On Tuesday we were ready for a bigger adventure...a trip to the World Heritage Site of Nikko. Walt and I had trudged through Nikko in the rain on a tour in 2005, and we were looking forward to seeing how it would look on a sunny autumn day.

Toast, coffee, conversation with our buddy from Hawaii, and off we went. Unfortunately, 2 train lines travel between Tokyo and Nikko, and we headed for wrong one - the one that wouldn't accept our Japan Rail passes. After much confusion, we consulted with the JR Travel Office and set out once again. It's a 2 hour trip that includes a change of trains so we didn't arrive until early afternoon. The trains were packed with senior citizens and school students off for a day of shrine hopping. I wasn't sure what to do about the young man next to me who kept falling asleep on my shoulder so I just shrugged him off periodically.

At the station, there was more confusion. We tried to identify the bus that would take us to the shrine complex, but there were few signs we could read. Finally, we decided to just start walking in the direction most of the other people on the train had gone. After a 45 minute walk uphill through the town, we arrived at the sacred bridge which crosses Daiya River and leads to the Futarasan Shrine.

These pictures were taken along the avenue of cedar trees which lead to the temple complex. My guide book says that the 5 story pagoda, which was originally built in 1650 and reconstructed in 1818, has no foundation. A pendulum in the center restores the equilibrium of the structure when there is an earthquake.

Walking onward and upward through an ornate gate, we entered Tosho-gu shrine. A series of carvings just below the roof of the stable depicts the lifecycle of the monkey. This is where you can find the famous 3 wise monkeys - Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil. Another building boasts relief carvings of elephants done by an artist who never saw an actual elephant.

One shrine merges into another, separated by ornate tori gates and steep steps. The steps can be quite alarming. There are few guard rails, but elderly people with canes approach them with little trepidation.

The crowds can also be overwhelming, and it's always a pleasant surprise when you find yourself in a place with few other people or even, on rare occasions, alone. On this day we discovered, that the temple complex includes several less visited shrines that were not included in our 2005 tour.

When darkness began falling about 4:30 and the temperature began to drop, we started the long walk back to the train station. We had prepared for this trip for over a year by walking early each morning and taking longer hikes on weekends, but there was a lot of moaning and whimpering as we hobbled along the now-deserted streets.

We stopped in a small ramen shop for dinner. The walls were totally covered with pictures, notes, and cards from other travelers raving about the food. A pleasant, grandmotherly woman served us while her husband prepared the food in the tiny kitchen area. I looked at my pedometer to see how many steps I had logged. Much to my amazement, the silly thing said 7! Lisa's pedometer had also recorded a totally inaccurate count so we'll never know for sure how far we walked that day.

One poster that we saw frequently at train stations had a beautiful picture of brightly colored autumn trees, and the caption read "Nikko is Nippon". It's certainly a very special part of it.

Here are some more pictures of the autumn folliage: