The parsimonious speed, the number of long stops, the instability of the carriage and the countryside crossed by the JR Nikko line left little room for doubt.
Big and sophisticated Tokyo had been left behind.
two or three more stations and stopping places announced with a shrill sound and Nikko's terminal station is confirmed. Passengers flock to the end of the platform and funnel at the exit door. Shortly thereafter, they also dispute a place on the buses that will save them on the slope that leads to the temple complex.
We continue unhurried and local life arouses our curiosity. We go up, thus, to the rhythm marked by the loaded legs and we go on examining the panoply of ground floor establishments, of the restaurant that suggests the impeccable steak of Ishigaki to demure and eccentric antique dealers.
It becomes obvious that the farther we go from the station, the more difficult it is for businesses to prosper, even though Nikko is one of the favorite places among travelers, both Japanese and outsiders who venture into these sacred lands of the emperor.
Shinkyo Bridge and the Crossing into Medieval Japan and UNESCO Nikko's
Urban road 119 flows into the Daiya River. It undergoes a kind of forced retreat in time when it enters the passage over the Shinkyo Bridge, lacquered in vermilion.
The stream descends from a green and leafy slope. It flows fast and forms white waters that struggle with polished and determined rocks.
According to legend, Shodo Shonin, a Buddhist priest who established a retreat in the area in the XNUMXth century, crossed this river on two giant serpents.
During medieval times, the bridge served only members of the imperial court and generals. Nowadays, the small bridge is part of the Futarasan sanctuary and we can consider that it is for everyone, each passerby is charged an inflated tourist toll of 500 yen (almost 4 euros).
On the other side of the Daiya, the shade of the forested slope that shelters Nikko's historic stronghold stands out. We made our way up the stairs in the company of a few other elderly Japanese visitors with short legs but preserved vigor. Halfway along the trail, we came across a group of peasants out of time and context.
We walk along a landscaped street that hides temples and inns and we come across an alley of beaten earth that serves the complex of the main monuments.
We are not exactly the first to arrive. There is an orderly and calm crowd on both sides, contained by double lines of taut ropes and the presence of grim law enforcement officers.
The Grand Courtship Toshogu Nikko Festival
The wait goes on. It intensifies anxiety and gives rise to small disputes each time superb spectators in places with reduced visibility try to install themselves on the small ladders or benches brought from home. Meanwhile, the show is inaugurated and these differences are resolved.
The procession had departed from the vicinity of Shinkyo Bridge at ten o'clock in the morning sharp. Once the first curve has been completed, religious men appear at the front, carrying three shrines with the spirits of the three main shoguns of the Tokugawa era.
Thus, the original ceremony is reproduced in which, according to his will in life, the tomb of the founder of the Ieyasu Tokugawa dynasty (1543-1616) was moved from Mount Kuno to Nikko.
The entourage is followed by over a thousand other participants divided by categories. We see Shinto priests on horseback, hundreds of samurai under golden helmets and gaudy striped armor, in mixed shades of yellow and black, also blue and white.
The parade also includes real and imaginary figures of the time, members of the humblest classes and positions: simple military, archers, falconers, courtiers, standard-bearers, musicians
And… Tengu, a Shinto demigod celestial dog, depicted with its usual red face and exaggerated nose.
The procession proves to be as pompous as it is colorful. It moves in slow motion mode until it passes under the imposing granite torii (portal), next to a five-story pagoda with 35 meters.
He finally enters the Tosho Gu sanctuary-masoleum with the blessing of the two scarlet Deva kings who examine each visitor from head to toe.
The Almost Divine Status of Emperor Ieyasu Tokugawa
In his own way, Ieyasu Tokugawa has earned all this reverence. Born in 1541, he became a feared and conquering shogun.
The Portuguese arrived in Japan in 1543. They reported an archipelago in which the Emperor had an almost symbolic power, similar to that of the Pope in Europe, and in which authority over territory was disputed by several clans led by warlords.
A set of circumstances and ironies of fate caused, in 1600, the domination of Japan to be disputed in the Battle of Sekigahara, by two armies of these clans.
Ieyasu led the victor.
Although it took another three years before it consolidated its power over the rival Toytomi clan and the remaining feudal lords of Japan (the daimyo), this battle is recognized as the unofficial beginning of the last supreme and undisputed shogunate.
After that, until the Meiji restoration that, in 1868, ended the feudal period Edo (or Tokugawa), Japan lived in peace and saw its nationality strengthened.
Ieyasu, the founder of the dynasty and principally responsible for this change, has garnered numerous posthumous tributes from descendants and subjects, including the dedication of 15.000 artisans from all over Japan to work for two years on rebuilding his mausoleum.
The Recognition and Vassalage of the Nippon People
The notion that he had the ideal qualities to ascend to power became popular. He was brave but, when necessary, careful. He established calculating alliances whenever he felt he could benefit from them.
He lived in an era of brutality, violence and sudden death, but he was faithful to those who supported him and unreservedly rewarded the vassals who followed him.
Ieyasu had nineteen wives and concubines who gave him eleven sons and five daughters. It is known that he had strong feelings for his descendants, but he could also be cruel to those who betrayed or opposed him.
He ordered the execution of his first wife and eldest son, allegedly for political reasons.
The great shogun also swam frequently. It is known that, in a more advanced period of his life, he did it in the ditch in the Edo castle (now Tokyo).
The Royal Falconry that the Nikko Festival Continues to Honor
But his favorite pastime has always been falconry, which he considered perfect training for war. Ieyasu argued that “when you go to the countryside to falcon, you learn to understand the military spirit and also the hard life of the lower classes.
You exercise your muscles and train your limbs. Walk and run. You are indifferent to heat and cold and you are less likely to get sick.” This passion of hers is also often recalled in Nikko.
On one of the days when we explored the village, we went under the torii and found a pre-delimited section for any other event.
We enter the Tosho Gu sanctuary area and see a group of falconers dressed in historic elegance and lined up with their birds of prey on their left arms.
Shinto music sounds. The strange religious melody leaves little room for doubt about the nature of the ceremony. Shortly thereafter, a priest holding a stick harai gushi purifies the falconers by brandishing the long shide ribbons in front of their heads and the falcons.
Once More Falconry Stands Out
After the ritual, the falconers descend the stairs of the enclosure in a row, go to the exit and take their respective places. Already surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd, they begin their exhibitions. They tie pieces of meat to ropes and spin them continuously in the air.
They then release the birds that gain altitude, prepare for the onslaught and, in almost all cases, capture the prey pretending to be in full rotation, for their immediate reward and the masters' sense of accomplishment.
The JR Nikko train to Tokyo left in three hours. We covered the last kilometers on the posthumous domain of Tokugawa back to the city station.
Shortly after, we returned to the futuristic japan.