Reminder: Read from bottom up

Just a quick reminder that the newest posts are at the top, so when we do a big update you will want to start reading further down the page where the first new posts have been pushed to.

If you are new to the site you can start reading at our 1st post, and use the next buttons above and below it. Joel’s second trip, in 2017, starts at this post, while our trip in April 2018 starts at this post.

You can also view photos in the Galleries by clicking on either Photos heading or a location.

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The Slippery Slope

As I’d feared, I didn’t get back to the hotel tonight until 11pm. It’s too late to do anything besides go straight to bed, except that I at least need to stay up long enough for my first flat camera battery to charge so I can swap them over. I’m just hoping this isn’t the point at which my blogging slips further and further behind until I’m just doing everything after I’m back in Australia.

Perhaps I simply need a day off to relax and catch up. And it occurs to me that right now is pretty much the middle of my trip…

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Day 8–Kanmangafuchi, the Abyss of Full Regret

Oh boy, three days ago. Uh, where were we? When last we left our hero…

On the subject of English words in Japanese, I quite like their word for putting your phones on silent – it’s called “manner mode” (i.e. the English words). “Please use manner mode”. There’s a whole class of English words that are used in Japanese in either a completely different sense to how we’d use them in English, or phrases completely invented from whole cloth – it’s called “wasei eigo”, Japanese-made English. “Viking” means a smorgasbord or buffet. “Bike” always means a motorbike, never a bicycle. “Health meter” is the bathroom scales. “Pink” is a euphemism for “adult” (as in “pink movie” = adult movie). The list goes on…

Today was my last day in Nikko, so I headed down for breakfast as usual…

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Then checked out of my hotel. As my last day, I thought I’d do something comparatively quick: A stroll trough the Kanmangafuchi. It’s usually called the Kanmangafuchi Abyss around the internet, but as “fuchi” already means “abyss”, this is a PIN Number situation. (Which actually seems fairly common in English translations on signs in Japan, I’ve noticed – stuff like “Yukawa River” (“kawa” is “river”), Sotobori Moat (“bori” is “moat”), Miyajima Island (“jima” is “island”) abound everywhere. Also, in this case the “ga” just means “of” (as in, “Abyss of…”) so technically it’s just Kanman Abyss.) It’s actually the same ravine that starts at the foot of the Kegon Falls, but this specific part of it is known for its line of Jizo statues that stand facing the river. Also, it’s quite accessible by bus, and my two-day pass from yesterday was still valid.

In any case, I hopped off the bus at the appropriate stop, which is actually right across the road from the hotel that was suggested by the Japanese Guest Houses website as an alternative to a ryokan in Yumoto, except… it’s just a Western-style hotel with nothing particularly to draw me to it, it’s quite expensive, and it’s not particularly close to anything. Buuut, moving on.

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After a short walk, I came to a bridge over the Daiya River, the actual start of my walk for the day. Shortly after crossing, a man walking the other way warned me in Japanese that something was blocking the track – I didn’t catch exactly what, lacking the precise vocabulary knowledge, but I feared another landslide. I asked if the track was impassable, but he said “no, just be careful”. So I continued, carefully.

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Came across a peaceful little shrine, and as I left, I discovered what was blocking the track – a fallen tree. Actually, it was still possible to walk underneath… but only because the tree had snagged on the powerlines. So I edged under, very carefully.

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A little further along, I came across a Buddhist graveyard in the forest. No associated temple in sight anywhere, and everything was covered in a nice layer of moss, but it’s clearly still currently active, as there’s a few new stones here.

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And down a short flight of stairs, I finally found the Jizo statues. Sometimes called the Hyaku Jizo (Hundred Jizo) or Narabi Jizo (Lined-up Jizo), each is wearing a red bib and a hat. Originally there were a hundred of them, but in 1902, a typhoon in Tochigi Prefecture sent a flood roaring down the Abyss, and several of them were destroyed (as were a prayer hall and a statue of Fudo Myo-o that used to be here) – now they’re also called Bake Jizo (Ghost Jizo), because every time you try to count them, you get a different number. It was, I thought, a little bit creepy seeing some of them with a rock in place of their missing heads, and a hat on top of the rock. Made them look like they had a shruken head.

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I quite like the variations in facial expressions on them, though. This one has found his true inner peace.

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This one is trying not to laugh at a joke he just remembered.

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This one is completely inscrutable.

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This one has fallen asleep.

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This one is desperately trying not to notice the constant sound of flowing water, and I’ve gotta say, I was starting to sympathise with him.

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Much sooner than I expected, I emerged from the the forest into grass and houses (and a public restroom, fortunately). This area supposedly used to house the craftsmen who helped build Tosho-gu (actually, the shrine complex’s western approach road starts just on the other side of the main Nikko road). One street had a whole series of stone domes down one side from which water emerged – they used to serve as the water supply for the area.

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Also came across another lovely little shrine, this one with a sign up saying the goshuin could be found at Futarasan Shrine… again. And a nice-looking temple, which unfortunately had a sign outside reading “No entry, Buddhists only”.

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I decided to see if I could find a place for lunch before heading back into town, and while staring at the menu of one place, I noticed an ancient old lady watching me through the window of one place. When she appeared at the door and invited me inside, I could hardly say no. They were a shop basically specialising in hand-made soba, so I had some soba noodle soup with yuba rolls. (I decided to sit at the Western style table and chairs they had – sitting at a low table with noodle soup is an accident waiting to happen.)

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After lunch, I headed for the nearest bus stop – for some reason, this part of the Nikko road has a pedestrian underpass for people to cross rather than traffic lights. It’s not something I would have thought to see in a place like this. Hopped off the bus back at Tobu-Nikko station, and who should hop off before me but the same European family I shared a cable car with at Akechidaira yesterday.

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I returned to my hotel for my bags, came out again, and promptly ran into the same family again. Turns out we’re staying at the same hotel. And actually, I realised while writing yesterday’s blog post that I’d actually taken a photo of them sitting at the breakfast table that morning. Hah.

Anyway, I headed for the JR Nikko station, where sadly I’d just missed a train, so I entered the station with my JR Pass (day three of the pass), and wandered around the platform taking photos – by the time I was done that, it was quite busy. Piled on the train when I could, and grabbed a spot at the front to look out the windows – unfortunately, we appeared to have a trainee driver, and his trainer stood right in the middle of the cab, blocking much of the central windows. Bah.

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Back at Utsunomiya Station once more, it was time to take the Shinkansen down to Omiya again… except the ticket office had a sign in the window saying the next available reserved seat wasn’t for about another hour, so I headed up to the platform to try for a non-reserved seat again. And again I’d just missed a train – on the plus side, that meant I could grab the front spot in the queue of my choice.

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On the train, I dumped my luggage in the vestibule storage space, and went to find a seat, fortunately finding one not too many rows away. And I got just about enough time to settle, when it was time to hop off again. At Omiya, which was quite crowded (peak hour, perhaps), I changed to the Saikyo Line, which took me to my next destination: Toda-Koen Station. Weird thing, the Saikyo Line platforms are underground at Omiya, but elevated at Toda-Koen, so I went down an escalator before boarding, and down another one after disembarking.

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At Toda-Koen, it had sadly started to rain again (actually, it had been attempting for much of the day, though most of it was little more than just heavy fog) as I strolled south under the railway tracks – though the Shinkansen doesn’t have a station here, the Saikyo Line runs alongside the Shinkansen tracks in this section. Soon, I arrived at my next hotel – Toyoko Inn, again.

And was informed upon checking in that I had a room on the fifth floor, but the elevator was disabled thanks to the typhoon, and I’d have to use the outside emergency stairs. And actually, the lobby vending machines and water dispenser are out too – the hotel looks over a canal just on the other side of the road. I didn’t really want to play the “grumpy  foreigner” card, but I was rather unenthused about climbing four flights of stairs – doing it with all my luggage would probably kill me – but while I was still trying to formulate my emotions into a sentence in Japanese, they swapped me to a room on level two. Phew.

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After checking in, I headed out again for dinner – I asked for some tips from the hotel staff, and found myself eating at the local Sukiya branch. I had cheesy casserole-style gyudon, which was… interesting. Though, one thing I liked is that you order by an iPad at your table, and you pay into a machine, so there’s almost no interaction with humans at all. (One thing that does interest me about Sukiya is that this one – like the one in Chichibu – has a drive-through window. I dunno, drive-through is really not something I’d associate with Japan.)

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Back at the hotel, I did some washing – the coin laundry was still working, which is fortunate because I was completely out of socks and undies – and sat down with a bottle of Barbados cherry flavoured soft drink from the working vending machine over the road while doing a bit of blogging. Also had the TV on in the background with a panel show, the host of which appeared to be a person in a costume with an uncanny-valley CG face pasted over the top. Not at all sure what the costume looks like without the face. Also watched 50 First Kisses, the Japanese remake of the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates, which was curiously also set in Hawaii (same as the original), so other than the main characters and their immediate family and friends, all the characters spoke English (as did the main characters, when speaking to minor characters). Though, sometimes the most entertaining bits about Japanese TV are the ads. Suddenly remembered at this point that I’d clean forgotten yesterday was Thursday – I’d intended to watch VS Arashi. Humbug.

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Went up and down the stairs three times during that procedure, making me very happy about not being on the fifth floor. One downside about this room is that it’s right next to the hotel’s illuminated sign, which shines brightly enough that twice when coming into my room, I’d thought it was dawn already. (My window’s visible in the photo of the hotel above – second floor, third window from the nearer end.)

I did, however, discover to my dismay that I’d somehow left my Australian power board at the hotel in Nikko – and since one of my power adaptors was plugged into it, it reduced the number of things I could charge at once to just one. I was able to “modify” my third Japanese power adaptor – the one I’d previously not modified because I was unable to get the casing open – by bending the Earth pin back and forth until it snapped off, and I could charge most USB-powered things on my laptop (though I’d have to leave the laptop on all night), so I could survive.. just. The experience is, however, absolute paranoia fuel – i.e. what else could I have left behind?

Today’s photo count: five hundred and forty-six

Today’s pedometer count: 14,262 steps – 10.5 kilometres – 15 flights of stairs (which would have been more like 40 flights if I’d been on the fifth floor)

Today’s goshuin count: Zip, despite visiting a few small temples and shrines.

Today’s stamp count: Two – finally got Omiya’s, and also Toda-Koen.

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Day 7–Yumoto, the Source of Hot Water

Japan uses the abbreviation “ATM” for ATMs, same as English – pronounced “eh tii emu” – despite not using the full term “automatic teller machine” at all. They also use the English words “cash point” too. Near as I can tell, while there is a Japanese term for the things, it’s not in particularly common usage.

The town of Nikko, in Tochigi Prefecture, was built up around Rinno-ji, which was established in the year 766, and then Chuzen-ji in 784 – Tosho-gu didn’t arrive until 1617 – and it’s long been a popular destination for visitors from Edo, and later the rest of the world. Like I mentioned yesterday, if tourists in Tokyo take a day trip out of the city, for the most part it’ll either be to Nikko or Hakone (which is near the foot of Mount Fuji). And this place certainly had the foreigners to show for it. In 2006, Nikko was merged with the much larger city of Imaichi, but since Nikko was more famous, the new larger city was named Nikko, and Imaichi City Hall became Nikko City Hall (which has the slightly annoying effect that if you ask Google Maps where Nikko is, it’ll plonk the marker about ten kilometres away from what you’re actually thinking).

Right up until the moment I checked in to this hotel, I was unable to determine whether or not it offered breakfast. If it didn’t, it’d be the first hotel I’d stayed at in Japan that did not. Fortunately, I was informed while checking in that it does. So this morning, I headed down to the breakfast room for breakfast as early as I could (instead of having to head out to the nearest convenience store). Similar sort of foods – including curry, again – but with French onion soup instead of miso. Many foreigners in the room with me.

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Today I had a big day planned, heading up into the mountains of Okunikko – Inner Nikko – so I wanted to get the earliest bus I could manage so I’d have the most time. With the issues buying a ticket yesterday (and the festival at Toshogu), I almost swapped my plans for today and tomorrow, but as I’m leaving Nikko tomorrow, that’d leave me with a long day of sightseeing followed by travel, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. Also, in one of those nice coincidences, my visit to Nikko happens to be right at the time the Okunikko area saw peak autumn colours for the last two years – and my October visit was supposed to be for autumn leaves – except… according to the Japan Guide autumn leaf blog, unusually warm weather has delayed the start of autumn leaves this year, so while it’s beginning to turn now, it’s not quite at peak yet. So I also pondered swapping today and tomorrow to give them another day to change, buuut… see previous justification for not swapping.

So I decided to just head for the station early and hope the office opened before the posted time.

It didn’t. So I ambled over to the ATM to get some money out so that I could afford to pay for the buses, then ambled back over… suddenly noticing, with mere minutes to spare before my bus arrived, that the ticket office had machines which sold the two-day free passes. So I hastily stuffed money into the machine, grabbed my ticket, and scuttled over to the stop, just in time… to join the line for the bus.

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Hopped on when it came a couple of minutes later – but so full I had to stand the whole way – and off we went, up through the town of Nikko. At the top of the town, the bus started climbing into the mountains, up the quite famous Irohazaka Road – almost guaranteed you’ve seen pictures of this before in lists of “amazing travel pictures” or something. It’s a road with a long series of switchbacks – the uphill and downhill roads are separate, and between the two roads, there’s precisely forty-eight corners, which is also the same number of characters in the hiragana syllabary, and the poem Iroha has every hiragana character precisely once each, hence the name. The “-zaka” means “hill”, so an equivalent English name might be Quick Brown Fox Hill, though as Iroha is also used as an alternate “alphabetical” order for hiragana, ABC Hill probably works just as well. Each corner is numbered, and named with the corresponding hiragana character from the Iroha poem.

At the top of the road was my first stop: Akechidaira, a mountaintop plateau accessed by a ropeway from the bus stop, which gave a great view over the surrounding countryside – including the Kegon Falls, regarded as one of Japan’s three greatest waterfalls, along with Nachi in Wakayama (visited in 2017) and Nunobiki in Kobe (visited in 2018)… depending on who you ask. I actually wasn’t expecting the ropeway to open until 9, and my bus arrived at 8:35 – since the next bus wouldn’t arrive until ten past nine, though, arriving at 8:35 and queuing for the first ropeway trip would maximise my time… except it was open when I arrived, so I was able to go straight up. Along with a full load of people.

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I figured I could stay up there twenty minutes, and come down in time for the next bus, so I did – coming down with just one other person, so much more breathing room – but a family from Europe who had also been up there with me came down on the next ropeway trip, and still made it in time for the bus, so I guess I could have stayed longer.

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Back on the bus – a much more comfortable coach-like bus, which was also much less crowded, so I got a seat – I headed right to the end of the line, Yumoto Onsen (the European family got off en route). (Weird thing – the bus stops on the way in the nearby town of Kotoku Onsen, except it stops only in the main driveway of the Nikko Astraea Hotel, and nowhere else in town – I wonder how the hotel managed to wrangle that.)

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Yumoto Onsen is a town deep in the mountains, where hot water springs up out of the ground, like in the middle of a marsh. It’s very deep in the mountains – according to a sign outside Tobu-Nikko Station, the main town is at an altitude of 543 metres above sea level, and though I didn’t see a sign at Yumoto, according to my phone compass app, I was at an altitude of 1490 metres. As previously mentioned, I’d hoped to stay here – partly because it’d be in the middle of prime autumn colours, but yeah, there was no availability for me. And it’s not prime autumn colours. I was commenting yesterday how everything was nice and green – now I’m lamenting that it’s too green.

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First, I went to see Onsen-ji. It’s a temple, in case it’s not clear from the name. A temple with an onsen, so after seeing the temple, of course I had a bath there. Had to buy a towel from the temple because I didn’t have the foresight to bring my own. It was only a little square bath, with maybe enough room for four, but I was fortunate enough to have it on my own for most of my visit. They suggest you stay at most half an hour to (a) let more people have a go, and (b) avoid getting hydrogen sulfide poisoning, but with no clock up, I had to guess. The water actually comes out at about 62-74°C, so there’s a cold tap so you can cool it down, but I didn’t want to overuse it in case I made it colder than others would have liked.

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After the bath, I was shown to a tatami mat room and given a cup of tea and a senbei, so I spend some time relaxing and sipping. I bought a goshuin from the little old lady running the place – on paper, because there’s just the little old lady, no priest, and it’s somewhat larger than my shuincho, so it’s gonna need trimming too.

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Then I went to see the hot spring marshlands, and in the process ran into a whole group of who I’m pretty sure were elementary school kids, from the matching coloured hats but lack of uniforms otherwise. Every now and then, one would say “hello” to me, and I’d say “hello” back, and then I said “konnichiwa” and got a whole chorus of “konnichiwa” back. One asked me if I was American – he was strangely impressed that I was actually Australian.

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I left them behind to start my next activity: hiking. Yumoto Onsen is on the shore of Yunoko (“hot water lake”) which flows over the Yudaki (“hot water falls”) and into the Yugawa (“hot water river”), except… none of it is hot. Oh sure, there’s part of Yunoko where the hot water from the springs flows into the lake, so the water’s slightly warmer – enough that it’s the only part of the lake that doesn’t freeze in winter – but yeah, the rest of it is just regular water. Point is, I was going on a hike around the lake, down the waterfall, and along the river.

But first, on my way out of town, I stopped by Onsen Shrine. It was quite a cute little shrine, though with no onsen. No goshuin either, but according to a sign, it’s actually available from Futarasan Shrine, where I was yesterday. But yeah, then I went off on my stroll. And a nice stroll it was, through the alpine forest, with occasional yellow and red trees here and there, and a lovely view out over the lake. A lot of it was also along the roadway, which was not awesome, but it was still pretty. Munched on the chips I got from the supermarket yesterday as I walked.

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Then I arrived at the Yudaki, and they were seriously impressive. I arrived at the top, naturally, and walked down the stairs leading to the bottom – and at the bottom, there was a viewing platform right in front of the falls, giving a spectacular view of them. And also a convenience store (playing Queen over the speakers, for some reason), and a restaurant, and a guy roasting ayu and dango over charcoal. I bought some Calorie Mate (it was the main reason I went to the supermarket yesterday, but couldn’t find it) and a drink, then got some dango – with a yuzu and miso sauce. At which point, the kids caught up. A different group of kids – I could tell, because they had different-coloured hats – but clearly related (I’d seen several different hats in Yumoto).

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After my little rest, I continued on my walk – I was going to walk across the Senjogahara Plateau all the way to Ryuzu Falls. The first part of the walk was through the forest below, mostly along a boardwalk, over and across the river, and it was most pretty. But, when I reached the turnoff to start across the plateau, I discovered a sign saying the path was closed due to a landslide. *Shakes fist* Hagibiiiis! I mean, I don’t regret the walk, but it would have been nice to know beforehand.

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Instead, I completed the loop path I was on, and headed back up the road to catch the bus, waiting with a pair of ladies. Waved at all the kids as they left on their bus, then hopped on mine. I hopped off again at the Akanuma stop (the name means “red marsh”) – it’s at the bottom end of the Senjogahara Plateau, and I’d hoped to get onto the plateau from that end, but… nope. A little bit sad, I decided to continue my intended walk – it was only a half hour’s walk from there to the Ryuzu Falls, where I’d originally intended to wind up.

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(Researching now, if I’d really wanted to see the Senjogahara Plateau, I should have gotten off at the Sanbonmatsu (“Three Pines”) stop, because there’s a lookout platform, but I wouldn’t have been able to continue walking from there – I’d’ve had to continue by bus. I did manage to get this photo of the plateau from the bus on the way to Yumoto, though.)

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It was a nice walk to the Ryuzu Falls, too, and a nice walk down them. The name means “Dragon’s Head”, though I’m not completely sure why. There was a souvenir shop and eatery built across the bottom of the falls, which gave a pretty nice view, but I honestly thought the Yudaki was more impressive.

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By this point, it was getting on towards 3pm, so I decided to head straight for my next (and final) planned stop, and have something for… uh… linner later on. Dunch? Lunch-dinner, either way. At the bus stop, I encountered the same two ladies I’d come across back at Yudaki. From the bus, I saw a pair of monkeys crossing the road.

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The final planned stop: seeing the Kegon Falls up close. There’s a viewing platform right in front, and also a second one near the base – you take an elevator to get there, though it costs money. I’d hoped to see the falls in sunlight, but with clouds rolling in, I’d feared it was already too late – but when I got there, I discovered it was even worse, as the falls were almost completely obscured in mist. Though, there was a litter of kittens playing on the hillside behind the platform that were fun to watch. Clearly strays, mind.

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I considered not heading down to the lower platform, but TV screen at the elevator station – and it really looked like a station – showed the view from the bottom was comparatively clear, so I went down after all. The elevator goes a hundred metres straight down. The view was quite spectacular. No cats, though. But lots of people in matching New Zealand All Blacks jackets. And soon the colour-hat kids started turning up, so I decided it was time to surface again. (Looking at my photos now, I noticed that there were other colour-hat kids on the lower platform back when I was up on Akechidaira.)

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At the top, I wandered back into Chuzen-ji town to look for some linner. I pondered visiting the Chuzen-ji temple itself, but all the reviews of it I’ve seen basically said “meh”, so I passed. However, the town of Chuzen-ji appears to be similar to the town of Nikko in that it’s basically dead already by early evening. There was nowhere open to eat, at all. That I could find, at least.

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Instead, I decided to catch the bus back down the Irohazaka while it was still at least a little bit light – I was able to get a seat this time, so I could actually admire the view. Dim as it was that close to sunset.

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Back in town, I decided to eat dinner at the yuba-crazy place I’d considered last night – I got yuba katsudon, which is basically katsudon with a breaded and deep-fried patty of tight-rolled yuba in place of the meat. It was very tasty, though the flavour of the sauce was a little weak.

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Headed back for the hotel afterwards. Brought my umbrella today so that I could displace my raincoat from my backpack in favour of my puffy jacket, but I wound up not needing it at all. Or the puffy jacket. Or the waterproof pants I’d also brought. Or, really, the thermals I was wearing – I’d even decided not to put on the bottom half again after my bath. Speaking of the bath, though, I can still smell the sulfur on my hands now, although I’d washed them several times over the course of the day, and even used hand sanitiser. Guess that means the medicinal effects are working?

Today’s photo count: eight hundred and thirty-eight

Today’s step count: 18,060 steps – 13.5 kilometres – 32 flights of stairs

Today’s goshuin count: Just Onsen-ji

Today’s stamp count: One, the Akechidaira Ropeway

(One quick note, speaking in not-pretending-I’ve-written-this-on-the-day-of mode, now: tomorrow’s (by which I mean, Saturday’s) plans may last late into the night, so it’s fairly likely that I’m about to fall even further behind on my posting…)

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Day 6–Nikko, the Sunlight

You know how sometimes you’re not really listening and you suddenly hear someone say your name? I’m certain that I heard my name said twice during speeches at the Ryusei Matsuri. And in the Japanese pronunciation, so it’s not like I heard something that just sounded familiar. I’m not even sure of what Japanese words would sound close enough to my name that it’d sound like it…

Started with a good ol’ Toyoko Inn breakfast. Though curiously, it included curry as an option, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen at a Toyoko Inn before, but which I did see every morning at Comfort Stay Miyabi. Not sure about curry for breakfast, though…

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Then I left the hotel and returned to Utsunomiya Station. Today’s destinaton: Nikko, on the Nikko Line, which starts at Utsunomiya. The Nikko Line platform was quite packed, and with a great deal of foreigners, which is unsurprising, as Nikko (along with Hakone) is one of the biggest tourist attractions near Tokyo – since I’ve been to neither before, I thought I’d rectify that this trip. On the platform, though, I found one “queue here” marker with noone queueing there, despite every other marker being at least eight or ten people deep. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, but feeling a tiny bit guilty, I queued there.

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Hopped on the train, along with everyone else, and it wound up quite packed. Had a bit of an entertaining moment when I somehow hooked my camera strap through one of the zippers on my suitcase as I was throwing it into the luggage rack, so I almost threw myself up there too. Then I settled down to enjoy the ride. I managed to snag a seat, and I was in the rear carriage, so not many photos of the view. I could tell that this is a more touristy train because the announcements were all given in not just Japanese and English, but also Chinese and (I think) Korean (which I’m not really sure I would know by ear).

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At the other end, everyone hopped off – and it was several degrees cooler than it was in Utsunomiya. Almost considering now if I want to wear the thermals tomorrow. In any case, first things first: check into the hotel. Since there’s no Toyoko Inns in Nikko, I’m staying in another hotel I found on Booking dot com – the Nikko Station Hotel 2, a couple of blocks from Tobu Nikko Station, which itself is a couple of blocks from the JR Nikko Station. It looks fairly new, though they seem to have a weird concrete-and-chipboard motif going.

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With the luggage safely stored, I headed out unburdened for sightseeing. But first, I popped into a supermarket I’d spotted to maybe buy a Tupperware  container or something for my paper umbrella. I quite like how it’s a normal-looking supermarket with a mountain right behind. No luck with the container (best I could find was takeaway food containers, which’d probably squash too easily), but I decided to buy some snacks, including some morning tea – what I’d initally taken to be some kind of bread roll with tsubu-an (chunky red bean paste) in it, it turned out to be a fist-sized lump of straight red bean paste. It kinda sat in my stomach like… well, a fist-sized lump.

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Also, saw this sitting in the supermarket car park – it’s a rice polishing station. If you grow your own rice (or are given au naturel rice by someone who does), you need to use this to get rice you can eat – cleans the husk off… and more, if you keep polishing. I’d heard about these before, but never actually seen one. Or at least, never noticed that I’d seen one. You don’t see them in the big cities.

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From there, I decided to walk to Nikko’s biggest attraction: the UNESCO World Heritage listed “Shrines and Temples of Nikko”. It wasn’t a bad walk. Nice mountains all around. Crossed the Daiya River a few times, and even here there’s evidence of some hydraulic excitement in recent days (though Nikko largely escaped being hit by Hagibis, fortunately – though the Tobu line tracks have been severed between Kurihashi Station and Tochigi Station, so the Tobu trains aren’t running).

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Soon, I arrived at the entrance to the temple complex, the Shinkyo Bridge. Though, “shinkyo” means “sacred bridge”, so really it’s just “the Shinkyo”. According to legend, it was first built by a god named Jinja-Daioh in the year 766, but it was first built in its current form in 1636, and rebuilt to the same pattern as needed. Until 1973, it could only be used by messengers of the imperial court, but in that year, it was opened to visitors. It costs 300 yen to cross, though, and because it’s not open at the other end, you need to cross back again, and then use the modern bridge to reach the temples. Also, it has its own goshuin, which surprised me, but only on loose paper, which I’m going to have to glue in (and also trim to size, because it’s slightly taller than my shuincho, so that’s definitely waiting until I can sit down with a steady hand and a good pair of scissors).

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Headed inside, and ran right into a crowd. I discovered recently that Nikko Tosho-gu, the primary shrine of the complex, has an autumn festival on October 16th and 17th each year – which is to say, today and tomorrow. Discovered today that it’s one of the two Grand Festivals of the year (the other one being in May) – the main event is on tomorrow, featuring a grand parade of a thousand samurai, bringing the three portable shrines back from the Sojourn Hall (where they were taken in May) back to the main shrine. Today’s event was shinji-yabusame – sacred archery on horseback. And it’s a complete coincidence that I happen to be staying here these two days. (Think I’ll stick with my original plans for tomorrow, though, and not go back to Tosho-gu for the parade.)

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Anyway, it was still a little while until the archery would start, so listened to the taiko drums that were being played for a bit, then wandered off to see my first temple in the complex: Rinno-ji. It’s actually the Buddhist counterpart Nikko Futarasan Shrine, also in the complex (and yeah, its got the same name as Futarasan Shrine in Utsunomiya) – Futarasan Shine enshrines three mountain kami, and Rinno-ji’s main hall, Sanbutsu-do – the Three Buddha Hall – enshrines three Buddhas (specifically, Amida Buddha, Thousand-Armed Kannon, and Horse-Headed Kannon) that are said to be the Buddhist manifestations of the mountain kami. It’s also the largest building in the complex.

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No photos were allowed inside, and the outside was under renovation, but it was very impressive all the same – you walk around the outside hall of the building, and you can see large gold statues of the three Buddhas in the inner sanctuary, and then you climb down a flight of stairs, and you’re suddenly underneath the three Buddhas, looking up at them – there’s a storey-deep chasm between the Buddhas and the screen dividing the inner sanctuary and worship floor. I wonder how many other temples are like that – I always thought it was basically flat. It cost a little more than I would have expected to enter, but you could pay by Suica, which was interesting.

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Once I’d emerged from there, it was about time for the horse riding to start. Standing at the back of the crowd, I tried using the Canon Camera Connect app on my phone for the first time – basically connects the phone to the camera (by a wifi signal generated from the camera) which lets me use the phone as a viewfinder and remote control. Then I could just hold my camera over my head, like a human selfie stick, and see quite easily. Quite tiring, though. It started with a procession of all the participants and their attendants in full costume, then the archery started. Each rider gallops uphill, shooting at three targets in succession while on the move – I was nearest the third target. I tried shooting a few riders in drive mode, and I think I got some ok shots. The third rider almost didn’t stop at the end, and knocked over one of the horse wranglers (though she was ok).

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I also noticed, as I was jostling for a spot in the crowd, that there’s a signpost by the approach road marking the point at which is the altitude is precisely 634 meters (which, if you recall, is the height of the Tokyo Skytree – actually, side note here, the Tobu Nikko Line connects directly to the Tobu Skytree Line, so it’s possible to get there from here with one train… if the rails weren’t out).

Moved on from there soon, though, because I was starting to get peckish. And my arm was tired. I ate at a nearby eatery called Kishino, which specialises in the Nikko food specialty, yuba. Yuba is tofu skin – basically, the skin that forms on top of soy milk when you start heating it (the first step of making tofu). For a long time, it’s been an important source of protein for the vegetarian monks of the complex. I decided to order the yuba meal set (the most expensive item on the menu, but hey, I’m on holidays) – fresh yuba with soy sauce and wasabi, deep-fried yuba roll simmered in soy sauce, yuba with ground sesame dressing, and clear soup with dried yuba, with sides of simmered fern sprouts, pickled vegetables, and rice. Also included my old friend, the sponge.

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After lunch, it was back up the hill to Tosho-gu. To be precise, this is the Tosho-gu Main Shrine – shrines named Tosho-gu enshrine Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa Bafuku, and he was deified after his death as Tosho Daigongen (hence the name Tosho-gu). There’s currently about 130 Tosho-gu shrines in Japan – including the one in Ueno, which I visited back in 2017 – but what makes this one in Nikko the main shrine is that Ieyasu is actually buried here. Ieyasu’s son Hidetada ordered the shrine built to honour his father; his grandson Iemitsu had it greatly enlarged and lavishly decorated, and it’s certainly largely great and decorated lavishly – Tosho-gu has some forty-two buildings included in the UNESCO listing. The shrine cost 1300 yen to enter, though, which was a fair bit more than I’d expected.

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Heading inside, the first thing I saw – after admiring the buildings of the outer courtyard – was one of the most famous decorations: the Three Wise Monkeys. It’s the second of eight wood-carved panels displaying monkeys in various stages of life which surround the Shogun’s stables in the shrine, and pretty much the only one known outside of Japan. They have names: Mizaru (see-no-evil), Kikazaru (hear-no-evil) and Iwazaru (speak-no-evil). Tosho-gu didn’t invent the idea, but it certainly popularised it. (Side note, the three monkeys are sometimes accompanied by a fourth monkey, folding his arms – Shizaru (do-no-evil). Also, the fact that they’re monkeys is a pun – the ~zaru suffix is actually a negative verb ending form, but it’s also coincidentally a voiced version of “saru” which means “monkey”.)

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The second most famous decoration is the sleeping cat, Nemuri-Neko, which sits atop the archway leading to the stairs to Ieyasu’s mausoleum – it’s apparently inspired a whole generation of artists. It symbolises peace – aside from the fact that it’s sleeping, there’s also two sparrows on the reverse side. Both the cat and the monkeys (and, I presume, other carvings) had actually been restored in 2016 for the first time in sixty years, and they certainly looked pretty pristine now. That said, everything I’d heard before visiting said that the sleeping cat was behind a second paywall… I mean, ticket booth, and you couldn’t even see it (much less pass under it) without paying more money, but there didn’t seem to be anything in my way – perhaps that’s why the main entry cost so much.

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So, I headed through, and up the two hundred and seven stone steps leading to Ieyasu’s mausoleum at the top, and though it was quite a climb, I rather enjoyed the greenness of everything, from the trees all around to the moss on the bannister. And right at the top, of course, was the mausoleum itself. And a vending machine, filled entirely with one brand of canned tea – you can have any drink you like up there, so long as it’s tea. And also a booth selling goshuin, as I’d half feared there might – feared, because I’d left my shuincho at the main shrine office to get a goshuin there. Fortunately, she was selling them on loose paper (actually, I think that might have been all she was offering) so I bought one. It’s exactly the same size as the shuincho, and, for some reason, yellow. Might trim it down a bit all the same.

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Way back down at the main shrine, I entered the main building proper – had to leave the shoes outside. Like Rinno-ji, this was also under restoration. And no photos were allowed inside. And also it was filled with children on a school excursion – they were all sat down inside the worship hall for a short service, and I took the opportunity to see the sights and scram for the shoe shelves before they all came out at once.

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Tosho-gu seen, it was off to the next shrine: Futarasan Shrine, at the other end of a long, straight approach road lined with stone lanterns (which might have belonged to Tosho-gu, I rather suspect) this shrine was quite pretty, and also contains several extra buildings in a ticketed enclosure, though this one cost a more reasonable 200 yen. One building was completely shrouded in scaffolding, but you could climb a flight of stairs into the scaffolding to see the restoration works underway. There was even a cafe in there selling teas and other drinks made with water from a sacred spring that was next door (though sadly it had juuust closed when I arrived… not that I drink tea). You could also drink straight from the spring, too. I had a taste, and it wasn’t bad (though hardly as “super delicious” as the signage around it claimed).

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Heading out the front gate from there brought me to my final temple for the day (as everything was about to close): Taiyu-in. Although it’s called “-in” (one of the suffixes indicative of temples), and administered by Rinno-ji, it’s technically a Shinto shrine, as it enshrines Tokugawa Iemitsu (Ieyasu’s grandson, and the third  Tokugawa shogun). First, I encountered Jogyodo, a hall where walking meditation (= jogyo zanmai, hence the name of the hall) is practiced – it basically involves walking around the statue of buddha in the middle while chanting. I was instructed in how to do it by signs inside, but elected to pass on the chanting – it was, however, very serene in there. (Also, there was a sign up saying that the fifteenth of every month is a special day for goshuin, but I couldn’t read the sign well enough to ascertain exactly why. Shame today’s the sixteenth…)

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From there, I headed into Taiyu-in. Again, very grand – but not quite as grand as Tosho-gu, to show deference to the grandfather – but also very peaceful. And while most shrines face south (because it’s auspicious), this one faces directly towards Tosho-gu.

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I kinda thought this guy looks like he just got out of the shower.

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As I left, I discovered the temple’s gate was closed – they were waiting in the temple office to return my shuincho, which I’d left to be inscribed, which made me feel a little but guilty about enjoying the serenity so much. There was a sign pointing the way up a nice-looking road to one more shrine that could have been worth a visit, but the sign also said it was about a twenty-five minute walk, and the sun was already about to set, soo… next time?

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Instead, I caught the bus back to the station. I wanted to see if  I could buy a two-day value pass that’d cover my bus travels for tomorrow (and Friday, considering it’s a two-day pass, but tomorrow’s travel covers the entire cost on its own), but tragically, the bus ticket counter had already closed. And even worse, it won’t open tomorrow until three minutes after the bus I want to catch tomorrow departs. Gonna have to ponder what to do about this.

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Instead, I topped up my Suica card (used it a lot at all the temples today) then went to find somewhere for dinner… and came up almost completely empty. It kinda seems like Nikko turns into a ghost town at night, and there’s practically no restaurants serving dinner. I was tossing up between heading for the Gusto family restaurant up the street, getting something from a convenience store, and a small eatery that seemed to be serving every dish known to man, except with the meat replaced with yuba, but eventually settled on a ramen shop in between. I had miso butter corn ramen. Then it was straight back to the hotel for blogging and sleep.

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Today’s photo count: Seven hundred and fifty two.

Today’s step count: 16,444 steps – 12.4 kilometres – 39 flights of stairs (that’s a lot of stairs)

Today’s goshuin count: Nine. Monday’s record is still secure. From the right, then: Rinno-ji’s Kuromon (yeah, the gate has its own goshuin – no idea why), Sanbutsu-do (Rinno-ji, again), Daigoma-do (Rinno-ji, too), Tosho-gu, Tosho-gu Okusha (inner shrine), Futarasan Shrine, Jogyo-do, Taiyu-in, Shinkyo. And that filled the first half of my second shuincho. Rinno-ji actually had a sign up listing six possible goshuin – looks like I missed one: Yakushi-do, which on the map looks to be somewhere inside Tosho-gu…

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I was also given these along with two of my goshuin, but I have no idea even what they are (some kinda… textured sticker, I think), much less that they’re for. The text at the top reads “Congratulations – New Era Name “Reiwa””

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Today’s stamp count: One – JR Nikko Station. I wonder if the Tobu station has one too…

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Day 5–Utsunomiya, the Shrine Outside the Capital

Yesterday’s post is now complete, and has images. And I also proof-read it a bit and made some changes to the half I’d already written, if you can face re-reading all that to see what’s different. And yeah, it turned into a bit of a monster.

When I’m out sightseeing, I use the camera to quickly record things to recount later – signs, objects, events, anything that serves as a mnemonic later, even if the photo itself is poor. According to the Readers Digest I read on the flight here, that’s actually bad for my memory, reducing my ability to recall things on my own later, presumably from lack of exercise for the little grey cells – and indeed, I often find myself forgetting the smaller things, like interactions with people, or amusing (or perhaps “amusing”) comments I’d intended to make. And ironically, I meant to say this as yesterday’s comment of the day, but forgot.

When I woke up this morning, I went out to my balcony, and to the left I saw low clouds sitting in the valley. One of the things Chichibu is known for is unkai – literally, the sea of clouds – where if you go up a mountain before sunrise, you can often see clouds filling the valley below, looking like a sea of clouds. It’s supposedly quite pretty. Also: a photo of temple eleven, as seen from my balcony.

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Today after breakfast (with pasta), I checked out of my hotel. It was a pretty nice hotel, and I was actually quite surprised to be on the top floor. I booked this on Booking dot com, and while the hotel listing had a special category for rooms on higher floors, I hadn’t realised I’d requested one. Or rather, I didn’t think I had at all. In any case, I left my melted-and-reset chocolates on the table for the hotel staff, with a note saying “sorry about that, but… give them a try anyway?” (I mean, it was either that or eat them all myself, because I wasn’t about to hand melted-and-reset chocolates to someone actually standing in front of me, and I wasn’t about to eat twelve caramello koalas and ten furry friends).

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Then it was off to my next stop – Utsunomiya in Tochigi Prefecture. Originally in my planning, this stop was going to be another case of this being just a place to break my journey – I was planning spend one more day in Chichibu squishing in as many more temples as I could manage, then I was going to head directly from Chichibu to an onsen town in the mountains, a journey of close to five hours, so I thought it best to stop somewhere in the middle for the night, and Utsunomiya was on my way, and has a Toyoko Inn almost on the train station’s doorstep. But then when I tried to book a ryokan in the town, I was informed that none of them were taking single guests right now, so I wound up booking a western-style hotel near the local train station, and I’d visit the onsen town as a day trip, which made the stopover less necessary.

But then I discovered that Utsunomiya is the capital of gyoza in Japan, and I lurve gyoza. So instead I dumped the Chichibu plans (I’ll be back, honest), get the first reasonable train to Utsunomiya, and spend the afternoon trying as many different gyoza restaurants as I could without exploding.

So, off to the train station I went. This time I was catching a train from Ohanabatake Station on the Chichibu Line (owned by the Chichibu Railway company). Weird thing is, its two platforms are served by different companies – the Chichibu Line trains only stop on platform 1 (in both directions), while some Seibu trains travel past Seibu-Chichibu Station and onto the Chichibu Line, and they stop at platform 2 (in both directions). Also, the name of the station is different depending on which platform you’re on – since 2009, platform 1 has officially been known as “Ohanabatake (Shibazakura) Station”, as it’s the place to get off if you want to see the shibazakura flowers bloom in spring. (And apparently the Chichibu Line is celebrating its 120th year – take that, Seibu Chichibu Line.)

It’s kind of a quaint little country-town station, though. Nice little eatery outside the station that might have been nice for breakfast if I hadn’t already eaten. I still want to try eating at an on-platform restaurant like I’ve occasionally seen in anime. Sadly, I couldn’t use my Suica card on the Chichibu Line, even though both ends of my trip are in the Kanto Suica zone, so I had to pay actual money (gasp!). Rode along, enjoying the view in any case.

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I hopped off the train at Kumagaya Station, because there it intersected the Shinkansen line. I was almost tempted to stay on the train to the end, because there I could change to another train that’d take me to a temple with the cutest ever goshuin, except even though that temple is right on the straight line that connects Chichibu with Utsunomiya, doing the trip on surface trains would add four hours to my journey, somehow. (I also discovered that the Chichibu Line runs a steam train called the SL Paleo Express (SL for Steam Locomotive, I assume), but (a) it departs Chichibu at about 3pm on days that it runs, and (b) it only runs on weekends and holidays (which means it ran yesterday – kinda sad I never saw it go past, but I guess I wasn’t always that close to the tracks)).

But anyway, at Kumagaya, I changed to the Joetsu Shinkansen to Omiya Station (using the second day on my JR East Pass), where I switched to the Tohoku Shinkansen for Omiya. At Kumagaya, there was a huge line for the ticket office, so I remembered my hard-learned how-to-book-shinkansen-tickets lesson number 1: If there’s a huge line for the ticket office, there’s usually one inside the station with no line. So I headed inside the station, but there wasn’t a second ticket office. At which point, I remembered lesson number 2: If all else fails, ride the non-reserved cars. And it turns out most of the cars on the next train were unreserved. Didn’t have too much trouble finding a seat, though it was only about a quarter-hour ride.

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At Omiya, I decided not to worry about looking for the ticket office – it wasn’t a very long layover – and just get on the unreserved cars again, though this train only had a handful of them, waaay down the other end of the platform. And then all the seats in the first two of them were taken (though, some were taken only by people’s bags), so I decided to just stand in the vestibule. For twenty-three minutes. But hey, I arrived in Utsunomiya.

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So, Utsunomiya is the capital and largest city in Tochigi Prefecture… despite there being a Tochigi City after which the prefecture is named. Turns out there used to be a separate Utsunomiya Prefecture when the prefectural system was created following the Meiji Restoration, but it lasted barely two years before being merged with Tochigi Prefecture. During WWII, it was an important military training facility, and it’s thought that Japanese soldiers returning from China brought gyoza back home with them, and the craze caught on – today, there’s more than two hundred gyoza restaurants in the city. (Historians have raised some issues with the “brought the recipe home” story in that fried gyoza are extremely popular, but it would have been unheard-of for them to be served in China at the time – frying is what you do with the low-quality ones you couldn’t sell. ) There’s actually an annual gyoza festival in the city, but sadly it’s the first weekend in November – the weekend after I head home, naturally.

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I headed to my hotel from there to dump my bags – like I said, it’s practically on the station’s doorstep; you could see the station from the hotel if there wasn’t a building in the way. And it turns out they’re building a new Toyoko Inn right next to the current one. And also, there’s a historical building on the other side, the Former Shinohara Family Residence (an old merchant family from Utsunomiya). Pictures of it look quite pretty, but sadly it’s closed on days following public holidays (and since yesterday was a public holiday…). The building in the second image, by the way, is a bicycle parking station. The whole thing, all three floors. Solid with bicycles.

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Bags dumped, I headed out to execute Plan Gyoza. First stop, though: there was a Yaesu bookstore at the station shopping mall. And finally, on my fifth attempt, I was able to find a station stamp book. Didn’t even have to ask the staff – I managed to find the area with the train timetables, and the stamp book was right there. (Actually, there’s a whole section with magazines for train fans – incluing one magazine for train and anime fans, about trains and stations appearing in anime, and the cover story was all about the new movie by the writer of Anohana and Kokosake set in Chichibu. You can take the tourist out of the city…) I also grabbed a manhole card from the tourist information centre – before coming here this trip, I made a map of every manhole card available in the prefectures I’m visiting, and colour-coded them according to how far out of my way I’d have to go to get them; the one in Utsunomiya was literally right on my path.

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Downstairs from there was my first gyoza place: Aogen, specialising in negi-miso gyoza (gyoza with miso sauce, covered in spring onions), so I had a plate of that, and a plate of regular pan-fried gyoza. Plus, I got to practice my gyoza terminology – “negimiso ichimai, yaki ichimai, kudasai” (one serve of negi miso, one serve of pan-fried, please). Other words you may want to learn if you want to sound like a gyoza town native: sui (boiled gyoza), age (deep fried gyoza), nimai (two serves), sanmai (three serves). It was quite tasty.

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Headed out from there and down the city’s main road heading for the city centre. After a block, I crossed the Ta River, and it was plain from the grass wrapped around the fencing along the riverside walking paths that the river used to be running a great deal higher. Fortunately, the riverside walking paths were a long way below the road height.

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But… as I continued walking, it was plain there had been significant flooding, even on the city’s main road – fences along the footpath were packed solid with grass almost to knee deep, the footpath and gutters were covered in dirt, and here and there were piles of sodden tatami mats and garbage bags filled with things waiting to be picked up. Everywhere were people with shovels moving slabs of mud, and mops, and hoses.

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Along with what I’ve been seeing on the news at breakfast in the morning and in my room at night, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Chichibu got hit pretty lightly. My guess is that Chichibu’s surrounded by high mountains, but the river valleys are pretty deep, so the winds blew over the top while the floods ran by underneath, and in between all we got was the rain. Meanwhile, in Nagano Prefecture, a river broke a levee and flooded a stabling yard for Hokuriku Shinkansen trains (among other things), causing about thirty million dollars of damage, and shutting down the Hokuriku Shinkansen – I’m just fortunate that my intended train from Kumagaya to Omiya was a Joetsu train (they run on the same line at that point).

Anyway, the next target on my gyoza quest was a small side street called Miyajimacho-dori, colloqually named Gyoza Street, because of all the gyoza restaurants on it. I had a list of the top ten gyoza restaurants in Utsunomiya on my phone (according to some guy on the internet, anyway), and two restaurants on the list were on this street (Aogen, by the way, is an number six). Tragically, it seemed like every shop on the street was closed – I was following another couple from shop to shop, and they looked about as dejected as I felt. Though, the manhole cover that my manhole card related to was on this street, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

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Fortunately, I’d read about another place nearby – a Don Quixote with a place in the basement with five gyoza restaurants all together, so I headed there next. Basically the deal is you order and pay at each restaurant’s counter, tell them your table number, and then they hand you a numbered tag, and then bring you food to your table when it’s ready. There was a big sign on the wall in English explaining it, but even so, one of the restaurant guys – from a place called Satsuki – came out and explained it to me in pretty good English, so I decided to order there first, even though it wasn’t on my list. Plus, they had an “all star set”, a plate with seven different gyoza with different fillings: the restaurant’s specialty, kimchi, a traditional regional specialty from the old Yashu Province, yuzu, shiso, green tea, and wagyu beef.

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While I was eating that, I noticed that a table in my eyeline just ordered everything from every shop at once, so that’s what I did next, ordering one thing from three different shops, all of which were on my list (the fifth and final shop in the place was closed today): hanetsuki from Men Men (it’s fried gyoza joined together with a sheet of starch – the name means “wings attached”), prawn moneybags from Ryumon, and age and sui (and a serve of pickled veggies for a palate cleanser) from Min Min.

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That… was a lot of gyoza. Overall, today I ate forty two gyoza, and a plate of pickled vegetables (how much gyoza must a man eat, before you can call him a man?). This might have been better to do with more than just me, so we could share each plate between us. In all honesty, despite Min Min being named the best restaurant in several lists I consulted, I’d honestly have to say my favourite was the Yashu from Satsuki was my favourite, even to the extent that I was considering asking if I could order another plate of just that. Second favourite has the hanetsuki from Men Men. Fortunately, I completely failed to explode.

I waddled out of there and headed over the road to visit one place I wanted to see: Futaarasan Shrine. (Or possibly Futarasan, it wasn’t entirely clear. Technically the first two kanji in the name are read as “futa” and “ara”, but it seemed to be written on most (though not all) signage as “Futarasan”.) Anyway, the shrine used to be the principle shrine of Yashu Province, and it was quite impressive – big ol’ torii gate, huge flight of stairs up to the main buildings. To be fair, the stairs almost did me in after all that gyoza. Admired the buildings at the top. Very nice buildings. There were also some kids dressed up for Shichi-Go-San a festival for girls aged three (=san) or seven (=shichi) and boys aged five (=go), though I rather thought that didn’t happen until November.

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Sadly, it started to rain at this point, despite Apple weather saying it’d only be cloudy. Left the shrine out the back, intending to head back to my hotel via another temple, Jiko-ji. It was quite a nice temple, though the goshuin office was closed. Weirdly, the main entrance road seemed to be the back driveway of a pair of houses on the corner.

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I decided to walk the rest of the way back to the hotel down some back streets, and here I could see more effects of flooding without the cleanup efforts on the main road. Footpaths and car parks were covered by a thick layer of mud. I’m probably gonna have to declare my shoes at customs when I fly back into Australia…

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Back at my hotel comparatively early, I nevertheless still only had time to finish up yesterday’s post. So yeah, this post wasn’t written today, in fact I had written it tomorrow. My tenses aren’t confused, your tenses are confused. I had a light dinner of a pair of choc-chip biscuits I’d brought from Australia for snacks, though if memory serves, the best before date was last Friday…

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Today’s photo count: three hundred and twenty-two

Today’s pedometer count: 11,673 steps – 8 kilometres exactly – 13 flights of stairs

Today’s goshuin count: One, Futarasan Shrine (I’ve also left my new bookmark on it, so you can see what it looks like).

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Today’s stamp count: Two – JR Kumagaya Station and Utsunomiya Station. I neglected to see if Ohanabatake Station had one (or Seibu-Chichibu, for that matter), and while the Chichibu Kumagaya Station did have one, it was in use, and I didn’t have the time to wait.

Today’s manhole card count: One.

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