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Monday, October 31, 2016

5F Day 9: Nikko, the Most Beautiful Spot on Planet Earth

My astonishing day started with breakfast at the Tokyo Westin:


If you look real close, on the left horizon is a white statue:


This the tallest statue of the gem-bearing Nyoirin Kannon (328 feet).

Anyway, off I went today to Nikko, not having a clue that this could well be one of my best days of my life.  Day #35 of my Grand Around the World Trip, for example, rates up there also as one of the best, for unexpectedly:
  • My Blue Bar Pigeon made a first appearance, picking on my breakfast at the Westin Venice.
  • At Quadri in St. Mark's Square I had the best Italian meal in my life, infused with truffles.
  • I was privileged to secure the last seat in a tribute concert to Antonio Lucio Vivaldi of his complete Four Seasons in a smallish auditorium where he composed much of these pieces.  This site was only a few yards from Quadri.  
Off I rode to Nikko, where the final leg was a quaint train where 75% of the riders were foreign:


I mention this because the Westin Sendai has no White, Black nor Hispanic occupants.  I can generally tell if there is a Chinese tour, and there was none.  I hear that visitors remain leery to visit this area of Japan because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Map from Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture to Nikko, Tochigi PrefectureSo I got to Nikko on a Monday, and this was, supposedly, the peak of Fall Colors today.  I can imagine how terrible it must have been over the weekend, for the combination of tourists, locals driving cars and whatever, made it almost impossible to stick to any kind of schedule on this weekday.

I made several mistakes, mostly to my advantage.  If you ever travel here at peak, purchase your 2000 yen (around $19) bus ticket to Chuzenji Onsen, which theoretically allows you to drop of and get on at-will all day.  Forget the getting off part.  The infrastructure cannot handle the overload of people.

Plus, the information made available is confusing.  I bought a ticket and was told to use line 1A.  No matter what ticket you buy, you go to 1A (well, there is a 1B, but no one was there).   The line was very long, but they somehow squeezed most in line to get on the bus.  I showed my ticket to my bus driver, and he must have said, in Japanese, you must get off at Chuzenji Onsen.  Initially, I could not take a photo because I was standing.  

Finally, half the bus got off at Akechidaira, where there is a ropeway (left, from stock photo).  So I finally got a seat where I could take a few photos.  My "mistake" was that I did not get off at the lake, so I continued to the last stop, which took about half an hour more.  At the end, I had to show my ticket, and the bus driver scolded me for staying on the bus.  After a while I figured out he wanted more money, so I gave him around $7.  Best mistake I made all day, for when we got back to the lake, where I would have dropped off, the line to get on this bus back to Nikko was at least four busloads long.  The next bus came in half an hour.  And the line would only enlarge, for this was by then mid-afternoon.  Me?  I was the first to get on at the the top, so I had the best seat:  front seat left.  Best as I could tell, many in that line at Lake Chuzenji will not get home until late at night, and maybe not even then.

So, feeling lucky, here are all the photos I took in Nikko:

You say, what's the big deal about that photo?  Well, for hours, this is what I saw in varying splotches of fall color.  While the the eastern part of the USA, the Shenandoahs and New England, for example, are mostly red and yellow and orange, there is something about the artistic nature of Nikko's.

There were severe handicaps.  For one, my bus did not exactly have the cleanest windows.  Second, the Sun seemed almost always in my face, so I could not photograph the best scenes.  What you'll see below are the best of what I managed to take:


That's Lake Chuzenji, above and below.


I can go on and on, but, in general, the photos are a bit fuzzy and not quite composed well.  I was constrained.

I can assure you that Nikko's beauty transcends any of the photos I took.  I will need to return someday soon and just walk around, with a better camera,  Perhaps stay at some hotel on the shores of Lake Chuzenji for a few days.  Catch the colors with the right shading at the ideal time of day.

On the other hand, life is not perfect and what I've captured above will hopefully convince you to someday visit what could well be the most beautiful spot on Planet Earth, at least for a few days around Halloween.

But my day did not end in Nikko.  When I got to Utsunomiya to catch the bullet train to Sendai, it was 45 minutes to my departure, so I went to the JR office to leave earlier.  Apparently, the train I caught was quite filled, so the agent placed me in a window seat with the masses.  The seats are not as wide and the environment not as cushy.  I had purchased some spicy shoestring potatoes and sochu, and the 25 means 25% ethanol, almost six times the ethanol of a typical beer in the USA.

In a somewhat inebriated state, I enjoyed the passing countryside while listening to my...not sure what it is called.  Not an iPod, for my device is the size of a postage stamp, with 4,000 songs.  During the hour plus ride an incredible series of tunes came on, almost in chronological order:  Wakare No Isochidori (a song that was popular before I was born, but, somehow, is meaningful to me), the Tommy Dorsey version of I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, Happy Talk,   Rock Around the Clock, You Cheated, To Know Him is to Love Him,  Born too Late, Scotch and Soda, You Light Up My Life, Johnny Get Angry, Honolulu City Lights....at this point, it occurred to me that these tunes were so significant to me and that my life was flashing by that surely, the Shinkansen was destined to have its first tragic accident...when we arrive in Sendai.

I walked to the Westin Sendai, took a long bath and went down to the Executive Lounge for a champagne:


I then went up to the top floor for dinner.  This could well have been my best teppanyaki meal ever:


Then came the Sendai wagyu beef:


Frankly, this wagyu was okay, but did not have that Miyazaki quality.  That distinctive taste was missing.


My teppanyaki finished with garlic rice, miso soup and tsukemono.  All in all, the quality, service ambience, view and culmination of a great day made the experience memorable.  

What a day.  Tomorrow, I'm on to Hiroshima.

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