We took a trip to a place north of Tokyo called Nikko for a monkey-themed trip. The only real items on our agenda were to see the shrine with the carving of the see/hear/speak no evil monkeys that popularized the saying, and maybe to have dinner at the Kabukiya Tavern, an izakaya (small mom-and-pop bar and restaurant) with some monkeys as waiters. They don't serve food and they only work a couple hours to conform to animal rights laws, but they can bring you a hot towel and a bottled beer.
We took the shinkansen again on the way up, an hour and a half or two hour ride...hello, leg room! I could almost stretch my feet straight out in front of me without hitting the seat in front of me.
The husband got something new and untried from the snack cart. A packet of small, peach-ish colored discs, a little bigger than altoids...turned out to be fish jerky of some sort. Which was fine for the first forty five seconds of chewing, but after the second minute, it was just lasting too damn long.
When we arrived in Nikko, we discovered this creepy tourist attraction campaign. Apparently each of these giant-smiled mannequins has a name and a short bio (the train conductor give us a brochure), and when I did some Internetting, I found this website devoted to the Fuccon family and their associates. There are a lot more of them than I expected, and here's a Google translation of the character bio page. I don't read well enough to do more than sound out most of the names, so I can't fill in any gaps in the translation (and there are definitely gaps). It's all a bit bizarre.
The train station in Nikko, as photographed from the little cafe where we had breakfast (buttered toast and coffee...the toast was about two inches thick, it was awesome. I heart Japanese bread.).
Random golden Hello Kitty in front of a store:
It's weird...this is rural. I know there are a lot of buildings, but it almost feels empty compared to where we live. It's all relative. Lots of foreigners, too, it's apparently a very popular tourist destination. I guess the Fuccon family is doing its job.
Random mosaic on the corner of a building...it's lovely, but our friend pointed out that it really looks like she's eating a crumpled piece of paper.
This bridge is mentioned in guide books because back in the day, the Shogun was the only one who was allowed to use it. I don't know if everyone else had a separate bridge or if they had to fly, rope swing, or climb down to the river and up the other side in order to cross.
Crossing the street to Nikko National Park, which I believe is a World Heritage site with a zillion temples and/or shrines all in one place.
Walking around, looking for all the shrines/temples.
I'm not sure if I'd had this before (hot lemonade), but on a cold day, it's marvelous. Comes out of the vending machine all hot and ready to warm your cold fingers.
Also available from this vending machine are the astonishing and dramatic array of coffees.
W Coffee BLACK: The Hard
W Coffee BLEND: The Quality
W Coffee Cappuccino: The Italian
W Coffee Café au Lait: The Creamy
Huge Torii gate in front of a giant pagoda.
The giant pagoda, as painfully back lit by the overcast sky.
This whole site has some fantastic statues and carvings.
They've got a thing for elephants, although it's debatable as to whether or not the artists that crafted these sculptures had ever seen an actual elephant. This is one of the more believable renditions.
This carving of the See/Hear/Speak No Evil monkeys is, if the guide books are to be believed, responsible for making the saying a cliché. I also learned, from the Wikipedia article, that the whole thing is viewed differently between the East and the West. In the West, it's used to refer to someone who turns a blind eye to evil. In the East, it's associated more with being good in mind, speech, and action.
It's also part of a larger design, I think it's a folk tale about a particular monkey's life. And, somewhat inexplicably, this building is a sacred stable for a white horse from New Zealand. I'm not really clear on the details. There was also too big a crowd with too large umbrellas for me to get a picture. No worries, though, animal rights friends, the horse is only there for two hours a day and has plenty to eat and drink. The rest of its time is spent elsewhere, with no tourists to constantly stare and photograph.
More crazy elephants.
This is where we were going, but we had to wait in line.
To the right, an enormous...um...candlestick?
Aaaugh! Scary Evil Gonzo Elephant!
The side of the building is covered in relief carvings. It's just amazing, and it's a shame we couldn't walk down the entire length.
Under the roof:
This guy's got some personality:
This would have been an awesome photo if it weren't for that too-bright sky bleaching everything out. Hmph!
There has to be a story about two dogs or lions or whatever they are, because that's another common theme.
Some very intricate dragon eaves:
This place even sold alcohol! Hadn't seen that on a shrine/temple site before.
In theory, this is whiskey. But it tasted more like sake, so I'm not completely convinced.
More amazing carvings.
New site (I lost track of which place was which and if it was a shrine or temple), one with lots of god carvings. It's not unusual for two kings or spirits to be at the entrance, but it's unusual to see so many, and I think they're all different.
I'm not sure what this guy is a god of, but he's got some crazy facial hair.
Under the archway:
Oh, I know this one! This is the god of wind:
After the World Heritage sites, we decided to go for lunch. To be continued!
Link to Part 2