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 ).