Your reward for hiking hundreds of steps at Toshogu Shrine is complex of about six gilded buildings. Every guide says to look for the “famous sleeping cat and sparrows” carved above a doorway. All you have to do is look for the crowd of tourists blocking a doorway and snapping photos and selfies.
They weren’t very thrilling. There are varying accounts of what they represent, mostly to do with the fact that the cat isn’t eating the sparrows, which means peace has arrived.
Another highly-hyped feature of the shrine was the hall of the weeping dragon. No photos were allowed. Throngs of tourists were let into the shrine like blobs of toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube. A guide talked in rapid-fire Japanese and gesticulated around the hall to each group, regardless of what language they spoke or could comprehend. I tagged on to a group of Asian Americans, probably Filipino Americans. One guy was wearing a Chicago Bears sweatshirt and kept rolling his eyes at me and snickering at the circus.
The guide pointed up at an enormous dragon painted on the ceiling. He did something I couldn’t see with some kind of musical instrument, then gestured for silence by putting a finger to his mouth. He cupped his ear to indicate we should listen. I didn’t hear anything but some people apparently did hear a crying noise.
Here, like in every shrine, there were little wooden plaques on which you could write a supplication to the gods. Or take home as a souvenir. These ones were really cool dragon drawings. They were more expensive than any I’d seen so far—around $10 a piece compared with the usual $2-5. I picked out two from the boxes packed with hundreds of them and threw my money in the offering box.
Upon exiting I discovered there was a cashier just outside, and I stopped there to ask for a bag. The cashier put the plaques into a bag, then said, “That will be twenty thousand yen.”
“I already paid for them,” I replied.
Confusion ensued as I tried to explain where I had paid for the plaques. I probably should have known that I couldn’t just throw 20,000 yen in an offering box and say I was done. But I didn’t know. There had been no signs indicating where to pay. The cashier obviously believed my story, but she had to check with her manager.
He was a tall, severe-looking man who looked down at me and shook his head slowly. I assumed he was expressing his disapproval of a stupid foreigner’s inability to understand procedures.
“So I’m good?” I asked naively.
“No, I’m sorry,” the cashier said as she withdrew the bag in her hand from my reach. “He say no.”
I was shocked. I felt like I was being accused of being a thief. No, not a thief—if I’d wanted to steal them it would have been easy to slip them inside my backpack. But I had walked up to the cashier and requested a bag.
So I was being accused of being a liar, I guess, or an idiot.
“Well I guess I just made a nice donation to the temple!” That was all I could come up with as I walked off, steaming mad.
I hope karma gets that Buddhist jerk, and good!
I trod the stone steps back down to the entrance, mad as a hornet. I really wanted those particular plaques, dammit. Then I laughed at myself. Buddhism is all about renunciation of worldly things, right? It would be in the spirit of things to let this go.
I stopped at the torii again to try to find giraffes or whatever animal had been interpreted as such, but could not. I did learn that the peony is the King of Flowers.
I was tired from physical and emotional exertion, so I walked along Nikko’s main street in search of Yuba ramen. Yuba—the local specialty tofu.
I may have already posted this photo but the ramen was so delicious and comforting it’s worth posting again.
Then I sat outside and drank a craft beer, toasting the shrine sales manager in my head.