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Road Trip to Nikko in a Typhoon

April 10, 2012

Tuesday April 3rd was spent having grand adventures! My morning was spent running some errands, but soon afterwards Jess picked me up in her car and we went to meet Eric and Rob, two other ALTs who live in Koga-shi. Once the four of us were all loaded up, we hopped on the highway to drive to Nikko, which is further north from Koga-shi and is kind of set in the mountains. It took an hour and a half to drive there, so we passed the time by counting how many love hotels versus Sukiya restaurants we passed by and just talking. The weather was fairly cloudy, but we weren’t too worried about it raining. At least, I wasn’t! I had checked the weather for that day, and my sources told me that there was a 20% chance of rain. Besides, no matter how much I worried the facts didn’t change that I still didn’t have an umbrella!

Driving on the left side of the road! See the mountains in the distance? We eventually went right to drive parallel to them.

We arrived in Nikko right on time to meet Karen, my roommate in training and fellow person-who-was-supposed-to-be-placed-in-Joso, who had rode to Nikko from her placement on the train. Once we all were grouped, we started walking in the direction of a temple and two shrines. We first came across a bridge, but was barricaded so we weren’t able to cross it.

The bridge!

We had to hike up a series of staircases set in the mountainside (it was a gradual slope, don’t worry) and we first stopped by 輪王寺 (Rinno-ji), a Buddhist temple, but discovered that one of the important buildings was being restored, so we decided to not pay the entrance fee and moved on to the shrines. This particular temple is a World Heritage Site, so the restoration is important work.

The building with the mural was constructed around the actual temple structure to protect it from the elements during restoration.

The first shrine we went to is called 東照宮 (Toushouguu), which is a Shinto shrine where Tokugawa Ieyasu (founder of the Tokugawa shogunate) is enshrined. So, it’s a pretty important place! You can read some more information here . It has imagery of the three wise monkeys (hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil), but there was a pretty steep entrance fee (1200 yen, so around $14.50) and weather was so discouraging that I didn’t bother looking for any of it. Instead I’m resolved to go back when the weather is nice so I can enjoy the shrine a bit more! I did purchase an 絵馬 (ema) there, though, to resume my collection! Before arriving in Japan, I had decided to do so. To explain about what I just wrote,  絵馬 (ema) are wooden votive plaques that you buy at the shrine, write your wish on (and your name, if you’d like), and hang it up in the shrine. In doing so, your wish supposedly comes true. Instead of doing that, I buy the plaques, write the name of the shrine as well as what city it’s in and the date I visited it, and hang it up on my wall. When I studied abroad in Kyoto in 09-10, I managed to go back to America with a collection of 41 絵馬!

From my photo archives. These 絵馬 are hanging on my wall back in Wisconsin. The 41st came with its own little stand, so it's not on the wall.

Hopefully I’ll be able to do something similar here, but it’s difficult when you can’t nail or tack anything on your walls! So, for now, the 絵馬 that I purchased must sit on my tabletop for now.

After exploring 東照宮 (Toushouguu), we went a little further and came across 二荒山神社 (Futarayama-jinja), which is another Shinto shrine. You can get a little more information about the shrine here . There a neat story about the bridge I photographed and showed earlier, so be sure to read it! We were all surprised to see that there was snow on some of the roofs of the buildings here! It was pretty neat to see! Here I bought my second 絵馬 of the day, and we decided that it was getting late enough in the day that we should start heading back to the train station.

Entering Futarasan Jinja.

How to confirm you're in the mountains: snow!

As we were walking back down, the sky decided to really open up and pour on us. Luckily Jess had brought a raincoat and an umbrella, and she was kind enough to lend me the umbrella. We ended up taking refuge in a restaurant next to the station called Asian Garden Indian Restaurant, I kid you not that is what it was called, where the food was good yet a tad expensive. We didn’t have much choice though, since many other places had closed! We were hoping that the rain would let up a bit, but clearly it had other ideas. So, Karen got on the train to go back home and the rest of us piled in the car to head back to Koga-shi. The rain was really coming down by this point, but luckily Jess (our fantastic driver) is from Florida and she assured us that this was no big thing.

We eventually made it back onto the highway, and it was still pouring. To make matters even more exciting, the wind was starting to gust so much that the car would shudder a bit. There were also several moments where we would be in the center lane but we’d be flanked by two semis — well, they weren’t big enough to be like American semis, so more like really long and big trucks? Anyway, we had seen a buffet-style restaurant on our way to Nikko that we made a note to visit for dinner on our way back, but when we actually stopped there we discovered that eating dinner there would cost 2200 yen (around $26.60). We decided to get back on the highway and find a ramen place to eat at. We didn’t have to look far because just two minutes down the road was a ramen shop! It clearly was a better choice, because we all had amazing ramen. Just writing about it is making me hungry again. It was that good.

We braved the rain and the wind and eventually made it back to Koga-shi. We decided to go to Eric’s apartment to watch a movie, so we stopped at a コンビニ (konbini) to get food and went to watch our film. We went home after that, and the next morning I discovered that the rainstorm we drove through was actually a typhoon! It was (and still is) kind of hard to believe!

Coming up, meeting my schools and my first couple of days!

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