Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Japan III - Nikko's Revenge

Remember my posts about Japan? Well, I know I kind of fell off the wagon there for awhile, but I'm back to boring you with the details of my trip:


With the cumulative effect of jet lag and rush hour crowds from the day before, my aunts decided they were not up to the long day trip to Nikko. My sister J and I persevered. I am so glad we did. It might have been my favorite thing I saw in Japan. It was certainly the most adventurous day.

We woke up early (Too early for the free breakfast at the hotel, darn! Protein bars for breakfast!) and took local trains into and across Tokyo to Asakusa station. From there we bought special passes for the trip to Nikko. The train ride was about two hours long but at least it was the kind of train that has all seats and we didn't have to stand up. Let me just say that the standing hand holds on the Japanese trains are a little low for my taste. We even got a tiny bit of sleep on the way. As we got near Nikko we saw snow on the ground. SNOW?!?!? Good thing I wore a turtleneck sweater and brought my snowboarding parka. Yah, we really didn't see the snow coming, but it was okay. The snow/rain was patchy and the sun even came out sometimes. It was cold, but not unbearable.

First we saw the shrines and temples of Nikko, which are World Heritage Sites.

Observe the rain and/or melting snow.

Cuz I love me some torii!
This one in particular is cool because it's made mostly of granite.

Five-storied pagoda (with a tiny bit of snow in the foreground).

I bet you know these guys. The famous monkeys that started it all.
Funny that something so famous is carved on a horse stable.

Did I mention there was rain and snow?
But the rain chains were pretty cool!

Cool roofs and a torii.

Cool roofs with snow and a stone wall.

Anyone else seeing a running theme here?
Better get a close-up of that cool roof with snow.

Oh and guess what? There was snow.

And don't forget the cool roofs.

Lunch break! Handmade hot soba noodles.

Okay, now back to the cool roofs.

Okay, now pretend you're watching a movie and I rack focus. (M would be so pleased!):

The roofs don't get all the glory. See, there were cool fences too. (I did loves the roofs, but they were also the only way to get a photo without a gazillion tourists in the shot.)

After we finished with the cool temples and shrines, we decided to catch a bus to go see the National Park. I was excited to see some cool waterfalls. After getting on the wrong bus at first (and feeling stupid), we got straightened out and headed up the most winding mountain road ever. On a bus. IN THE SNOW. We should have realized a little snow below translates to A LOT of snow up on the mountain:

Do you see that turn? Do you???
Okay, now repeat that 48 times. Literally.

It's called the Irohazaka road because there's one turn for each letter of the ancient Japanese alphabet.

In this shot you can see four levels of the road.

Anyway, we made it to the top alive and found ourselves in the middle of a snowstorm. Nutso as we are, we trudged over to the first waterfall through more than ankle deep snow. Apparently they didn't expect any tourists to be crazy enough to be out that day or something, so no one had shoveled the sidewalks. Hmph! Just because it was still snowing is no excuse. I know most people schedule days for Nikko, but we only had one. It was now or never! When we got to the viewing platform, we held on to the railing for dear life so we wouldn't be blown away. (I'm only kidding a little bit.) Here is the waterfall we worked so hard to see:

Fabulous as the waterfall was, the driving snow felt like little needles. As much as we wanted to see some of the other waterfalls, we were chilled to the bone and suspicious that we might possibly be insane for being out in that weather. The visibility wasn't so hot either. We admitted defeat and immediately turned around and caught the first bus back down the mountain. Miraculously enough, we survived the mountain road trip again. We briefly considered doing a little souvenir shopping back in town, but there was a train back leaving in like two minutes and there wouldn't be one for another hour. We chose going back to the hotel post-haste and made a mad dash for the station.

After all my droning on and on, you probably bear a striking resemblance to my sister on the train ride back to Tokyo:

You thought this post was over, but no! You must know that we had to travel through Tokyo and back to our hotel during the peak of rush hour during the busiest time of year in Tokyo. Everything you've ever heard about the crowds on Tokyo trains is true. We were packed in so tight that I only would have gotten a photo of the guy next to me's nostrils, so watch this YouTube video instead:

At the busiest times of the year, they really do employ "pushers." They're employees who wear white gloves and whose job it is to literally push everyone into the train to make sure they can shut the doors. Just picture me and my sister somewhere deep in the bowels of the train in that video and it's a fairly accurate representation of our last 30 minute train ride back to the hotel. I don't know exactly how accurate since I couldn't even dream of twisting around to see the train doors, but it felt about like that by the third stop, what with all the pushing and how long it took to get the doors closed and get going again and everything. My one arm was pinned down at my side and the other one was pinned across my chest (protecting "my girls"). There were three points that helped me look on the bright side about this (besides the "cultural experience). For one thing, I didn't have to hold on to a handle or worry about falling over as a train riding rookie. There was no room to fall over into. Second, I benefitted from being taller than most of the people around me, so I got a little breathing space all to myself. I can't imagine what it was like for some of those short little women, having to ride with their face in someone's armpit. And lastly, I was relieved pick-pockets aren't a big issue in Japan because on that train I wouldn't have been able to tell a thief unzipping my backpack from someone grabbing at anything to try to come up to the surface for life-sustaining air.

It was definitely good that my aunts didn't come. I mean, no offense intended, but J and I were beat and we're a lot younger. (For my aunts' sake I won't explicitly say how much younger.) Dinner that night was leftover sushi that my dad and aunts got at the grocery store and a trip to Baskin Robbins. I discovered that I can eat just about anything all day (or nothing, however you want to look at it) as long as I know I can end the day with a double scoop serving of "Satee Wan" (or 31 Flavors to you and me).


Sheyenne said...

Gretchen- not boring at all. That place is absolutely beautiful and I would love to visit someday. And I never tire of looking at those roofs! They're just amazing. I've watched that video a few times and it amazes me everytime I watch it that that actually occurs. I think I'd have a panic attack on a train like that.

Reed and Liz said...

oh man that video is out of control! and those waterfalls are amazing. i'm glad we bugged you to keep posting about your trip :)

Leann said...

LOL! I love it. All of it.

Kristen said...

Wow wow wow on the video. I can picture you protecting your "girls" and i appreciate the imagery:) I love the photography and fun places you captured. Thanks for sharing.