Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nikko means udon

Day 5 (Fri, 30 May 2008)

We woke up and... curses! It's still raining. It's warm and toasty in the room but that's because of the heater. We went onto the veranda and GAH! it's freezing. This was supposed to be our sight-seeing day of Nikko. How to see anything in this mist and rain?

Anyway, we gamely wrapped up (Andre wore 6 layers) and headed outside. Mr Kobayashi lent us an umbrella, which was really nice. There's a bus-stop just outside the hotel. As you can see, it's no.95. At the hotel, you can get a bus-timetable which tells you exactly what time the bus will arrive at EACH BUS-STOP. We're waiting for the 9.23am bus and at 9.22am, the-boy-who-can't-wait asked "where's the bus?" I said, "count to 60." Would you believe it, as he counted to 53, the bus rumbled up?? Unreal.

The bus is actually one of those luxury coach types, not the basic public bus as you might imagine. There's a real-time information display system in front of the coach which shows you which bus-stop the bus is at and which is the next bus-stop, so you can press the bell if you want to get off. All the bus-stops are listed in numbers, so it's real easy to track.

Very quickly, we're back at the Tobu Nikko station. This is like the bus depot of sorts, but with only 4 different bus-stops and routes. We needed to come here to catch another bus to the main touristy parts of Nikko. So we got on yet another bus. Along the way, we passed the famous Shinkyo Bridge (left). We also passed the bus-stop for Toshogu Shrine. The Toshogu Shrine is famous for its carving of the three monkeys. You know the "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" monkeys? The Toshogu Shrine is where they originated. Bet you didn't know that!

Then we drove up the infamous Iroha-zaka winding road which comprises 48 hairpin curves (24 up, 24 down). This main thoroughfare connects central Nikko and the top of Nikko. After about an hour of winding road up the mountain, we arrived at the Lake Chuzenji area, which is the main tourist spot. First, we headed for Kegon Falls, which is touted as the third most beautiful waterfall in all of Japan. This, on the right, is what we were supposed to see.

This is what we actually saw:

Stupid rain! What a disappointment. By then, it was getting to be real cold, so we nipped into a nearby shop. It sold packaged food but it also served up some dishes from the little kitchen behind the counter. You know you're not in the main city anymore when all the signs are in Japanese.

However, having memorised the Hiragana system before coming on the trip, I recognised certain words. Important ones too. Like soba and udon. Immediately the kids wanted udon (even though it's not even 11am) so we ordered a steaming bowl of udon.

Kenneth also ordered some yuba, which is the specialty of Nikko. This is soya beancurd skin, handmade and rolled. It's sold everywhere in Nikko, you can have it with soba, udon or alone as a side dish, like the one Kenneth is having here. It has a very smooth texture, similar to the beancurd skin we have at home, but it's accompanied by a sweet syrup. I've discovered that the Japanese like their food sweet, like their curries.

The great thing about restaurants in Japan is that ocha is always free and unlimited. So we savoured our udon and yuba and multiple cups of hot ocha until we had no more excuse to stay in the shop.

It was back out in the cold and instantly, the complaints started. "Mummy, I'm so cold!" wailed Andre. "You're already wearing 6 layers!" I said. "But I'm still cooooold." He sniffled pathetically hoping for sympathy. He got none. "If you walk faster, you'll warm up." "HAHHHHH".

We walked over to Lake Chuzenji. Lake Chuzenji is a crater lake caused by the eruption of Mount Nantai 20,000 years ago. With an above-sea-level altitude of 1269m, it is the highest lake in Japan. This is a magnificent view of Lake Chuzenji (picture courtesy of

And here was the actual, that day. Curses! Our original intent back in sunny Singapore was to take a cruise around the lake. But on that wet, wet day, you couldn't have seen a thing. In fact, no one seemed to be out, the town looked deserted.

So what to do now? You guessed it, eat more udon!

We went into this quaint little shop which had a terrific range of food, as you can see from the window display. That lady by the door was the proprietress. Thing was, she spoke absolutely zero English and the entire menu was in Japanese with NO PICTURES. So to order our food, I had to go outside, point to the items on the display while she took my order.

She brought us 4 cups of ocha. Proudly displaying my newfound knowledge, I pointed at 2 cups and said "oyu". She looked at me blankly. "Oyu?" "Hot water?" "Oyu?" (Like maybe if I said it repeatedly, it would start to make sense.) She went over to the counter and brought over 2 glasses of cold water. Eh?

I asked Kenneth if maybe I'd been saying it wrong. He said it probably wasn't that she didn't understand me, she probably didn't have hot water, only ocha. Ah, ok.

So here's what we had: two bowls of udon and one plate of curry don. We can't get used to this sweet curry. I mean, it's really sweet.

After that, we headed back out. And mind you, everytime we entered a warm place, it got increasingly more difficult to chase Andre out again.

We went back to Lake Chuzenji to see if the mist had miraculously cleared while we were having lunch. Nope. If anything, it's worse. Curses!

We just wandered around the little town. It's old, quaint and very Japanese. As you can tell, I don't really have much to say. Would it be more interesting if I told you we saw a family of macaques (father, mother and baby) sauntering across the road? Nikko reveres monkeys because of the Toshogu Shrine, so I guess they have right of way.

We entered a souvenir shop that looked interesting. The shop lady spoke English! Hooray! We learnt from her that it was about 8 degrees celcius outside. What! Wasn't it supposed to be summer? She was very helpful, told us what type of yuba to buy (we wanted to buy some home for the folks to try). Also bought lots of mochi and monkey chocolate (chocolate shaped like monkeys I mean, not chocolate made from monkeys. Eww...) As we were paying for our purchases, the lady smiled at Andre and said "cute boy". He knows it! Don't have to tell him anymore!

After that we decided to call it day. Took the bus back down the 24 hairpin curves. Kenneth and I were debating whether to make a stop at Toshogu Shrine but were vehemently vetoed by both our kids. Both of them ended up sleeping on the bus (eating udon all day is so tiring!)

So it's back to the hotel and Bento boxes for dinner. Spent the rest of the evening playing card games in the room, which is one way of enjoying a holiday, I guess.

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