Saturday we took a local train to Fukushima and ate lunch at our first Japanese restaurant… it was spectacular! It was a friend of a friend’s dad’s restaurant and we ended up being there 20 minutes before they opened, but they let us in and sat us by the window looking out onto their wonderful and very small garden. We had pork medallions and miso and cabbage salads and rice – I had a curry dish. All of it was even better than we had hoped. We learned how to compliment the chef (which April has to keep reminding us) and also learned not to tip in Japan. Apparently it’s very offensive; that’s a difficult thing to adjust to… good for the money supply but awkward for me none-the-less.
We then took the Shinkansen and then a local train (~45 minutes each) to Nikko. Nikko isn’t as big of a tourist location as Kyoto or Tokyo, but it definitely draws in some people. It was even more crowded because Monday is a national holiday and the Japanese are quick to take advantage of a 3 (2) day weekend. There are posters everywhere saying “Nikko is Nippon”, Nippon being the Japanese word for Japan. We dropped our packs in the coin lockers (as we do often) and went to see the Tosho-gu Temple complex. This involved walking up a very scenic hill, with a fog covered river and the Shin-Kyo sacred bridge (photo on right). The temples were impressive, but were easily seen in an hour and 20 minutes. It was neat to see a Japanese family getting their car blessed by one of the only monks we saw there, and to see all of the “fortunes” people drew… bad ones being tied to trees and wires to hopefully counteract them.
We walked back into town (down the same hill) and found a great local place to eat. We had yaki-tori and an udon dish, some gyuzo and some Japanese meatballs, all great (a standing theme in our food experiences here). We picked up our packs and found our “slightly off the beaten trail hotel” called the Turtle Inn or sometimes, the “Pension Turtle Inn”. It was cheaper and nicer than most other places, probably because it was smaller and more out-of-the-way. It suited us fine. They had a private Japanese style bath area which we all tried out, as well as 2 bed and a full bathroom in each room. We got a “western style breakfast” in the morning, because that was our only option. It consisted of some of the best fruit I’ve ever eaten, some buttered toast, and a hard boiled egg. Exactly what we needed for our day of hiking.
We checked out of the place, put our bags back in the coin lockers, and hopped on a bus for Chuzenji, a nearby area dominated by a large lake at high elevation and many hiking areas and mountains. We picked a direction and started walking, soon running out of path and walked along the road for much longer than any of us wanted to. Walking along a road in Japan can be like walking along a narrow bridge in the US, there are nothing like shoulders to keep one out of traffic. We eventually found a path that went along side the road and kept on walking. Along the way we kept seeing great views of the lake and ended up walking by a few campsites, all fully equipped with matching camping gear, tents, chairs, etc…
We finally made it to the Ryuku falls (photo on right). We walked up many, many stories of stairs, following the path of the falls. We were impressed by the elder Japanese, out in the heat, walking up the steps as well as we were. There must be something to eating a lot of fish and staying active. We made it to the top of the stairs, started walking the next path of the hike, a 5.5 Km hilly path to a different set of waterfalls, and went about 5 minutes before we decided we were all tired and already behind our original timeframe for getting back, turned around and took a bus back to Nikko. We grabbed relatively crappy food (comparatively) at a touristy place. Karen and April had the Japanese version of pizza, and Anita had ramen while I had tempura-soba… I will never get tempura with anything brothy… it turned the fried-crispy-goodness, into soggy mush. at least the broth and noodles were good.
We trained it back to Fukushima, and the Shinkansen was so full we didn’t have seats. We ended up standing in the back of the train with a Japanese man who was already drunk enough to talk to us. He joked about his secretary who was Japanese but raised in America, thus worked out well as his translator but couldn’t really read Kanji anymore. He also talked about his having multiple girlfriends in different locations and loosing a bunch of money in golf this weekend. We got off the train in Fukushima and picked up what is soon to be April’s new car. She drove very well (a serious fear, knowing Aprils driving record in the US) and got us back to her place. We showered (desperately needed) and then walked to a very nice sushi bar in Koori-Machi. The sushi was SO FRESH! Karen didn’t go with us, as I think she was really tired and not a big fan of sushi. Then we went to the grocery store to get breakfast and random food, and then came back to April’s. She went to a friend of hers party, while we stayed here, contemplated doing something, and fell asleep.
This morning, I’ve been typing in this post and eating the best grapes I’ve ever eaten. We are taking a day trip somewhere to see something and eat something… I think castle and soba were mentioned… I don’t remember the name of the place… details to come…