One day in Nikko

Nikko is a World Heritage Site near Tokyo. You can easily access Nikko by train from Tokyo. We decided to stay overnight in this charming little village in the evenly charming Nikko Turtle Inn.

Even though there are lots of sacred (and silent) places in Tokyo we were immediately drawn to the atmosphere in Nikko. While Japan’s capital is bubbling, alive and filled with salarymen this small town was a lot less sparkling albeit filled with tourists.

You won’t find a lively night scene in Nikko: most restaurants close early and only two grocery stores are open late. A welcome pause from hectic Tokyo.

We first visitied the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nikko including Tosho-gu and Rinno-ji. Rinno-ji temple was under construction while we visited and we must say that we were rather impressed by how these national monuments are being reconstructed. First they build some kind of warehouse around the temple. After building this factory-style warehouse restoration can start. Needless to say renovation works can last quite a while: Rinno-ji temple reconstruction will finish in 2020.


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Rinno-ji temple – reconstruction will finish in 2020


After visiting the restoration site we headed to Tosho-gu. It was extremely crowded at this site. It soon became clear some sort of event was taking place. People were lining up on the steps of Tosho-gu. We did as the locals did and lined up next to them. After a twenty minute wait a ceremony took place and we were happy to spot sumo wrestlers climbing the stairs in their traditional garnements.


Sumo

Sumo wrestlers in Nikko, near Tosho-gu


Tournament season ended before we arrived in Japan, so we didn’t see an actual match. We did see a traditional ceremony: the wrestlers were honoured by LOTS of men in suits.

After the ceremony we entered the temple. Truly beautiful, beautiful detail on the buildings and gates.


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Tosho-gu World Heritage Site


The sites are open to 4.30 PM (during high season). At noon the crowds were deafening. From 3.30 PM onwards the site was almost empty and so quiet it became eerie. Sun was setting, we seemed to be the only tourists in this ancient complex. If you’re visiting the complex: please stay ’till closing time to experience some sort of quiet you just can’t grasp when the tour buses are still parked nearby.

We watched the sun set over Shinkyo bridge.


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Shinkyo bridge in Nikko, Japan


Before leaving Nikko we hiked to the Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss. Despite the grandeur of the Nikko temples this will be the one thing I’ll always remember. On one side: the abyss. On the other side: one row of beautifully dressed buddha statues. On the road: two identically dressed Japanese youngster recording a dance video. Too mesmerized: we didn’t take any pictures of them nor did we film them. But whoa! What a sight. The scenery, the dance moves: perfect. Don’t fear though: even without dancers the scenery is astounding.


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Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss in Nikko, Japan


5 days in Tokyo

5 Days in Tokyo

In October we spent five days in Tokyo. I already told you about how I fell in love with Japan on the first day; now let me tell you the rest of our love story.

Let me introduce my Tokyo top tourist activities

Tsujiki Fish Market

I have a dual relationship with Tsujiki Fish Market. According to our Lonely Planet guide, Tripadvisor and other tourist reviews this place is a must-see. True. They also suggest visiting the tuna auction. That one appeared to be a big mistake.

The first time we went to Tsujiki Fish Market we got up at 2 A.M. (yes, at two o’clock in the MORNING). We hauled a cab and arrived at the site at approximately 3.30 A.M. With great ambition we walked toward the Fish Information Centre where you need to apply for the auction. Sadly, a guard told us the auction was sold out: ‘Sold out, come back tomorrow, 3 P.M.’

Sooo… the next day we got up at 1 A.M., grabbed a cab and arrived at about 2 A.M. Great news: we were the fourth and fifth to join the queue. After waiting for about another 3 and a half hours we got to see the tuna auction at 5.45 A.M.

So on a beautiful October morning I found myself looking at dead endangered fish and felt kind of sorry (and maybe also a bit guilty). This guilt trip only intensified when the majority of people in our group started taking selfies. With the dead tuna. To this day I still wonder about how many households have framed photographs of family members and dead tuna.

Luckily the sushi breakfast was awesome.


Selfies at tsujiki fish market

Selfies at Tsujiki Fish Market – tuna auction


Sushi Breakfast

Sushi breakfast near Tsujiki Fish Market


Kabuki

Let me be brief about this one: get food and drinks before attending a kabuki performance. Yes, every written guide recommends getting food, every reviewer tells you so… so listen! Don’t be as stupid as we were and grab yourself some food and drinks and bring them into the theatre. All the Japanese do it; only tourists seem to starve themselves to death during a four hour kabuki performance.

We watched kabuki in the Kabuki-za Theatre and rented an English audio guide. This theatre is highly recommended: friendly staff, great performances and a pretty good English translation.

A kabuki play lasts for about three-four hours. You can also opt for just one act, this will keep you entertained for about an hour.


Kabuki-za Theatre

Kabuki-za Theatre


Kabuki Dance featuring Bando Kotji with live music at Japan Society

Nishizaki Sakurako and Bando Kotji in “Yoshino Mountain”. Photo from Tokyo Times


Robot Restaurant

Only tourists here: best guilty pleasure I’ve ever had. We grabbed some food before heading to this joint since their food reviews appeared to be quite horrible. The show however was everything you can expect: weird robots dancing to weird music.

Afterwards you can dive into Shinjuku neighbourhood; nightlife is supposed to be great here. I shouldn’t know though since I was too busy trying to get into some tuna auction.


Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant


Meiji-Jingu

This is where I fell in love with Japan: beautiful traditional temple in the heart of one of the world’s biggest cities. We saw several traditional wedding processions and were absolutely in awe.


Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu

Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu


Senso-ji

Another place of worship and tradition in the big city. We watched a traditional procession of musicians. Or at least we thinks this is what we saw. We only just arrived in Japan and were too pussy to ask. There was also a priest involved if I’m not mistaken. Anyone who can give further detail on what his happening in the pic below: please enlighten me in the comment section of this blog.


Traditional musicians near Senso-ji

Traditional musicians near Senso-ji


Tokyo Sky Tree

The walk towards Tokyo Sky Tree was truly movie-esque. We walked on an empty street, straight to the tower. Before entering the Sky Tree we decided to eat at an icecream parlour. Just a normal activity, made slightly less normal when the personnel started singing a song to us. One song for each icecream ordered. Just a normal day in Japan.


View from Tokyo Sky Tree

View from Tokyo Sky Tree


Shibuya Crossing

Must see. I still wonder why this can work in Japan, but when shopping on Regent Street in London people keep walking into each other. I truly still wonder.


Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing


Ghibli Museum

I love Studio Ghibli movies and visiting the museum was one of my highlights. Walking into the museum is like walking into a Ghibli movie. The museum has a movie theatre playing different short movies. A must if you’re a Ghibli fan. Book in advance. WAAAAY in advance.


Ghibli Museum

Ghibli Museum


Mt Fuji

I opened with a love/hate relation and I end this list with one. Mt Fuji: so beautiful on all those postcards. The icon of a nation. I guess we made the mistake of joining a tourist tour that just wasn’t quite to our taste.

We arrived at Mt Fuji 5th station and looked at the mountain. Let me tell you a basic fact: the iconic mountain doesn’t always have snow on top. This seems logical, this IS logical, but before arriving I seemed to have forgotten about basic scientific principles. So yes, I truly was disappointed when the mountain was as brown as… well, you get the picture. What annoyed me even more were the busloads of tourists. You couldn’t walk 5 feet without running into someone.

Our tour continued to Mt Fuji 5 lakes. Whoa, things got even more out of hand. You couldn’t walk 3 feet without running into someone.

Don’t get me wrong: the lakes were gorgeous and apparently everyone had found out about this. We ended the day taking a look at the truly beautiful Shiraito Falls.


Red bean cakes - Fuji 5 Lakes

Red bean cakes – Fuji 5 Lakes


Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji – wooden prayer plaques