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Japan20090928

Page history last edited by Phil Baraona 14 years, 6 months ago

Monday, Sept 28

Today, we left Tokyo and headed up to the town of Nikko. We’re getting around Japan on the train system, part of which are the bullet trains or Shinkansen. It’s an extremely fast, efficient system and we bought our 2-week passes for 45,000 yen (~$500). The trip to Nikko took about two hours, including a subway ride in Tokyo, exactly 40 minutes on the Shinkansen and 45 minutes on the local Nikko train.

Nikko is a small-ish town at the base of a mountain range about 80 miles from Tokyo. It is most well known for the shrines/temples on the outskirts of town. After storing our bags at the train station (for 410 yen), we headed into town on foot. Much of the town of Nikko itself consists of shops selling various trinkets, etc to commemorate your visit. Not all that exciting, but we did stop at a couple of places as we were walking through to pick up maps and other supplies. One of the interesting things that you pass just after the stores is the Shin-Kyo bridge over the Daiya-gawa River. This is kind of neat looking bridge, but you had to pay something like 400 yen if you wanted to cross over it. I didn’t really understand the point of that since it’s much better to admire the bridge from the nearby road bridge over the same river.

The shrines/temples themselves are really impressive. Rather than keeping the entire group together, the leaders paid our entrance fee to all of the temples (1000 yen) and left us to explore on our own. I was by myself for most of the trip through the temples and it was really nice to explore at my own pace. I don’t know much about Buddhism or the religious/historical significance of these sites, but they were interesting to look at nonetheless. Some of them were actually kind of over the top. There were lots of intricate carvings, some covered in gold. One particularly famous carving is of three monkeys in the see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil pose. This carving is on a fairly unadorned building that once functioned as the horse stables. Apparently, monkey spirits were believed to protect horses. Interesting.

I visited all of the temples and shrines in the area and was very impressed with how peaceful they were. They are built into a very nice natural setting on the side of a hill and you can actually enter several of the temples (after removing your shoes, of course). Unfortunately, there was often a speaker inside explaining (in Japanese) the significance of this particular shrine. I, of course, did not understand any of it, but there was still a real sense of calm inside these beautiful places even with the tour guide rambling on.

As I was heading back down the hill after visiting the last of the temples, I ran into a couple of the other members of the group who were planning a little side trip on the way back into town. I decided to join them. Dave, Mike R, Mark and I took a path just to the right of the entrance to the Futarasan-Jinja Shrine. It led up over a hill and ended at another path that you could take to a nice little waterfall. On the way back, Dave decided he wasn’t satisfied with this little detour so he went on to climb a small mountain/large hill. The rest of us were not quite that ambitious so we headed back into town.

Mike R and I stopped at a couple of shops in town to pick up stamps, snacks and a couple of beers. We sat down with Greg and Mike L at a square in town to drink our beers and enjoy the snacks. This is where my favorite quote of the trip (so far) occurred. The snack Mike R had picked up looked like a cheese Danish. As he started to eat it, he “I’ve never had a cheese Danish with beer before….. Hey wait! There’s Tuna in there!” Apparently, there was more to Mike’s cheese Danish than he originally thought, but he choked it down like a pro. Best of all, this is how the nickname Tuna Danish was born.

By now, it was time for us to board the bus for the (somewhat harrowing) trip up to Lake Chuzenji-ko. The bus goes up some “interesting” switchbacks with gorgeous views. Lake Chuzenji-ko is a very scenic place in the Nikko National Park. The Miharashi Ryokan we stayed at was not quite as nice as the one in Tokyo, but the older couple who ran it were very nice. They provided us with both breakfast and dinner during our stay. The meals included 6 or 7 different items from the ever present rice to sushi to fried meat to eggs to fresh fruit and salads. All of it was quite tasty.

Another benefit of this ryokan is that they provided a 40% discount to the onsen (i.e. hot spring) at the nearby Nikko Lakeside Hotel. Mike L, Greg, Eric and I decided to try it. We thoroughly enjoyed it and definitely got our 600 yen (discounted from 1000) worth. The “ritual” at an onsen is nearly identical to the Japanese bath at the ryokan. You take off all of your clothes (i.e. no swim suit), wash yourself with soap and water and then climb into the bath. This one was a 15’x40’ pool about 2 feet deep that you shared with everyone else there (separated by gender). It was very relaxing sitting in the water chatting about the events of the past few days and wondering what the women we could hear on the other side of the divider (it was open on top) were saying since they were speaking Japanese. After the bath, we stopped at the hotel bar for a very expensive (800 yen) beer. Kind of ironic we spent more on the beer than we did on the bath! All in all, a very enjoyable evening.

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