Inside the Front Gate, after climbing a second flight of stairs, Robyn and I found an audience of moss-covered life-size stone lantern chess pieces on a gravel game board under a canopy of ancient cedars and swarms of pink cherry blossoms. Intricate shrines, royal rust and gold and grey, levitated above and around us like high ghost granaries. The Kouyamaki, a 360 year-old Black Pine planted by Iemetsu himself, ten feet in diameter, towered over a most moral motif, across the path. On the crossbar of the Shinkyu Sacred Stable, where the two Shinto-sanctified white horses from New Zealand are kept, were the guardians that were thought to protect them from disease. Ieyasu rode a white stallion. On eight picture book panels was an artistic phenomenon carved by Hidari Jingorō. Another of Jingorō’s sculptures was, according to legend, an exceptionally beautiful woman, who began to move with him, as he drank in the exquisiteness of his creation. But it had no emotion and could only imitate his movements, until he faced a mirror in front of it, the woman’s spirit entered the figure, and life arrived. But Jingorō’s carving above the stable door was no playboy Pinocchio, but a depiction of man’s life cycle, incorporating Confucius’s Code of Conduct. The Sansaru is the famous sculpture of the Three Monkeys, fixed in the poses of ‘hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.’ Blue clouds represent ambition, and life is tough like a tidal wave.
‘Year after year
on the monkey's face
a monkey's face.’
Kitty-corner, across the compound, were the three sacred warehouses of the L-shaped Sanjinko, storing the Yabusame mounted archery equipment and 1200 samurai costumes for ceremonial processions. On the gable of the upper warehouse were paintings of two elephants, remarkable for their imaginative ears and tails, because the artist, Kanō Tan'yū, had never seen what a real one looked like. Nearby was the Saijo Sacred Restroom of the Gods, containing nine lacquered toilets in a line.
We purified our hands and mouths in the stream from the mouth of the bronze winged flying dragon, on the edge of the granite basin under the roof of the Omizuya Water House. The forty-foot high Showrow Bell and Korou Drum towers were gorgeous candy castles, sculpted into cranes and giraffes, and turtles and dragons, and clouds and waves. Up, beside the lotus flowers embossed on the pillars, and under the twenty-foot high Karadou-torii bronze gate, Robyn and I climbed the stairs to the south-facing central showpiece of Nikkō.