Tochigi #4 – Ashigaka Gakkou (史跡足利学校)

I’ve been focusing a lot on Tochigi lately, and here is yet another Tochigi postcard, this one featuring the famous Ashikaga School in Ashikaga, Tochigi.

Ashikaga Gakkou is Japan’s oldest university, most likely founded in the ninth century, then restored in 1432 by Uesugi Norizane, who imported many Chinese books and brought the school to it’s highest prestige. During the Meiji Period, the school came under the management of Ashikaga Prefecture (now Tochigi Prefecture), and the school was disestablished and half used for an elementary school. Finally in the 1980s the elementary school was moved and restoration work began. This restoration took 10 years to complete, but result in the beautiful wood buildings tourists can see today.

The postcard depicts the middle gate of the school, called the “School Gate”. The kanji depicted are the Chinese characters for “School”, which was simplified in Japanese to “学校”.

The School Gate

Tickets and pamphlets

Restored building from the inside, looking out to the garden

Some pretty fall colors of red, yellow, and green in the school grounds

Restored wooden building from the outside

A Meiji Era building housing the Library and Historical Archives

The Ashikaga School can be reached on either the Tobu Isesaki Line to Ashikagashi Station or the JR Ryomo Line to Ashikaga Station, then on foot about 10-15 minutes. Hours are 9-5 April through September, and 9-4:30 October to March. Closing days are the third Monday of every month (or the following Tuesday if Monday is a holiday), and during the New Year from December 29th to the 31st. Entrance fee is 420 yen for adults, and 210 yen for High School Students. Junior High School age and younger get in free. There is an English pamphlet available, but little English signage. You can find out more information about visiting the schhool and other Ashikaga City attractions from the Ashikaga City page here.

Tochigi #6 – Irohazaka (いろは坂)

Lots of the postcards represented in the collection are seasonal, whether they’re depicting a once-a-year festival, a product that is harvested during a certain time, or flowers that have a growing season. Some have general seasonality, or don’t have anything specific that gives me a time period to say one season or another, but I’d say the majority of cards do. But what surprises me about the collection is that only one postcard features what I consider to be one of the highlights of Japan: fall colors, called “kouyou” here.

Just one! Okay, I know the cherry blossoms are better known (and you can bet I’ll be having a posting ball with that once spring comes), but I’d think the fall colors would have a little bit more representation!

So the one card that depicts the beautiful reds, oranges, yellows, and fading greens of fall is Tochigi’s sixth and most recent postcard showing the winding road of the Irohazaka in famous Nikko. The two roads that make up the Irohazaka connect lower Nikko with the higher elevated Okunikko, and have a fabulous and fun 48 hairpin turns together, hence the name “Iroha” which comes from the name of the Japanese alphabet which has 48 characters plus “zaka” for slope.

There’s not a place where you can see the roads as depicted on the cards, but an observation plateau on the upward road does give some views of the road curving down. We visited Nikko and Okunikko one busy fall weekend two years ago, and it was as crowded as it could be. Cars were taking a good three hours to make it up what should normally take maybe 20 minutes… luckily, we were on a motorcycle and could bypass a lot of the traffic, but it was still bad. We skipped the plateau in order to make it up to the top as soon as we could, but we did stop to see the waterfalls on the way down, so here are some pictures of those:

I have mostly videos of the crowds on the up road, this is the only picture, but those cars are stopped.

Beautiful colors on the way down!

The two waterfalls together

By the way, I would wholly recommend going to Nikko during the fall colors, but not on a weekend as the Irohazaka can get unbelievably backed up. If you must go, try to go up as early as possible; down’s usually not as bad. You can read more about the Irohazaka over at Japan Guide here, as well as the most recent report of the color status at Nikko here. Colors are early this year, so go soon if you’re going!