Lab trip to Nikko National Park

Yamaguchi-Takada Laboratory members visited Nikko National Park including Ashio Copper Mine, Toshogu Srhine, Kegon Waterfall, Chuzenji Lake, British Embassy Villa, Kinugawa Hot Spring, and Houzouji Temple during 3 – 5 September, 2017.  For the background of Nikko National Park, Nikko is a town most famous for Toshogu, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Nikko had been a center 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. Nikko and the Okunikko area around Lake Chuzenji, in particular, are well known for their beautiful autumn colors (koyo).

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In front of Kegon Waterfall

We first visited Ashio Copper Mine, which spans over 300 years of service life and marks significant historical events such as Meiji restoration. The total length of mining tunnels exceeds 1200km underground, and it was once the major supplier of copper in Japan, constituting 39% of the total supply.

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Demonstration of mine worker inside Ashio Dozan

During the first night of the trip, lab members shared the history and famous spots of Nikko National Park.

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Culture Sharing of Nikko National Park

On the second day, we visited Toshogu Shrine and we were surprised by the five story pagoda. The pagoda is standing tall against the backdrop of a sacred, old growth forest. Its vibrancy and plentiful detailing was a preview of what was to come at Toshogu Shrine. The pagoda has a unique architecture where the central pillar suspends from the top to earth but floating several centimeters above the earth. This ancient architecture helps the pagoda to resist against earthquake, and Tokyo Skytree mimicked this design.

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Nikko Five Story Pagoda

The Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha) was catching everyone’s attention. The stable was adorned with allegorical carvings of monkeys representing different stages in their lives. Looking closely, there is the famous Three Wise Monkeys demonstrating the Buddhist principle of ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’.

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Three Wise Monkeys

The members the participated the Oharai, which is the ritual purifications of Shinto (ethnic religion of Japan). We prayed for physical and mental health, as well as the expulsion of evilness.

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In front of the Praying Hall

In the afternoon, we visited the Chuzenji Lake area. We first visited the fascinating Kegon Waterfall, which is the only exit for the waters of Lake Chuzenji.

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Kegon Waterfall in early September, 2017

We then moved onto British Embassy Villa near Chuzenji Lake. The wooden, two-story structure was built in 1896 by British diplomat and Japanologist Ernest Satow (1843-1929). Satow’s enthusiasm for Oku-Nikko prompted other diplomats and embassies to build villas there as well. Since many foreign delegates spent their summers in the town, the phrase, “The foreign ministry moves to Nikko in the summer,” entered widespread use. Lab members enjoyed the British high tea with delicious scones and clotted cream within the villa.

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In front of British Embassy Villa, Oku-Nikko

At night, we shared the recent news on the influence of hurricane Harvey’s attack to south coast of the United States, and the recent launch of ballistic missile from North Korea over Japan. Afterwards, we enjoyed playing he card game “Apples to Apples”, in which we exercised our strategic convincing skills. Prof.Yamaguchi was the top winner of the game this year.

During the third day, we experienced Sutra copying in Buddhist Temple Hozoji in Nikko. We were able to practice our ability to focus on conducting activities, with a mid of peace.

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Sutra copying in Hozoji, 2017

Comments from students:

“It was a trip with rich stories of the places that I do not know before, I have learnt a lot about the history of Nikko and enjoyed the beautiful nature of Nikko.” (Li, D2)

“I had never known that Nikko has been an important place for Japanese history, Especially in transitional phase from the age of provincial wars to the age of Tokugawa and the age of Tokugawa to the age of Meiji. Personally I got interested in Ernest Satow who was a ambassador in 19C. I want to know what he was thinking at his vacationhouse in Nikko.” (Hirai, D2)

“I could really spent valuable time with Yamaguchi sensei and my lab members. Before going to Nikko, I did not know that Nikko is very historic place although I knew about Toshogu. Besides, I learned that planing trips makes it more exciting.” (Uemura, M1)

“It was a wonderful time to stay in nature in Nikko. I have learn and know a lot about Japanese and Culture from Nikko, I really interested in Kegon water fall it is a beautiful place that I never meet before.” (Lim, research student)

“I had a great time on the trip to Nikko. Nikko has an amazing history and beautiful landscape. I have been able to understand more about Japan, explore Japanese culture and experience Japanese art like shakkyo. The trip to Nikko was an unforgettable trip for me.” (Fatemeh, M1)

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