Elaborate Shinto Shrine
Nikko Tosho-gu is a large Shinto shrine in Tochigi Prefecture just north of Tokyo
. It is dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu Tokugawa, whose remains are entombed within. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it can be reached in about an hour and a half by train from Ueno Station and is distinctive for its liberal use of gold leaf, vibrant colors, and elaborate carvings of various mythical beasts and exotic animals, unusual among normally reserved and understated Shinto shrines. One of the attractions of Tosho-gu is the famous carving of the three monkeys representing the Sino-Japanese proverb, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” (you’ll have to ask Bruce Willis or Brad Pitt where the other 9 monkeys went). Also nearby is the iconic Shinkyo (sacred bridge) that crosses the Daiya River, which beautifully accents the stunning backdrop of snow-capped mountains in the distance. Fall and winter are especially good times to visit for the autumn foliage and the snow, respectively, as are May 17 and 18, when the annual Grand Spring Festival is held (there is also a Grand Autumn Festival held on October 17 every year).