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Nikkō, Japan, December 2018

August 11th, 2019

Normally it takes me about six months to cleanup and post photos from vacations. This year it took a bit longer for… reasons. So, yea, eight months this time.

Last December the family went to Japan again —our favorite destination. We met my mom, sister and niece there and went to Nikko, Nagano and Tokyo. This trip to Japan was delayed a full year, plans were made for this trip in 2017 but unforeseen events caused it to be canceled a few weeks before we were to leave. So we were determined to enjoy it to its fullest.

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Our adventure began before we arrived in Narita, and not on a positive note —feverish and vomiting kids. By the time we arrived in our hotel in Nikko, after three hours and two transfers by train from Narita, both the girls were sick. My mom and I spent most of the first day looking for medicine as the limited stock we brought quickly ran out. We walked around Nikko for several hours, looking for an open doctors office with the help of Google maps. We never found the first place Google directed us to but the second place we finally did find, after walking around in circles for a while, was very helpful… but it was an experience. The office was full of older men and women and, of course, the staff didn’t really speak English and I don’t speak Japanese so we spent some time conversing in single words and hand gestures enhanced with Google translate. “Child”. “Fever”. “Six years old”. “Ten years old”.

The staff was extremely helpful three or four of them gathered around trying to understand me. Eventually one of the staff was able to explain that we should go down the road to a Welcia to find what we needed. After another ten minutes or so of walking we found the Welcia, a very large drug store. Our second adventure in Google translate was trying to translate the labels of the medicines in the kids section —which was not very big, there really are no kids in rural Japan— one-by-one we translated until we found an ibuprofen and a paracetamol for kids. We never did find anything for vomiting and the staff was not so helpful. The guy at the counter was polite but it was obvious he didn’t want to take the time to try and understand, the contrast with the ladies at the doctors office was day and night. Maybe it was small business vs. big corporate employee but it reminded me of something I was told the first time I went to Japan: even though most younger Japanese speak English, the men won’t talk to you, you’re better off talking to the women. This was explained as a cultural stigma; while it is cute for a woman to struggle and speak broken “Engrish”, it’s not acceptable for a man to speak it so they just pretend they can’t understand.

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So, anyway after two days stuck in the ryokan sick everyone recovered and we got to enjoy Nikko a bit. The hotel we stayed at was right on the edge of town and just next to a place called Kanmangafuchi Abyss (憾満ヶ淵) [atlasobscura.com]. A gorge the Daiya river flows though which is overlooked by a line of statues called “Jizō”, a bodhisattva who “cares for the deceased”. The statues are about a meter high sitting on a stone base that is another half meter or so, and dressed with a red knitted hat —like a skull cap— and red bib. It’s quite atmospheric, about 70 of these statues covered in moss, sitting along the trail in the woods with the river rushing through the gorge. We would never have found this place except that our hotel was literally the last building on the street and woods and gorge were right next to us, a five minute walk to where the statues began.

Of course the main reason we were in Nikko was to visit the shrines and temples of Nikkō [wikipedia.org] UNESCO world heritage site. The main attraction was the Tōshōgū Shrine (東照宮); [wikipedia.org], the mausoleum where Tokugawa Ieyasu is buried. Ieyasu was the first Shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, the guy who conquered all of Japan and founded the Shogunate which would last until the Meji restoration, some two hundred years later. They sparred no expense when they buried him.

The Tōshōgū shrine is the most lavishly decorated place I’ve ever been in Japan. It’s the most lavishly decorated place in Japan I’ve ever seen a picture of. When you think of Japanese design you probably think of clean, simple almost minimalist design. Toshogu is the Baroque of Japanese, every inch is covered in carvings and there is no lack of color. Or gold, there is gold everywhere.

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The Tōshōgū is far from the only shrine or temple, there is a large cluster of them. Taiyūinbyō (大猷院廟), Rinnōji (輪王寺), Shinkyō (神橋). We wondered around a few of them.

The other major thing we did was to take a train to Kinugawa Onsen to visit Tobu World Square [japan-guide.com]. We wondered around the 1/25 scale buildings from around the world: pyramids, the Acropolis, New York City —including the Twin Towers. There was Tower Bridge and The Eiffel Tower. A Bowing 747 and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. It was a blast.

In a recurring theme in all my family travels food was a challenge. We end up eating a lot of foods purchased from Lawson’s and 7-11. They have an impressive selection but you might thing we are crazy to be eating convenience store food in Japan. The problem is I’m vegetarian, my kids are just picky, my sister doesn’t eat gluten and my mom is not a fan of seafood. All in all it drives my wife, who is a foodie, mad. The best thing we got in Nikkō was great soba from a place near the hotel.

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