This post is much later than expected; sorry for that, but I only got the pictures from Bogdan yesterday. What had in fact happened was that I had put my camera battery in the charger the day before, but had forgotten to take it out again the following morning. So while I had my camera with me, it didn't have a battery. Therefore all pictures here have been taken with Bogdan's camera (some were still taken by me though), and two of them with my mobile phone (should be easy to spot which).
May 19th was our third day in Nikko, and without any festivals to stand in our way, and the further exploration of the shrines planned for the day after, today was to be spent on hiking.
Bogdan had not yet seen the Kegon Falls, since he arrived after Danny and I had gone there. And we had missed our intended bus stop the first time around: rather than getting off at the falls, one stop earlier is a cable car that leads to a viewpoint and a hike to the falls. I'm sure you get a fabulous view from the cable car itself too; I wouldn't know however, as it was far too foggy to see anything. But the clouds and fog stayed out of the valley of Chuzenji lake, so although we had fog behind us, the viewpoint did give us a very spectacular view of the falls.
From the viewpoint we began our hike, 1.5km to another viewpoint, from there down to the lake. It was a fairly steep trail (the second viewpoint was quite a bit higher than the first), but I've been doing so much walking since arriving in Japan that my physical condition was good enough. :) Although we were surrounded by clouds most of the time, whenever they cleared up we got a great view, and it was definitely worth it.
What was described in the Lonely Planet as "walking down to the lake" from the viewpoint turned out to be quite a bit more difficult: we couldn't find the trail. I suspect because it's relatively early in the year and not many people have done this hike yet. By the time we realized that we weren't going to find the trail anymore we were too far down to go back the way we came, so we decided to just keep going and hope for the best. What followed was a difficult climb down. But never really dangerous since it wasn't all that steep, don't worry; the biggest danger was that we'd end up at a dead end and have to go back. But, roughly following the course of a small stream we found a way down. At least it makes for a more interesting story this way. :P
We had intended to take the same hike from the Ryuzu Falls as the day before in the afternoon, only further this time, all the way to Yumoto Onsen, but due to time constraints (we had to be able to catch the last bus down after all), we cancelled that idea. Instead we took the bus to Yumoto Onsen, because we wanted to go to the hot springs there. We used the hot spring of a temple there, which was small, very rustic, traditional-looking, and a real natural hot spring, not just heated water. It was very relaxing after our hike, and it was also very, very, very hot. And I think I still smell of sulphur. :P
After this we took the bus down back to Nikko, and ate for the third time at our favourite restaurant; we got a free beer as a reward for our regular patronage. :)
I found a book with professional foto's of Nikko at the hostel, which tought me two things: 1. whoever made that book is a better photographer than I'll ever be; and 2. we'll have to come back to Nikko in winter, it should look spectacular. :)
First of all, rest assured that the rest of the Nikko story is still coming. In fact, the text has already been written, I'm only still waiting on the pictures from Bogdan. But it will be soon.
Today there was a festival at Tokyo University's Hongo Campus (Japan certainly has no shortage of festivals :P ), which lots and lots of food stands and a some other stuff as well. I didn't take any pictures worth posting, but I did take a short video of some taiko drumming. I really like that, it's something I wouldn't mind learning if I had the time, it looks like so much fun. And they were very good as well.
I regret not taking a longer video, but for what it's worth, here it is.
I also saw Spiderman 3 today (in English, with Japanese subtitles). It's a decent movie, not as good as the first two, a bit boring in parts, but overall quite fun and in my opinion not nearly as bad as some of the reviews I read. A decent way to spend a Sunday afternoon, anyway. :)
The chairs in the movie theatre were terrible! :P
A few days ago I received the issue of the magazine that includes the DVD containing Find As You Type. The magazine doesn't really mention Find As You Type except in the list of software on the DVD and one small line in the article: "Find As You Type ermöglicht die inkrementelle Suche in geöffneten Websites" (Find As You Type enables incremental search in opened websites). You can also find a mention here (just use Find As You Type to search for "Find As You Type" on that page :P ).
But it's on the DVD, so hopefully some people will find and install it. :)
It's issue 11, released 2007-5-14, if you're interested.
PS: There will be a slight delay in the next part of my Nikko story. On the third day (May 19th), I forgot my camera so Bogdan let me use his camera. I will not be able to get those pictures until Friday, so just a little more patience please. :)
May 18th was our second day in Nikko, and the second day at the festival. We had breakfast in the hostel, and left around 10 together with the two Canadian girls for the main event in the festival, which is a 1000-strong samurai procession. Very impressive indeed (and much better weather than the day before), and because we were there earlier than the day before we had a good view as well. I will not try to describe the procession, since I wouldn't do it justice; instead just look at the pictures (which also don't do it justice really).
After the procession was over we look around at its end-point, and then went to eat at the same restaurant as the day before (Patricia and Marika, the Canadian girls, hadn't eaten there yet; they liked it as much as we did). Then it was time to say goodbye to Marika as she was taking a Shinkansen to Kyoto that afternoon. Patricia joined us for another busride up the mountain, but she got off earlier than us (she was going to the Kegon Falls like we did a day earlier), so it was just me and Danny again.
We were going to the Ryuzu Falls, which are at the other end of the lake. This is a very different kind of fall; not as high, but much longer (horizontally). There was a hiking trail that followed the river upstream from the falls, which we followed for as far as we could, time permitting. Definitely worth doing, it's a beautiful area.
But alas, after only a short while we had to turn back to catch the bus so we could be at the hostel in time for dinner. Similar meal as the day before (not exactly the same though), still very good.
Without any Dutch people to talk to this time, I had to find another way to pass the evening. Patricia and I discovered that the hostel had a DVD of the movie Spirited Away, which we both like (and in fact had talked about earlier that day). Since it's been a long time since I've seen it, we decided to watch it (we weren't the only fans in the hostel; several people commented that Miyazaki's work was the reason they were in Japan :). After the movie I discussed some of the movie's religious themes with our cook/Buddhist monk, who, although the movie's setting comes more from Shinto than Buddhism, still knows a lot more about such things than me of course. I'd be lucky if I understand even half of the underlying meanings, it's a very deep picture (that's still very enjoyable even when you don't "get" it; hence its success in the west).
We were also joined by Bogdan that evening. And with more hiking planned for the next day, I made it an early night.
More to come in part three!
I think I'm in love, with a place called Nikko. Nikko is a town in a foresty area in the mountains north of Tokyo, and is known for its many Buddhist temples, and the grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun. Besides that though, it's simply a breathtaking area which offers many hiking opportunities. It's quite a nice escape from the urban life in Tokyo.
We (Danny and me) took a four day trip to Nikko, starting last Thursday (May 17th), and Bogdan joined us Friday evening. I will make separate posts, mainly because I took so many pictures so it'll take me a while to sort through them, delete the bad and uninteresting ones and name them all. So I'll post the pictures of the first day for the time being.
The reason we went to Nikko now was because of the festival on May 17th and 18th. We left for Nikko in the morning using the Tobu line train. It takes just over two hours to reach Nikko from Asakusa station in Tokyo (in total about 3 hours from the international house). We used the Tobu-Nikko Free Pass, which includes the train trips and means you can use the bus for free while in Nikko. This is easily worth it because the bus rides can add up quickly.
The forecast for the weekend was bad, and unfortunately it was raining today (fortunately it turns out the forecast was wrong for the rest of the weekend, and we had quite good weather the other days). We arrived at the Nikko Park Lodge, where we had made reservations, around noon. I can recommend this hostel if you need to stay in Nikko. It doesn't look very Japanese, but the owners are nice, and it has a very nice atmosphere. The rooms are also better than in any other hostel I've ever been in, and the price is good (approx. ¥2800 per night for the hostel rooms).
Today's event for the festival was mounted archery. It was in danger of being cancelled because of the rain, but at the last moment they decided to go through, although it was shorter than originally planned. Only five archers participated. It was very impressive nonetheless.
We ate lunch at a restaurant (unfortunately I just realized I don't know what it's called) which was very good, with a very nice owner, and a great atmosphere. We liked it so much we ate there every day!
After that we went up to Chuzenji Lake, which is about 1300m above sea level. It's a 30 minute bus ride up a winding road with many hairpin turns, so you need a strong stomach. :) The advantage was that we got above the first cloud layer, so the weather was considerably better up there (but it was quite cold). The lake itself is beautiful, and the main attraction there, the one hundred meter Kegon Falls are also quite spectacular. There's an elevator down to the bottom of the falls (¥530), but in our opinion the view from above was actually better.
After returning to the hostel we ate there, a vegetarian meal which was absolutely excellent. The cook is a Buddhist monk and he's definitely very good. We also met two Canadian girls from Montreal at dinner (they weren't travelling together, they met by chance at the hostel). Since they were going to see the festival the next day as well we agreed to go together.
And I spent the evening talking to a Dutch couple who were staying there (it seems that no matter where you go, there's always at least a few Dutchies :P ).