Postcard from Japan: Nikko Winding Road and Waterfall

Our one full day in Nikko was busy. After a morning visiting the temples and shrines, we drove up the longest, windiest road I’ve experienced in quite a while. Thankfully the most car seat-prone child slept on the way up so we were spared the drama of stopping by the side of a very narrow road to clean up any messes. Although it might have given us the opportunity to get a closer look at the wild monkey we spotted briefly.

The Nikko winding road is made up of 48 hairpin turns – which are conveniently numbered so you know just how close you’re getting to the end (or how much further you still have to go).

The road reached the Akechidaira Plateau at the top which offered a view over the valleys and another chance for the boys to be told they weren’t allowed to buy anything at the Gift Shop.

We also declined the opportunity to ride the gondola after being told that it only travels a few hundred meters up the hill. Although it provided it’s own photo opportunity and made me feel a little bit like I’d been teleported to Europe.

After a brief 10 minute pit stop, we traveled back down the other side of the winding road which, thankfully, had far fewer turns than the drive up, and headed to the Kegon Waterfall. It was here that I really wish we’d more time to explore. There were so many wild monkey warnings that I felt a little cheated when we left without even a brief glimpse and I would have loved to have spent some time looking around the little Japanese mountain town.

Still, despite the fact that we were a couple of weeks late for the busy season, we were able to buy some hot food and take a look around the gift shop before heading down a short stairway to see the waterfall from the free viewing area.

Then, Thomas and I were nominated to take the paid elevator down 100 meters through the middle of the rock to a more impressive viewing platform. It our job to take photos and report back. I think everyone was a little exhausted with the sightseeing by this point and the thought of paying for all 9 of us to see a waterfall from a slightly lower elevation was just too much.

The elevator ride down was quite the adventure – 100 meters down into the middle of the rock and then a walk through a long corridor that made us feel like we were exiting the center of the earth. I’m sure the “Keep to the left” sign is critical during the busy autumn season.

But the view was pretty and definitely worth the trip down for the two of us. And, as an added bonus, Thomas found one more tiny gift shop (with a lot of the same stuff as the shop at the top of the elevator).

We headed back up to the top to join board the mini van just as the sun was setting over Nikko. Three hours later, we arrived back in Yokohama, exhausted but fulfilled. We squeezed a lot into two short Nikko days and I hope we have the opportunity to venture back again someday – if only to photograph a wild monkey or two.

Postcard From Japan: Nikko Shrines and Temples Part 1

The Nikko temple and shrines are listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and are, in my opinion, one of the most amazing places to visit in Japan. The shrine and temple area comprises more than 100 structures, most of which are nearly 400 years old. That’s a LOT of temples to see. Thankfully, I have children who are very interested in history and architecture otherwise it would have been a very long day. I think we spent about 5 hours walking around and still didn’t get to see everything. Are you ready for photos of temples? I hope so because there’s more than a few coming your way, although photography was banned inside the temple sanctuaries.

I didn’t know what to expect when we walked up to the first temple (all my research was done after the fact) and I was honestly a little concerned when we were greeted by a massive structure with a picture of a temple on the front. The main temple is under construction to protect it from Earthquake damage – “construction” in this case means pulling the entire building apart and then rebuilding it piece by piece. And “picture of a temple” means full scale photograph.

We were taken on a tour inside to see the displaced treasures of the temple, including gold Buddha statues, and then allowed to look at the construction taking place. The entire shrine will be rebuilt using the same methods they used to build the original structure nearly 400 years ago, by slotting together the perfectly cut pieces of timber like a giant jigsaw puzzle and without the use of nails.

Here’s Thomas being Gozilla with the scale replica – of course.

Playing with some of the construction materials.

Here’s what lies behind the curtain, so to speak.

Now that is one GIANT jigsaw puzzle.

After our tour of the main temple under construction, we headed out to see the rest of the shrines and Kei cracked himself up with a perfectly-timed photobomb.

When the Ishidas visit temples we stop and give respect at every shrine. It makes for a very slow journey but lots of great photo opportunities. Besides, it’s nice to slow down and really take in the beauty of the location and the relative silence. We arrived just after the Autumn tourist crush so silence was surprisingly easy to come by. While I missed seeing the changing leaves, I think the experience as a whole was probably a lot more enjoyable.

We walked around for the rest of the day visiting one temple and shrine after another – everything from elaborate dedications to famous Japanese warriors to tiny shrines that you could miss if you walked too quickly. We walked about 1,000 stairs and I took about the same number of photographs. I’ll share some here and then the rest tomorrow because there are just too many for one post.

I have no idea what this says – but it looks pretty.

More to come.

Postcard from Japan: Kinugawa Ryokan

I know, I know… one week I’m in snowy Portland and the next week I’m back in Japan. What can I say? My blog posts are a little like my mind at the moment – scattered and random.

There are two things I like to experience during every visit to Japan – some temple viewing and a trip to an Onsen. Thanks to some great planning by my husband and mother-in-law, an overnight trip to Nikko covered both experiences.

We loaded up a rented mini van with the entire family – including my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, his wife and our two nephews. That meant one large mini van by Japan standards. It took some very careful driving by my brother-in-law to navigate through the tight Yokohama streets.

It took us about four hours to reach the the Kinugawa Onsen Hotel, which greeted us with some fleeting autumn color. I imagine that this part of the country is stunningly beautiful in October – and also stunningly crowded.

The hotel was a traditional Ryokan which means that all the rooms have tatami floors, and someone will come to lay out futons while you’re off eating a traditional Japanese 5 course (rougly) meal.

This hotel also happened to have an onsen which I visited on three separate occasions during our overnight stay. Of course I couldn’t take photographs inside the onsen so the following poster will have to do. There were two separate onsen rooms and they had designated men and women times for each so I was able to visit both during our stay. Each room had a washing station (where you wash before getting in the onsen), a large indoor heated bath and several outdoor bathing areas. One room also had massaging bathtubs and a sauna. There was also a dressing area with hairdryers, lotions and anything else you might need to make yourself presentable again after your onsen experience.

The outdoor bathing areas were my happy place. I want an onsen in my backyard, although we’d also have to build a 20 foot fence for privacy so it might be a logistical challenge.

Possibly the best thing about visiting a Ryokan (besides the onsen) is that they provide you with a Yukata (robe) to wear during your stay. You can walk around the hotel in your robe, eat wearing your robe and even sleep in your robe. They even provide robes for children – who of course immediately assume they’re provided for ninja practice.

And toe socks! Who could forget the toe socks?

Dinner was served in a HUGE banquet room in the hotel. I think they gave us that room because they knew we were accompanied by four crazy boys with ants in their pants.

Dinner included a vast array of small plates of food – some I recognized and others were more…interesting. Of course I tried everything.

After dinner I visited the onsen one more time before we called it a night. In the morning, I took another trip to the onsen (making the most of it) and then walked around the hotel with my camera before we headed out to a day of temple viewing. I’ll share pictures of the temples in another post because, well, there are a LOT.

Thomas took this one.

And Kei took this one…

A hotel employee took a group shot…

…and then insisted on another under the hotel sign because free publicity (I guess?).

Back soon with 1001 temple photos.