And now, the rest of the story...After two days of mucking through Nikko and its environs in the rain, we were all ready for a break. This is the view of our hotel, Nikko Green Hotel, that greeted us when we got off the bus from Lake Chuzenji.
The rain had stopped, and we were headed back for a relaxing break in the onsen before heading to our traditional Japanese dinner. Yukata time!
At this point, second day was much like the first, only better. I swiftly changed into my yukata and headed down to the onsen, leaving Frank and the boys behind to whatever mischief they could find. (Given the nature of the onsen, there are no pictures to share in this part of the post; think of it as your "Heartbreak Hill" section; you'll be rewarded with joyful photos in the second half, I promise.)
The hot spring bath are (usually) divided into to areas: one for women and one for men. The entrance to the onsen at our hotel was down a long corridor that looked like a regular hallway with rooms. However, at the end of the hallway there were two doors on the left (one for men, the other for women), and a small alcove on the right with a massage chair(!), a foot massager, a back massager, and a fresh supply of iced tea (because no one wants hot tea after a dip in the hot spring). So what that it was a little low tech with the "do-it-yourself" massage. I was the only one there, and I plopped myself down into that massage chair with no intention of moving. It was the best massage chair in the whole wide world. Was my perspective skewed from two days of walking in the rain? ABSOLUTELY! However, it was wonderful. There was a picture window that looked out into a small garden, and beyond the garden, I could see a lumber yard. I found myself thinking about Nikko, and the rain, and ark building. After about 10 minutes (and no decision about whether we should build an ark), I headed to the onsen itself.
Think of the onsen as a really nice locker room. You walk in, get undressed (yes, completely), and then you put your clothes into a basket. You then walk into the shower area (without a towel). The shower area is actually a row of wooden stools in front of what looks like little mirrored dressing stands. At the stands are soaps and shampoos, as well as a hand-held shower and a small bucket for filling and rinsing yourself. You have a seat on the stool (yes, with your bare butt; yes, in front of anyone else who is there) and you rinse of really well. This is a much more stern rule than the "rinse before swimming" rule that everyone ignores at the swimming pools in the U.S. Really scrub yourself clean and with soap if you like. (I grabbed these illustrations off the web at OnsenJapan.net.)
Our onsen had one bath inside and one bath outside for women, and one bath inside and one bath outside for men (so says Frank). Both the inside and outside baths were nice. There was also a dry sauna, which was torture. (I think I lasted one minute--I could barely breathe. It must have been similar to how Harry Potter felt when the Dementors attacked.) I could only stand about 10 minutes of the bath, even though it was entirely relaxing. I adore a hot bath, but this was just too hot. The life was draining out of me. And because I know you want to know, there were 5 women and one little girl there while I was there. The little girl was there with her mom and grandmother. It was a family affair.
After a soak, you get out, lather up and have another "wash" (again on the stool). You can get back in the bath if you like. I did, just for a minute. Then, you're done. You head back out to towel off and get your yukata. I stopped off at the alcove for some iced tea before heading back to our room, where I melted into the loveseat. Frank schlepped the boys down to the men's onsen. Three went in, but one quickly came out and raced back to the room to hang out with me. He lasted about 10 seconds in the onsen atmosphere. Just a little too much for him. If you simply must have more information (or maybe some thoughtful illustrations), check out Onsen Japan.
As for the rest of the day, it was a repeat of dinner on the first night. The meal was in the same tatami room, and we had the same server. Even the raccoon was the same. Different food, though. No shabu-shabu. It was all delicious: soup, various kinds tofu, sushi, some kind of fabulous melting fruit sorbet at the end that was served in the thick shell-like skin of the fruit, but I was so relaxed after the onsen I forgot to take my camera to dinner. You'll just have to trust me that it was oishkatta (delicious).
The next morning we awoke to our final day in Nikko...a quick look outside revealed a hint of blue sky! Afraid to hope, we headed downstairs for our final meal at the Nikko Green Hotel: another traditional breakfast, but this one in the tatami room:
|Frank-san still lounging in his yukata, though IW is dressed and ready to go for the day.|
|Pineapple! Hooray! Soup, pickles(?!), ham, green salad, sushi, rice porridge...but we got to make our own eggs! Yippee!|
|What can I say? The boy takes after his father--he's happy with miso soup for breakfast. He'll live a long, happy life.|
|This photo is for Dad so he can see the dimensions of the wood--not just the "usual" 2x4.|
Ahead was our 30 minute walk up the mountain to the falls. It was a beautiful, RAIN-FREE walk. Did I mention that it was rain free? It was glorious. Here's a good soundtrack to capture the mood: Lemon Jelly's "Nice Weather for the Ducks" (the best part is at 2:41) Give it a listen while reading
(Be warned: dancing is unavoidable):
(I have to give credit to Daniel, who introduced me to "Nice Weather for the Ducks" a year or so ago. \m/ (* - *) \m/ Rock On--AH taught me that emoticon.)
Now, with travel music humming, we're off!
We had several good omens on our walk to the falls, and more than a few shrines and gods to help us find our way:
|Leaving a rock at the shrine where other hikers have done the same.|
|Note the dappled light!|
|Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It's up the road we go!|
|Bowls for treats (candy, coins) left by travelers.|
|Walking sticks, just in case.|
|We made it to the top. This is looking back down the steep climb we had just made.|
|Pretty awesome place for a rain-free self-portrait.|
|Big falls; small people|
|Who are these people?|
|These roots were the "stairs" for the climb back up from the base of the falls.|
|Monkeys in the wild|
|One way up; one way down|
But on the way back to the hotel, we did find what may turn out to be the best kid's souvenir ever, free of charge. One kid's trash is another kid's treasure:
|Runner on third; bottom of the 9th. Down by 1 run; Full count. He swings--Walk off home run to end the game!|
We made it back to the hotel and hopped the shuttle bus to the train station. We shoved our luggage (and "new" baseball bat) into a locker and headed out for one more Nikko adventure before returning to our home sweet (Tokyo) home. But first, a quick noodle lunch:
From our perch in the restaurant upstairs, guess who we spied? The 6th grade field trip! Still wearing their yellow hats and behaving perfectly.
We headed out. But wait! What's this? The Nikko Hello Kitty Store, of course. Did you know that in Japan she is called Kitty-chan (pronounced "on" not "an")? See, I teach you something new every day (mainichi).
|Steering wheel cover, rear-view mirror and cup holder to pimp your ride HK style.|
|Ignore the ominous clouds and just notice the river. (That's what we did.)|
The wood carver handed out unbelievably sharp tools for us to use to carve the picture. (Surprisingly, though the Japanese people are often very concerned about safety, there were no extra precautions taken. No American-style release to sign.) It was a little anxiety producing (to put it mildly) to watch the instructor (who did not speak English) teach the kids to use the tool. He kept saying kite zya nai (don't cut yourself). Right. Got it. Apparently thumbs are particularly vulnerable.
It started like this:
|Note the rectangular practice boards|
|We practiced while someone took a turn carving the plate.|
And well over an hour later it ended like this (all thumbs intact):
We packed our plate away and headed back down to the train station where we caught the Tobu train to Tokyo.
It may have drizzled on us a little as we walked to the train, but I'll never tell.