We're about half way through the program now, I can't believe it! Things have been really great, but really busy. It's also become extraordinarily hot here. Summer has definitely come. I have a couple of things to update on--the first being the Nikko trip that we took two weeks ago, Thursday and Friday. The weather then was really cool and nice and although it rained for one out of two of the days, it was cool so I think we all appreciated it to some degree.
We left Thursday morning bright and early from Nishi Funabashi Station. I had gone a little early to meet anyone else who was early, particularly because I requested that everyone meet up ten minutes or so prior to the time we would board the train, just so that we would have enough time to get everyone together. Everyone pretty much made it on time too! (I think maybe it was because I bribed them though… does that still count…?) I was so proud. Then we took the train and subway required to make it to our meeting place from where we hopped on another train and began the trek to Nikko in Tochigi prefecture.
Here’s a map.
[[[Aside: I also made a Flickr page (click here) for pictures because there were a LOT. But I’ve also attached some here just so you can put a picture to what I’m talking about right away.]]]
Once we got to Nikko, we deposited our belongings in coin lockers and started exploring! It was suuuper foggy so at first we were kind of thinking that we wouldn’t be able to see that much (but never fret, the story has a happy ending). Our bus passes were distributed to us and then we headed up to see Chuzenji Lake and Kogen Falls. Once we got off the bus, we walked over to the area by the waterfall hoping to take the elevator to the viewing platform, but we could literally see nothing so instead we decided it was time for lunch.
We originally parted ways with Sensei because he needs his quiet time, however, his attempts to shake us were to no avail (although he did make a valiant—and quiet comical—effort) because we ended up eating together at the same noodle place. So we all ate lunch and then made our way to Chuzenji Lake. Sensei got us all hyped up on the prospect of riding around in swan boats, but we were ultimately disappointed because there was too much fog and we pretty much couldn’t see anything. So instead, I implemented meditation and personal reflection time. We sat for six or seven minutes in peace and quiet, pondering the beauty of nature and observing the swirling, whimsical enigma that was the white shroud of mist hovering over Chuzenji.
After we had sufficiently appreciated the nature, we walked back up to the bus stop. On the way back it cleared up nicely and turned out to be a beautiful day. We then took a different bus and a really long elevator ride and arrived at the falls! Once there, we fought our way through a sea of elementary school children in matching yellow hats, looked around, took some pictures, bought some souvenirs, and went back up.
Afterward, we took a bus to the ryokan (Japanese-style inn) where we were staying, checked in, and put our stuff in our rooms while taking a half an hour break. The buffet dinner to to come was trimmed with an array of awesome Japanese foods which we took full advantage of. We then proceeded to karaoke! Some of the boys went to play tennis (and maybe basketball? I think that got vetoed actually..) in the fitness center and were joined later by a couple girls.
After karaoke we went to the rotenburo, which apparently flows from a real hot spring. Rotenburo is an outside bath kind of like a jacuzzi, but made of stone, lacking in jets, and used for bathing. The ryokan was so cool though. It was giant and the rooms were beautiful (they had both Japanese-style tatami rooms as well as Western-style rooms) and there was a fitness center, karaoke rooms, and a manga room. It was really awesome. We went to sleep exhausted but happy and got up slightly later for breakfast the next day.
Friday! After breakfast (which I feel the need to add was very Japanese, full of fish and all other kinds of things like white rice and natto, fermented soybeans) we packed up and went back to the first station to utilize the coin lockers and board the bus that took us to Shinkyo Bridge. We walked along the bridge and then got back on a bus to Toshogu Shrine. This particular shrine’s claim to fame is the three “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys. So we appreciated that for a bit, although the appreciation was made significantly more difficult by the mass of elementary and middle school children that literally created a sea over the entire grounds. We then proceeded to the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu (the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate) and a different shrine dedicated to love and marriage. That was followed by a visit to another temple-ish building.. I think it was actually a temple, but was under renovation and will continue to be under renovation for a long time. Sensei did not come with us on that one, and when we exited the structure (that interestingly had a temple painted on the outside of it), we had a bit of a struggle trying to find where we came in, but got there in the end and went back to the station for lunch.
After lunch we had an hour or so, so we collectively had ice cream and manju (fried dough with red bean paste in the middle)f and then some went to a coffee shop before coming back to the station.
After that we pretty much just got back on the train and went home. What a great weekend! Even though it rained pretty much all day Friday, it was still really wonderful. Nikko is a beautiful place. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is thinking of taking a trip to the Kanto region of Japan.