Nikkō (日光) is famous as a World Heritage Site that contains shrines such as Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Futarasan Jinja, but my favourite part is, predictably, slightly off the beaten track. Not exactly unknown, but if you compare it to the main attractions that are mobbed by multitudinous hordes, it's positively deserted. It's Kanmangafuchi, a narrow gorge that's formed by the Daiya River. (As per usual, click on the photos to see bigger versions.)
y, or possibly arranged very carefully to look haphazard.
|Kanmangafuchi near Nikkō|
You approach Kanmangafuchi via the Stone Park, a garden with stones and rocks placed arbitraril
|Stone Park at the entrance of Kanmangafuchi|
The path that leads into Kanmangafu
chi is lined with about 70 statues of Jizō. There used to be 100, but several washed away during a flood in 1902. They're called Hyaku Jizō (one hundred Jizō) or Narabi Jizō (Jizō in a line). It's said that if you count the statues while walking in opposite directions along the path, you never get the same total, no matter how often you re-count. That's why they're also called Bake Jizō (ghost Jizō).
The head of the biggest statue, called the Oya Jizō (parent Jizō), was later found in the river after the flood, and today stands at Jōkōji, a temple near the Stone Park.
The statues – many mere piles of stones – are beautiful but spooky, especially since it's quite dark in the narrow gorge.
There's not much to do here, but that's the whole point. You just enjoy the crystal-clear river, chat with the stones and do a quiet, solitary, undemanding hike through a lush forest. If you follow the path to its very end, you can see two monuments dedicated to the haiku poet Matsuo Bashō, both near the Arasawa Elementary School.
To get there, walk across the Shinkyo Bridge that spans the Daiya River, and turn sharp left just after the bridge. Follow that road (it's Route 120) and turn left again to cross the river near the Nikkō Sogo Kaikan (Nikkō Public Meeting Hall). Before you walk across the river, pop into Jōkōji. I love this temple, because it has lots of Jizō statues. If I were you, I'd go there in October or November when it's not so hot and the trees start changing colours. The path will probably be busier then, but the autumn scenery will be gorgeous.
|When you see this frog statue, start looking for the road to Kanmangafuchi on your left.|
|The head of Oya Jizō|
|Who needs a body?|
|Who needs a head?|
|Many of the Jizō statues are little more than piles of stones.|
Special bonus photos below, because this is what every young Japanese woman who goes to Nikkō really wants to see. This tiny carving, called nemurineko or the sleeping cat, is a symbol of peace. All of Japan is in love with it: they stand in line for hours ... OK, 20 minutes ... to see it, and then there's such a crowd behind you that you barely have time to photograph it. If you walk around to the back of the cat, where there are only 98 000 visitors instead of 100 000, you can see the sparrow. My photo is a bit blurry, because I was about 1 km from the sparrow behind all 98 000 co-gawkers when I took it. I want to quote the rather quaint English description on the Nikkō Tourist Associatio
n's English website: "Also, there is a sculpture of sparrow on the backside of the Sleeping Cat. The sparrow will be eaten if the cat is awake. However, the sparrow and the cat co-exist. It means that nation wide chaos is over and peaceful society has come."
PS: That cat's faking it, if you ask me.
|The sleeping cat|