2012 Japan Trip Day 31 – Nikko/Tokyo

Date of Travel: 29/02/2012

We woke up to an extremely cold morning in Tokyo. I opened the curtains and saw the reason why – it was snowing heavily outside! It made me extremely nervous of our plans for the day ahead, as we were planning a daytrip to Nikko. We decided to go ahead with our plan, as it was the only chance we had of visiting Nikko on this trip.

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The train from Mitaka to Tokyo station was significantly slower than the day before due to the snow. It usually would have only taken about 40 minutes, but ended up taking well over an hour. We hopped on a shinkansen which would take us to Utsunomiya Station, where we would transfer to another train to reach Nikko station. It was snowing even heavier at Utsunomiya. I could only imagine how heave the snow would be at Nikko!

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When we arrived at Nikko, we ate our lunch which we bought earlier before walking towards Toshogu Shrine. It was summer the last time I was in Nikko, and it was extremely hot and full of tourists – not so much this time.  Back then, a bus took us directly to the shrine, where else this time we walked there ourselves from the train station. It was a very different atmosphere this time, with the heavy snow and lack of tourists bringing a sense of solemn isolation to the place.

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We walked along a path to the east of the main approach to the shrine. We passed by Rinno-ji Temple along the way, which was under renovation. We headed west along the next junction, and stumbled across a beautiful snow-covered shrine surrounded by tall trees. It definitely ranks as one of the most memorable scenes from our whole trip to date. We continued west to reach the Five Storied Pagoda of Toshogu Shrine. I was definitely not used to seeing this area so quiet. Last time I was here, there were plenty of school children and tourists wandering around the place. I would say that the quietness and the snow really helped enforced the mystical and magical atmosphere.

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The entrance to the Toshogu shrine was up ahead. The shrine was famous for its carvings. One of which is the three monkeys (hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil). The many buildings around the ground were very grand. A lot of them were covered in gold leaf and plenty of carvings and miniature statues. The most famous is perhaps the Yomeimon Gate, which contains over 500 sculptures. Comparing this to the 1/10th model we saw back in Takayama, I must say that the model did a very good job capturing so many characteristics of the building.

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Towards the back of the shrine is the Nemurineko (Sleeping Cat) craving. It is said to be very life-like in appearance, though I wouldn’t say so as I almost missed it completely! There is a long path beyond this gate which led to the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who according to Japan-Guide is the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled over Japan for 250 years until 1868. Surprisingly, the design of his tomb was very simple and basic – a sharp contrast to the other grand buildings scattered around the shrine grounds.

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After visiting the tomb, I slowly headed back to the shrine entrance. Once Brownie and J.C. finished exploring the place, we regrouped and caught a bus back to the train station as it started getting very cold. The bus was almost completely empty, demonstrating the lack of tourists present due to the heavy snow! Once reaching Nikko station, we hopped on a train back towards Tokyo.

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By the time we reached Tokyo, it was already dark. We switched trains and headed over to the Shinjuku district. We wandered around the Odakyu department store which was located directly over Shinjuku station looking for a place for dinner. A sure sign that we were in a big city is that it was difficult finding a place that had some tables available! Luckily we managed to find one in the end. After dinner, we explored the western part of Shinjuku, which is known as the Sky Scrapper district, before heading over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building.

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Both of the building’s towers have observatories on the 45th floor which is free to visit. We went to the north tower since the south tower’s observatory was closed. To my surprise, there was a security check on the ground floor when entering the building. It was the first time we were searched in such fashion outside of airports. The view from the top was great, as it really showcased just how huge Tokyo was. However, the bright lines from inside the observatory made taking photographs difficult and annoying. There was also a toy store here selling a lot of popular goods like Ghibli, Hello Kitty, and popular anime series. It was still relatively early when we finished exploring the towers, but we were quite tired from the long train trip to Nikko and back. As such, we headed back to Mitaka to my friend’s place. Our plan for the next day was to return to Kansai for another night (specifically in Nara), which was a very stupid plan on our behalf. Since it was only for a night, we planned to leave our luggage at our friend’s house and pack everything we need in our daypacks. Once we finished packing, we headed off to sleep relatively early in preparation for the last round of long distance travel of our trip.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
N/A [I can live with this!]
JR Trains covered by JR
 National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
N/A [Thanks to my friend!]

3) FOOD
Breakfast/lunch from convenience store – 2,025 yen [croquette bun, onigiri, sushi, umbrella]
Green tea at Nikko – 150 yen
Dinner at Tsunaan @ Shinjuku Odakyu Department Store – 1,418 yen [zarukatsudon set]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Toshogu Shrine entrance fee – 1,300 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir at Toshogu Shrine – 1,000 yen [book]
Ikamusume mini-figure at  Hakuhinkan @ Shinjuku Metropolitan Government Building – 682 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
6,575 yen (522,365 yen total)

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