Wednesday morning we were up, a little worse for wear after our sake day, and a little hard to motivate (me), which is always the case when leaving Kyoto. As much as I feel I am coming home when I arrive, I feel I’m being dragged away from a friend when I leave. A reasonably quick pack, and a couple of Maki’s strong coffees, and we were in a taxi, one of us crying about leaving, again, and off on our next adventure.
Kyoto to Nikko is quite a decent distance. It’s 534km and almost 8 hours to drive…. we, however, were on the shinkansen…. so, just under 3 hours to Tokyo. Followed by 45 minutes to Utsonomiya, then about 40 minutes on a local train to Nikko. Nikko is in the mountains north of Tokyo and is a very famous historical place. The Tokugawa Shoguns are deified in shrines here, and there are many UNESCO listed places to visit. There is also an historical theme park, called Edo Mura, or Edo Wonderland. This may be my main motivation for coming here. But more about that in tomorrow’s blog…..
We decided to hire a car in Nikko, which was a very good idea. The road to our ryokan was one of the most windy I have been on. The GPS looked like a snake, and the speed limit in much of Japan is 40km/h…. so, it makes for pretty slow going. The ascent from Nikko to Lake Chuzenji is beautiful. From just under 600m above sea level at Nikko, to 1200m at the Lake, which is surrounded by mountains and a 2,500m volcano, the Autumn leaves on the maple trees were everything I hoped for. We had a scare half way up, and Super Sake Boy had to stop the car for a bunch of macaques (monkeys; the ones who go in hot springs). The were galavanting across the road, and Super Sake Boy initially thought they were hairy children. It was very funny…..
We arrived at our ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) which sits on the edge of the lake. It was very beautiful. And a bit cold. We were welcomed and came inside. This place, Hoshino Kai Nikko, is next level beautiful. Tatami, ikebana, pottery, stone gardens. It has all the things you would expect to find in a luxury Japanese onsen ryokan. We were shown to our room, and every turn in the corridor unveiled something beautiful. Our room is stunning. Traditional woodwork screens, called kumiko, made with no glue or nails. Sliding shoji screens, yukata to wear made of 100% organic flax, the largest, lushest bed and a view over the lake. Heaven!!
We settled in, had a sake overlooking the lake and changed into our onsen ryokan attire. Before dinner we took in the geta show, a dance performance about the traditional wooden thongs worn by Japanese, all of which was in Japanese. We picked out a bit of information here and there, and Super Sake Boy was loathe to participate, but I was very enthusiastic about stomping my geta and clapping my hands in time with the taiko drums music….. Super Sake Boy said it was a Japanese hootenanny…. 😂
Kaiseki… where to begin. Every foreigners dream and worst nightmare rolled into one. Kaiseki is the traditional multi course set menu served in ryokan and restaurants, usually at a very considerable price. It is incredibly well presented, to the point of looking like art. It is a lot of food. Some of it is pure delight. Very delicious. Some other bits, dred inducing, and not overly suited to a Western palate. I love Japanese food. I love tofu, I love sushi, I love sashimi and I really love Wagyu. I love raw eggs and I look forward to fish, rice and miso for breakfast. But, some kaiseki has some other ingredients that I am not fond of. This evening’s meal included some uni (sea urchin)…. not a big fan. Tonight I learned even though I am not a huge fan of scallops, I like them raw. Super Sake Boy was bought up in the middle of Canada, and has a bit of an aversion to fish. The kaiseki is definitely more of a struggle for him. Once we concluded the meal, feeling like we were escaping from something, we retired to the room, sipped on a little bit of a sake and crawled into our rediculously plush beds and fell asleep…..