Shapeless cities, box cut sky lines, people fitting into slots running one of mankind’s great real-estate casinos floating on one well propaned capitalist thrust. Discipline, order, courtesy, understanding, judgement. These crazy streets where Pocky Sticks, multi-dimensional Kit-Kats, self-discipline, and decency are the slimy rabbid dogs running rampant. Where you go to college is important, but what you did there doesn’t matter. What, hung up on the Kit-Kats? You may think you know what Kit-Kats are until you visit Japan and realize that you’ve been lied to your entire life. Don’t know what pocky sticks are? Sorry, that’s a tall tale we don’t have time for tonight.
Since last night a whole series of moons have passed with their maxings and whinings. Max’s: getting my classical guitar’s fretboard cleaned up by a professional. Whines: recent food poisoning adventure. If there’s one regrettable thing about Tokyo life it continues to be commuting on trains. I do my best to enjoy it but sometimes before getting on the trains I feel like imbibing a healthy dose of “Deep Numb,” that corporate high vended amongst machines. They getcha hooked on a life line strung out on bureaucracy, budgets and bullshit. The guzzling conical one way spiral which showcases remarkable fits and bouts of reliability, consistency, unapologetic commercialism…Now, don’t worry, I didn’t come here tonight to lecture about Japan’s love of the four most commonly sported brands: Prada, Gucchi, Brooklyn, and NYC. Rather I’ve had some fascinating experiences lately that I’d love to share.
Recently I’ve made my way out to see trails near and further along the train lines. First I took a day trip out to walk the pleasant trails and waterfalls about Mount Takao. It’s a rather pleasant place, so pleasant most people picnic atop it drinking beers and taking in the soft scenes that mark the transition between Tokyo and the hills which precede the journey west to Mount Fuji and the journey north to the Japanese Alps. Then, the following week I made a dayer trip out to Mount Mitake. This mountain is a decent sized hill from which many, many trails veer off towards other mountains which comprise the quite beautiful Chichibu National Park. The woodland hills of Honshu are so incredibly lush, just a few hours at a time can be nearly overwhelming. I live on the western side of the greater Tokyo metropolis, which is about a half hour from Tokyo, Tokyo, TOKYO itself and yet escape the seas of charming little houses still takes about two hours. Needless to say you become unacclimated to reality while living within the impressively manifested structures born of our originally intangible concepts and constructs. So, feeling rather cleansed by the pleasantries of Takao and the luscious Mount Mitake environs I decided to finally schedule in a long overdue trip to Nikko.
My intentions to visit Nikko during the August vacation were interrupted by a rather ‘interruptive’ stomach bug, as detailed some nights ago. At that time it seemed all the world was advising me to go during Autumn to see the fall colors. Thus I waited for my available finances and “weekend” days (Monday, Tuesday) to align in the sky and started off for Nikko on a Sunday evening.
Nikko smells of pine trees at night, which was a welcome challenge to the nonsense that rises from beneath the roads in the city. If something that foul should escape the ground it had better be the undead, no one has time for these subterranean born emissions. Now, it wasn’t Rocky Mountain high, but the elevation and wood houses in the neighborhood of the traveler hostel I was headed towards offered up very satisfying air. After checking in and getting to bed, I woke to have breakfast and headed out on a bus towards natural hot springs called Yuomoto about an hour beyond Lake Chuzenji. Being a Monday morning the tourist demographic on the bus was largely retired Japanese and travelling Chinese people. A few beastmen and beastwomen from the west could be spotted amongst the bundle. Like any bus ride through the mountains, being on one’s feet actually offers up beautiful views to the surrounding mountains as the vehicle switchbacks up and up. View after view opened up as we scaled the mountain road. A visually delightful memory.
But, the retiree populace onboard had a rather pungent influence on the limited air flow. Those gases were matched step for step as the higher in elevation we went, and the closer we got to the Yuomoto springs the refreshing pine scent was squeezed out. Why? Well, because the natural hot springs are sulfurous, of course. As we approached the springs, the natural spring smells and the seemingly unnatural gaseous smells from our crowd made merry much to my dismay.
Somehow, we arrived at Yuomoto springs without casualties. I got off the bus and began a walk from the curious sulfur springs towards Kegon waterfalls at the bottom of Lake Chuzenji. On the 3 to 4 hour walk south between the two spots there was quite a bit of scenery to take in; like elderly people bathing their feet in the historically purifying waters. That’s something that Japan has right: foot baths. Baths in general are an aspect of life here that I try not to take for granted be it at home, in the neighborhood sento, the occasional hot spring visit, or these divine foot baths.
After visiting the hot springs, I ventured down past the stone lanters of Onsenji (Hot spring temple…) I walked the raised boardwalk trail bouldered on one side by moss covered rocks and flanked on the other by a mixture of unbelievably clear mountain water mixing with streams of milky sulfur spring water. The ice cold, sulphur hot, super clear current carrying forth rivers of white was all sorts of holy coexisting contradiction. The ducks of the area clearly love it. Blessed be the ducks. Wait, what is that? It’s a sign. What does it say? …How can ducks stay afloat while feeding…? All along the boardwalk were educational signs for children, so I naturally fell prey to them. The smell of yellow pines came to the forefront, paired with mixed crunchables underneath, the invigorating smell of decaying matter as well as the comforting smell of green humidity exhaling off the lush greens still out and about. Being early in the morning the sun hit all the right angles marrying the best of the Baroque lighting to the best of the Romantic ‘yuugen’ just trailing and trailing off into the endless pines across the way.
Along came the first waterfall of the way. Boy was she a beaut. I don’t think I’ve seen a sloped waterfall like this one ever before. It roared but didn’t fall, it just sort of floats down in choral cascades. From atop, a decent perch reveals one of those idyllic Japanese countryside scenes: magical river slants down an impossible vert leading off into layers wave-like ridges and forested hills. A well formed contrast of elevation diving into the foreground contrasted with an everlong view of the horizon in the fading background. From below, the best way to describe this waterfall would be to describe the excessively long pant legs worn by central figures in Kabuki theater which, when used appropriately, play a trick on the audience’s perspective and make the dancer/actor appear exceptionally tall.
After the first fall there was a delightful forest walk along the subsequent river that forms leading into a wide moor of marsh and tall grass. All of the burnt colors we crave during Fall were set on by the sun and displayed. Going from the closed space created by a forest into the openness of the moor was compounded by various mountains enclosing the horizon. I’ve always found the cut lawns of the United States suburban ideal to be a bit disturbing, as I’ve surely told nights before. There on the moor I was able to take in all the beauty of drying wild grasses left to their own devices. Most of the tourists came for “fall colors” because, let’s be honest – most of them have lived their lives in Japanese cities far from anything resembling nature. If I would go to Nikko during fall again, it wouldn’t be for the foliage. It would be for the ambers, gilded grasses, burnt vermilions and other villains that invade autumn landscapes. The scent of the moor was just as outstanding as the wood-worked houses in town, the sulfur springs, and the crunchy paths along the well sustained forests.
The following section flattened out to cut through yellow crested trees on both sides. Like a shadow cast on a curtain, the western sun reinforced the silhouette of a mountain through the trees which collectively caught it in the net of their intermingling colored branches. The mixed effect gave off the illusion of seeing a handsome golden mountain. All along the way there were small rifts and drops which created small falls as the river advanced towards Lake Chuzenji.
The next major landmark was called Dragon Head falls. While the view from atop as rather exciting, the view from below was owned by a gift shop full to the brim with frothy tourism. Not the ideal place to view nature from but nonetheless it provided some well earned scenery to the sceneless days that steal away in the city. From these falls I decided to take a bus along the medium sized lake’s shore in order to catch Kegon falls before sunset. The bus ride was stop and go as this heavily trafficked tourist area overwhelmed the local roads with unnecessary congestion. The turtle pace and vantage point did offer me two things however: rest for my feet, and a great view of the low sun coming through the colored foliage lining the lakeshore path opposite the road. Oddly, seeing the sun dance on the lake’s surface reminded me of Wisconsin, as I haven’t seen much water during my stay here.
When I finally reached Kegon Falls and got off the bus, the afternoon warmth started to escape with the sun and layers were added on. The destination has two main ledges to view the falls from: one along the crown of the rock formation on level with the very top of the falls and another about 100 meters below via an elevator which allows people to get a better view of the pool which forms beneath the falls. The profound view from the bottom brings up all sorts of unexpressables that come along with witnessing something magnificent. The vertical patterned rock formations along the seemingly hanging foundation command admiration and awe (from those who aren’t busy taking selfies.) Amidst feelings of reverence and revelation before the stunning work of nature, the low sun started to fringe out above and for a brief moment the filtered light was caught by all the mist dominating the air near the bottom of the falls. After this misty moment of illumination settled down it was clearly time to get a move on as not much light was left. Back up top the falls I witnessed the last of the light hit the falls while eating some Marron flavored soft serve.
Which brings me to another aweful incident. Rather, awful accident. Still feeling up for a snack on my walk back to the bus I caught a glimpse of advertisements for a Jyazu-man in the window of a shop. Now, I’m a creature of curiosity and I can’t say eating novelty for novelty’s sake has always rewarded me, but this inclination coupled with my fervent love of knee slapping puns set me up for disaster. You see the something-something-man is a breaded dumpling whose insides are something-something, yeah? For example, a “niku-man” is a steamed bread dumpling whose filling is hopefully some sort of meat derived substance. No one cares to ask, really. There are a handful of common types of steamed breaded dumplings that can be bought in markets, bodegas and the like but never before had I seen a ..jyaaa—zzzuuu—man…Jazz Man??? Oh no, they didn’t. Yes they did. And I ate it. All unsatisfactory 350 yen of it. Boy was it mediocre but the pun was exquisite. The advertising blamed such an existence on Utsunomiya. That’s where they’re from, apparently.
Anyhow, my first day in Nikko was filled with a great deal of nature gawking. I couldn’t get my fill. It was just too good. It also tuckered me out quite a great deal and I slept through most of the hour and a half stop and go bus ride on the way back to town. Down the mountainside’s switchbacks, one could see red lights back to back to back like several miles of candle bearers walking out into the night.