On Tuesday we took the long trip to Nikkô.
Because it is a long trip, we left early--which unfortunately put us on the JR line into Tokyo during morning rush hour. I did not enjoy that at all, and even less so when I contemplated the fact that we'd splurged on green JR passes which would have entitled us to reserved *seats* if we'd thought to get tickets before rushing for the train.
But, we got there in the end and it was worth it. (Beware, the walk from the train station up to the shrines is deeply unpromising--it may be that there's nothing else in Nikkô _but_ tourism, and not much of it at that? Anyway, like going to Ikaruga to see Hôryû-ji, you might as well take the bus, because there's nothing interesting on the walk. (Which I think I forgot to say about that trip. Oh well.))
Everyone goes to Nikkô to see the shrine to Tokugawa Ieyasu (Nikkô Tôshô-gû), begun by him--nice to be able to arrange your deification during your life, huh?--and re-built by his grandson, Iemitsu. My guidebook claims that Iesayu's old foe Toyotomi Hideyoshi is supposed to be in there somewhere, a condition of the monk who advised Ieyasu on the process of being declared an avatar of the Buddha, but since there aren't really any English labels at the site, I couldn't tell you where or how. Besides Ieyasu's shrine, there are a pre-existing one honoring the mountains, Futara-san Jinja, and one to Iemitsu himself, Taiyûin-byô. These made me feel like Goldilocks, except for the burglary: the first one was too gaudy, the second one was too simple, and the third one was *just* *right*.
Seriously, if Ieyasu's shrine contains a single undecorated square inch, it was an oversight. It's very impressive, in the overall effect and the details of the workmanship, but it also starts to numb the senses after a while.
It contains the famous three monkeys carving (hear/see/speak no evil)--the "speak" one looks a little startled, like he'd clapped his hands over his mouth at the last minute when he remembered that he wasn't supposed to speak. They are on a stable that houses a sacred horse, a gift from New Zealand--at first, until I read the sign more carefully, I thought it was a *carving* of a sacred horse, but no, the horse does duty there at the shrine four hours a day. A little schedule is posted, with entries for "exercise" and "fodder (lunch)" and so forth. I believe the horse must've been getting a lot of "fodder (lunch)" that day, because we didn't see him.
The other famous carving at this shrine is a sleeping cat, of which the carving in this icon is a not-very-close imitation (Chad gave it to me after his 1998 trip). However, you have to pay an extra 500 yen to see it, so we passed.
The Futara-san shrine would normally seem very elegant and simple, but after the first, it just looked plain. However, we did get to see a Shinto ceremony involving two women dancing slowly and gracefully with shakers and swords. I don't know what was going on, but it was interesting to watch.
Then we went to the shrine built by Iemitsu for himself, which is ornamented in the style of Ieyasu's but not nearly in the same density. Other than the fact that you have to go up a lot of steps to see it, it seemed just right.
Then we went to Kegon Falls via bus. (If we'd done more research ahead of time we could have caught the bus from where we were, instead of going back into town. Also we wouldn't have stressed out that we'd get there after 4:30, when many things seem to close, because it actually closes at 5:30. ) This is up, up, up in the mountains: the one-way road up and back down contains 48 hairpin turns. Which I enjoyed except for the way down, when we sat near the front and I could see how close the front of the bus was coming to the cliff face on some of those turns.
The falls are very pretty. The water flow is rather small, which means that you can see the ragged flow of water along both sides and watch individual sheets of water hitting the rocks at the bottom: I fancied I saw foxes' heads in the downward-pointing cascades. I haven't seen any really big waterfalls, but I suspect that this is more interesting because it *is* small and therefore not just a single wall of water.
There's an elevator that goes down through 100 meters of bedrock to bring you out, oh, roughly 2/3 of the way down. There is also another fall visible here that is less showy but also cool, because it emerges from a long tunnel of rock.
After admiring the falls and taking pictures, we walked up to the volcanic lake that feels the falls. There was an almost absurdly beautiful moment when we arrived at the lake, with shafts of light from the setting sun falling on the water between some clouds, sharp green mountains in the background, and a single rowboat in the middle of it all. If it was in a movie you'd accuse the director of trying too hard.
We strolled along the lake but did not go to a nearby shrine, because we didn't want to have to wait another hour for the next bus. Instead, we walked back along the commercial street, very quiet on an Tuesday evening in early September. (We stopped to say hello to a very nice dog tied up outside a shop--possibly the shopkeeper's--which may have been a mistake, because I've been missing Emmy much more intrusively ever since.)
When we got down the other side of the mountain, it was late enough that we decided to get dinner there before getting back on the train. There only appeared to be two things open, an Indian restaurant and a yakitori place. We've had Indian a few times when it was the best available option, but we've been trying to eat local food, so headed for the yakitori place. Which turned out to be run by an Indian immigrant (at least judging by his accent).
Though the experience was a bit weird--we wrote down our order by number to give to the cook, and ate to a Bollywood musicals best-of--it was fine, and the trip back long but uneventful.
ETA: pictures from this day at http://pics.livejournal.com/kate_nepveu/gallery/00032tx3
ETA2: Chad's full Flickr set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/11070535@N08/sets/72157602291602575/