Nikko, a small town about a two-hour train ride north of Tokyo, is known mainly for its numerous Buddhist temples. It also is very near to Lake Chuzenji which beautifully set in the mountains. I decided to spend a night in Nikko, giving myself time to visit the shrines as well as spend some time in the outdoors. The town of Nikko is very quaint, reminiscent of a Colorado ski town and the temples are only a short walk away.
Toshogu Shrine is the main attraction and was interesting with its many different structures in one compound. The highlights of this temple were the three monkey more commonly know as “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” and building that was covered in incredibly ornate trim. Along a walk by a nearby river, were lines of statues wearing red knit caps along a trail which was very interesting to see. All in all it a very nice and relaxing day strolling around town.
Day 2…not so much. I got off to an innocuous start, catching the bus I planned to take early in the morning and arriving at Lake Chuzenji shortly there after. Nikko is considerably high above sea level and much of the lake region still had unmelted snow, yet I still decided to hike a trail along the side of the lake thinking the snow was further up. Walking along the shoreline, I covered the first leg in under 40 minutes rather than the estimated 60 and everything was great. I was in very high spirits and thinking I was going to crush this hike.
This is when things took a turn for the worse (pun intended) as the trail left the shoreline and went up the steep slope of a mountain. The problem was apparent from the beginning, the trail was completely covered in snow and I was dressed for a stroll in the park with my Nike running shoes on, but I decided to keep at it. Slipping and sliding up the hill I kept climbing through the switchbacks and hoping I was following what seemed to be the trail. To put it more in perspective, the one time I encountered people on the trail, they were wearing hiking boots with crampons and also had hiking poles.
Soon the snow started to become icy and I was falling more and more despite furnishing a tree branch into a walking stick. That’s when it got scary; trying to cross an open patch, I slipped and started sliding down the hill on my ass unable to stop myself. After sliding at least 50 feet down the hill I was able to grab a tree branch and stop the fall, but I’m not really sure how far I would have gone until I hit a tree or something if I had not managed to catch myself. Surprisingly I did not lose anything valuable, besides my map, but did mange to get some good cuts and bruises.
After finally getting back on the trail I continued upward; pissed off, sore and out of breath. Finally I reached the next junction, but was again unsure where to go and followed another trial that eventually led me beneath a parking lot on the top of the mountain, but alas even this was not simple and involved scaling a wall to get up to the parking lot. Luckily I was able to hitch a ride down the mountain from a nice man who even took a photo of me with the lake in the background.
Bruised and battered, I decided to visit a onsen, or a Japanese hot spring. Japan is full of volcanoes and as a result there are onsens all over from geothermal warming (I had to look that part up). While this sounds amazing, the one catch was that you had to go into the spas in your birthday suit which was a bit uncomfortable at first. But sitting in a basically a natural hotube with snow and mountains around you was very relaxing and when I left though I felt completely refreshed and much more at ease with my earlier ordeal.