it was the calm before the storm

On the day before the earthquake, we went with Gary and Lesa to the beautiful town of Nikko. This town is home to a famous Buddhist and Shinto shrine area that honors one of the powerful shoguns and was built in the 1600s.

Thousands of wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings. This elaborate decor is not seen elsewhere in Japan, where simplicity has been the traditional emphasis. The cat carving above is an image that is seen everywhere in Japan because of the legend that goes with it.

This is one of the most famous images in the world - and it originated here, carved above the stable door on the grounds of the shrine. Such humble beginnings for the world-used phrase, "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

The Toshogu is the mausoleum of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

It was a cold day, but the snow seemed to make everything even more beautiful. We were able to see almost everything and were actually warmed up by the walking and stair climbing.

Back at the town of Nikko, we stopped in a shop that Lesa remembered from a past trip to Nikko and bought some old prints. The shop owners were happy to tell us about the history of some of the items we were looking at. I'll never forget how cold I was - there was no heat in that shop.

Mike was constantly watching for a place to get a bowl of ramen. We lucked onto this little "mom & pop" cafe with the most delicious AND WARM noodles.

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