Yesterday me and a german friend took off for my first trip outside of Tokyo. We decided to go to Nikko, a small town in the countryside where the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu is located. It’s most famous for it’s carefully crafted wooden temples and houses, the most famous one being the three monkey who don’t hear, don’t say and don’t see anything.
But before we arrived there I had the difficult task of meeting the friend at Shinjuku station. Shinjuku seems to be the busiest railway station of the world with millions of commuters passing there each day. On weekends it doesn’t seem to be that bad, but somehow I didn’t find the eastern exit, so I had to wander around quite a bit. When I finally met her we went to the JR (Japan Rail) store to get my Japan Rail Pass which allows me to travel with almost every train provided by JR in the whole country. Nikko is a two hour travel with some stops so when we were on hour way at around 11 am we were prepared for a long day.
The first part up to Omiya was okay as we were able to sit in the train, but when we changed to the Shinkansen at Omiya it became more like a real japanese experience. A small holiday called “silver week” just started to a lot of people were taking the opportunity to travel and that was why the Shinkansen was packed. Fortunately for us the trip to Utsunomiya only took twenty minutes. After ariving there we were greeted by a lot of volunteers who happily showed all the tourists the way to the Nikko line. And after only 30 more minutes we arrived safely at Nikko.
Nikko really has the feeling of a countryside town, although because the area with all the temples being a world heritage site there are a lot of tourists flooding the streets. We deicided to walk up to the shrines, and in between we sat down for lunch at a small restaurant. The food was very delicious and although it wasn’t the tofu skin called “yabu” shich Nikko seems to be famous for, the soba noodles were very tasty and gave us enough strength to continue our walk.
The whole compound of the so called Toshogu is situated in the mountains so you have to climb a lot of stairs to finally stand in front of the entrance. It then stretches over a very large area which is wh you have to walk a lot if you want to see all the temples. Some are restricted for the public, some are open, at some you have to take your shoes off to get in (something especially foreigners just don’t sem to understand as they always enter the platform with their shoes on to take them off there. My friend was especially annoyed about that behaviour). at some you can walk in freely. There are always priests and monks explaining the places to the visitors and you are led in groups through the buildings. At one temple everybody was explained how to pray at Toshogu (two bows, two handclaps, make the wish, one bow), at another one, the room of the crying dragon, the showed how sound differed depending on where you clacked two wooden pieces together. Very impressive. But after that they always remind you that there are a lot of talisman things to be bought so they guide you to a small stand at some side of the room. People actually buy those things in huge numbers and sometimes it feels like being on a market.
But although there are countless tourists flooding the ways there sometimes you come across slightly quieter temples, especially those which are a bit far out. That’s where you really know that you are in the countryside wandering through a forest. We decided to head back to the station at around 4 pm but not before we bought some omiyage, the traditional way to bring a present to the people back home. Usually it’s local specialities, so I decided to get some cake for my host’s family. We boarded the train back to Utsunomiya and had a very relaxing journey back home to Tokyo, because the trains were a lot emptier than when we got here. Arriving at Tokyo we headed to Shibuya again as there was another live show scheduled at my friend’s favourite club called the “O-Nest”. The singer of Comeback My Daughters played a solo show ther which was highly enjoyable and then after him a band called Dry River String was playing. The whole atmosphere was very relaxing and it didn’t really fel like we were in the loud and bustling town of Shibuya. The club itself was located on two stores of the building with the higher one being a bar and the lower one housing the stage area. The show itself wasn’t as crowded as the one the day before so that was relaxing as well. And if that wasn’t enough, the music eased your soul. Dry River String play a very quiet and melancholic style, two acoustic guitars, some drum effects with a cajun and a piano, that’s it. Very laid back, but exactly what I needed after a tour like the one I had on that day. We stayed for some time after the show talking to some friends and then my host, who also showed up, took me back home by car, showing my some places I missed while travelling with the subway.
Today I will take it easy and rest and relax my feet. My lower legs are really hurting from alking around non stop for four day so it might be good to just hang back.