Friday 2 August 2019
After Sylvia finished her busy day we strolled to the local metro station at Takanawadai and caught the metro to Asakusa station. There we mounted the Limited Express and in a couple of hours we dismounted at Shimoimaichi station where we caught a taxi for the last 35kms to our ryokan, Hoshin, KAI Nikko. The drive was interesting to say the least. Cautious would be a somewhat under description of the driver, however his caution did pay off as we had a couple of close encounters with deer on the very windy roads.
Arriving at the Kai Nikko Hotel we were treated by a number of very polite staff and escorted to our room. This hotel is very traditional old style Japan ryokan with passageways matted in tatami mats, traditional garments to wear to meals and of course footwear left at the entrance to the matted areas. With a foyer, a huge bath in the bath room, the standard Japanese lots of buttons on the toilet, a little dressing room off the main room and a couple of low chairs with a half view of Lake Chuzenji as the paper doors only slid over each other, it was surprisingly comfortable with almost full sized beds rather than futons.
Saturday 3 August 2019
Dressing in our Yulara and slippers we headed off to breakfast. The hotel is quite large, but being the off season it seams a little quiet just now. We were seated in a cubicle with a somewhat overwhelming menu placed on the table in front of us. Soon the food turned up, lots of dishes very well presented and fortunately each portion quite small.
Feeling rather full we headed off to catch the bus over the bush-clad hill to visit a bridge and a couple of temples in the Nikko Unesco World Heritage area. Reaching the top of the hill on the bus we then headed down probably one of the most well maintained switch back routes I have ever seen, dropping 400m over about one kilometre there were lots of corners. At times one could look out the window and see three or four legs of the road below you. The road is one way and in places two lane so the cars can pass the slow bus.
Soon we were at the Shinkyo Bridge. Crossingg the Daiya River it is one of the 3 most beautiful bridges in Japan. The original bridge was a myth where a 10ft tall character appears with a couple of snakes wrapped around his arm so a priest and his mates could cross the fast flowing river. Anyway the bridge has been rebuilt many times but in the same style since 1636.
From there we strolled up the road alongside the river stopping at a coffee shop to be greeted by some very friendly staff. A nice old, hunched over lady came out from the back and gave me a fan to keep cool while we had a kind of sign language chat.
Along the road a little we headed up some steps and paths to the Toshogu Shrine, the most ornate shrine in Japan. With its 5 story pagoda (with what looks like a radio mast on top), lots of gold leaf carvings and statues, it’s a pretty impressive place built on the side of a hill with lots of steps and many levels. Build initially in 1617 but enlarged later, the third Shogun Leyasu is entombed there. Statues in various forms guard each entrance way as one enters different compounds or temples.
We had a good look around between heavy showers and ducking from building to building to avoid getting drenched. Some steps lead up to a stone walkway at the end of which some 200 steps lead up to the inner sanctum.
There are also many ornate carvings of birds and animals among other things One particularly famous one is the three moneys famous “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. It’s interesting as our poorly run government in NZ has adopted something similar. “Speak Lots, See Nothing, Do Nothing”
On the short walk back to the river we stopped at a nice cafe before heading up stream alongside the river and through some nice parks to the Kanmangafuchi Abyss created many years ago by a volcanic eruption. Along the path in the rather picturesque forest are around 70 Jizo statues, most of them with a red knitted had and red bib. I couldn’t establish when or how these got here but did discover that back many years ago the Japanese used to put red hats and bibs on their kids when they had measles, also red bibs and hats were put on statues to protect kids in after life who had died before their parents. Whatever the reason they are certainly quite intriguing.
We walked back up to the main road and caught the bus back to the lake, hoping to stop at the cable car on top of the hill but were too late as it was closed for the day.
Alighting the bus at the lake a short walk took us to a complex and into a lift that took us down a 100 meters to a viewing deck. Lake Chuzenji was formed when a volcano erupted many years ago and blocked up the gorge that the river ran through. As a result the lake was formed and the water exiting the lake runs over the blockage for nearly a kilometre then drops over the edge, creating a pretty magnificent waterfall. Two huge lifts drop down into a tunnel that leads to the deck. A meter at the entrance tells one how much water is coming over the falls – today 2.5 tons a second. We are lucky to be here in the quiet season as during the fall this place is apparently packed.
Back at the hotel we dressed in our yakutas again to visit the Onsen (hot baths in the basement of the hotel). A large lounge served as the entrance to the two separate male nd female bathing areas, well set up with large changing rooms leading through into the bathhouse, which had rows of sit down shower stalls to clean in before entering the large baths, one indoor and one outdoor. The water was quite warm but not really hot. I lay and soaked for a while having the place to myself and wondering if I was receiving all the minerals that were going to make me feel (according to the blurb in the room) super recharged when I got out. Relaxing it was – the rest of it I missed out on feeling just the same as before as I dried and put on my Yakutia for the stroll back to the room.
Dinner was another feast experience with Suzuki, our waiter, having prepared some of the food. He entered the room at one point with what looked like a concrete block which he lifted the lid off to review a fire box, which he threw some wagyu steak in to cook, which was superb. Once again great attention had been paid to the presentation of the many courses. Interestingly at the end of the meal in spite of all the courses one doesn’t feel overfull.
Sunday 4 August 2019.
After another 10 course breakfast we headed off around the lake to the ferry and took a ride around the lake. Going on on the beach was an archery competition, which I found out later is part of a annual festival that happens every year here. Not only do they compete on the beach with the targets on boats a few meters off shore but there is also another competition done on horseback, which I am sure would be fun to watch.
The lake is quite picturesque with the bush clad hills running down to the shoreline all the way around. There was a bit of yacht racing going on in one bay and a few people fishing in the odd place. One bay has a camp site and a couple of what had been embassy houses. The ferry stopped a couple of times at well kept jetties to pick up and drop off a few people.
All too soon the weekend waste and we were on the bus heading back over the windy hill to Nikko where we caught the train back to Tokyo and our flight to Taiwan.