Our trip to Nikko was great! We left home Tuesday morning with everything we’d need for four days on our backs. Some 38 years after hitchhiking from Vancouver to Edmonton with a duffle bag over my shoulder, this girl had rejoined the backpacker generation! The train from Tokyo took us inland past newly flooded rice paddies and into the mountains of central Japan. It was fascinating to see the rice plants being transplanted, some by hand and others by machine.
After arriving in Nikko and checking into our inn, we took a walk along the nearby Daiya River through an area known as the Gamman-Ga-Fuchi abyss. There we walked a wooded riverside path lined with statues of Jizo, the patron saint of the souls of departed children. Legend has it that the statues are uncountable; that each time you count you get a different number. We didn’t try.
The next morning, we walked for miles looking for a western breakfast finally learning that such a thing isn’t available in Nikko before 10:00 a.m! While we enjoy Japanese food, we can’t quite get our heads around rice, fish or miso soup for breakfast. Waiting and wandering finally paid off with a full breakfast of eggs, bacon or sausage, salad (a western breakfast in Japan includes salad instead of hash browns), toast, juice and coffee for approximately $5 each! Considering the fact that a single cup of coffee can cost almost that much, that was an amazing bargain and we returned to that restaurant for breakfast each morning.
After breakfast on Wednesday, we caught the bus to Chuzenji-ko, ten kilometres west of Nikko. Little did we know that the bus was going to climb a mountain! Up a series of tight narrow switchbacks we went. It looked like the world dropped off at the edge of the road. Roads like that usually terrify me but the view was fantastic and I actually found myself enjoying the ride! At Chuzenji, we took in the 97 metre Kegon Falls including an elevator ride down through the bedrock to viewing platforms where we could observe the full force of the plunging water. We walked a bit along the lakefront then decided it was time to visit a public onsen (hot spring bath). We didn’t really need to do this as our inn back in Nikko had two private hot spring fed baths, one a single and the other family sized, but we want to experience all that Japan has to offer so we stopped at the tourist information centre and were directed to a nearby onsen on the grounds of a lovely hotel. In spite of having to get naked with strangers, it was a very relaxing and serene experience. The segregated baths were sheltered in a wooden building with wide open sliding windows on one side overlooking the lake. The water was very hot and soothing after all the walking we’d been doing.
An added bonus to the onsen experience was the fact that there were bathroom scales in the changing rooms. We knew we’d both lost weight since arriving in Japan but this was the first opportunity we’d had to weigh ourselves. Assuming that the scales were accurate and our conversion of kilograms to pounds correct, I’ve lost about 10 pounds and Richard close to 15. No wonder he’s always hungry! This weight loss is neither a surprise nor a sign that we’re not in good health. It’s simply due to the amount of walking and stair climbing we do as well as the change in diet.
We spent most of Thursday seeing the spectacular temples and shrines of Nikko. The entire temple area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was truly hard to take it all in. The intricate detailed carving on everything, the colour, the gold overlay… Wow! The manmade beauty seems to be enhanced by the fact that the buildings are set on a hillside amongst stately cedar trees. While the area is largely a tourist attraction now, a visit to the temples and shrines clearly has great religious significance for some as well.
Yesterday began with the exciting phone call shortly after we awoke informing us that we had become grandparents! That will serve to make our visit to Nikko even more memorable than it already would have been. We checked out of the inn but left our bags there to be picked up later and headed off to tour the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, a 106 room wooden structure built over a long period of time as an emperor’s retreat and crown prince’s residence. Japan’s present emperor was sent there as a young evacuee in 1943 and stayed there for about a year. While strolling through the beautiful garden surrounding the villa, it was interesting to see entrances to air raid shelters, a reminder of Japan’s role in the last great war. Early in the afternoon, we picked up our bags at the inn, headed for the train station and were home by supper time.
Just before we left for Nikko, I discovered that nikko means sunshine in Japanese and it most certainly lived up to its name. The weather was absolutely lovely. Now we’re back home and it’s raining again so this may be a quiet day at home!
Shinkyo Sacred Bridge, Nikko