Tag Archives: Toshogu Shrine

In the Hall of the Weeping Dragon

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.

Villa-fied

In contrast to the ornate shogun tombs, the Imperial Villa in Nikko was Spartan.  I removed my shoes at the entrance, donned the slippers provided, and paid the Y510 admission fee—about $4.75.

This was the emperor’s office.  There weren’t a lot of visitors, and there wasn’t a lot of oohing and ahhing going on around me.

There was a video at the beginning.  I got the idea after five minutes but I couldn’t skip the rest of it because an elderly lady kept looking over at me with a smile as if to say, “You, foreigner!  Isn’t this impressive?”  I smiled and made sure I got well ahead of them once we started walking through.

There were some lovely embellishments, like this window built to frame a 300-year-old weeping cherry tree.  In America we would have chopped down the tree to make way for construction.

A few painted panels were all the art there was.

I went to make a pit stop and stopped short.  Bathroom slippers. Keiko had mentioned these.  There was no one around.  Should I just say “screw it,” and walk in with my regular slippers?  I decided to behave as I would if people were around, out of respect.

There was a clearly-defined path through the building marked with ropes.  Was I going to have to look at all 106 rooms, most of which were empty and contained no art?  I was relieved when after about 30 rooms I reached the exit.

The villa was used mostly by the current emperor’s grandfather, if I’ve got it right. If you have nothing better to do sometime, watch the old US military propaganda film, “Know Your Enemy: Japan.”  It’s on Netflix.  I watched it before I left and if even half of it is true, the Japanese were every bit as vicious as the Germans in WWII.

Like the Germans, they believed they were a master race, and even had a blueprint to take over the world, akin to Mein Kampf, called The Tanaka Plan.

According to this film—which is obviously biased—the Japanese believe their emperor is a God—literally.  If they died in the service to the emperor, they would go straight to heaven—thus the ferociousness of their fighting and willingness to commit suicide via kamikaze attacks.

Here’s what I don’t get.  If the emperor really was a God, why couldn’t he have stayed in Tokyo? Surely, God could survive bombing attacks, and protect his people from them, too.  Why did he come to Nikko and hide out in this villa, complete with bomb shelters in the woods?

The woods and gardens were lovely.  Here’s that 300-year-old tree, propped up with giant wooden poles.

There was a pond and a moss-covered path.

It was still only noon.  I returned to the Turtle Inn and had a cup of cheapo instant noodles they had available for guests to purchase, and Skyped with Keiko about our plans.

Then I headed back out to visit the main shrine, Toshogu.  This time I entered where the tour buses did, hoping it might be a bit less climbing.  It was not.  I don’t know what this sign said but it was cute.

The first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, united Japan and ushered in 260 years of peace.  I’m sure that peace was won at the point of a sword, but that was not mentioned.  This was one of about 25 buildings in the complex.

This detail depicts monkeys supporting one of their friends who is feeling discouraged.

I had rented an audio guide which informed me that giraffes are featured on this torii (gate) because they are considered spiritual animals. I like giraffes, and I couldn’t see any and wondered how 17th Century Japanese would know about them.

Climbing the hundreds of stairs, I passed people bent over, gasping and clutching their chests.  Go to places like this while your knees and heart are good.

The tomb at the top had so many golden gewgaws the Trumps would have loved it.  The guide said to note the “hundreds of painted tapirs which are symbolic of peace.”  There were no tapirs, but hundreds of dragons.

What had they mistakenly translated into giraffe?