On an earlier trip I finished the work and then was able to go to Nikkō for a couple of days. Nikkō is about 140 km north of Tōkyō, in Tochigi Prefecture.
I got there by simply taking the subway from the course site to the Asakusa train station and buying a ticket. It is a huge help to have the basic details of your desired ticket written clearly on a slip of paper, using numerals (like "1") rather than number words ("one"):
Asakusa —> Nikkō
Nikkō is very nice, although the following pictures with the US$10 film camera look pretty awful. This is obviously before I had a digital camera....
After a week of networking protocols, noodles, smoke, and neon, I headed north from Tōkyō on an evening train. Nikkō is in the mountains and has a very cool and moist climate.
If you stay in Tōkyō you get the impression that all of Japan is covered in concrete and lit with fluorescent lighting. Not true! Although the locals do seem fond of concrete and fluorescence.
Nikkō has the mausoleum of the Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Futarasan Shrine, and more. And heaps of visitors.
Lots of large cryptomeria, like giant cedars.
You can hike up the hill through the giant cedars to the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the warlord who became Shōgun in 1600, establishing the Shōgunate that lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
It also has the famous "Hear no evil, say no evil, see no evil" carving of three monkeys, at the Shinkyūsha shrine. Really. This is the original. Pretty impressive, huh?
Or "See no evil, say no evil, hear no evil", if you read right-to-left.
Well, if you read the carving right-to-left, but my words left-to-right. Whatever.
While "Speak no evil" certainly seems Buddhist, the parts about seeing and hearing no evil seem to contradict the story of the Buddha and how he was driven from complacency to compassion after being confronted with suffering, death and decay. But then Japan is pretty far from India and the roots of Buddhism.
In the Tōshō-gū Shrine you can see the Nemuri-Neko, a famous carved sleeping cat. It was kind of a let-down being, well, cat-sized and pretty much exactly what you would expect a carved wooden cat to look like.
The Shinkyūsha shrine, or the Sacred Stable, used to just hold a white carved horse. Now it holds an actual white horse, at least for a few hours out of each day. The horse was donated by New Zealand, and a sign announces its significance: "No other sacred horse, donated from abroad, is serving at a shrine today in Japan." It's the only foreign-donated sacred horse! And so it's the biggest equestrian fish in a rather small theological pond.
I also trekked up the path through the Gamman-Ga-Fuchi Abyss, which is nice but isn't nearly as big a deal as its name makes it sound. It isn't terribly Abysmal, but a nicely wooded valley.
There was lots of nice scenery, including this view from the local Buddhist cemetery.
I stayed at the Turtle Inn, a ryokan or traditional inn.
I had a room with a futōn on tatami mats, about 2.5 meters square. There was a small entryway with a sink, just big enough to bend over and take off your shoes. The toilets were down the hall, the shower (and bath) was downstairs. All this for about US$ 34 a night!
It also had a small television set, proving at night that even in the original Japanese the mouths on "Dragonball Z" are not synchronized with the voices.
Here you see the Turtle Inn's street, a smaller back street in Nikko.
The Turtle Inn is about three doors ahead on the right side. That dark brown sign with a round white emblem marks it. You can better see the same sign in the picture below.
This is the place, the entrance to the Turtle Inn.
This is not the easiest place to find in the dark after arriving on an evening train from Tōkyō. My transport had been:
1900 Asakusa — Imaichi 2047 2057 Imaichi — Nikko 2106
The first leg was a pretty conventional passenger train, like most non-high-speed trains you would encounter in Europe. I had to change at Imaichi, just stepping across the platform to a train about like a subway train for the second and much shorter leg to Nikkō.
I was following the map and description in the Lonely Planet book on Japan, although I was skeptical of the part about leaving the train station, walking gradually uphill for 30 minutes to cross a river, and turning left. Really, walking uphill to a river?
I stopped at one of the many vending machines along the dark street and bought got a can of C.C. Lemon labeled "Really A Lot Of Vitamin C!" That's true, it has 1000 mg ascorbic acid per 330 ml can, so the stuff is 0.3% ascorbic acid.
Fortified against both fatigue and disease, I continued uphill through the dark. Sure enough, about 30 minutes after leaving the train station I crossed a good sized river! It was coming down out of the mountains, flowing fast and churning white over the rocks. From there I turned off the main road onto a smaller lane running parallel to the river. You could hear it and feel the moisture in the air, but not much was visible at night. After about 250 meters along that lane, you turn off onto a smaller one for another 250 meters or so. You're now on the lane seen above during the day, when things are visible. Eventually you reach the Turtle Inn.