Sunday, 5 February 2012

Nikkō - Tokugawas For Sale

The encircled triple-hollyhock emblem on this shop is the mon (crest) of the Tokugawa clan, who rose to dominate Japan as shoguns from Tokugawa Ieyasu's reunification of the country in 1600, to the overthrow of the shogunate in the 1868 Meiji Restoration. Despite the great ordeals this nation went to in order to be rid of them, there was evidence in Nikkō that their power has made a comeback: not as political authority, but as lucrative commercial brand...

Take for example the Tōshōgū Shrine, at the centre of the "Shrines and Temples of Nikkō" UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the Tokugawa family's primary shrine, and this extravagantly elaborate Yōmeimon (Yōmei Gate) was built during the site's expansion by Ieyasu's grandson, Iemitsu. Formerly, only the Tokugawa family and internal priests could pass through it, but nowadays anyone is permitted the privilege of forking out a thousand yen to ascend the path up the hill beyond, and grace their sight with the tomb where Ieyasu himself is interred. So he's not doing too bad for himself, despite the eventual disgrace of his dynastic polity and the limits of his present condition...

The compound below is itself richly ornamented, and a carving therein of three monkeys is the very origin of the associated maxim (mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru: do not see, do not hear, do not speak) which has since done global rounds. Monkeys and other animals are a prominent theme in the architecture, such as on this building, whose displays play out the story of a monkey's journey through life:

Besides the Tokugawas, Nikkō houses many more examples of historical, spiritual and commercial weight, and their eyelid-raising combinations. For example, the sacred Shinkyo Bridge, which you can pay 300 yen to walk across and back...

...but also plenty of temples, shrines, statues, monuments and other installations accessible for free. A fair number require going out of your way to find, concealed around sleepy neighbourhoods, churning gorges or forested mountain paths: a true contrast to the bustle of the central heritage area.

Some are especially curious. For hundreds of years, this stone has stood here reminding visitors that this is a holy place, and thus that they should not relieve themselves on the ground. Naturally it is located at the top of an uphill hike about an hour above the closest public lavatories, so has likely posed unenviable conundrums to a great number of unfortunate souls down the centuries.

And here we have the San-no-miya shrine, of 'safe and easy' childbirth. The offerings take the form of the "lance" from shogi, the Japanese chess game, a piece which can only move forwards in a straight line: thus representing the most straightforward possible egress of the baby without complications.

And to finish, the Hello Kitty store in the town.

This concludes my Hiroshima-Nagano-Nikkō series of reflections from New Year 2012. Should I get the chance to explore further reaches of this country as time goes on, I will be sure to post my impressions of them here as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment