Earthquake Alert

25 08 2009

We were woken up at 6.43am this morning with our phones beeping crazily. We both received earthquake warnings (in Japanese) that are sent to phones a few seconds before major quakes hit. Strangely, we felt no tremors and it seems that no effects occured from the sea-based quake off to the east of Chiba prefecture. Must have been a false alarm, but we’ve gotten a bit scared from visiting the Kobe Earthquake Museum and seeing what destruction can occur after earthquakes. Just as well, as it took us half an hour to translate the message to make sure we weren’t in any immediate danger.

A long weekend in Nikko

25 08 2009

Peter and Jill came to visit us in Japan. We all went to Nikko, north of Tokyo over a long weekend to escape the summer humidity. Nikko is up in the mountains and was much cooler than Kisarazu, Kyoto and Osaka at this time of year.

We all left Kisarazu after lunch for Nikko, taking the train to Tokyo, the subway to Asakusa and arrived at the Tobu line to buy our All Nikko Free Pass with one minute to spare before the 2.50 train. It took 2.5 hours to get to Nikko and then we caught the last bus at 6.04pm up the mountain along the 26 alphabet bends to Lake Chuzenji and to where our accommodation was. We had been recommended this place to stay in Nikko and we booked a bungalow for 4. However, when we got there we realised that it was basic camping. Our bungalow/cabin had tatami floors and futons with blankets, we had to lit fires to cook our dinner on and the was a public bath on site for washing. The western toilets seats were heated though, which was a nice bit of luxury.

When we arrived at the camp site it was already dark so we got some wood and started our dinner fire. We had tofu, eggplant and udon for dinner with Kyoto cinnamon and matcha biscuits with genmaicha for after dinner.

It was quite cold overnight and we needed 2 blankets each to stay warm – back home we were sleeping with the air-con all night so the 1200m above sea level altitude certainly made it cooler.

On the next day we had cereal and fruit for breakfast then caught the bus to Yumoto by Lake Yunoko, about 2000m above sea level. People were fly fishing and fishing from boats (perhaps for trout?) out on the lake. We went to Yumoto Onsen-ji (Onsen temple) and paid for a bath. We were the only people there at the temple so the hot baths were all for us. The water was really hot – 65-72 degrees- so lots of cold water was needed. The whole Yumoto area smelt sulfurous from the volcanic hot springs. The milky sulfur springs are meant to be good for muscle and joint pain.

We headed back down the hill to Chuzenji. We had lunch at a restaurant specialising in udon and yuba (tofu skin) which the whole region is famous for.

After lunch we visited Kegon Falls, a 97m high waterfall. Benno and Lara caught at elevator down 100m to the bottom of the falls so we could get a closer look.

Then we went for a stroll around Lake Chuzenji and looked at the clouds, mountains and paddle boats on the lake.

We walked up to Futarasan Shrine Chugushi then caught the bus a few stops north to our camp site again. Before dinner we walked up to the Dragon Falls, Ryuzu Falls. We looked through the souvenir shop and drank coffee and amezake (fermented sweetened hot rice drink). We had roast potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked in coals and pasta with rich tomato sauce for dinner. The other Japanese people were fascinated with our food (especially the potatoes) and were asking us how/what we were cooking. There were several scout groups and kid’s camping groups staying at the camp site so the kitchen area got busy. When it was dark they let of fireworks and sparklers that we got to watch. Some of the fireworks flew right up into the sky and exploded in multiple colours. It was fun to watch.

The next day we had a cooked breakfast of porridge cooked on the campfire. Then we caught the bus down the 26 alphabet bends to central Nikko. We looked at the Shinkyo sacred red bridge then walked up the hill to the temple and shrine complex of Nikko. A combination ticket for Y1000 gave us access to 5 temples and shrines. We saw Rinnoji Temple Sanbutsudo, Toshogu Shrine, Kitano Shrine, Futarasan Shrine and Taiyun temple. In Toshogu was a carving of the 3 monkeys- hear, see and speak no evil. The gates and buildings were intricately carved and painted. Benno went through to another section to see a carving of a sleeping cat (nemuri neko) that is meant to be very realistic, and up the hill to Ieyasu’s grave. Ieyasu was a famous samurai/warlord that ruled in Japan. In Kitano shrine a monk gave a talk about the 12 statues on display that represented the oriental zodiac, then demonstrated the amazing acoustics of the inner room. He tapped two wooden sticks together and the sound echoed through out the chamber for several seconds. In Taiyun we saw some treasures, but the explanation was in Japanese. Some of the trees were starting to turn autumn red- the temple complex would be lovely in autumn.

After the temples we went into central Nikko by the train station and had an Indian feast at Asian Garden. We had mango juice, potato curry, vegetable curry and dhal. They served up the largest naan we’ve ever seen.

We caught the bus back to the campsite and had salted rice crackers with fresh tomato and cucumber for dinner.

On Monday we woke up early and packed up our cabin. We caught the 7.40am bus from the camp site into central Nikko, the 8.56 Tobu train back to Asakusa and then went to Harajuku for lunch. We went to Brown Rice Cafe and ate the lunch set that included pumpkin gnocchi, chili con can, tofu, miso soup and brown rice or wholemeal bread.

Somehow it was 3 pm by the time we finished lunch so we caught the Yamanote line back to Tokyo. Benno wanted to find the shop New York City Doughnut Plant as they advertised vegan doughnuts on their website. It took us 25 minutes of wandering around the station, asking at information, reading signs and maps and finally we found the shop. We bought 6 soymilk doughnuts that were glazed and sprinkled with sesame seeds and took the train back to Kisarazu where we enjoyed okonmiyaki for dinner.