Holiday pricing

Yesterday we went to the good supermarket underneath Shinjuku station to do the shopping for today’s New Year’s Eve party.

1kg of beef
1kg of beef for roasting

This supermarket is always a bit pricey, but the food is the best. Still, Nana was a bit surprised at a price of ¥1,340 for 本わさび (hon-wasabi), so she said she’d pick it up today at another store.

She’s just returned from the second supermarket, nearer our place but still a bit up-market. She paid a slightly more reasonable ¥1,280 for hon-wasabi. On the other hand, she paid more for some other vegetables than she would have at the first supermarket. That’s karma for you.

I just asked Nana what a usual price would be for hon-wasabi, and she replied she only buys it for the New Year’s party. But she thinks she paid about ¥1,000 last year.

The importance of holiday greetings

We had a case of beer and three cartons of shochu delivered, and we exchanged the typical holiday greetings with the deliveryman. When we got to “Please remember us again in the new year,” Nana suddenly remembered that we’ll be moving house next month. “If it’s the same district, then we’ll still be able to deliver to you,” he assured us. Then when we clarified where we’ll be living, he begged for Nana’s help. “That building only has a single delivery elevator. Can you ask the management to allow us to use the regular residents’ elevators, as long as we’re not bringing in a cart?”

Last-minute preparations

Kazari New Year's Decoration
Kazari New Year’s Decoration — just in time

In fact, we went twice to the supermarket yesterday because Nana forgot to buy the kazari holiday decoration the first time, and yesterday was the deadline for getting it up. There are a lot of places nearer where we could have bought one, but she likes the ones there.

So, which ones do you like?
You’re just asking so that you know which ones you don’t want to get, right?

Kansai Odyssey has a very thorough explanation of New Year’s decorations and the bits that make them up.

Kadomatsu, via Kansai Odyssey

Farewell, 2017

Yesterday’s sunset with Fujisan may be the last of 2017, as it’s overcast today with occasional rain and snow flurries.

Fujisan sunset
Fujisan sunset — the last of 2017


Onsenji hot spring temple


This small offshoot of Rinnoji Temple in Nikko, literally named “Hot Spring Temple,” was founded in 788 by priest Shodo. It sits at one end of Lake Yunoko — at an altitude of 1,475m on Mt. Nantai — in the Yumoto hot spring resort, opposite the Yutaki Falls.

Nyorai-zō (Tathagata), via
Nyorai-zō (Tathagata), via

The temple was destroyed in a landslide in 1966. Fortunately, the central Buddha statue was found unharmed, and the temple was rebuilt in its current location in 1973.

Visitors may enjoy a bath in the milky, sulfur-enriched spring water between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for a charge of ¥500.

When to visit

The temple is open from mid-April to late November.


Futarasan Jinja

Sacred spring in Futarasan Jinja


Futarasan Jinja, founded in the 8th Century by the priest Shodo, sits adjacent to the more showy Nikko Toshogu. It can be reached from the beautiful Sacred Bridge, which legend has it was created from two snakes by the deity Jinja-Daiou to allow Shodo to cross the Daiya River. Futarasan is part of the Nikko Unesco World Heritage Site.

Shinkyo (Sacred Bridge) By Nick-D, via Wikimedia Commons
Shinkyo (Sacred Bridge) By Nick-D, via Wikimedia Commons

Futarasan enshrines the deities Okuninushi, Tagorihime, and Ajisukitakahikone. It also contains many National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets, including two swords.

14th Century katana
14th Century katana

Futarasan’s Shinto roots are apparent in the many shrines to nature found within its grounds, as well as ancient trees up to 1,000 years old.

Section from a 550-year-old tree
Section from a 550-year-old tree

Futarasan Shrine「二荒山神社」

Nikko Toshogu

Entrance to the Main Hall, Toshogu


Nikko Toshogu is a visually stunning shrine complex in Tochigi Prefecture, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu — who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate — and the centerpiece of the Nikko Unesco Heritage Site. Indeed, it is what people mean when they refer to “Nikko Shrine.”

Some of the many sights at Toshogu
Some of the many sights at Toshogu

Toshogu includes an array of impressive gates, decorated walls, shrines and temples, and many national treasures and important cultural artifacts. One of these treasures is Nemuri Neko, the sleeping cat. By passing underneath this 17th Century wooden statue attributed to Hidari Jingoro, visitors can begin climbing the hundreds of stone steps to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Nemuri Neko - the Sleeping Cat
Nemuri Neko – the Sleeping Cat

National Treasures

According to Wikipedia, “Five structures at Nikkō Tōshō-gū are categorized as National Treasures of Japan, and three more as Important Cultural Properties.” Among the national treasures is the elaborately decorated Gohonsha, or Main Hall. Visitors must remove their shoes to enter the central area of worship, whether to pray or enjoy the splendor. (Photography is not permitted inside the hall.)

Dragon decoration on Karamon gate
Dragons cavort on the door posts of Karamon gate

Mythical Bestiary

In addition to Nemuri Neko, Toshogu hosts a regular mythical bestiary of statues and bas-reliefs, from peacocks and phoenixes to the famous Three Wise Monkeys and elephants rampant.

Three Wise Monkeys
Mizaru, Iwazaru, Kikazaru – the Three Wise Monkeys

Roaring Dragon

Among all the impressive sights at Toshugo, one temple stands out for its sound: Yakushi-do, to the left of the Youmeimon gate, features the Roaring Dragon. Monks clap woodblocks under the enormous dragon mural on the ceiling of the temple to produce a ringing echo. The acoustics of the temple room are such that the woodblocks only echo when they are clapped directly in front of the dragon’s face, as the monks demonstrate. (Photography and recording are not permitted here.)

Roaring Dragon in Yakushi-do
Roaring Dragon in Yakushi-do (via NipponBlog)

The temple also features statues of Buddhas representing the 12 years of the Chinese calendar.

Urn containing the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu
Urn containing the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu

When to visit

Toshogu nests in a forest of impressive old Japanese cedar trees (杉). As these are evergreens, there’s no autumn color season for visiting. On the other hand, those who suffer from cedar pollen allergy may wish to take precautions and avoid the active season.

As with all popular tourist attractions in Japan, Toshogu becomes very crowded on weekends and holidays. Even on a cold, snowy December day, the bus to the shrine was jam-packed. (Of course, in better weather many visitors may elect to walk from the station.)


World Heritage Bus day pass
World Heritage Bus day pass

Direct trains run several times per day to Tobu Nikko Station from Shinjuku or Asakusa. Visitors can purchase a day pass for the World Heritage Bus at Tobu Nikko Station for ¥500. The bus leaves every 15 minutes on a loop that includes Toshogu — disembark at the Omotesando (表参道) stop (No. 83).

The bus ticket office at Tobu Nikko Station also sells entrance tickets for Toshogu: ¥1,300 for admission to all shrine attractions including the roaring dragon at Yakushi-do. Tickets are also available at the entrance to the shrine.

Nikko Toshogu「日光東照宮」

When the customer is always wrong

Scene from Monty Python's Cheese Sketch

This fonduegate discussion about a cheesemonger who refused to sell a certain aged cheese to a customer who intended to use it in fondue reminded me of a restaurant we once visited where the chef was very particular about how his customers behaved, and how they enjoyed his preparations.

We’d been warned when we booked the place that if we were too loud, to the point of spoiling the enjoyment of the dinner for other customers, we wouldn’t be invited back. Fair enough, we thought. Also, the friend who recommended the place had mentioned that the master was a bit particular in his ways.

The next warning — and it was a clear one — came when the master served our drinks. We started with a beer, as usual, and when the master set mine in front of me I moved it to the left side of my plate. When he returned with our salad, he moved my glass back to where he’d originally put it. The next time he returned to serve us and noted that I’d again moved the glass to the left, he said, “Well, I suppose if that’s where you prefer it … ”

This was followed by a five-minute lecture on the proper way to eat yakitori. I mean, it’s not rocket science, but the master did have a point about not resting the next morsel on the grease on your plate from the previous morsel. After all that, I wasn’t too surprised when he refused my request for a whiskey straight up (or at least on the rocks) despite the fact he had the whiskey on hand. (He served it as a highball.) I just could have done without the two-minute sermonette about how straight whiskey would overpower the flavor of the dishes.

In the final analysis, the food was good and the price was reasonable. Nana has a friend who is interested in going, although they haven’t made a date of it yet. I’m with my son, who reacted to this story by saying he was getting angry just listening to my description.