Torii at Fushimi Inari-Taisha, southeast of Kyōto.

Finishing our visit to Nikkō

More Sights in Nikkō

Let's see a few more things in Nikkō There's an nice shrine and gravesite along the main road, and like anywhere in Japan, there are fascinating design details everywhere.

Tobi-ishi Hachiman-gū Shrine

Inari Ōkami is the most popular kami to be enshrined in Shintō shrines. Hachiman is the second most popular.

Inari Ōkami is the kami of foxes, of fertility, of rice, of tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, and of general prosperity and worldly success. Inari may be represented as male, or female, or androgynous, and may even be represented as a collective of three or five individual kami. Inari Ōkami is a little of everything and associated with many things and locations.

Hachiman, however, is an unusually specific kami as Shintō goes. Hachiman is the syncretic divinity of archery and war, combining elements from both Shintō and Buddhism. Actually "God of War" is an oversimplification, it's more that he's the god of warriors.

Hachiman is also the divine protector of Japan, the Imperial House, and the Japanese people. Belief in a form of Hachiman existed in prehistoric Japan. Once Buddhism arrived via Korea from China in 552 CE, the concept of Hachiman combined elements of the earlier kami worship with Buddhism. Shinbutsu-shūgō is the term for the idea that a Shintō kami could manifest as a Buddhist bodhisattva (or bosatsu in Japanese). In the 700s CE Hachiman became Hachiman Great Bodhisattva, or Hachiman Daibosatsu.

Hachiman-gū shrine at Nikkō.

Hachiman is the god of warriors, so of course the samurai worshiped him. But he also became popular with the peasants, who saw him as the god of agriculture and fishing.

There are many Buddhist memorials here.

Buddhist statues at Hachiman-gū shrine at Nikkō.

The main attraction, though, are the Gravestones of the Self-Immolators.

Hachiman-gū shrine at Nikkō.

These 24 grave stones, most of them almost three meters tall, mark the graves of five loyal retainers of Tokugawa Ieyasu plus another 19 loyal vassals of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. When Tokugawa died, they killed themselves by performing seppuku. Not by lighting themselves on fire, as I assumed from the name "Self-Immolators". Knives, not fire. Either it's a more general term than I realized, or the translation is inexact.

Hachiman-gū shrine at Nikkō.

The Nikkō Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park is just across the road. It was built in 1899 as a retreat for Prince Yoshihito, who became Emperor Taisho. Emperor Hirohito (now referred to as Shōwa) hid out at that villa at times during World War II.

Clever Design

Many design details in Japan are elegantly simple solutions, are much more esthetic that what I'm used to, or both.

Instead of plain and simple white PVC pipe, why not use pipe made to look like bamboo?

PVC pipes made to look like bamboo.

Instead of plain rectangular concrete fence elements, why not use steel-reinforced concrete elements made to look like natural elm tree segments?

Concrete fence posts made to look like elm logs.
Concrete fence posts made to look like elm logs.
Concrete fence posts made to look like elm logs. 134143
Workers wearing tabi or jika-tabi while doing reconstruction work on the Renno-ji temple.

The Butsudan, the main Buddhist temple of the Renno-ji complex, was being reconstructed while I was in Nikkō. Both Shintō and Buddhism stress the impermanence of existence, so their shrines and temples are constantly being rebuilt. They first built a large building around the temple, so all the work was done indoors.

The workers on the roof are wearing tabi or jika-tabi, highly flexible rubber-soled shoes designed like mittens with separate compartments for the big toe. They're sometimes called "ninja tabi" or "ninja shoes", as they make climbing much easier and safer.

Workers wearing tabi or jika-tabi while doing reconstruction work on the Renno-ji temple.

You can even get steel-toed jika-tabi.

Returning to Tōkyō

When it's time to return to Tōkyō, head to the station and buy your tickets. The private Tobu line is cheaper, simpler, and faster for travel between Tōkyō and Nikkō.

The self-serve ticket area looks a little overwhelming, but you can do it.

Railway map and ticket machine in the train station in Nikkō.
Railway map and ticket machine in the train station in Nikkō.
Railway map and ticket machine in the train station in Nikkō.

Here's our train!

Train in the train station in Nikkō.

Soon we're moving south toward Tōkyō.

On board the train from Nikkō. to Tōkyō.

Changes are simple, and the trains arrive and depart precisely on time.

Changing trains on the way from Nikkō. to Tōkyō.

The trains become more like subway cars as you near Tōkyō.

Changing trains on the way from Nikkō. to Tōkyō.

Choose your next stop around Nikkō:

Or, somewhere else around Japan:

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