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I have had a fascination with Japan since I was roughly eleven years old.  My best friend Bryan and I used to save our allowance money so that we could import Japanese animation cartoons (anime) before anime was the global phenomenon that it is now.  We loved Japanese video games, listened to imported japanese video game CDs, decorated our rooms with japanese manga wall scrolls, bought and assembled japanese robot models, and dreamed of the day that we would someday get to visit the country where a large portion of our preferred entertainment originated.  What I’m trying to say is that I had pretty high expectations when I finally arrived at Narita airport.  And I am so happy to say that my expectations were vastly exceeded.  Nihon ga daishiki desu (I love Japan)!  It is so astonishingly different (yet so approachable and easy) that it is hard not to love Japan.

The first peculiar thing that I noticed  was that it is not possible to buy a SIM card in order to obtain local mobile service.  Instead, they must be rented at the airport for rather high fees.  After doing so, we exchanged our pre-paid vouchers for Japan Rail passes (highly recommended),  and jumped on a train (which the agent helpfully reserved for us and of course arrived at exactly the right minute) to Nikko.

Nikko is a small historical town located in the mountains a few hours North of Tokyo.  I had heard from many people that it was one of their favorite places in Japan so we decided to spend a few days there before Amanda’s friend Stefanie arrived in Tokyo.

We had decided to stay in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) so when the train arrived I used my new SIM card to call the owner.  I had been studying Japanese via Rosetta Stone for a few months to get at least a basic understanding of the language, and somehow I was able to convey who I was and that we had arrived in Nikko and needed a ride.   Within a few minutes, a gentle old Japanese man approached the train station in a small van.  I don’t know he picked us out of the crowd but maybe the fact that we were still wearing shorts and flip-flops from the Philippines when the current weather was on the verge of snow, tipped him off.  We made broken small talk in a mixture of Japanese, English and sign language until we arrived at the ryokan.  He gave us a brief tour of the small inn, gave a quick explanation of the how to use the communal baths (a process that we would slowly come to understand and appreciate over the following the three weeks), and gave us huge jackets to wear because he thought we were completely insane for wearing shorts in the freezing weather.  I should mention that through this entire process, our eyes were gaping and our jaws were nearly always slackened as we struggled to take in all of the new sights, sounds, smells, snacks and customs (all of which will be elaborated on in future posts). Anyway, since we had been traveling all day, we were pretty exhausted but we ventured out into town to get a quick bowl of ramen before crashing on our unrolled futon mats in the traditional tatami room (complete with heated carpet and tea set).

The next morning, we took a brief walk through town to get to the main temple complex on the mountain.  We arrived pretty early in the morning so for a while, we were the only tourists walking around this enormous site.  We saw many beautiful temples, gates, and shrines including the original statue of three monkeys that lead to the famous “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” saying.  At one point, a light snow started to come down which completely blew our minds because the previous day we were in 90 degree weather swimming in the Philippines.

After a long day of sightseeing, we came back to give the traditional bath (onsen) a try.  To the uninitiated, it goes something like this:  First change into your traditional yukata (house robe) in the room.  If it’s cold an additional jacket version will be provided. Certain hours of bathing are for men and certain hours are reserved for women, but sometimes the door locks and then men and women can share the two stall room called a family bath.  There is usually an outer chamber with a heater where the towels and other personal items can be left.  Then inside, there are two shower heads, about belly button height, two stools with calf high seats, two buckets and a hot tub with wood lid keeping the heat in.  This is the basic setup, but some places have huge beautiful indoor or outdoor hot springs pools instead of the basic tub.  First the buckets are used to scoop up hot water and wash any grit, grime and oils off.  This should be done a minimum of three times.  Then you can soak in the hot tub.  Then you sit down and take a shower.  Finally you can optionally soak again if you are cold.  The first time I did this process, I was by myself and it was really relaxing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how it would be if the second stall was occupied by a stranger.

The next morning, we took a brief stop at the local super market to stock up on cheap food and check out all of the exotic and interesting items.  I loved listening to the music in the store which sounded like an 80′s video game sound track.  Then we headed to the train station and took off to visit the brewery of one of my favorite beers!

  • Mountain view by the train station
  • Fresh spring water fountain at the train station
  • Adam rocking yukata in the ryokan (Japanese traditional inn)
  • 4 liters of whiskey!?
  • Pokemon fish cake!
  • Soba with yuba (made from syobeans) is a specialty in Nikko
  • Another fierce guardian
  • Adam in front of shrine
  • Fierce guardian
  • Yay, we are in Nikko!
  • Passing through the gate on the perimeter of the shrine
  • Family symbol
  • If you draw a bad fortune, you can pass on the bad luck by tying it to a tree
  • More stone lanterns
  • Elephant friends
  • The original "Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" statue
  • Stone lanterns outside of temple
  • Amanda near the shrine.  It was snowing!
  • Dragon gate
  • Hundreds of dragon heads on the gate
  • Shrine in Nikko
  • Five Story Pagoda
  • Japanese Garden 2
  • Japanese Garden
  • So happy to be in Nikko
  • Famous Red Bridge In Nikko

Posted: May 8, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Asia, Blog, Continents, Japan

+1 Comment
  1. Felix Arnett says:

    Mandy and Adam, I am so proud of you. More posts please. I love your writing and Pics. Have Fun and be safe.

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