Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nikko is Nippon


Nikko, which means "sunshine", is a small town located around 150 km north of Tokyo, exactly between the capital city and Aizu Wakamatsu. It is placed in an impressively mountainous surroundings highlighting the most representative and beautiful features of the natural Japanese landscape. Dense forests, lakes, waterfalls and hot springs, as well as monkeys running through the streets of small picturesque settlements. Combine it with some well visible cultural and historical sites and you'll get a perfect short-term trip destination for Japanese and Gaijinese tourists. On the last weekend of November we also decided to visit Nikko in order to escape from the city and for a second forget about the upcoming horrors of school, like tests and final presentations. The team consisted of some of my European friends, Taiwanese girls from the School and Matija (a guest star from Slovenia), who came to Japan to visit his brother and one of the Vulcanuses, Grega. Complicated enough? Ok then...

We took the early Saturday morning train from Asakusa and by noon were already accommodated in a cold but cosy hostel right next to the Nikko station. The owner was very friendly and, being used to hordes of foreigners visiting his place, spoke some pretty good English. After a brief lunch (and a visit paid to a Hello Kitty shop) we headed for the nearby mountains by a bus packed with eager hikers - native as well as Russian, Indian, Chinese, Spanish (we met a couple from Barcelona at the hostel), etc. The view from the windows was truly breathtaking - as the overcrowded bus climbed up the spiral of steep slopes, we could easily admire the rocky horizon of the entire Tochigi Prefecture. Japan (or the Tokyo Area, to be precise) is generally much warmer than Poland and even in late November the weather is pleasantly warm. But the cold air from mount Nantai really made us remember that the winter was coming.

That did not, however, stop us from exploring the area - we saw the impressive Kegon falls and some Japanese macaques (the famous Snow Monkeys) hanging out on the rooftops. Some of them were even bold enough to approach us asking for food (fortunately they seem harmless). After strolling around the magnificent Chuzenji lake (brilliant light) we stopped for some hot chocolate in a wooden coffee house. Just a small trip to local Kotoku hot springs and we could go back to Nikko to get some well deserved rest. The night bus trip downward was crazy and nothing short of a roller coaster ride, leaving me quite dazed. And in the hostel we managed to wake some poor Japanese guy and an Australian girl up with our whispering. The Sydneysider told me about her trip to Poland and how she loved Cracow. The 'Nature' day was over.

The next morning we were woken up by the town's trademark beautiful sunshine and with good moods set out to marvel at the monuments during the 'Culture' day. We basically toured Nikko's World Heritage Site, which at that time of year was still elegantly decorated with the autumn leaves. We started from the old Japanese garden (Shoyo-en). The one in Wrocław, although simply beautiful, is still nothing compared to the real thing. Very close was the Treasure House, a small gallery with portraits of all the shoguns as well as some old pieces of art. We visited the Rinno temple dating back as far as the 8th century and saw the enormous golden statues in the Three Buddha Hall, making the one in Kamakura look a bit poor (no pictures were allowed, though).

Then we continued to the impressive 17th century Tosho-gu shrine, which holds the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu himself and his grandson Iemitsu, both great and respected shoguns. The shrine's other attractions include the Three Wise Monkeys (yes, the famous "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" statue), a small tour of an old Japanese brewery and of course a traditional five-storied pagoda. Needless to say, we saw a lot of wonders that day, like the Sacred Bridge Shinkyo (which you cannot cross) at the Futarasan shrine and countless gates, wooden sculptures, detailed altars and many more. Enchanted by all of this, the delicious food (fried octopus? why not?) and good friend's company, we finally took the evening train to Tokyo. We got enough positive energy to deal with the passing of everyday human events.

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