With the weather blowing up a storm back in the UK last week, it wasn’t much better in Japan two weeks ago as we were hit by Typhoon Wipha. As luck would have it, we had a couple of days off work anyway, so we’d already made plans to get out of Tokyo and head up into the mountains to visit the shrines at Nikko (Tochigi-ken) again. I first went there last year when the family came to visit me, when it was a scorching hot day in the middle of June.
Flash forward 16 months, and just as luck would have it, our day off started raining. We’d been warned of the impending typhoon by our students all week, but as we’d dealt with enough of them in Hong Kong and already booked a hotel for the night, we thought it would be a shame to spend two days off at home when we could be out and about somewhere slightly more interesting.
Staying overnight meant that we didn’t have to leave at silly o’clock like last year, so we arrived at Nikko station at around lunchtime. Our hotel was a 20 minute walk over the bridge and up the hill into the woods, a nice secluded lodge with a log fire and smell of dog. We checked in and walked back down to the town, still raining, for a late lunch, before heading to the shrines for an hour before they closed and it got too dark to see anything anyway.
Shooting around quickly because of the weather and the time constraints, we saw that the Rinno-ji temple (which had been under construction last year) was still under construction [in fact I’ve just checked and the renovation is due to continue until 2021!], and so didn’t really see it properly for a second time. We headed on up the hill to Toshogu shrine to have a look around, but decided to wait til morning to have a look around as we didn’t want to pay to get in with only half an hour left before it closed. We had a nice little wander through the trees to the temple round the corner, before it finally got too dark to see anything and we headed back to the town for dinner.
That night the rain got worse and the wind picked up. Being up a hill and in the woods, the wind rattled the windows and threw the rain up against them. It was quite a rickety old place, and I’m not entirely sure the windows closed properly so at times through the night there was an eerie whistling as the wind forced its way through. The mix of wind and rain driving against the windows wasn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep and I think I only dropped off eventually as the sun was coming up!
At breakfast we saw the aftermath of the night’s events on the TV news: 17 people died in Japan, houses were destroyed, and there was a whopping great arrow showing the typhoon’s path right through our house. After breakfast, the hotel owner gave us and some other guests a lift down to the town in his car. The rain had stopped, but the wind was still ferocious. Fallen leaves and branches covered the road, and the owner even stopped to take photos of the destruction as he passed as he couldn’t believe it. As we got out near the station, we were told that the trains were cancelled due to a fallen tree on the line; that didn’t necessarily affect us yet as we were still planning on visiting the temples again in the morning, but it meant the other guests had to wait around until it was cleared away.
On the upside, although it was still very window, the temples were empty so we had the place to ourselves. It was staggering walking the same paths as the day before seeing the debris and chaos that had fallen upon them overnight.
We entered the Toshogu shrine, of the ‘see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’ monkeys fame, and also the mausoleum of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (the very same shogun who welcomed William Adams to Japan). The temples were protected from the wind by enormous trees, which must have withstood many a typhoon, so although there were many fallen leaves, luckily no trees fell near the temples.
Having scooted around the shrines, we were eager to get home to see if we still had a house to get home to. With the tree cleared, although it took a little longer than the outward journey we were still back in good time and still had a house! We braved the typhoon and lived to see another day.