Nikko is a town in the northern part of Honshu, only a couple of hours or so on the train from Tokyo. Daishia, Sophie and I went there for a couple of days as we decided we should go somewhere while we had two and a half months to ourselves and Nikko had come recommended so we booked it and off we went! We stayed there for a night in a Ryokan (Japanese style Inn, so we slept on futons in a tatami room together) and spent two days wandering around in the snow. Nikko, unlike Tokyo, has snow regularly and rather more spectacularly, though it seemed Tokyo was threatening to snow as we left. We bought two-day national treasure passes for Nikko, which covered the price of the train journey there and back and also entrance for the main shrines and also the national heritage bus once we were there, which I think cost us about 3000 yen, so altogether not to shabby!
We spent a fairly enjoyable train journey there, noticing as we went further out off Tokyo, one, how long it actually took to get out of Tokyo in the first place, I think it was an hour or more until we clear of the city, and even once we had left that there were still plenty of buildings. Also Japan looks the same over, all the buildings are the same and there’s not much difference between houses in the countryside and those in the city, and even though we had left the city, we never passed a stretch of land that was uninhabited. They really do make the most of the flat land they have here!
Once we reached Nikko we got the bus to somewhere near to the Inn we were staying at (Turtle Inn, nice, cheap and friendly!) and then proceeded to try to find the Inn, which asking a friendly policeman we managed to find only ten minutes after we said we’d arrive. So we had a tour of the facilities (namely the public baths and our room) dumped our rucksacks in the room and asked where we could find tea that evening and went out to explore. We had a look at some of the sights next to our inn, namely the river and wat looked like a cemetery shrine, and then decided to walk up to Jakko falls, forgetting that we didn’t know how far it was and that as it was now four in the afternoon, it’d probably start getting dark soon. But we trekked our way up there, getting some strange looks from the locals who were probably wondering why there were three gaijin walking up the mountain offseason and at that time in the afternoon. By the time we reached the falls, it was dark and we had been told by a man in a snow plow we should be quick (yet again very confused as to what we were doing up there in the first place). We could sort of see the falls, and we headed back down (me being a bit of wuss at the top of the fairly steep snowy steps as I get a bit scared of falling) and found the descent took us about half the time as the ascent. Though that may be because we were walking pretty fast as the road was a bit more creepy in the dark.
When we reached the town again, we went to go look at one of the famous landmarks, which is the red wooden bridge. I think it was supposed to be about 400-500 years or something. I should probably look that up… but yes it was supposedly a ‘romantic’ location, although it didn’t really inspire any romantic feelings between the three of us 😛 Also we passed the same cheery chappy twice in one day, who we decided was British due to the fact he said hello when he passed us and, well, looked British. We should be detectives.
So we went to find tea at a tea rooms, and Sophie and Daishia tried the local dish of ‘yuba’ which is a vegan/vegetarian meal made by the monks. I think it’s made from the top layers of bean curd. I did not try it as I was cold and wanted a curry. So I had a curry. It was a nice curry. We then made our way back to the Inn, went to have baths (all public, but due to having already used the dorm one together we weren’t exactly embarrassed anymore!) and then went to bed.
Next day, we got packed up and headed out to find breakfast, as we had decided to not have breakfast at the Inn. We wandered up and down the road a bit before finding somewhere that looked open and settled down to have breakfast ramen and curry… *ahem* After that we headed up to Lake Chuzenji by bus. When we got there, we noticed how much colder it was up there, due to the Lake being in a crater at the top of a mountain. It was created by an eruption of a nearby mountain many years before. But yes, it was freezing, and the wind actually sounded like people screaming in pain. However it was pretty enough and even though I slipped on a cunningly hidden plastic sign in the snow, and we had strolled around and had a look at the temple that a slightly ridiculous entrance fee, it was still worth a trip. We went over to look at another waterfall, one we could actually see this time as we had, you know, daylight and stuff to see it by, which was very pretty. But we didn’t get to see any monkeys though, which I had been hoping to spot, but oh well.
After we had looked around the lake we went back down to the town and went to the shrines. The Toshogu Shrine in particular is very famous as it was built for the first Tokugawa lord Ieyasu and he is enshrined there. The temple is very exuberant, and has lots of colours and carvings in the design. There are many famous things to see in the complex as well, such as the three wise monkey carvings and the elephant carvings which were done by a man who had never even seen an elephant before. He didn’t do a bad job, but still, haven’t seen many elephants with fangs and claws.
We looked at the other shrines too but they weren’t quite as impressive. However they all looked very beautiful in the snow which lent a very calming and peaceful atmosphere to the area. After this we got the bus back to the train station and found some lunch where I had possibly the nicest pizza I’ve had since being in Japan. And also a nice cup of lady grey with a proper strainer and leaves and everything! Ooh, it was good! I’ve missed decent tea so much…
After we had eaten we mooched up to the Hello Kitty store to have a look to see if there was any special merchandise for the area. Each district/famous destination gets their own unique set of Hello Kitty stuff, cause you know, that’s what places need… After seeing there wasn’t much else there to look at, we got a yuba manju bun thing and headed back to the train as we were a bit cold. So we got back on and went back to Tokyo, where luckily, it hadn’t snowed!