A Sacred Bridge – Shinkyo

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As we got onto Route 119 closing in on Nikko from Utsunomiya, we passed this amazing stretch of road that had literally hundreds of sakura trees on both sides of the road. Sakura petals were floating in the breeze & raining down on us. That was such a lovely experience as I used to marvel at movie scenes where the lead characters were filmed under the Sakura canopies & bathed in Sakura petals.

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This is one fine specimen of a Weeping Sakura Tree – Shidarezakura in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture.

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Shinkyo Bridge of Futarasan Shrine is deemed to be the top 3 most beautiful in Japan. The other 2 notable bridges are Kintaikyo Bridge in Yamaguchi Prefecture & Saruhashi Bridge in Yamanashi Prefecture.

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The River Daiya flows through the smallish town of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture which was founded in the 8th century by a Buddhist monk by the name of Shodo Shonin.

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Route 120 is a national highway that connects Nikko, Tochigi & Numata in Gunma Prefecture running some 95.2km; it is part of Japan’s Romantic Road which I transversed to Oigami Onsen in Numata.

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Legend has it that Priest Shoto & his entourage from Tochigi Prefecture had gone up to Mt. Nantai to pray for national prosperity at the end of the Nara Period. In 766 they arrived at Daiya River but could not cross because of rapid waters. The priest got down on his knees to pray & a Buddhist god “Jinga-daiou” appeared & released 2 snakes, one blue & the other red which formed a rainbow bridge with sedge sprouted on their backs. This bridge was then called “Yamsugeno-jabashi” translated as ‘Snake Bridge of sedge’ which helped the priest & party cross the river.

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This vermillion lacquered  bridge lies at the entrance of Nikko’s sacred  sanctuary & was designated a national treasure in 1929  as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 together with the Shrines & Temples of Nikko.

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This magnificent drawbridge has an elegant soft arc & its bright vermillion colour contrasts well with its natural surroundings & the gorge. The earlier constructions of this bridge are not certain but it took its present form in 1636 when it was rebuilt. This year, Nikko also  celebrates the 1250th Anniversary of Shinkyo.

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The Torii gate which is a traditional Japanese gate found commonly at the entrance or within a Shinto shrine symbolically delineates the transition from the profane to the sacred.

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O-mikujis which are scrolled up or folded  are actually random fortunes written on white strips of paper at Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples in Japan. These sacred lots are received after making a small offering & picking one randomly from a box, hoping for good fortune. Here they are seen strung across the start to Shinkyo bridge & held up by 2 thin bamboo poles as a decoration.

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A little shrine is erected by the side of the cliff, dedicated to the ‘god of the Bridge’

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I jumped at the chance to walk across this sacred ancient bridge for a mere ¥300. A close-up on one of the 10 decorated rail pillars on Shinkyo bridge & one of the stone piers that form a torii support under the bridge.

 

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Adorable miniature models of the Hanayatai which is decorated with garish artificial Cherry blossoms at Futarasan Shrine in Nikko. This traditional festival dates from the 8th century & is held between 13th to 17th April. Strict ancient rites are faithfully observed during the entire event as any mistake would give rise to a lot of trouble; hence the moniker “Gota Matsuri” – Festival of Disputes!

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Yayoi Festival is staged to welcome the Spring season & on the last day, 11 extravagantly decorated floats are paraded around town. It takes some tugging, pulling & pushing to get this float seated full of children going. This float was rigged to a truck to prevent a runaway cart on this downhill slope.

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This joyful event involves both the young & old who come together dressed in colourful traditional costumes, to play their different roles. The event starts with a ceremony in the morning with some performances of festival music & then the floats are paraded throughout town before entering Hongu Shrine & finally returning to Futarasan Shrine.

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Yayoi culminates on the 17th of April when the Heads of each town pay visits to other towns to exchange greetings in the name card exchange ritual amidst performances of traditional festival music & the floats later make a tour of the shrines in conclusion.

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Was pleasantly surprised when I saw this “Hanayatai” passing my hotel in the night & I ran after them to capture this moment. This was really a bonus as I was not even aware pre-trip that there was this festival going on & to be there in the thick of all the action on parade day was just amazing!

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An after dark shot of Shinkyo bridge where the Heads & their elders representing different towns had hours before prayed for peace & prosperity for their townships. What was earlier a frantic burst of activity has now transformed back into a quiet charm. Nikko is at ease & at peace once again as darkness envelopes!

 

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