Thursday, May 21, 2009

Toshogu Shrine

How about doing some touristy things today?

When I was eleven, my family visited Japan for two weeks and the travel agency planned our trip in detail so that it included all the important Japanese things that should be seen if one is visiting Japan. I clearly remember coming to Nikko and visiting the Toshogu Shrine.

Well, 43 years have passed and I've been in Japan more than 30 years and have never made it back to the Shrine until this week. And I live only 30 minutes away!!! It is one of those places that is so close that you figure you can go there anytime so you don't bother to make a special trip.

Any of you who have been to Japan, I'm sure you've visited this shrine even if you don't remember its name. It is famous for... three monkeys, a howling dragon and a sleeping cat!

My friend invited me to join her on a visit to Nikko (she was taking a foreign student to show "real" Japan) especially because there was a famous "1000 Persons Procession" being enacted that day. I jumped at the chance and the three of us spent the morning in Nikko.

We had a little time before the procession started and so we decided to go into the shrine which has been designated as a National Treasure and World Heritage site. It is set at the foot of the shadowy Nikko mountains and is surrounded by towering ceder trees. A wonderfully peaceful place IF there weren't so many people but I guess I was one of them so I shouldn't complain.

In the grounds were beautifully hand carved buildings and pagodas. This one has the 12 Chinese zodiac figures carved along the lintels. Have you ever heard of the year of the dog, boar, sheep, rabbit, snake, dragon, cow, rat, chicken, tiger, monkey and horse?

Well, anyway. Farther into the grounds were some lovely lanterns that I think were sent to the lord of the realm as gifts from all the other samurai lords so long ago.

In the main courtyard was the carving of the very famous Hear-no-evil, Speak-no-evil, See-no-evil monkeys. Supposedly this is really a Chinese maxim that came to Japan in the 9th century but Nikko has lots of monkeys so everyone thinks of this as a phrase that came from Nikko.

Farther into the shrine was a place for taking group pictures and since every child in Japan (slightly exaggerated but not by much!) has to visit Nikko on a school trip, this is one of the first stops after the kids get off their bus. You can see one group of kids getting their picture taken while a second group "hides" behind them getting ready to jump on the platform. The kids are also instructed to turn over the rocks in the courtyard to keep them from getting mossy. Think of the number of kids that come through here every year and at any slight delay in the tour squat down to turn over rocks! Not a piece of moss to be seen on a single rock!

There were good luck charms being sold at every nook and at the top of every stairway! Charms for successful studies, charms for easy childbirth, charms for finding a wonderful marriage partner and charms for traffic safety. Some were just pretty little bells to warn away evil, some were cute little stuffed monkeys and cats and dragons.

Gosh, are you getting tired of this tour? Okay. Only two more pictures and I'll leave the procession for tomorrow.

I took this picture off the Internet because we weren't allowed to take photos inside the building. This is actually in the temple that sits on the shrine grounds. Don't you think that is interesting? The religions blend and mix and exist side by side in Japan. Anyway, this is called the Howling Dragon and he is painted on the ceiling of this temple. It was demonstrated for us how when two clappers are hit within the room that very little sound reverberates but if the clappers are hit directly under the dragon's head, the the sound rings and echos reverberate around the room. Very interesting!

And finally, what I was most interested to see was the carving of Sleeping Cat probably because I distinctly remember him from my childhood! See, even back then I had a thing for cats. He is situated above a door and though I took lots of pictures of him and blocked the doorway, I never did get a focused picture and had to ask my friend to send me one of hers. On the back of the carving (on the other side of the door) are two sparrows playing and this is to show that peace and happiness exists whenever a sleeping cat is nearby!

I'd agree to that!


Laurel said...

I love following your blog. Every morning I say to myself, "wonder what Tanya's doing in Japan." I enjoy both your quilting blogs as well as the cultural ones. Take care and keep on blogging!

Marj said...

You are a very good tour director. I almost feel like I am with you there. Love seeing the sights of Japan. Keep taking us to all the places you go, I enjoy the pictures and commentary.

Allie said...

I have to agree about the sleeping cat as well! I love your posts about life around Japan. I know I'll never get there in person, so I travel to Japan through you. What a lovely, lovely place!

Shasta said...

Thank you for the free tour! It is lovely seeing Japan with you. It is never tiring.

CT said...

Soo...if I ever am in Japan, will you take me to the Shrine in Nikko? I loved all the photos, and I really, really liked the dragon in the ceiling!