posted on Saturday, September 03, 2005

Yumoto Lake

My emergency camping spot for the night in Nikko was nothing better than the balcony on the side of the train station! A bit noisy with cars and being friday people coming and going to restaurants and bars. At five I got up and packed the tent before being arrested on the early hours of my first Japan dawn. Being close to the Nikko shrines opening at 08.00 I set out for some early exploration on foot before it got too busy with the Tokyo day crowd. This worked out really well as I was able to feel the sacredeness and grandeur of these shrines and temples without the noise and bustle that is the norm in any major sightseeing spot around the world. Unexpectedly I could see some of the highlights from outside such as the impressive Hondo of Rinnoji an imposing Shingon Buddhist temple as big as I had ever seen. The quiet morning mist was shaken by loud shouts of a group of students training in the art of Kendo. I spotted them starting their early morning training in a small temple and asking permission I was allowed to watch their exhausting session from the open doors of the dojo. About 30 young men and women clad in their beautiful kendo uniforms and wooden sticks were exchanging blows with little rest with such an energy that after an hour they were all hardly able to breathe. The noise of all the blows and their shouts filled the hall with such an energy that I almost wished I could join in!
It was soon opening time and I could visit all the sites in relative quietness. Again I was fortunate to begin my visit of Rinnoji and follow the early chanting of the priest and monks from the main hall the Sanbutsu do where I also visited a grand triptic of Kannon, Amida and Bato, eight meters high gold lacquered wooden statues set next to eachother. In another more modern section of the temple I could follow another chanting session with beating drums and the priest lighting a big fire in front of him and throwing incense that cracked and popped in the heat of the high flames. I would have been satisfied with all I had already seen yet the main highlight of Toshogu the main shinto shrine was still to be visited! Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu was laid to rest here in 1617. A steep flight of steps lead through a series of ever more decorated gates surrounded by little temples and pagodas culminating in the grand buildings at the top where the burial room is. The all place was magic and its setting among a big forest of towering cedar trees reminded me of the giant redwoods seen in California. By ten o'clock I had visited all the highlights including Futarasan Jinja and Semon ji a wonderful garden with pond and large colorful carps. With crowds surging the place lost some of its appeal and I was happy to leave it keeping with me the memories and sights of that early quiet morning stroll. The bike trip then began. I headed uphill towards lake Chuzenji and after a few hours I reached Yunoko lake by 2pm where I set up my tent and experienced for the first time the joys of a japanese onsen where I soaked my jet lag for two blissful hours.