Today we visited Nikko, a small town a good few hours from Tokyo. We started out using the Shinkansen and then we hopped on a local train to get to the countryside of Japan. If you are recovering from having the flu or some serious cold, I can say it is probably not a good idea to take the train to Nikko: it screeches with every movement and its quite a bumpy ride. After a 40 minute ride which felt like a day while I was trying to suppress the feeling of getting sick again, we finally arrived at Nikko which was even the last station on the line.
After we got out and I got some fresh air which made me feel a lot better we saw the mountains surrounding Nikko and we were told we would visit one of the highest ones. Thank Buddha that the Japanese are running a bus line up the mountain so we could simply hop on a bus to get near the top of the mountain. Even though it was a fairly large touring car, we pretty much filled most of the spaces on the bus. At the next stop however, a large group a Japanese people was waiting for the bus so most of them had to stand during the 35 minute drive up the mountain. Even though the view is great, the roads seem slightly narrow for such a big bus but the bus driver thought otherwise because he kept a pretty steady pace all the way up to the top.
Once we got there, we saw a lot of snow while we from the bus stop to a waterfall near the top of the mountain. After some gasping from high above it was possible to take an elevator 100 meter down to the base of the waterfall. Once we got there, the weather started changing rapidly: it went from cloudy to windy to light snow to heavy snow. After 10 minutes we went back up because visibility became poor and it was freezing cold.
Once we got topside again, we checked out a small coffee and hamburger place but it seemed it couldn’t house the entire group so most people relocated to some restaurant next to the hamburger one. I was glad I had brought my traveling umbrella along and was wearing my thick sweater: we were told to bring the Bonsai polo to take a picture in front of the waterfall with the entire group. But the weather screwed up that plan and some people actually wore only the bloody sweater while the freezing wind was blowing waves of snow around.
After I found out the restaurant only had random Japanese food and most of it in liquid form I decided the hamburger restaurant seemed like a better option – it looked a tad shabby but at least they had hamburgers. After I ordered some hot chocolate it became obvious they weren’t used to large groups: the girl behind the counter had great difficulties keeping track of who ordered what and needed to be made (be it that they only had deep fried curry bread and hamburgers) or even who had paid for his food. After I had one hamburger and 10 minutes had passed we were told that they had no more hamburgers… So in 10-ish minutes one group of 10 of us had completely exhausted their daily supply of hamburgers – we concluded that business must be slow.
After the lunch we took the bus back to Nikko (after we heated up in the waiting room which was heated by a petroleum burner) and once again the bus driver was keeping a steady pace even though it was snowing up until we left. For some reason we made it back down in one piece and the committee dragged everyone up some stairs next to some bus stop halfway to Nikko station. In the freezing wind we were told that this was some temple complex and everyone got their money and traintickets so everybody could do whatever they wanted. After Roel and me snatched our money we looked at the nearest temple: red pillars, green roof, gold ornaments and decided we had seen enough.
We walked back down to the bus stop and into a restaurant next to the road. We ordered some beers and waited for the wind to calm down. After a hour or so others from the group found us and joined in on the festivities. After a while we noticed we were the only people in the restaurant and the lights in the back were turned off. We then got told the last round had been served: it was 4:45 PM and apparently they should have closed at 4:00 PM. That’s what you get for putting up signs only in Japanese ^-^.
By now it was getting dark and the wind had subsided again so we started walking back to the station as we just had missed the bus back to the station. We arrived one hour later at the station where we asked the station guard for directions and he handed us an English roster for local trains and the Shinkansen – looking at the speed at which he handed over the paper I’d say we weren’t the first tourists who needed instructions to get back.
After we parked ourselves in the waiting room at the station (which was heated with a petroleum burner as well) we found a Japanese guy who spoke pretty good English and he translated the announcements at the station for us: the local train for 6 PM was canceled due to snow and the train for 7 PM was delayed. After we scored some newspapers we waited till the bloody train finally showed up. This one was a proper one and the ride back was a lot better than the trip to Nikko this morning, except for the wait on each station as there was only one track and everything was delayed.
Thanks to the delays we took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo only 30 minutes early instead of a few hours as we planned but at least we could use the non-reserved seats to get back instead of waiting for our scheduled train. Nikko was pretty nice and if it weren’t for the weather I would probably have seen a lot more of it. At least I know now that they serve great beer ^-^.