Expeditions and Eternal Good Luck

March 22, 2012 

The alarm went off at 6 am this morning and although I woke up immediately, I was by no means awake. My fight with Jet Lag was brutal, with black circles around my eyes to prove it.

Weeks ago, Tim and I bought special World Heritage passes that covered transportation and admission to several shrines in Nikko.  We needed to get to Asakusa Station in order to pick up those tickets, which, was not the easiest station to get to.  It should be said that while the Tokyo Subway map looks exactly like an electrical wiring diagram for a Honda Motorcycle, a similarity that is surely not a coincidence, the subway system is rather easy to use.  Like, I can navigate the subway system but I can't assemble a motorcycle.

A few stops in, an older lady drops her bags down on the seats facing us and proceeds to unpack her lunch.  Her silver hair is in a loose french braid with a few bobby pins holding the strays.  She takes out a tiny tupperware container that has small compartments: white rice, some green seaweedy stuff, and something pinkish brown (unagi).  She starts talking to us, but I can only make sense of her smile.  Following the traditional rules of the "I Have No Idea What You Are Saying" game, we used gestures as our means of communication. It's Charades, expert edition.
The train took a little over two hours, riding through flats towards mountains in the distance.  Once there, we hopped on a bus to take us to the shrines. There are no English signs, which is surprising in a popular tourist destination. There is also snow on the ground, which is also surprising.  When we got off the bus, all I could see ahead was a very tall box-like building with a giant image of a shrine on the front. So ...  this is it?

Turns out they were just doing renovations and boxed in the ancient shrine with a protective shell.  The shrines were all beautiful, ornate but not flashy, delicate and enduring. Considering how much red is present in their architecture, the structures blend together with the forest in radiant harmony.  After touring through all the shrines, Tim took out the Lonely Planet Guide and asked someone about this trail mentioned as an essential Nikko experience. We had seen many trails that were closed due to snow and ice (I suspect), but were pointed in the direction of an unmarked trail that climbed uphill to an unclear destination.  There were mossy rocks lining the trail, and in typical Jess and Tim travel fashion, I jumped with excitement, grabbed my camera, "Pretty!!!," and Tim forged ahead without pause.  As I was running to catch up to him, I noticed he had stopped on the path.  You might think he was waiting for me, but no, there suddenly appeared a gray deer leaping across the path ... followed by another.  It was quiet.  Just us and the deer.

After climbing for about twenty minutes, we came to a crossroads.  Obviously nothing was labeled, at least not in English.  Tim ran ahead to see what would happen if we continued to climb uphill versus the detour that would take us back downhill.  I stood there, overlooking a snow covered valley, complete silence except for the sounds of falling twigs.

When Tim came back, we decided to keep on the main path downhill which eventually brought us to a waterfall. After climbing around, taking photos, and laughing at a man wading through the water, we continued on through a Torii towards a lesser known shrine.  According to legend, before you can walk under this particular Torii though, you have three chances to throw a rock through a tiny hole on the top of the gate.  If you are successful on this mission, you are granted a lifetime of good luck.  The guy who was wading through the water and a maintenance man gave Tim three rocks.  I know you know what I am going to say next, but you MUST understand the impossibility of this feat.  IMPOSSIBLE.  So of course, Tim made the shot and now he has good fortune for life.

I was urged to pick up the pace since we still had a zillion things to see and so little time.  Yes, the famous Nikko famous bridge is sacred, but it is also less than exciting.  And, you need to pay to cross it. What is exciting though is that the Nikko Bridge crosses the Daiya River.  Daiya! We walked along the crystal river water to find a place called the "Abyss." I mean, who wouldn't seek that out?  The Abyss is a short stretch of the river walk lined with stone statues of Jizo, the Buddhist Saint of travelers and children.  You are supposed to count the number of statues on your walk in and again on your walk out.  Apparently, they are not the same number which in turn, proves the existence of ghosts.  I forgot to count on the way in so I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of the supernatural.

We ate at Hippari Daku, a teeny tiny restaurant known to have vegetarian options. We ordered soup, noodles, and tempura but the owner told us we ordered too much and talked us down from the tempura. Too much food? Never. The food was great and the moment we left, it started to rain, we started to run and just made the train.
The stupid train.
The stupid train ride home took nearly four hours and there was a thermostat issue that was causing this car -- and every car -- to be about 110 degrees. Celsius.  Such an amazing day now scorched with misery.  No one else seemed bothered except for Tim and me, and I just wanted to open the doors and jump out. The only thing to drink was a bottle of hot tea that the woman from Hippari Daku filled up our small water bottle with before we left. Hell. 

Once we arrived at the Asakusa Station, it was still 40 minutes by subway back to the hotel. We grabbed a vitamin water, showered, and promptly went to bed.

Renovating the shrine by encapsulating it in a giant building.

Nikko Shrine.

The Three Wise Monkeys: Hear no evil, Speak no Evil, See no evil.

nikko shrine
Nikko Shrine

nikko shrine
Sinking Shrine

Nikko Strolling Garden
Nikko Strolling Garden

Nikko Shrine

Tim in the trees.
Deer in the trees.
Steps to the waterfall.
The exact moment that Tim threw a rock through the hole in the top of the Torii and was granted a lifetime of good fortune.

The Nikko Bridge
The Daiya River
Statues of Jizo along the Daiya
Hippari Daku Restaurant, wrapped in notes from visitors around the world.

kind of like a turtle