Japan Round 2, Part 1: Nikko… Without a Typhoon

After a decent amount of flying (turns out Brazil to Japan isn’t a direct route) I made it to Tokyo.. A place where I felt so immediately comfortable and like I knew what I was doing it was almost, almost like coming home! I managed to get myself to my hostel, to a sushi bar and showered in fairly quick succession and then, despite having spent 24 hours flying and generally not exerting myself I was exhausted and went to bed!

I met Fichan early next morning (fresh of a plane from London with less sleep than any human should be allowed to have) and we went off to Nikko. Our “limited express” train seemed to be more limited than express, stopping what felt like every 10 minutes it suddenly became clear why the train was so cheap. Despite the train’s slowness it still fulfilled it’s purpose and took us to Nikko. By a stroke of luck we reached our hostel and deposited our bags just moments before the office closed for two hours, then as heavy rain set in we settled into a restaurant for two hours, eating soba noodles and passing time before we were let back into our hostel and Fi could finally have the shower and sleep she was longing for. The rest of our day was spent in bed, two slightly jaded travellers really not making the most of the day!

Our original plan for day 2 in Nikko was to head out to the national park where there was meant to be a lot of good walks. Sadly for us there was a serious typhoon forecast which really slowed our progress. It was originally forecast to hit at midday and pass through rapidly… Thinking that wasn’t so bad we spent the morning in a big shrine complex (while it rained.. But didn’t typhoon) that was in close proximity to our hostel so if the typhoon did hit we could easily get back. The shrine complex was nice but not as amazing as we had hoped. When we were last in Japan we went to an amazing shrine complex in Yamagata surrounded by trees and built up a hill, this one therefore was slightly underwhelming (for us at least).

Midday came and went and still there was no typhoon. It turned out the forecast had changed and it was now meant to hit at 3pm. So yet again we postponed our plans… The Japanese were very concerned about this typhoon and insisted that it was unwise for us to go to the national park. We were told about a hill nearby that we could walk up and get a view over Nikko… I can report we never found that hill. Instead, we found a road that went uphill for a while and then just disappeared into what looked like someone’s private farmland. 

The highlight of our road walk (in hiking boots) was the cool man hole cover

Meanwhile, the sun shone and no typhoon came. By the time we returned to our hostel the forecast had been changed yet again… The typhoon was not going to hit where we were and was in fact much weaker than they had originally predicted. By this stage the day had somewhat become a write off. Knowing that we were leaving Nikko the next day back to Tokyo we were determined that our third day here would NOT be a waste so we hatched what we thought was a foolproof plan… Getting up early and bussing to the national park, hopping off the bus at the start of a ropeway which would take us straight to the start of a five hour walk then jumping back on a bus to Nikko that stopped at the train station to jump on the train to Tokyo… We’d even make it to Tokyo by 5pm.

Well, even the best laid plans fall through. While we made the early bus and hopped off at the ropeway that was about the only real success of the day. Once we arrived at the ropeway we found our first issue. The ropeway was 100% closed and not opening till 9am (it was 7:30am). After speaking to two Japanese men who spoke very little/no English we managed to establish that we shouldn’t just walk up the road (a very unjapanese thing to do)… While both men drove off, up the hill, with spare seats (we had really hoped they would offer us a lift), Fi and I remained somewhat stuck with the next bus not coming for an hour. Then we had a stroke of luck… 5 young Japanese boys and 1 girl pulled up in a people mover. They were loud, chatty and very keen to be helpful! After a conversation in English/via Google translate we had conned our way into a lift up the hill in their car. Before the car was started the boys had a couple of important issues they wanted to address with us…

  1. Did we know who Justin Beiber was?
  2. Did we like his music?

Clearly very important questions (and answers) when you are giving a lift to two strangers, easily the best way to establish they aren’t serial killers. Sure enough the music was plugged in and some of Beiber’s greatest hits were pumped through the car stereo (all the while Fi and I tried very hard not to outwardly laugh). Thanks to the Google maps blue dot we managed to gain our bearings and after about 5 minutes we told the boys just to drop us on the side of the road (they were off to an outlet store somewhere in the mountains… We were slightly confused)! While we were still not where we had originally planned we could see we were close to both a lake and some waterfalls so we figured we couldn’t really go too far wrong.

The Kegon Falls were pretty cool, while you couldn’t get much closer than the viewing deck (that you could only access by elevator) it was still rather spectacular. From the waterfalls we wandered through a small town (only slightly confused as to where we wanted to go) and found Lake Chuzenji.

The similarities between this lake and Lake Rotoiti near Nelson were unreal… A huge body of water, surrounded by lush green hills, you could almost fool yourself into thinking you were home…. Were it not for the fact that the lakes banks were surrounded by Goose shaped pedal boats..

We wandered around the lake and eventually found a way to join up with a walking path up into the hills. The path was more or less deserted and poorly maintained. We were stoked. 

Wandering through the trees, up and downhills we eventually came across what we assumed was the equivalent of Japanese DOC workers.. They stood, at a junction ringing their bear bells. Fi and I became slightly apprehensive but after an exchange of indecipherable cheers and OK signals we ventured on. About 15 minutes later we heard a noise that Fi described as the sound of a large animal exhaling. Suddenly our cheery exchange and ok signals became slightly less reassuring. When we heard the sound a second time we lost our nerve and became adamant that we had in fact heard a bear. Spinning around and charging back in the direction we came we both agreed while it probably wasn’t a bear it would be really sad if we didn’t get to climb Fuji because we were mauled to death by a bear!

Given that our walk was cut short we grabbed a coffee before jumping back on the bus to Nikko and then on the train to Tokyo.

Back in Tokyo we met the only unknown member of Team Fuji, Tom. Tom went to Yale with Ben and had just been at the Olympics with the US Men’s Rowing team. Arriving at the Airbnb while he was out running we realised we were meeting a giant when his shoes were nearly the same width as the doorway. Sure enough Tom returned and fulfilled our predictions of being a very tall human. 

As it was Tom’s first trip to Japan, and Fi and I were old hand’s at this stage we took him off to our favourite stand up sushi bar (yes we are such locals we have favourites).

With our bellies full of sushi and beer we quickly deflated in terms of energy levels and turned in early at the Airbnb eagerly awaiting Ben’s arrival in Tokyo the next morning and the commencement of Mission Fuji in 36 hours time!


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