Nikko is nearly two hours north of Tokyo, in the mountains. The only thing keeping the town alive is the presence of Toshogu Shrine and Rinnoji Temple, but those two places alone make the trip worthwhile. On our trip there yesterday (Friday), we spent most of our time at Toshogu; it’s so vast, with so many stairs to climb, we ended up spending three hours there. Leaving the apartment here in Harajuku yesterday morning, Marla asked me if she should take a jacket. I said I didn’t think it’d be that cold. When we stepped off the JR Nikko Express a couple hours later, it was freezing! Well, not freezing really, but it was cloudy and in the low 60s with very little humidity. Much cooler than Tokyo, in other words. Getting to Nikko meant we had to take the Yamanote Line to Tokyo Station, the switch to the Tokkaido Shinkansen and ride it to Utsunomiya, then change trains there and take the local JR Express to Nikko. With each train change, we left the big city farther and farther behind. The Nikko Express was so small, passengers had to push a button if they wanted the doors to open when the train stopped at each of the six stations along the way.
Since it was a Friday afternoon, and school has already started, I expected Toshogu would be fairly empty. It was not. There were lots of kids there; it looked like at least half a dozen schools had decided to take a field trip to Nikko. It’s always funny to see these field trips: one adult, carrying a flag of some sort, leads hundreds of students through the train stations. The kids, all dressed exactly alike, follow that flag like little ducklings follow their mother. At Toshogu, however, the kids were allowed to run free and that’s exactly what they did. I’m tall enough that I was able to take a bunch of photos that looked like the shrine was deserted, which is how it was the last time I was there, in 1999.
After seeing all there was to see at Toshogu (plenty of information about Toshogu is available online so I won’t post it all here), we were all pretty cold and tired. Most vending machines sell both hot and cold drinks but we couldn’t find any of the hot Milk Tea we all liked so much on our last visit; all they had were coffee drinks. It was going to be at least 6:30 by the time we got back to Tokyo so I was glad we’d stocked up on lunch on our way out to Nikko, having picked up a large bento of Chinese buns and shumai in Tokyo Station. I always love eating on the train, watching Japan unroll beside me.
Our bento from Tokyo Station reminds me of our trip to the Isetan Department Store in Kyoto Station a few days ago. Like a very upscale Fred Meyer, all the Isetan stores sell everything from fashion to food. When Marla and I visited the one in Kyoto, we arrived just as they were opening. All the employees were standing at their stations, and each bowed to us and greeted us as we walked by; we felt like royalty. Throughout the store, various displays were set up where we could sample the food. This was new to me; I’ve never seen anything just given away in Japan. We tried all kinds of things and I bought some pickled cucumbers (not the same as ‘pickles’ at all) and a whole bunch of food we ended up taking back to the apartment and eating the rest of our stay in Kyoto. Their deli was unbelievable! The place we shopped yesterday, in Tokyo Station, wasn’t as large or as extravagant as Isetan, but the food selection was still outstanding. I could’ve spent a week eating there and never had the same thing twice.
Okay, Marla and Jacob are awake; it’s time to get rolling. Here are some photos from Nikko: