Sunday 11 June Tokyo – Nikko National Park

Our tour officially ended after breakfast this morning, but we had said goodbye to most of the group last night and a few at breakfast this morning. We are staying in Tokyo for a further three days to do some sightseeing/adventuring on our own (with some suggestions from Alison).
We had organised a tour to Nikko National Park for today with Viator before we left home. We were collected from our hotel in the Waiting Lounge on the Banquet Floor at 7.50am by their local tour company, Sunrise Tours for a full day excursion to Nikko National Park. The bus took called in at 4 other hotels to pick up passengers and then took us all to the central bus station where we were given our tour identification stickers and told what boarding gate we needed to go to.
Our bus left at 9.10am and we headed north, travelling by air-conditioned coach with our English-speaking guide, Kumiko, who was absolutely delightful. Along the way we passed lots of condominiums and apartments as well as lots of baseball diamonds and soccer fields, which had adults and children playing their Sunday sport, beside the Sumida River. We soon left the City behind and were in the mountainous area with beautiful scenic countryside and the usual Rice Paddies etc. We were making good time, unlike yesterday’s highway holdup and we stopped for a comfort break and then as we entered Nikko township, suddenly the traffic stopped and it took us about 40 minutes of stop-start to finally make it to the Toshugu Shrine’s Parking area. During the hold-up, Kumiko passed out some sheets of Origami paper and taught us how to fold a Samurai Helmet.
We headed straight to the Toshogu Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site dedicated to Shinto worship, and heard about its interesting history. Toshogu Shrine is a mausoleum of a respected monarch, who ruled Japan in the 17th century. It depicts the Five elements – Earth, Wind, Water, Fire and Sky. We saw some iconic carvings depicting the ‘hear no evil’ proverb. The complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a beautiful forest. We were amazed at the lavishly decorated, gold-leaf embellishments and opulent chambers during our visit to the monument and other buildings. This was done in a way not seen elsewhere in Shrines in Japan, where simplicity was the norm in shrine architecture.
Among the many buildings at Toshogu, there was a five-storey pagoda in font of the main entrance gate; a group of storehouses; the renowned Yomeimon Gate, which had recently been renovated; the Honjido Hall which features the “Crying Dragon”, to name but a few.
There were hundreds of people there and we had to line up after taking off our shoes to get a glimpse into the Main Hall. To our surprise a priest invited our group via one of the Shrine maidens, into the Main Hall to view the Shrine with its elaborate and ornate carvings and gold trimmings. This was unusual as we have never been permitted entry into any of the Main Halls, specially not when there was a formal blessing taking place. Needless to say, photos were not permitted.
We were given some free time to wander around taking photos and wondered what it would be like without the Sunday crowds (even our guide said she had not seen this many people there, unless it was a special Shrine day.
We were then taken to a local restaurant for lunch – we both had a bowl of rice topped with several pieces of crumbed deep fried pork and egg and a lovely sauce.
After lunch, we visited Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls. We travelled up the side of the mountain on the Irohazaka Road, which is a winding road that has 48 hairpin bends and is 11.5 km long. There are two roads – one way up and one way down, both of them giving us wonderful views down to the valleys below. Our first stop was at Lake Chuzenji, which was created 20,000 years ago by the eruption of Mount Nantai (2484m) and blocked the river. The lake has a circumference of 25 km. and the water reaches a depth of 163 metres. We were able to see Mount Nantai (which is a very similar shape to Mt Fuji) from our lakeside stop, although its peak was partly hidden by cloud.
From there we drove a short distance to the Kegon Falls. Lake Chuzenji drains through the Kegon Falls, which is 97 metres high and is considered to be the park’s most beautiful waterfalls. We got some great photos from several vantage points including taking a lift down 100 metres so that we could view the falls from the base. The lift shaft had been bored through the cliff. The scenery around Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls was breathtaking.
At 4.10pm we left the Nikko National Park and headed back to Tokyo and we were making good time and were expecting to be back to Shinjuku (a suburb of Tokyo) where the tour was ending, by approximately 6.00pm. However, due to a traffic accident we found ourselves parked on the highway and then moving very slowly, which meant that we had to have a comfort stop at Hanyu after 2 hours, further delaying our arrival at Shinkjuku until 7.30pm.
Our lovely day ended with one last adventure. When we arrived at Shinjuku, we walked to the Metro Station, bought two tickets using their ticket machine, found our way to the platform and boarded our train, which pulled in as we arrived on the platform. It took 9 minutes to get to Akasa-mitsuke, our stop, and we exited the train, found our way to the correct exit of the underground station and walked back to our hotel, feeling very pleased with our first solo travel on the Tokyo Metro, arriving in our hotel room at 8.05pm after a great day in Nikko National Park. (Thanks Alison for suggesting it)

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