In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple, modelling it after Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion, his grandfather’s retirement villa at the base of Kyoto’s northern mountains, Kitayama. The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490.
As the retirement villa of an art obsessed shogun, Ginkakuji became a center of contemporary culture, known as the Higashiyama Culture in contrast to the Kitayama Culture of his grandfather’s times. Unlike the Kitayama Culture, which remained limited to the aristocratic circles of Kyoto, the Higashiyama Culture had a broad impact on the entire country. The arts developed and refined during the time include the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, noh theater, poetry, garden design and architecture.
Hakone used to be an important checkpoint to control traffic along the Tōkaidō, the highway which linked Tokyo with Kyoto during the feudal Edo Period.
It is possible to walk along part of the old Tokaido. Some of the original stone pavement remains, and leads past the Amazake Chaya, a tea house serving amazake since the 1600s.
Moto-Hakone Stone Buddhas
Close to Shōjin Pond stand a grouping of stone sculptures and associated tō, or pagodas, dating from the late Kamakura period. The area has been designated an Historic Site and includes a number of Important Cultural Properties. Kamakura-period travellers and the poet Asukai Masaari likened the area to Hell; consequently the site became popular for dedications to Jizō Bosatsu.
Lake Ashi was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption 3000 years ago. The lake’s shores are mostly undeveloped except for small towns in the east and north and a couple of lakeside resort hotels.
Hakone Shrine stands at the foot of Mount Hakone along the shores of Lake Ashi. The shrine buildings are hidden in the dense forest, butis easily recognisable by its huge torii gates, one of which stands prominently in the lake. A path leads from the torii gate in Lake Ashi up a series of steps flanked by lanterns through the forest to the main building of the shrine, which sits peacefully among the tall trees.
The area is based around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Ōwakudani is also famouse for its eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one’s life by seven years.
Heron in the Sukumo River, Hakone
Tamadare and Hienno Falls, Hakone
Nikkō is a town at the entrance to Nikko National Park, most famous for Toshogu, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Nikkō had been a centre of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries before Toshogu was built in the 1600s, and Nikko National Park continues to offer scenic, mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys and hiking trails.
The sacred bridge stands at the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temples, and technically belongs to Futarasan Shrine. The bridge is ranked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges together with Iwakuni’s Kintaikyo and Saruhashi in Yamanashi Prefecture. The current Shinkyō was constructed in 1636, but a bridge of some kind had marked the same spot for much longer, although its exact origins are unclear. Until 1973, Shinkyō was off limit to the general public. It underwent extensive renovation works in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Toshogu Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. Ieyasu is enshrined at Toshogu as the deity Tosho Daigongen, the Great Deity of the East Shining Light. Initially a relatively simple mausoleum, Toshogu was enlarged into the spectacular complex seen today by Ieyasu’s grandson Iemitsu during the first half of the 1600s.
The lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a beautiful forest. Countless wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings in a way not seen elsewhere in Japan, where simplicity has been traditionally stressed in shrine architecture. Toshogu contains both Shinto and Buddhist elements, as was common for places of worship to contain elements of both religions until the Meiji Period when Shinto was deliberately separated from Buddhism. Across the country, Buddhist elements were removed from shrines and vice versa, but at Toshogu the two religions were so intermingled that the separation was not carried out completely.
The almost 100 meter tall Kegon Waterfall is the most famous of Nikko’s many beautiful waterfalls. In fact, it is even ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful falls, along with Nachi Waterfall in Wakayama Prefecture and Fukuroda Waterfall in Ibaraki Prefecture. Kegon Waterfall is the only exit for the waters of Lake Chuzenji.
The lake is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, Nikko’s sacred volcano, whose eruption blocked the valley below, thereby creating Lake Chuzenji about 20,000 years ago. Chuzenjiko’s shores are mostly undeveloped and forested except at the lake’s eastern end where the small hot spring town of Chuzenjiko Onsen was built.
The gorge was formed by an eruption of nearby Mount Nantai and is only a few hundred meters long. Kanmangafuchi is also known for its row of about 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased. This particular group of Jizo statues is sometimes called Narabi Jizo, or Jizo in a line. The statues look out over the river and across to the Nikko Botanical Garden. They’re also called the Ghost Jizo, referencing the fact that no matter how many times you count them, you can never have the same amount.