A Weekend in the Woods in Nikko, Tochigi, Japan

I'd say that the first half of Golden Week 2013 was a success--Brian, Noey, and I traipsed across the width of Japan to see a waterfall, mysterious woodland animals, light snowfall (at the end of April!), and clusters of golden, colorful, estately shrines nestled away in the woods. We even managed to squeeze in a morning hike at the tail end of our trip.

On our way up the mountain. I got super dizzy, but I guess it was pretty romantic otherwise.

See No Evil

We only were able to see one of two of the famous waterfalls of the area. Unseasonably high winds caused the ropes way to shut down, so we couldn't take the tour down into the valley to see the waterfall.

Instead, we took an elevator that was built directly into the bedrock down 100 meters to see the other waterfall.  Gentle snowflakes swirled around us; there were also still chunks of ice and snow scattered about the fresh green of spring. Oh, and there was some kind of animal that none of us could identify (some kind of pig? warthog?) taking a dump next to our pretty view.

At sunset, we caught one more beautiful view, this time of a quaint but beautiful bridge that stretched across a calm river.

The next morning, I woke up early, so I left the group to go on a solo morning walk. Here are a few photos from that stroll. My favorite sight that morning is of the row of buddhas gazing at their neighbor, the church.

Good morning, Nikko.

Afterwards, the gang and I saw many, many, many buddhas, and statutes, and shrines, and tress. Oh, so many trees. The mountainside shrines were breathtaking. They were quite different from the temples of Thailand and even the usual shrines that I see all about Japan.

These shrines were not only red, but also gold, bright blue, and shiny black with white intricately-carved reliefs and statues. One of the shrines even had a white, "sacred horse" on duty. The shrines and statues were so stately, I could hardly believe I was in Japan anymore. I was quickly transported back 1000 years to ancient Japan--not that I have any idea what ancient Japan looked like. I also missed out on the audio tour in English, so unfortunately, as usual, I had no idea what I was looking at. It was beautiful, though.

Oh, and we saw a wild monkey cross the road. We were quite excited about that, but we don't have any pictures for proof, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Hear No Evil

We took a serene nature hike through parks, small, hidden-away neighborhoods of log cabins, past an empty shrine, and up a steep hillside. 

Eat No Evil

The eats were amaze-chicken-balls. We made dinner arrangements at a restaurant that has gained quite a reputation among foreign travelers for the owner's charm and the restaurant's interior decor. We called ahead of time to ask if we needed a reservation; that conversation went something like this:

(In Japanese)
Restaurant owner: Hello?
Me: Hello, excuse me, can you speak English?
Owner: No English! Do you speak Japanese?
Me: Oh, uh... Yeah, a little.
Owner: OK, great!
Me: (pause) Uh, I want to eat at your restaurant. Reservation.. uh.. do I, uh...
Owner: I see! Today?
Me: Yes--
Owner: OK! What time?
Me: 7:00 please.
Owner: For how many people?
Me: 3 please.
Owner: 3 people, OK... how about 6:00, is that OK?
Me: (checks time--it's 5:50) Uh..
Owner: Come at 6:00, OK?
Me: Well, we will be late, how about 6:15?
Owner: Yes, OK, see you at 6:15!

When we get there, after getting over the shock of the restaurant, we also find that the restaurant is completely empty. The only other customers came in at 6:30, and they finished their dinner before we did. 

But no matter.

The food was absolutely delicious and the elderly lady (the restaurant owner) chatted us up about where we were from, about our jobs, about baseball--you name it. She even asked us to teach her some new words in English.

The walls were spectacular. People have tacked up old IDs, business cards, wedding photos, a baby photo, handwritten messages, and even a USC t-shirt. I'm happy to say that we left a part of ourselves in the restaurant, too, though a very small part.

The food was delicious! The best yakisoba I've ever had and yummy yakitori and chicken balls. Even the rice was good.

Dinner on night number two was a huge bowl of spicy ramen with "30% thicker ramen noodles". I deem such ramen as 30% more delicious.

Cheers, Nikko.

Thanks for the relaxing weekend.