What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nikko: The Final Chapter

 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.)

Then you go into the bath, which is usually only a few feet away.  Apparently, each onsen seems to have its own set of "rules," so, for example, in the one at Nikko Green Hotel, there were no towels.  Not on you.  Not anywhere.

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.
After drying our shoes with a hair dryer (deja vu), we headed out into the brightening day for a hike up to Jakko Falls.  The first thing we passed?  The lumber yard!  Maybe it is because I am the daughter of a home builder, or maybe because I still had not decided about ark building, but I found this place fascinating.  It looks old and worn down, but the saws were humming along:

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!
Further up the road we found a few more friends:

Bowls for treats (candy, coins) left by travelers.
We soon arrived at our destination, Jakko Falls, which was not as big as Kegon Falls, but we had the place all to ourselves.  With the sun out, we had actually gotten a little warmish during the climb, but in the forest near the falls it was nice and cool.  The mist from the falls and the cover from the trees kept the temperature down.  Everything about Jakko Falls surpassed my expectations, which is probably why I went a little crazy with the picture taking.  Once we reached the official entrance to the falls, we had one last climb up to reach the highest point:

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

I half expected to encounter Bilbo Baggins or Gandalf--or at least the wild monkeys Nikko is famous for--but the only wildlife we saw were the Domesticatus Americanus monkey pictured above and this unfortunate (dead) fellow in the road on the way home:

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:

I spotted this baby in the woods a about 25 yards from the road.  I know a good whiffle bat when I see one.  We know it's good, because it says so right on the wood-grained plastic:  "Homerun Bat." (In English and Japanese. 'Nuf said.)  You can bet there is no way on God's green earth that my youngest child is parting with this bat.  Even though it is cracked.  Even though it is too short for him.  Even though it is rather dirty.  Besides, like a puppy, that bat followed us all the way home (to the hotel):

Runner on third;  bottom of the 9th.  Down by 1 run;  Full count.  He swings--Walk off home run to end the game!

Walking is really much more fun with a baseball bat in hand.  Protection and batting practice all in one.  Have at, baseball boy!

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).

Irrashaimase! (Welcome!)

Steering wheel cover, rear-view mirror and cup holder to pimp your ride HK style.
I did not tarry in the HK store--we had one more trek to make before catching our train.  Our last (20 minute) hike took us across the Daiya-gawa River,
Ignore the ominous clouds and just notice the river. (That's what we did.)
though the woods (on one of Nikko's public nature trails) and straight to the Nikko Kibori-no-Sato Woodcarving Center, where we got to learn how to carve wood in the Nikko style.

The boys picked an object (a wooden plate) and a design (a dragon--the most difficult).  The dragon was already painted on the plate;  we "simply" had to carve it. 

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
And progressed like this:

We practiced while someone took a turn carving the plate.

More practice.

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.

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