Nikko was a place for stillness and contemplation. The stone walls held so still in fact that mosses and lichens and plants crept along them and the colours of the worlds merged. Clear water bubbled into little built up pools where dishes on sticks sat waiting for the passers by to dip them in so that they could pour the cool water into a cupped hand and drink in a little of that still and quiet wonder. Stone paths lined with forests suggested a careful distinction between the human world and the wild, and yet, everywhere they seemed to grow into one another, harmonious in their coexistence.
At Lake Chuzenji monkeys played at the edges of the trees on sun-soaked rocks and in long grasses. A tiny baby clinging to an elder’s back. Swallows dived and flittered and danced in the soft misty water lifting off Kogen Falls, as if nature had been choreographed as carefully as that unity found in the Nikko World Heritage site, just for the tourists and school kids and onlookers staring and clicking photos. But of course it was only the choreography of the wild. So much more perfect and coincidental and deliberate.
The streets of Nikko were busy with traffic but void of people. I wonder where all the cars could have been racing to. I wonder about the buses trundling past to the temples and waterfalls and lakes. I am curious how many others came by chance to the buddhist temple nestled in the hillside above the main street because they too opted to travel by foot and carried inquisitive curious minds. If they had, they would, like us, have stepped into another world. One heavy with history, the air thick with the imprint of human movement, thoughts, and contemplation, but void of people, empty of tourists, free of buses. Only crows kept us company, and the kind curious spirits watching from the edges of the paths as we passed by.
At the buddhist temple we found silence and solace. A vast cemetery of shrines and memory and the simple worship of having lived, stone and green, welcome, and a silent invite just to be, to absorb, and to move on.
Less than 24 hours in Nikko and I fell in love with Japan. I long to return, to sit enraptured like the stone monuments until I too feel the gentle creep of the mosses and lichens across my limbs and heart, welcoming me home.