Nikko's Sublime Splendor
08 March 2014
Few countries have I travelled to where I have found such a perfect blend of modernity and tradition as I have in Japan. The western world seems to be evident throughout its ultra-modern cities, yet they are unlike any western metropolises. Authentic tradition reigns and is so well preserved that it underlies virtually every aspect of what you experience in Japan. This mix of makes Japan unique in the Orient, and envied in the West.
Efficiency would appear to have been redefined by the Japanese and now leaves the Germans in the background with their eyes wide-open. The shinkansen bullet train speeds into the station of a shopping complex with an exactitude to the second. It is almost surreal. Every inch of space seems to be calculated to the millimetre so that nothing is wasted. And, any westerner who’s been in Japan has marvelled over the efficiency of the Toto toilet facilities!
But perhaps what most inspires me about Japan and the Japanese is their ever present sensibility to beauty and beauty’s relationship to nature. The subtle placement of a flower or twig on a table or the sacred practice of an Ikebana arrangement in a temple or shrine display the general appreciation of nature its beauty. The smokeless, subtle smell of delicate incense is just another expression of refinement.
But to get a genuine feel of unmatched natural beauty amid almost unbelievable man-made feats that when placed together create a super-natural feeling of splendor, a visit to Nikko is in call. This ancient, renowned Buddhist-Shinto religious center is just over a hundred kilometres north of Tokyo. It’s very accessible by train, as is practically all of Japan, and could be done on a day-trip if needed be. But it is well worth an overnight stay in the town to fully experience its awe-inspiring landscapes while taking a mystical hike around its World Heritage Shrines and Temples.
Nikko, whose written characters mean sunlight as well as splendor, holds true to its name. Just an early morning walk along the splendid trails that crisscross the mountainside can be soul reviving. On our walk at times there was a mysterious low lying fog that accompanied us under the giant cedars; and moments later a streak of sunlight would shine down upon us through the delicate leaves of the Japanese maples, inspiring us with a feeling of undoubted privilege for being alone and able to witness the sounds and sights of this blessed land.
“Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil”, the old-time saying that I remembered from my childhood came to life when I laid eyes upon the famous wooden carvings of the three wise monkeys within the Tosho-gu Shrine complex. Perhaps one of most outrageously gaudy constructions for many Japanese, the shrine surely merits its original purpose which was to impress rivals by the strength and wealth of the clan who had it built.
As I said, staying overnight is a sure way to be able to experience Nikko and its magic to the fullest. Fortunately, we knew ahead of time not expect to find great lodgings; and we didn’t find them either. We were sorry to have to leave Nikko but just thinking about returning to our urban paradise at the Shangri-La in Tokyo helped ease the pain.
The Shangri-La hotel has a magnificent location very near the not-to-be missed Imperial Gardens and the vibrant Ginza shopping district. There’s plenty to see and to do just outside and inside the hotel itself. Restaurants, cafes, shopping opportunities, impeccably clean streets and more are just outside the hotel doors. Inside, of course you have an excellent Japanese restaurant, an incredible art collection and a luxurious spa.
We, however, chose to spend a luxurious evening in our suite where we pampered ourselves, looked at our photos and reflected over our unforgettable visit to Nikko.