Just got home from an epic trip to the mountain village of Nikko, a popular destination for watching the cedar trees turn from green to beautiful shades of red and gold. It also has the shrine and grave of the famous shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The leaves were absolutely stunning. Crazy reds and yellows, almost artificial in how bright they are- maybe East Coast and Midwest kids get this kind of stuff come autumn, but pretty spectacular for a San Franciscan.
Golden Tree
House in the Nikko Hills

Tokugawa’s shrine was beautiful, too- ancient and ornate. Not too many pictures since cameras are forbidden inside.
The Tokugawa Shrine

Seeing structures like these (the old and decadent sort, not Japanese ones in particular)  always brings up an odd mix of emotions. I simultaneously feel:

-Awe-inspired by the passion and artistry put into them, and the care and maintenance that has allowed them to stand however many thousands of years.

-Puzzled at the whole shrine/church/temple/worship thing in general. I pay lip service to religion when it’s required of me, but it’s never clicked on an internal level. It seems like it would need to click on an internal level for one to want to put however many man-hours of work into buildings like this.

-Saddened at the suffering that went on to build it. Even if they weren’t built by slaves (which many were), anything made at that time was at the expense of a starving, poverty-stricken populace. I guess it’s fairly guiltless to enjoy the fruits of their labors now, since it’s not like future ancient rulers will see the monuments’ popularity and decide to enslave people to build them some pyramids, but it’s still a weird feeling.

However, on this trip there was one more feeling, one entirely exclusive to Japan:
This would not work in America.

What wouldn’t work? The entire practice of visiting Nikko to see the leaves change. While I’ve been aware of this subcounciously for awhile, today drove home the fact that Japanese people deal with crowds in a way impossibly above anything I’ve seen in the states. Cars were backed up for miles, the crowds at the shrine were such that you could barely move, and it was really not that bad. No one honked, people weren’t griping, cars weren’t fighting for 100 yards of distance the way they do on the way to Tahoe after first snowfall. It was surreal.
this long line of cars / keeps coming round the bend
Throngs I
Throngs III

Here’s a slideshow of the trip; when I get a little time, I’ll probably process some more pictures and toss ‘em up.