We made our way past the sleeping cat and began to take off our shoes to enter the Central Shrine (the Haiden Oratory). As we waited in line, I noticed the American couple just ahead of us, which I thought validated my previous judgment. In the Oratory, we were greeted and taught the significance of the building, entirely in Japanese. Although I know very few words in Japanese, I was lucky enough to have my friend, Kan, translate this for me. The ceiling was painted with over one hundred different dragons, the room to the right is only able to be accessed by the Tokugawa family and contains decorated wooden panels made from single pieces of wood which came from huge trees several thousand years ago, the room in the back is said to be a gate between the spirit and human worlds. The entire area was subtly fragrant from burning sandalwood.
From the Oratory, we headed to the Honjido where the crying dragon was displayed. There was a huge painting of a dragon covering the entire ceiling. One of the staff demonstrated the uniqueness of the building by striking two large Claves together. In one corner of the room it made an expected noise, but when they were struck underneath the mouth of the crying dragon, it made a piercing echo that rang throughout the building. Everyone let out an “ooooh!”
In a way, I was pleased to not have foraged through the tour sites and blogs before my visit. I really had a limited idea of what I would find in Nikko or at the Toshogu Shrine, mainly because I was so busy preparing for the business side of the trip. Perhaps this is where people can go wrong before embarking on a trip; the instant and overwhelming amount of information can predetermine the experience or a decision.
Before posting this, I happened to come across several blogs, mostly ranting of people who appeared unimpressed while visiting Nikko and wrote regurgitated facts from other online sources, as if they are the authority on the location. To this I am not, nor do I claim to be any type of historical expert. What I hope to share with those who read this, is a desire to understand a culture that is not your own, to share an experience with a friend or colleague from another country, or just to embrace the experience for what it is without judgment. If you are looking to see something impressive at the Toshogu shrine, you will find old buildings from 766AD most of them from 1600’s, ornate wooden carvings with intricate detail, beautiful nature, various shrines and temples, and countless tourists most of whom are Japanese.
You see, many Japanese visit this shrine either as part of a history lesson in school or to pay tribute to a visionary artist and thinker, for his time. Ieyasu Tokugawa is credited with bringing peace and unity to a very divided Japan (at the time). His teachings are engrained in the society and are part of the business sub-culture. To further ones understanding of these cultural aspects, is to be able to connect with those whom with you wish to be successful, in business or in understanding.
Why you should not take this trip? If you are looking to cross this off your Japan tour list, to say you visited another UNESCO site, or thought since it is “one of the big tourist destinations” it must be good, then don’t bother. I guess, and it is only a supposition, that the American couple fell into this category. Maybe they were able to gain more out of their trip than I imagine; I hope so. I only experienced their impatience for two minutes, but it left me with a larger culture impact than I initially thought.
Before you finally decide to take this trip, ask yourself what you hope to gain from the journey. If you travel to Japan on business, and you are fortunate to have one day free, I recommend you ask a local colleague or friend to join you. If you are unable to have a colleague join you, then obtain an English guidebook or audio tour, because you will not understand anything (beyond the ticket kiosks) that is written or spoken unless you are a fluent speaker of Japanese. If you hope to be successful with conducting business in Japan, then I would challenge you to try to gain a better understanding of their culture; a visit to Nikko Toshogu is one way to accomplish this. Just mentioning that I visited, was an expression of embracing a culture quite different from my own. I took this trip to gain a better understanding of someone else’s culture. Surprisingly, I did that but learned something of my own in the process.
Some insightful words on the Patience of Tokugawa
A special thanks to my friend Kan, for without his help I would not have been able to post these pictures. I lost my camera on the JR Line to Haneda Airport. He was able to track it down, pick it up at the Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, and mail it back to me. Awesome! Thanks again Kan!