the crowds in the drizzle.  Just imagine how crowded it would have been if it weren't raining:
Here's something I bet you didn't know:  Pagodas are hollow.  They are built to house relics at the very top.  So, you can't climb up inside one.  Also, they have a pendulum that hangs inside for the length of the building, making them very sound during earthquakes.

Lots of folks are eager to see the shrines.  Walk up on the right; down on the left.  Just like escalators.
 Maybe the best souvenir of our trip was discovered by AH while visiting Rinnoji.  He noticed a man sitting behind a counter and writing calligraphy in a book.  He was fascinated, as was I.  (Of course, it doesn't take much to get me interested in a book.)  Turns out that the shrines and temples in Japan all sell a small (5 x 7) hardcover books with an embossed cloth cover and thick art paper inside that is meant for calligraphy.  Like this:

It's 1,000 yen (just over $10), and they write your name on it on the outside (ours says Forman's book).  Each shrine and temple has its own stamp and calligraphy, and for 300 yen (about $4), a special calligrapher will make an entry in your book.  Kind of like getting an autograph for each place you've visited.  I was all over that like a duck on a junebug.  Each shrine and temple visit became a quest to find the calligrapher.  It was way too much fun.  (Maybe even more fun than searching for beach glass, which will surprise some of you who know me well.)

I am especially fond of this photo.  This young woman was very sweet.  Most of the calligraphers have been men. She was our second calligrapher.
This was our third calligrapher.  He was making the entry for the Yakushi-Do "Dragon" shrine, which is part of the Toshogu complex.  This is IW's favorite entry.
While visiting the Toshogu Shrine, we happened upon a group of 6th grade school children.  We were all wandering around in the drizzle looking at the shrine.  Suddenly we were mobbed like rock stars with kids wanting to practice their English.  They had questions written out in notebooks, and the notebooks were hanging around their necks:

After interviewing us, we were asked to sign our names.  IW was surrounded by the ladies...shades of things to come?

We later learned that these same kids were staying in our ryokan.  Dontchya love the yellow hats?  All the kids were wearing them.  The boys had baseball hats and the girls had the boat hats.  Can you imagine getting 6th graders in the U.S. to wear matching yellow hats on a field trip?  Me neither.

The drizzle was stopping;  we were headed down to the next site when I noticed this (below):

I have written about Japanese women and their (socks and) shoes before, but when I saw this, I nearly fainted.  WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?  Are these her special sightseeing heels?  The ones for torrential downpours and mountain climbing on old stone steps?  She had to walk down the stairs sideways.  I am still mad at her.  She could have at least worn her sensible 3-inch wedges.

At the bottom of the stairs, we headed toward the next shrine, but not before I coerced the kids into this:

Please forgive me.  I could not resist.  Though really AH and I should have traded places, because we all know how much my mouth gets me into trouble.

Stone lanterns

The rain was starting to pick up again, but the boys still took time to play a game of ring toss that is meant to bring good luck.

I could not resist this origami.  Isn't it insanely fabulous?  I think it must have been made by magic.  No human has fine motor skills good enough to accomplish this.
The rain was starting in earnest now.  One more quick trip up to a shrine:

Taiyuin Rinnoji Temple (Iemitsu's mausoleum)
Then we collected another calligraphy signature (but they took the book and signed it away from view, so no photo, unfortunately) and headed down the hill to grab a bite of lunch (steamed stuffed pork buns) on the way to the bus stop to catch the bus to Lake Chuzenji, which was about 30 minutes up the mountain.  The very same bus line that never produced a bus the day before.  The rain, the bus...it was starting to feel like Groundhog Day, except we didn't have Bill Murray to entertain us.  Either the bus would come in 30 minutes or....  But that's the post for Day 2, Part II.

But here's a little something special for having read to the end of the post...this is what the inside of our calligraphy book looks like as of today (7/14/12)...we've got 9 entries (so far):

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