Nikko [Heading for the Hills]

As is customary, last summer we headed to Nikko in the hills in search of some refreshingly cooler mountain air. Fortunately for this toddler, Nikko is serviced by a shinkansen and is only a few hours away!

For ease of transportation, we opted out of the local train from Utsunomiya and hired a small car to take us around town. When you have a toddler and plan your driving around the post-lunch nap you discover many new things. In this case, the pleasant pottery town of Mashiko. Twice a year there is the mother of all pottery festivals in this town, so I feel I will be returning soon!

Coincidentally, this town also has a fantastic cafe called Starnet. To date, this is probably the best meal I (Kara) have had in Japan so far. It was a tofu donburi (rice bowl). The description does sound gross, but the reality was so tasty. And pretty.

And as for that toddler? He slept so well en route to our hostel. We were staying a little out of central Nikko (again, the quest for WiFi and common rooms so we adults don’t have to sleep at 7pm makes for some eccentric choices), but our hostel did have this spectacular river beside it. And as an aside, Nikko wins for the most out-of-date vending machine discovered so far.

While in Nikko we did what most travelers do, and explored the foreshore of Lake Chūzenji. We had a stomp around the old villa’s belonging to the British and Italian Embassies. These places provided a respite from the constant drizzle, looked amazing and the views were spectacular!

We also did a few walks with a less cooperative toddler (a disturber of the peace) around the north of the lake too.

Unable to turn down the prospect of better weather and a location called Kanmangafuchi Abyss, we set out and found said abyss was lined by many jizo statues wearing their customary red accoutrements. This national heritage listed place is among the less visited in Nikko, which goes to show just how much there is to see in this town.

For lunch one day we stopped at this delightful vegetarian cafe which we don’t know the name of – but it is this one here. The inside is so serene (as was the toddler) and the painting on the roof is a delight.

On our final morning we explored Nikkō Tōshō-gū – one of the more famous Shinto shrines in Japan. It is a 17th century shrine complex honouring the first Shogun of Japan, and it is home to those three famous monkeys. Unfortunately for us, much of the shrine and surroundings were being renovated in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

And in more unfortunate news, this was the time that the remnant of a typhoon hit Nikko bring quite a large amount of rain (and later, wind). There are undeniable benefits in taking time away from social media, but this time we were betrayed. So here are some pictures of a happy toddler doing his rain dance.

On the way home we visited the Omiya Rail Museum. We wish we had more time to explore, but given the typhoon threatened to shut down all the trains we opted for a shortened adventure before we returned home. We will be back here for sure, if Jake has anything to say in setting our future holiday agendas.

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