Wednesday, December 10, 2008


There are tiny, gentle raindrops fluttering out of the sky and landing on my exposed shoulders. At times, including not 30 minutes ago, I might find this distracting, but here and now, in the town of Yamato onsen, in the mountainous region North of Tokyo, it's soothing and relaxing. I'm not really sure what to make of a few towns out here being called something-onsen - as far as I knew, the term 'onsen' refers to a mineral bath, sort of like the one I'm soaking in here in Yamato(-onsen). But, honestly, I have better things to worry about, like, say, should I return to the covered portion of this mineral bath (emitting a distinctive scent of sulfur), or should I remain here, in the more trance-like outdoor bath... I'm sticking with the outdoors for the time being. This morning, I had a wealth of things to worry about - hiking through a not so well-marked track in the snowy mountains, losing the track and deciding to simply head straight down the slope towards the town, staring at the astonishing Kegon Falls flowing from the secluded (at this time of year) mountain Lake Chuzenji and cresting over a steep 97m tall drop, eventually making my way over to Yutaki Falls, losing my umbrella while climbing into the middle of the stream for a better photo op, only to discover that the path I thought was leading to Yumoto was really a loop, which led right back to the falls... and my umbrella... just in time for this morning's sunny skies to finally succumb to the prospects of rain that the forecast had promised. But, now I'm just soaking in an onsen for an hour until I catch the bus back to Nikko to get the train back to Tokyo.

Nikko itself was rather disappointing (much like I'd been warned back in Tokyo that it would be). It's a spiritual center and one of the many former capitals, but the temples and shrines really all do look very much the same to me by now (I know conformity has always ruled this country, but there's only so many virtually identical five-story pagodas I can look at). Supposedly, some of the attractions here include a depiction of three monkeys demonstrating 'see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil,' and a rendering of elephants done by a guy who'd never seen an actual elephant... Fascinating certainly, but I've seen the photographs and the temples are nothing memorable, so is it really worth the $10+ admission to each of the temples? I decided it was surely not. Instead, I took the bus to a big, modern onsen that evening, then after spending the night at a deserted hostel in Nikko, went up to gaze at the lakes and mountains the following day.

A few pictures from my two days chilling in Nikko:

The Shinkyo Sacred Bridge in Nikko. You know, if I was going to build a sacred bridge for my emperor, I think I would've made it look nicer than this. The Thais and the French certainly understood this concept (and didn't spare a gram of gold to demonstrate)

Now the dragon fountain (a commonly repeated theme in Japan, of course), I did like quite a bit.

I focused on visiting the parts of the temples that were free of charge. The ancient moss growth here serves to underscore just how long these stone lanterns have been around (Nikko clearly not a WWII bombing target)

Here, I've found a way to make the five-story pagoda look a little different...

Lake Chuzenji, Kegon Falls, and the mountains in the background early in the day before the clouds had to come in and dampen all the scenery!

That's Mt. Nantai in the background.

Did I mention there was snow on the ground up here? It is December after all... I was sporting the fake North Face down jacket all the way from Kathmandu, which was doing a fine job, except for the rather sickening smell it had acquired from something in the mini...

Kegon Falls coming down with the full force of the 97m drop

This is the shot of the waterfall from the middle of the stream that [briefly] cost me the unbrella.

And finally, serene Lake Yunoko, with Yamoto-onsen on the far shore

Coming to America update: my original tickets had me on a plane heading for LA right as I'm writing this... so I've either missed my flight or changed it... Well, I wanted to get a chance to go to the famed Tsukiji fish market for a [very] early morning fish auction and since the market turned out to be closed on Wednesday, I pushed my flight back to Friday... Now to see if I can really get there around 5 in the morning on Friday when the auction gets going.

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