Written by

Andrew Millar


September 30, 2009

The good thing about being a traveller in the modern age is the availability of information over the internet. Not only can you do a great deal of research which can prevent you traveling over 100 kilometres to see an attraction that is under reconstruction and won’t be uncovered for another 2 years, you can book hotels, shop around for better rates, check that they have the essentials like pools, bar fridges, clean bills of health…

And you can check the weather.

And the good thing about checking the weather is that you can keep checking various websites and simply pick the weather forcast you like for that place. If you don’t the weather on site, Google a new one… We’re heading to Nikko, in the mountains and so far I have sites telling me anything from 17 degrees and raining through to 26 degrees and clearing.

But in the end, who cares. Nikko is one of the most beautiful, enchanting, mesmerizing and overwhelming places in japan. A trip to Nikko is a powerful experience whatever the weather.

In the 800s, a formidable Buddhist priest, Shodo Shonin, crossed the Daiya River and founded the first temples in the cedar forrest of Nikko. Centuries later the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu chose it as the site for his mausoleum. He invited others to contribute and gain his favour. Since then, Nikko (which is written with characters that mean ‘sunlight’) has become a Japanese byword for ‘splendor’. Resulting in confusion when you book a hotel stay in Nikko as there are many Hotel Nikkos the length and breadth of Japan. So many claim to be that good.

But there is only one hotel in Nikko, in fact all of Japan, that deserved the right to be called the Hotel Splendor… The Kanaya… the second oldest hotel in Japan.

The Kanaya sits on a ridge high above the magnificent Shinkyo Bridge which, by the way, was closed for renovation in 2003, when we last visited Nikko… the internet was not as useful then…

But the Kanaya and the Shinkyo bridge do not complete Nikko’s splendor. The temple and Shrine complexes that extend up the valley the divides Nikko into two towns are the main attraction. And the further you travel up the valley, the more splendid… actually over the top, the temples become. Gold inlayed over bright coloured cedar… intricate carving… and massive cedar trees, Japanese Sugi Trees, some over 300 years old add to the spirituality of this mystical place.

And it rained all day. It was a fine misty rain that didn’t seem to wet you. It sort of cleansed with a fine mist. Even an abundance of school children in one area didn’t detract from the feeling of wholeness or wellness this place imparts on you.

Every gate you climb through is flanked by fierce representatives from God. One look at them and you are glad they are on your side to protect you… scowling and glaring at your enemies. And all around you are the magnificent trees… and the occasional tree is designated as sacred with strips of white paper hanging from a straw rope.

Buddhist Japanese believe their ancestors will look after them and guide them in life. And they naturally see trees as the embodiment of this philosophy.

As a tree grows, it dies and a new skin lives on. Growth rings are a history book to be read, detailing successive layers of life and death each year. To the Buddhists, the tree is the embodyment of the life cycle. New life supported by ancestors. In many ways, the move to constructing houses from plastic and steel in Japan has taken some of the soul from Japanese life.

In contrast to all this splendor and beauty was the place we enjoyed lunch. It was not grubby or unkept. It was just untidy. The dining room was lined with boxes of envelopes, toilet paper, foam cups and next year’s outdoor furniture. All of it new and unpacked. It was as though we were eating in the storeroom. It was wonderful simple food preparred by someone who looked like my mother. But the jumble we sat in seemed out of place in this serene valley. But that jumble is quite common. We’ve seen the same in shops, offices and through the windows of normal homes from the train. Clutter doesn’t seem to worry the Japanese.