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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rediscover Good Japan ~Vol.2

So...I started the series Rediscover Good Japan last week.
I hope people find it interesting and find something new about Japan through my experience.

This week, it's Nikko, Tochigi.
Nikko is the capital city of Tochigi prefecture, which is north from Tokyo.
When I visited, I was on my backpack trip by myself.
And this trip happened by an accident.

I think it was around summer of 2005 or 2006, I was visiting my family in Osaka and, as usual, I suddenly decided to do a backpack trip to Kamakura by myself.
So I went to a book store to purchase a travel guide of Kamakura.
Kamakura is a famous touristy city in Kanagawa prefecture located in south of Tokyo.
I always wanted to visit the city, I don't know why particularly but I guess I always liked the sound of the city.
As I expected, I found Kamakura travel guide books piled up in the domestic travel section.
Now, I might sound a little bit picky to some people, but I normally don't take the first book that is on top of those stack of books.  I usually take second or third one from the top so that it is not read by people and does not have wrinkly pages.  So, I did so just as usual and I put the book with other magazine I was going to purchase.  After I paid those books, I carried them in a bag the book store gave me then I went to a coffee shop to read my travel magazine.
As soon as I sat down with my coffee, I was so excited to start planning on my trip and I opened the bag and pulled the travel magazine.
Then I saw the title of the book said


I paused for a second.
But next second, I already decided to go to Niko instead.
I don't know how I picked Nikko travel guide,  I guess somebody put Kamakura book on top of Nikko books but I was just convinced that it was meant to be.
 So, that's how I ended up going to Nikko.

Tobu-Nikko station. 

Nikko's major tourist attraction is its historic places such as Nikko Tosho-gu.
Nikko Tosho-gu was built in 1617 during the Edo period under a Shogun called Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Nikko Tosho-gu is said to be influenced strongly by Onmyodo, Yin and Yan.
The main gate and the gate to enter the site are said to be planned to make a center point that directly locates under the Pole star and the line is planned to direct north from Edo, which is Tokyo today.
 Also, If you connect the main structures in Tosho-gu, it's the shape of Big Dipper.
It's got many impressive details in the structures and have more than 5000 sculptures in within the structures which all are said to have meanings to.

It is a pretty powerful spiritual site.

Nikko is also known for its nature, which is a big tourist attraction.
One of well known area is Okunikko which is an area that is 600 meter (1968.5ft) higher than city of Nikko (600 meter above the sea level) in elevation. (which makes it 3937ft in elevation.)
Therefore, even during the infamous Japanese miserable summer time, Okunikko stays cooler than the city. 

Okunikko has several famous falls.
I could get to see two of them.
Before I hit the falls, I got some soba and grass mochi for was actually not that good, but I cold get the seat right by the falls so it was worth it.

 Ryuzu falls (This picture is taken upper part of the falls.)

Kegon falls

You can take a bus to get around the town but also you can take trail along the lake called Chuzenji.

I just walked and walked..
 Okunikko is very peaceful and quiet.  It'll give you time to have peace in mind. Japan is such a strange country that has so many cities that are completely developed with technology and are full of people but there are places like this rather closely located to the cities.  Okunikko is not particularly too isolated because of its tourist attractions, but you can find the Zen moment anywhere you go. It almost feels like it's in the air that is slightly sharper and more crisp.
I stayed in Nikko for three days and one of the places I stayed was Nikko Kanaya Hotel, which is the oldest western hotel in Japan.
It was opened in 1873.
 It looks a bit like a drama set, like a scene where murder happens...
They expanded the hotel by building annex but I wanted to stay in the original building so I did and frankly it was a bit creepy maybe because I was alone,
 maybe because I went to see the exhibition at night in the empty room that they were having at that time about their history using the black and white film which was the creepiest highlight of the night.
But I got to learn Frank Lloyd Wright, Einstein, and other famous people had stayed in the hotel. Then I ran away to go get my vegan monk dinner in the mountain. (No, I'm not kidding. And it was the best meal I've ever had. If you would like to know the name, let me know.)
However, overall the hotel was nice. I highly recommended. Their breakfast is very famous as well. Maybe just don't stay alone and go see the exhibition at night by yourself.

The last day I stayed in Yumoto, which is a small hot spring town even farther away from Okunikko.
There are only limited buses that go to Yumoto from Nikko, towards the end of my bus ride, there was only a few people on the bus besides myself. 
The town is nothing like main part of Nikko, where there are many tourists.
The town is known for the hot spring that was said to be found around 788.
However, it is obvious that the town is far enough from Nikko so that not many tourists visit, there are only a countable numbers of hotels left. 

To me though, these places are usually the great spots that really offer their true hospitality.
As far as I know, people who own or work at those places know their charm is not their shiny new buildings or fancy tubs, or expensive meals or collections of convenient devices come with the rooms, but their welcomes and great hospitality.
I think many of us forget to appreciate and realize that kind of importance so easily when we are put in front of all kinds of fancy goodies that are only valuable materialistically.
 The hotel where I stayed in Yumoto was old and beat, but the people and the food were incredible. The person who was taking care of my room and me during the stay brought dinner and breakfast to my tiny cozy room and each time she explained what each dishes are, saying they used local vegetables, fish, and seasonal ingredients. It was nothing fancy, but I really loved the food and was amazed once again how simplicity could make things so perfect. 

My amazing traditional Japanese breakfast

 They also made homemade ice creams so I purchased one after I took private hot spring.   Honestly, this tiny hotel beat many of the hotels I've ever stayed just for the service I received and the price was less than $100 a night. It was worth the trip and it's worth more than its cost.

Also, Yumoto has a store that makes the most incredible thick jelly-like red bean paste sweets with salt flavor called Shio-Yokan.
This is the store. "Tsuruya" 

Tsuruya has been making only Shio-Yokan since 1958. 
They say that everything sells out by noon if it's not reserved so
first thing in the morning before I take a bus to leave Yumoto,
I went to buy some Shio-Yokan.
The store is take out only and as I was told, most of them were already reserved.
But luckily I could buy a few. 
Inside of the store had many beautiful photos of Yumoto in all seasons, and the lady was telling me how beautiful it is during fall and winter in Yumoto.
I'd to go back just for the Shio-Yokan but I'd love to come back for the people and the town.
And Japan still has many places like this. It's just hidden, and it's just quiet.
But because of that, when you discover them, they make you appreciate more and maybe you appreciate that they were hidden and quiet.

  More good Japan is coming up next week..

thanks for reading.


















 でも個人的には、こういった土地こそ本来日本人の持つ献身 的なおもてなしが受けられると思うのです。ただ真新しい建物や、高級感溢れるバスルームや、最新のテクノロジーで飾り立てられた部屋、高級食材等のアクセ サリーを持たず、ただあるものだけで心から歓迎されて、もてなされる事が本当に有り難いと実感させられる経験が出来るのはこういう土地で働くひとや、そこに住むひとが、都会に慣れ物質主義と化した私たちが忘れてしまった何かを未だに持ち合わせているからだと思います。

何 も高級なものは無かったですが、素朴な食材を見事な迄に料理されていて本当に美味しかったのを覚えています。あと自家製のアイスクリームも売っていたの で、離れの貸し切り温泉に行った後購入してしまいました。。カップに鉛筆でフレーバーが書かれてるあたり、本当に手作りなんだ。。というのが伺えてほっこ りしました、そしてアイスは激美味。




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