Published: March 18th 2009March 1st 2009
We spent the morning in Tokyo. First was a visit to the Imperial Palace gardens, the actual Palace itself is not open to the public often. A quick trip on the city loop to the Sony building in the Ginza area (expensive shops like top of Collins). Here were the latest on offer from Sony, including a new organic screen which will likely replace LCD. Only available in 10 inch so far. Then off to the Takeshita Dori (Street) famous for outfits and trinkets for young and trendy Japanese.
A little shopping back in Ueno (travel alarm) and then off by Shinkansen (fast train) and then an ordinary local train to Nikko. We purchased a bento box for tea onboard the train. This is a partitioned tray with various foods, mine had pickled things, smoked trout, beans, soy cake, fish cake, rice and some other things I’ve forgotten. It was delicious. Eating take-out is difficult in Japan as walking and eating is not really done, and there are not many seats outside to sit and eat - people buy and take home I think. Eating on the train however, everyone does.
There are so many pre-packaged meals
A little bit of snow
Waiting to go in to the strolling garden
around the station and in the ever present convenience stores. These are not like the ones we’d get out of the freezer section, they are fresh and quite delicious. I even had one that had a self heating device where you pull a string and this releases some sort of reaction sending steam through the meal and heating up a bag of pebble like material under the stray. Very clever.
Arriving in Nikko we stayed in a room at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) called the Hotorian. The floor of the room has tatami mats made from soft straw (no shoes allowed) and a futon on the floor. It was just lovely, especially the very warm doona as it was cold here (-3 overnight) although the rice-paper screens are surprisingly effective at keeping out the cold. There is a yukata (house coat) supplied to wear in your room, as well as to the Onsen (heated spa). It is very important that you wrap the right side of the yukata first then the left over the top as the other way around is how the dead are prepared!
Morning started with a great breakfast of fresh
fruits, boiled egg and sweet bread as well as coffee (tea is available during the rest of the day and coffee in the morning). Of course there are always the ever present vending machines for a coffee if nothing else is available.
We then headed off for a walk to the local temple and shrine (the Toshogu Shrine & Temple ). There were odd traces of snow around showing that it had indeed been cold overnight. There was a lovely strolling garden (Shouyouen Garden) to walk through first, and then inside the impressive temple and shrine complex (it is unusual to have both together). I’m glad that I took the suggestion to wear two pairs of socks as the floors were quite cold (shoes off of course when going inside). On the outside of one of the buildings were carvings including the 3 wise monkeys. However, they were set within a story of the life cycle from birth to love and family life through to old age. There was also a carving made based on what the artist thought an elephant looked like (they’d never seen one).
From here three of us took a bus up the local
mountain to see one of Japan’s most famous waterfalls. You take a ticket on the bus that has the section number printed on it. You then watch that number on a screen at the top of the bus and it shows the fare increasing as you go. When you get to your stop you put the ticket and exact change in a tray (leaving the driver to only say thank-you (arigato). If you don‘t have exact fare there is a change machine there (which the driver shows us tourists how to use). The screen also displays the upcoming stops which all have names not just numbers in both Japanese and English as well as a recorded message. Travelling in Japan is so friendly to English speakers.
There was quite a lot of snow when we got to the top of the mountain and I was glad I had my gloves and ear muff type bandana. There were also snow monkeys. Cute but aggressive. The water fall was impressive but difficult to get the whole in one photo. We stopped for a bowl of soup - of course prepared with our own chopsticks which our leader had provided at the
Can you see the turtle
start of the trip helping us to be greener and to avoid the prevalent use of throw away chopsticks provided in most places (If we found we had been given chopsticks with our take-away then these were collected and redistributed to a good cause), After lunch we strolled down to the nearby lake to take some more photos, which again don’t do the scenes justice.
Back down to Nikko on the bus (taking the other side of the mountain down as there road was so windy you only wanted to be going one way) I lost count of the switchbacks, there was also a hydro-electric power plant making use of the natural resources. I think 40% of power is hydro and the rest mostly nuclear (but don’t quote me).
The afternoon wasn’t over yet as we stopped at a Villa used by the Emperor until recently, which is now a museum. The grounds again were perfect for strolling through, with something different to see every fee steps. Inside was traditional but in a more modern style as this is where the emperor was located during the second world war, including underground bunkers.
After all this activity it
Five Stories Pagoda
Earth, water, fire, air, sky(heaven)
was time for a spa in the Onsen (it was one that you could reserve - private - as opposed to a public one so often found throughout Japan). For tea, we walked into town to have dinner at a great local café. I had fried dumplings which are a favourite dish. We also learned about the ceramic cats that are everywhere. If there left hand is waving that is a sign of welcome, a right hand waving is for good fortune (usually for the owner who is wanting your money - in a light hearted way). Some will have both waving.
Walking back was a clear and frosty night. There was a special wood carving lesson back at the Ryokan which I watched for a while choosing not to participate in decorating a mirror or chop-stick holder as I am limited with luggage and won’t be able to purchase much along the way. I headed off for a relatively early night thinking I was getting a cold (already). Lucky I’d packed the Cold & Flu!
There are more photos below