Friday, January 29, 2016

Japan - Part 1

For Christmas holiday this year Amy and I headed to the Land  of the Rising Sun. Having lived and worked in Tokyo before, the first leg of our trip was a homecoming of sorts for Amy. We stayed in the Asakusa district, close to the Sensō-ji Temple and Tokyo SkyTree.

The Sensō-ji Temple is Tokyo's oldest temple and one of the most significant. Home to the Sanja Matsuri festival, it attracts visitors from around the globe. To enter the temple complex, one must pass through the "Thunder Gate", a massive structure that funnels visitors onto the Nakamise-Dori. The main street in the complex, the Nakamise-Dori is lined with shops and vendors of all types.

Japan is a country with one foot planted firmly in the past, and the other foot planted in the future... way into the future. This could not have been made clearer by our visit to the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. A dinner theater like no other, the completely wacky, irreverent and insanely creative Robot Restaurant was one of the highlights of the trip.

The next day we embarked on a search through the Cosplay shops of Akihabara and Harajuku for the highly prized and sought after Susumu Kodai (Wildstar) leather jacket from the movie / comic book Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers). Although it did not lead to the acquisition of said jacket, it did lead to some fantastic sights of the city.

We ended the day at the Tokyo SkyTree. Not only was there a Christmas Market where we could get beer and sausages, the views from the top of the tower were amazing.

From Tokyo, we headed north to Nikko. We stayed at a traditional ryokan and onsen call Honke Banku. This secluded inn is the epitome of tradition, making one feel like they have been transported back to the Edo period of Japanese history. The rooms are basic, with tatami mats and sparse furnishings. But, the view out the window is beautiful, there are hot spring-fed baths and... the food! The dinners that we ate at Honke Banku are some of the best we've ever had.

A sleepy town at the foot of the mountains, Nikko is one of the spiritual homes of Japan. In my opinion, Nikko's temples are some of the most beautiful in the world. The seclusion and harmony with nature make the area feel magical.

On Christmas day, we traveled from Nikko to Nagano, home of the famous Snow Monkey's. We boarded the Snow Monkey Express, and afterward hiked into the mountains, our final destination being the Jigokudani Ryokan and Onsen. This ryokan was in operation before there was a national park, and its onsen was the first place that the snow monkeys decided to start bathing.

The Snow Money park is right beside Jigokudani, and they have built the monkeys their own private onsen. Most of the monkey's now hang out there, but it is not unusual for a group of monkey's to cut into your bath time!

The next day included more relaxing and more monkeys!

And what's for dinner you ask? Whole salted fish and candied locust of course!

In the next post, we continue our journey on to Takayama!

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