Monday, October 27, 2008

Sugito Taikai

Carl here...

...for a huge report on the 33rd Sugito Taikai (Sugito Championships) which was held on Sunday 26th October at the Takano-dai shogakko (Takanodai Elementary School) in Sugito.

Team Gaijin! Lawrence, Carl, Amy...

There are only two karate dojo in Sugito, Shiramizu (Wadokai) and Zenshinkan (Shotokan), so a number of dojo from the surrounding towns were also invited to bulk out the entries. This was still going to be the smallest competition that I had entered so far in Japan, so I was eager to see how it would work out. Size wise it will be closer to the ‘inter club’ events that I’m planning for my dojo in England.

Set up
Lawrence, Amy and I walked to the school (only 15 minutes from our apartment) and arrived for 7:15am to help Arakawa Sensei and his team of volunteers to set up the competition. The set up was pretty straight forward, 4 taped areas in the middle of the hall, chairs for spectators around three sides and the officials table at the top of the hall opposite the entrance.

The tournament had 14 kata and 13 kumite divisions with 411 individual entrants. This number of entrants can be halved because most competitors entered both kata and kumite.

Group Warm up

Warm up... Shiramizu style!

As is customary at Japanese competitions, the dan grade cadets put everyone through a standard warm-up of drills and stretching. The Shiramizu competitors took up most of the hall and at a guess, I would say that they accounted for 80% of the entrants.

Opening Ceremony
Again, this was pretty standard. There were a few short speeches and Takuya Iwasaki gave a very good roman salute to Matsuda Sensei from the Zenshinkan dojo, on behalf of all the competitors.

I must admit that after the opening ceremony, I found somewhere quiet to go to sleep. If it wasn’t for Lawrence waking me up I would have probably missed my event! I did watch a few events, and I thought the standard was very good.

Men’s Kata
There were only five entries in this category, 3 of whom were from Shiramizu, myself, Lawrence and Tsubasa and the other two were friends of Lawrence. My only goal in kata was to perform without being nervous; my last two attempts at kata have been very shaky performances. I was first up with an offering of Chinto, with a guy from the Shotokan dojo with Kankudai. Lawrence was up next against the guy who beat me. Lawrence also performed Chinto, which I don’t think he’ll mind me saying, was not up to his usual standard. The Shotokan guy went through to the final to face the winner of the next match between Tsubasa and the other guy from the Shotokan dojo. Tsubasa performed very well, and got all 5 flags and thus went onto the finals. The final match was no contest, Tsubasa easily won with a great performance of Chatanyara Kushanku kata and got all 5 flags.

Cadet & Ladies Kata - Amy’s Kata Debut...

Misaki in action

I watched Amy’s category with interest as it was her debut performance in a kata competition. Her ladies kata division was merged with the cadet’s because Amy was the only senior entry. The cadets are all very good, in particular Misaki and Kana from Shiramizu.

Amy, mid-Chinto

Amy gave a good performance of Chinto, she didn’t get through the first round but she enjoyed the experience and will definitely be entering the next kata event.

Kana, event final, Suparinpei

I was particularly impressed with Kana’s Suparinpei in the final, the kata is overly long and she performed it exceptionally well, winning with 3 flags to 2.

After the kata events, we all stopped for a 1 hour lunch break. During the break, most of Shiramizu donned their mitts for some kumite drills. I took the opportunity to beat up some of the kids who kidnapped my iPod earlier in the day...

I didn’t watch many events, I was too conscious of my need to medal. I’d come away from the last two competitions without a prize and was eager to put an end to the dry spell. To add to the pressure, there were only 3 people in my category (including Lawrence) and I’d been given a bye to the final. Also, this was only the second time that I’d used one of the Japanese head guards, my first outing with this didn’t go particularly well!

Amy’s kumite
Amy was again the only entry for the ladies kumite so her division was combined with the cadets. I had my fingers crossed that she wouldn’t get disqualified.

Misaki, Amy, Kana

Amy’s first fight was against Misaki, who is more of a kata perfectionist than a fighter. Despite this, it was a very close fight.

Amy vs Misaki

Both fighters traded very well, and the result could have gone either way. Amy however found her stride first and settled into delivering solid gyakuzuki’s as counter punches. Amy won the fight 6-4. Her next fight would be the final which would be held a little later on in a special ‘end of day’ event.

Men’s kumite
Lawrence was matched with the guy who beat us both in the kata.

Lawrence (blue) in action...

The fight was very good; Lawrence quickly took the fight to his opponent and found his stride.

Go Lawrence...

I was trying to coach from the sidelines but I’m not sure if he heard. Despite not being a fan of kumite, Lawrence is actually a very good counterpuncher. Whenever his opponent attacked, he was ready with a solid reverse punch to get the point. He easily outmatched his opponent to win the bout on the buzzer 7-1.

The Finals
After all the preliminary rounds had finished on the four areas, they were all dismantled and a central area was created for the 13 final matches. This was a really nice touch to the tournament as it let the crowd get closer to the action. The referee’s and the fighters were also introduced over the PA before each match which added to the excitement of each bout.

The final events ran in typical order, youngest to oldest. There were some very close matches but most of the juniors stuck with hand techniques to try and get the 4 points clear.

Yusuke (Arakawa Sensei’ oldest son) fought very well in his match, he was clinical and his opponent didn’t get close. An easy 4-0 win!

Yuki and Rikuto, Kumite final

Yuki and Rikuto (male cadets) from Shiramizu was a good match, with both guys throwing some great combinations including a few good sweeps and a well placed jodan-geri. Yuki won the match by a comfortable margin.

Amy and Kana, Kumite final

Amy and Kana’s fight was close, I thought Amy would have won easily but Kana, quickly found a weakness in Amy’s attack and used it to win the match.

Next up was the men’s kyu grade final between two Shiramizu fighters. I didn’t watch much of this bout as I was getting warmed up for my match. What I did see of the fight was a brawl, with a few warnings being handed out. I always find this category to be the same - heavy contact but lots of effort.

Carl Vs Lawrence
I’d just watched Lawrence fight the best I’ve ever seen him fight, with some great counter punching. So I was a little apprehensive when we were called up. I couldn’t let him get settled in the fight otherwise it would become a very close contest. I took the fight to him, measuring distance with my lead hand trying to throw him off, and launched with a tobikomizuki to get a point. Lawrence launched in with a jab, but I was faster with a gyakuzuki to get another point. I then set him up for a jodan-uramawashigeri (hook kick to the head) which the crowd liked. Next, Lawrence moved in with a gyakuzuki-chudan which landed and should have scored because I was a little slow to react, I side stepped with a jab to the head. The referee wanted to give Lawrence the point, but was overruled by the three flag officials who, blindsided only saw my technique land. The result was 6-0.

Closing ceremony and kumite awards
Once the area was cleared away, all the competitors lined up for the kumite presentations. After the awards were given out, there were a few final speeches including a funny ‘lost-property’ announcement by Arakawa Sensei. After the final ceremony everyone helped to clear up the tournament, which took a little more than ten minutes.

The Shiramizu entrants... (picture from Arakawa Sensei' blog)

The tournament was very well organised (I’ve put a few observations at the end of this post) and even finished early! It’s a shame that my kumite event was so small because it felt like an empty victory, despite being my first Japanese medal! Amy was quite pleased with her 2nd place medal too, which was also her first Japanese medal. Everyone had a great time and I think the way Arakawa Sensei arranged the kumite finals was fantastic and really added to the atmosphere.


About the tournament

Officials and Volunteers
I think it’s a testament to the character of Arakawa Sensei and Uehara Sensei (chief referee) that they got so many officials to help at the event. Kata had 5 flag officials, then an adjudicator and maybe 5 more people running the table. Kumite had 3 flag officials, the referee, adjudicator and maybe 10 people running the table. At a rough count I would say that there were 50 volunteers/officials for 4 areas.

Run like clock-work!
As soon as a category has begun, volunteers were getting the competitors for the next category ready in a separate location, with all relevant equipment. All ‘red’ competitors were put in one line, and all ‘blue’ in another. As soon as the final match has finished on the area, the new competitors were marched into the main hall. The red competitors go to the ‘red’ side and blue to theirs. The event is ready to go by the time the referee’s have bowed out. This organisation ensured that the competition could finish early.

Tournaments in the UK often over run because of either a lack of officials and volunteers or because competitors are not where they are supposed to be, with the right equipment when called for.

Points system
Kata was run as WKF standard, red and blue flags, 5 flag officials with both aka and ao performing their kata simultaneously except in the finals.

Kumite for the juniors was to 4 points clear, cadets and seniors to 6 points, including the final. This ensured that the event ran so quickly. If I was to adopt this system I would probably have all events run to 6 points clear, because it’s too easy to get 4 points, one lucky kick and a punch and it’s all over! Also, for the finals (if time allowed) I would probably go for the WKF standard 8 points clear as it gives the fighters more chance to take risks and is therefore much more interesting to watch.

What I think is a good idea is that the number of awards is dependent upon the number of competitors in that category. So, in large categories there were 8 awards – medals and certificates for 1st, 2nd and joint 3rd and certificates for next best 4. Some of the smaller categories (like my kumite one) only had 1 medal. I think this system is rather good, not only does it cut down on the cost of a tournament, BUT and perhaps more importantly, competitors have to earn the prize rather than just being awarded it for being there!

Along with the standard event program, all competitors were given a pen printed with the tournament name free of charge. A small and inexpensive way of having the event remembered!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Arakawa Sensei, Masters Party

Carl here...

On Sunday 19th October the seniors from the Shiramizu dojo decided to have party. This wasn’t just any old party though; it was to celebrate Arakawa Sensei becoming the All-Japan Master's Champion in the kumite 40-44yrs of age division. It’s a great achievement to win this prestigious tournament, and Sensei trained hard for it, so why not have a party to celebrate winning!
Amy and I

Ueno-san (a black belt in the club) had organised the party and he also had arranged a bus to pick up most people on the way to the venue in Satte city. Amy and I, Lawrence and a fashionably ‘on-time’ Richard Sensei joined a bunch of people, including Arakawa Sensei at the Shiramizu dojo to catch the bus. The journey was pretty uneventful, but spirits were high all the same. We stopped at Sugito Takanodai station en-route to pick up some more party-goers and then we headed to the venue.

At a Japanese restaurant called Takadaiya, our group was ushered upstairs to a huge and very traditional tatami-mat room. There were four large tables set up already with the food laid out, with cushions on the floor for everyone to sit on.

Hmmm, where do we sit?
I think it’s funny that us gaijin didn’t know where we should sit, we hung around in the hall way for a few minutes and watched what everyone else did. This really didn’t help as no-one was quite sure where they should sit. Richard Sensei explained later on that no-one wanted to appear to be impolite by sitting were their rank didn’t warrant. This is typical of Japanese society; everyone has their place in their respective circles, be it for sport, social, work or family.

Anyway, Richard took up a place at Arakawa Sensei’s table and Amy, Lawrence and I claimed a full table for the rest of the international arm of the Shiramizu dojo. This only lasted a few minutes because we were quickly joined by a number of others from the dojo which we didn’t mind at all.

Get the party started...
There was a few short speeches to kick off the party, Ueno-san explained why we were all here and Arakawa Sensei offered a few words of thanks to everyone for showing up to celebrate with him.
For Carl, dodgy food! (But for everyone else, quite nice!)

Before I dared try any of the rather dodgy food, I asked Yamazaki Sensei what some of the more unusual bits were. I think (!) the stuff in the large red pot was duck with an egg on top; there was also a small selection of tempura, raw fish, cooked sea food and a selection of weird stuff in the middle. After looking at the food for a few minutes I was ready to head to McDonalds, but then everyone started to tuck in so I downed a beer and braced myself to try to sushi!

Richard here - ah the power of being responsible for this blog means I can interrupt this posting to simply say that anyone who likes Japanese food would have very much enjoyed the dinner we had. Everything was well prepared, the tempura was fresh and not oily, there were several little delicacies, plus a stew and finally udon noodles to finish off with. At dinners like this people are so busy talking and politely pouring drinks for others (it's bad form to let anyone's drink drop to half full) that people simply nibble at the food. For sure a few attendees hit a local ramen shop for a big bowl of chewy noodles on their way home,  which is really common after such a party as the purpose is to interact with others first and foremost.

Left to Right: Carl (Intern V4), Amy, Lawrence (Intern V3), Richard

Ok, so I was nearly sick. My body doesn’t like raw fish, at all! I quickly washed it down with more beer and moved onto the tempura, which thankfully tasted much better. At this point I saw my escape; one of the waitresses brought a crate of beer into the room. So I started delivering the beer to the different tables, topping up empty drinks along the way.

In what seemed like no time, the group of us had gone through a couple of crates of beer and it was time for everyone’s speech, a lot of the food laid untouched.

The speeches were kicked off by Fujimoto Sensei, a good friend of Arakawa Sensei (Fujimoto Sensei has his own Guseikai branch dojo in Tokyo). Of course, I have no idea what was said because it was all in Japanese. I’m going to guess that he said, Arakawa Sensei is a great guy and congratulations on winning the Masters! Everyone took their turn offering their congratulations to Sensei and saying what an inspiration he was. Listening to the speeches, I started to think what I could say when it was my turn, I had no idea. I was just going to wing it!

Amy presenting Arakawa Sensei with flowers

Amy on the other hand, had asked a number of her colleagues from work to translate her speech for her. I hoped I wouldn’t have to follow her speech. Amy’s speech was very well received, I think everyone like the amount of effort she had put into it. She said something like: ‘Sensei, congratulations on winning such a prestigious competition. You’re an inspiration to me and all your students, please teach me to be as great as you!’

Well, needless to say I had to follow Amy’s speech and being the ‘official’ intern, expectations were now high. I easily coasted through my last party speech in Japanese and then Amy’s great speech, I’m sorry to say that my Japanese speech was terrible.

I managed something like:
“Good evening (everyone replied good evening), ok see you...”

...I tried to escape out the door at this point which got a few laughs.
“Congratulations Arakawa Sensei. Ueno-san, thanks for the Party.”

Ok, I know it was lame. I was going for a short but sweet speech – honest!

Thank you Keiko-san

Arakawa was last to give a speech, which went on for a while. He gave us an animated blow by blow account of his win at the competition (which I’ve already written about on this blog). He also gave his long suffering wife a huge bunch of flowers as a thank you.

After the speeches ended, we all posed for a few photos and then we were kicked out. Apparently these party venues are booked for time-blocks, and the beer is all you can drink in that time.

Journey home
The bus ride back to the dojo was quite entertaining as everyone was a little bit tipsy, Fujimoto Sensei was complimenting Amy on her speech and his younger brother was singing Beatles songs and asking me if I understood what he was singing. I also ended up singing parts of my favourite Beatles song – Help!

The food was definitely not to my tastes and I’m sorry to say that the Shiramizu end of year party will also be held there. The party was still a lot of fun, everyone had the chance to chill out, drink loads and have a good chat. Like I’ve already said, it’s a great achievement to win the Masters tournament but Arakawa Sensei just takes it all in his stride and like Richard Sensei has written previously, he has a lot of goals for next year to keep him occupied.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Kindergarten Sports Festival

4 of the kids from the orange class

Carl here...

I realise that my last couple of posts have been about sightseeing, so I just wanted to reassure my readers that the internship isn't all play and no work; I do occasionally get my hands dirty, sometimes!

I was recently asked if I would like to volunteer to help at my kindergarten's sports festival (undokai). Obviously, wanting to get involved in as much as possible whilst in Japan, I jumped at the chance; I even volunteered Amy to help too! The scheduled day was Saturday 12th October, but on the morning I received a phone call from the kindergarten principle to say that the event had been postponed until the Sunday because of rain. This change of date meant that Amy couldn’t help out because she was already working in Tokyo, she would be dressing up as a witch for her kindergarten's Halloween party.

In the beginning...
Sunday morning came, and the weather couldn’t have been better, a clear blue sky. The festival was being held in the kindergarten’s field, over the road from the main kindergarten building, this is very convenient because it's only 5 minutes along the road from my apartment. As I cycled towards the kindergarten, I found myself becoming more and more wary. I was passing a lot of cars with kindergarten kids in, and there full families! I was unsure of how I was supposed to be helping out; I had been practising various racing games and loads of dancing with the kids over the past few weeks, I had all my fingers crossed that I wouldn't have to dance in front of 1000 people - 280 kids and their families, plus all the teachers and special guests, oh and did I mention that they had a professional video camera crew (to make a video for sale to the parents afterwards)?

...the risen sun!

Opening Ceremony
The event kicked off with all the students marching onto the field according to their respective class, and then the parent volunteers also marched on. I had the privilege of marching at the front of everyone, alongside the flag bearer, I had to make sure that the flag, and the little kid holding it didn't take off in the wind! The ceremony was very good, especially since some of the kids are only 3 years old; they had to stand in line for a long time, during all the speeches and the raising of the Japanese flag and national anthem.

part of the opening ceremony

The day consisted of lots of different games, races and general activities and everyone was encouraged to get involved. All the kids were kept busy, and most of the parents took part in at least one activity.

The first event
This was the first race of the day. The circuit was really good, the kids started by being a human ‘tank’, which was made out of cardboard.

They then had to run under a big net...

...and pick up some ‘washing’ and put it into a basket and run to the next stage (with the basket) and ‘hang up’ the washing on a clothes line, then they had to sprint to the end. A unique way to teach life skills!

In another game, the kids had to throw bean bags into baskets above them.
Two teams competed against each other, the team with the most bean bags was the winner.

The parent and child skipping (4 people) was fun to watch, the most successful teams were those in which the parents just carried the kids and jumped. I’m not sure if that was cheating or not!

The parents’ relay races were fun to watch. Each team had 8 people in, some of the parents got very ‘into’ it and dressed up for the occasion. This wasn’t to be a simple ‘running-only’ race however, in the spirit of trying to embarrass the parents as much as possible there was a little bit more to it. The parents ran for the first few metres whilst blowing up a balloon, when they got to the designated spot they had to sit in the balloon to burst it. Then they had to run another few hundred metres and get in some giant sacks, once they had hopped 10 metres or so, they had to sprint to the finish and pass on the baton.

Band procession
The Band procession was very good, especially when you remind yourself that some of these kids are only 3 and 4 years old. I’ve had a drum kit for years and these kids still kept a better rhythm than I can!

We had an hour break for lunch, and all us teachers were served up some very nice sushi.

Kids Relay races
This was fun to watch, some of the kids didn’t seem to realise or maybe care that it was a race, and they were quite content slowly jogging around the circuit. They all had fun all the same, and that’s really what counts!

Parents, 20-man skipping
This game was just for the fathers and was very funny to watch, imagine 20 grown men try to skip in unison!

The kids have been practising this for a few weeks now and I'm very sorry to say that I know the dance off by heart!

After a few more different dances, I was (rather reluctantly) given the left hand of one of the teachers who had dressed up as a superhero, I'm sorry that I don't have a photo because her costume was very good. I was marched onto the field and then I had to help 'show' everyone the dance. Though thankfully, I don’t have any embarrassing photos of that to put online!

The Final Event
The final event was the finals of the parents relay event. The teachers (including me!) would be racing against the winners of the earlier heats. No pressure they said, but the teachers always win! We had to run ¾ of the way around, get into a big sack and hop for about 20 metres, then sprint the rest of the way and pass the baton onto the next team member.

Closing ceremony
For the closing ceremony, all the kids and volunteers marched back onto the field and the classes that had accumulated the most points throughout the day had trophies awarded to them. After the awards ceremony and speeches, the Japanese flag was lowered and the day ended.

Despite getting some seriously pink sunburn, it was a really good day and my cheeks were aching because I had been smiling and laughing so much. I think I will be incorporating some of the games (especially the parent relay race and the ‘human-tank’) into my karate club's summer event when I return to the UK.

What's Arakawa Sensei up to...?

Richard here!

Last week I had a nice chat with Arakawa Sensei about this year and next, getting some ideas about his own personal karate plans.
In terms of instructor myth-building which has been unnecessarily common with some leading karate figures in my opinion, Arakawa Sensei is much more down to earth, training and teaching everyday, easily standing beside anyone when practicing in his dojo or at seminars, in turn making it easy for others to interact him.

We were going to chat in his car on the way to a branch dojo, so as I waited at his main dojo entrance, 30 some younger elementary school kids had just finished their late afternoon karate class and they were high-fiving me on the way out while another slightly older 30 some elementary school kids were high-fiving me on their way into the dojo for the next class with another instructor. Zig-zagging between the kids, Arakawa Sensei still in his dogi zoomed by me to run upstairs to his house on the 2nd floor, and then he re-appeared moments later in a Shiramizu track suit while holding a huge sport's bag. We jumped into his wife's mini-van and hit the road.

At 41 years old, holding a Wadokai 6th dan and 2nd kyu (national) instructor's certificate plus having won numerous competition titles, and the recent Japan Master's kumite win, not to mention the 450 students in his dojo, you would think he would slow down a little. But no, he has a whole new list of challenges for himself from now into the new year. This persistent drive probably explains why he is so successful, and why others are motivated to be around him.

The key phrase he said to me in the car was he wants to 'skill up' his Wado even more. Is that even possible, I thought.

Other than the fact he goes to Dr. Takagi Sensei's Guseikai club about once week and helps Takagi Sensei teach every Thu night at the Nippon Budo Gakuen, Arakawa Sensei never misses a Wadokai technical seminar or instructor's practice, of which there has been one the last 3 weekends in a row, from Tokyo to Sendai, another one in Gifu on Oct 25-26.

From the famous Hakoishi Sensei in Sendai he said he has begun to learn the precise way to practice shinken shihara dori, the 2 person series that teaches Wado defense against a sword. It is hardly practiced by anyone in the Wadokai anymore, but he wants to continue to learn it and eventually teach it to his own students one day. Hakoishi Sensei is one of the few senior instructors still practicing it regularly.

Also from Hakoishi Sensei he is learning the finer points of idori. The Shiramizu black belts have been practicing idori on a regular basis for some years now.

The tanto dori series is something Wadokai dojos practice here and there, and Arakawa Sensei has been doing so for some years. Here is a video of himself with Okumachi Sensei from the 2007 Wadokai Nationals doing an idori and tanto dori demonstration - see mid-way into the video.

2009 will be quite busy for him as the Shiramizu Tournament's 10th Anniversary event will be held on February 22nd. In addition Arakawa Sensei is planning to have each of the karate programs in Shiramizu do some sort of traditional or fun demonstration, so I'm thinking he might be including a shinken shihara dori demo.

In April Robbie Smith from New Zealand Wadokai is bringing a group of his students to Japan to visit Shiramizu and stay with some of the karate club families. Everyone is looking forward to this. Arakawa Sensei thinks very highly of Robbie Sensei, who's also a professional instructor, so perhaps he feels they are a kindred spirit.

In late April he will be off on his annual trip to Germany to run a series of seminars which he always looks forward to.

At the Celebration Dinner party last Sunday night for his Master's title win, he said he plans to keep competing in the Japan Master's Championships, especially next year to defend his title in the 40-44 age group.

Just when 2008 looked jam packed, 2009 is even more so! It's very motivating to be around someone so positive and driven. Actually the other instructors at Shiramizu are also like this, hence so many members perhaps. And the high school and now university aged members, who were young elementary school members some 5-10yrs back, are extremely active in karate, many winning National titles and getting into good university programs too. Arakawa Sensei unwavering consistency year after year is truly paying off for his dojo.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Carl here... (The English one!)

I believe that Lawrence has already posted on this blog about Nikko, but I thought I'd give my 'take' on it since it is a 'must-see' sight if you're staying in Tokyo for more than a few days...

To Nikko
Last Sunday, Amy and I decided to do a bit more sightseeing. It was 50 / 50 whether we would go to Yokohama or to Nikko. In the end, the ideas of mountains and temples won out against the metropolis that is Yokohama.

We had an early start, setting off at precisely 7:41am and we arrived in Nikko at 9:15am. We are quite lucky living in Sugito, because we can take the train direct to Tobu-Nikko station from Tobudobutsu-koen station (4 minutes train from Wado). If we lived in central Tokyo, you could easily put another 2 hours onto the journey!

Most people travel to Nikko for one or two reasons (or both). The huge 17th century Tosho-gu shrine to Ieyasu Tokugawa (a world heritage sight) and the Nikko national park (Nikko Kokuritsu Koen) which is on the heights above Nikko. The centre piece of the national park is Chuzenji-ko, a large lake which feeds Japan’s most famous waterfall, Kegon-no-taki which falls a dramatic 318ft.

We went with fool’s logic and bypassed the very convenient tourist information centre, which is actually in the Tobu-Nikko station. We’d even forgotten to pick up a tourist map of the area! We therefore just winged it! We strolled out of the station and up the 1 mile long main Nikko high street to the temples, taking in the sights along the way. We made a note of some of the more interesting tourist shops which weren’t open yet (it was still early!). The best shop specialised in ‘dragon art scrolls’ visit for more details. We decided to have a look on the way back to the station.

Shinkyo Bridge (Sacred Bridge)

The bridge crosses the river at a crossroads just before the temple complexes. The original bridge was built in 1636 for shoguns and imperial messengers on their visits to the shrines; this was destroyed in a flood. The current bridge dates to 1907. This was our first glimpse of the crystal clear water of the Daiya-gawa.

Without a map, we followed a small group of Japanese tourists up some stone steps which led to the Rinno-ji and Tosho-gu complex.

There were hundreds of people visiting Tosho-gu, which somewhat spoilt the experience. You had to force your way through crowds at some points, there was even a TV crew filming two well known Japanese TV presenters there!

I thought the buildings were very interesting, the level of detail is incredible. Though I do think they went overboard with the gold leaf, the effect of it is that, whilst some of the buildings, such as the five story pagoda (below) are fantastic, others simply look tacky.

We spent hours looking around the various temples, and then we headed back down the high street to pick some souvenirs. Amy bought a really cool, hand painted painting of a dragon. Then we strolled down to the bus station, and took a ride up the mountain road (with great views of the valley) to chuzenji (Lake Chuzen).

After wondering around the lake for a while, avoiding the wild monkeys, we headed to a viewing platform to see the Kegon-no-taki, the Kegon waterfall.

The waterfall was pretty cool, though again you had to fight through the crowds to get a good view.

All in all, it was another good day of sightseeing and I would recommend a visit to Nikko. Next time we come back, we'll probably come mid-week to avoid the crowds and I'll definitely be bringing my hiking boots, those mountains are just asking be climbed!