A few pics from Japan Day 1-
I had to include this-I just love pics of me holding up really large items (I have like 300 of me and the leaning tower of Pisa)
And here we are by the Eiffel Tower of Tokyo. And finally, I'm including this last one bc I took this photo and thought it turned out rather artistic! (does not happen often)
Japan Day 3:
Monday morning started rather bright and early (with L rummaging around, checking the clock every 10 minutes beginning at about 5 am and the sun coming up way too early once again). It looked to be a sunny, hot day. We headed out for Nikko (about 1-2 hour train ride from Tokyo) in sun dresses, excited for the day. We hopped aboard a Shinkansen, a bullet train-they travel about 200 mph- found out seats, found new unreserved seats, freaked out for a while when we realized the train split in half and went in different directions at some point, ate peanut butter sandwiches, and eventually arrived in Nikko.
Upon stepping out of the train station we noticed it was...a wee bit cold. Having come from hot hot Tokyo, we were sadly unprepared. We diddled around for the 30 minutes we had until we were to meet our guide and wondered what we should do-should we just head back to Tokyo, should we try to buy towels from the Hello Kitty Store, etc. As we sat on the bench in the train station, we saw Japanese tourist after Japanese tourist walk out of the station, then run back in and buy umbrellas from the kiosk, then zip back out. I was slightly alarmed. While we dithered over whether we should buy umbrellas (we were rather stubbornly trying to avoid this as this was the first vacation that we had lugged our own umbrellas over from home-then left unhelpfully in the hotel), I kept running out to check the sky which was darkening at an alarming rate. About 5 minutes before we were to meet the guide I noticed drops coming down so I caved. I walked over to get umbrellas and discovered ponchos! (I might add we also brought our own ponchos) We picked these up, thrilled to find something that would keep us warmish and dry, and let me just say, I have never made a better decision. (I will also say, the ponchos we bought were way better than the things I always grab at Target and take over to Europe, the ones which don't fit on my head and are an alarming shade of red or blue and feel like a garbage bag. These were super fab, went to the calves, had nice little snap buttons, were clear, and, best of all, fit quite decently (this turned out to be one of my fav souvies so if you ever need to borrow a nice disposable poncho, I have one).
We met our guide (originally there was no one free but that morning we got an email saying they had found someone for us!) who happened to be a middle aged woman with connections to the TI office (she got us loaner umbrellas, yay!), a car (she drove us to the sights, much better than the bus considering the weather!), fab English (very nice!), and a lot of knowledge (she used to be a tour guide for these sights). She was also a J.W. and therefore avoided the Temples and Shrines whenever possible (so we were doubly lucky that she took us on).
and now, without further ado, Nikko. (My camera promptly died (hardly mattered, the rain was pouring so hard) so I am pulling pics from the internet for this.)
Our first site-the Shinkyo (sacred bridge) marks the spot where a famous Buddhist priest crossed the Daiya river on the backs of two giant snakes on a pilgrimage. When our guide was telling us this L was like "snakes?!" and the guide was like "this cannot be confirmed" :) (I think L then muttered something about Moses parting the red sea, but that could have come up at a different part of the trip)
Nikko is a city in the mountains and we could not believe the trees (huge, full of monkey-which were hiding due to the rain) and the almost tropical feel (despite the torrential downpour, it was not cold). Here is a pic of the monkeys in Nikko- I hear that they show up and sit in the onsens (hot springs) with the swimmers.
We went to the Rinno-ji, established in 766 AD, by the same monk who crossed the river on serpents. The main building houses large wooden and gold lacquered statues of Amida, Senju-Kannon (Goddess with a thousand arms), and Bato-Kannon (Kannon with a horse head). (and Kannons are like deities that are one step lower than Buddhas I think)
the Chuzen-ji (Futarasan Shrine) established in 782-784 (this is a Shinto shrine established by the same Buddhist monk, those two religions seemed pretty enmeshed by the 700s),
Throughout our visits we were periodically approached by groups of elementary/junior high school students who had rehearsed a little speech in English for us-they would say "Hello, can we speak with you", then ask a few questions, take pics with us, then give us paper cranes. Very nice. We did not see many non-Asian tourists here at Nikko and lots of sneaky pics were being taken. Very surprising, we never thought we were exotic before this :)
We visited the Toshogu shrine, built in 1617 as a mausoleum of Tokugawa Leyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan for over 250 years, ending in 1868 (it is unusual for a shrine to be a mausoleum).
I could not fit enough pics to do this place justice. You can check out this site to see more! http://www.dchamberlinarchitect.com/page-travel-japan-nikko.htm
You can see the pics of the entrance Torri and the rather heavily decorated front entrance (I wish you could see this up close, the craftsmanship is incredible) but this shrine has many buildings that were all magnificent, including a stable with carvings of these famous monkeys who "see no evil, hear no evil, do no evil" as well as a white horse-we peaked in and about had a heart attack when it moved. They informed us that the horse only "works" 2 hours a day (standing in the stable) then it is lovingly cared for by experts at another location. The horse was a gift from the King of New Zealand or something. We also went into a building where priests clap sticks under a dragon painted on the ceiling and it "roars" when they are clapped under the mouth-interesting acoustics.
As mentioned above, it was a rainy day. We lucked out and had just a light drizzle for most of the first two sites but as we were leaving the Toshogu shrine it quickly began to rain in earnest (as in, after 5 minutes, I was walking up to my ankles in water). I was wearing my new long orange sun dress (I had scoffed when O suggested it might be too long and could hinder my progress on my grand tour) and I had to hike it up-put the waist band over my chest and tied the bottom up around my knees-bc I did not want to get the bottom muddy and wet (thankfully my poncho obscured the image reasonably well). As you can imagine, it is difficult to walk with a dress tied around your knees, not to mention that flip flops and water are a bad combo. So, no surprise that I fell down those stairs you see above. I think I only slid down like two stairs but from the reaction (gasps all around) you would think I fell off the Sears tower (falling is already the most embarrassing thing in the world to me and seriously, everyone in the place was staring, not sure what to do, etc.) So, despite the fact that I was pretty certain I had broken all the fingers in my left hand, quite possibly cracked by wrist, twisted my ankle, and bruised my hip bone, I had to leap up, limp on, and pretend to be just perfectly well. (it was later revealed that I was quite perfectly well, aside from a miniscule scratch and a penny sized bruise). Mortifying all the same.
-no shrine is complete without a Pagoda.
-another side note, when ever you go into the buildings you take your shoes off and shuffle around on wooden porches in little slippers or just your socks. Despite that the temples are often open-no walls, the roof keeps the rain off the porches so they are dry, very impressive.
Despite the typhoon we carried on to the shrine mausoleum of the Tokugawa's grandson, Taiyuinbyo (entrance gate seen above) we climbed (for an eternity it seemed) stone steps up to the incredible wooden shrine up on the mountain, amid these huge trees. I cannot describe the place so I won't bother, suffice it to say this was one of the most spectacular places I have ever beheld.
These shrines and Temples are all right next to each other and form the Unesco World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples of Nikko.
Pictures just don't do Nikko justice. You cannot imagine how fabulous this place is, it is def one of the most amazing places I have ever been. No one should die before they see Nikko!
Upon returning home we dried ourselves out and set out for Ginza, the fifth avenue of Tokyo (and it was quite the fifth avenue I must say). Think every top designer in the world and you will find their store in Ginza. We drifted about, saw a pair of mangoes for $450 (I'm serious, two mangoes!) (and btw, they have quite a thing for amazingly expensive fruit over there, several times we saw fruits for hundreds of dollars, a handful of grapes for $100, a watermelon for $90, a melon for $200.
yes, that center melon does cost 24000 yen, and yes, that is $302.00.
I once saw a plum for $8 and my initial reaction was "BUY IT NOW AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" bc it was only $8, and I don't even like plums. I hear they like to give the fruit as gifts, so, if you ever get a fruit basket from Japan, I hope you enjoy it, bc it probably cost a king's ransom)
We finished up our trip walking through a mall (after which we were so freaked out we zipped right home). It was just bizarre. We were pretty much the only people in there and all of the workers (and they have tons of them) were standing at attention right by their counters would say something (in Japanese so your guess is as good as mine) and then bow to us as we walked past. And they were seriously stationed like every 2 feet. We did not know what to do so we bowed back. So there we were, bobbing up and down like puppets, walking through a department store. Obviously, if our walking past had that effect, there was no way we were about to stop and look at something! L said she finally knew what the Queen of England feels like when she goes to the mall. I for one, thought I'd stepped into Coraline's move (which was a strangely disturbing show) and was surrounded by animatrons or something. To top it all off, the weirdest elevatorish music was playing. All in all, it was quite odd.
We headed home, stopped off for hamburgers at McDonald's (second time in three days), and finished the day by frantically booking a hotel for the next night and getting ready to head off to Kyoto!!!