I didn’t want to get up this morning. That little Japanese style room was so cosy, the futon was layered with blankets and duvets so it felt like you had a weighted blanket on you and made you feel like you were in a cocoon. I just lay inside watching YouTube videos thinking about how perfect everything was. There was a whole day full of sights to see and so at around 8.30 am I dragged myself out of my safety futon and decided to face the world. I’ll say it again but if you’re in Tokyo COME TO NIKKO. You will not regret it. If you come to Nikko you should definitely stay at the Turtle Inn for a wonderful time. I bought a yukata from the inn because mine was so damn good and headed off to my first shrine.
So Nikko is a World Heritage Site because of these amazing old shrines and the outstanding natural beauty that surrounds the whole area. The architecture on all of the shrines is beautiful and the whole area is quiet and calm, at least it was when I was there because it was offseason. I’ll say this at the start, but this all involves a lot of walking. Walking uphill, walking up a million stairs, walking everywhere. I climbed to the top of 270 stone steps and along with this older couple and when we got to the top we all just sat down out of breath, and the lady and I looked at each other and just started laughing. Stairs defeating humans transcend language barriers, we both felt each other’s pain. I know a little about Buddhism but I don’t know much at all about Shinto, so it has been interesting to observe people praying. Generally, they stop at every little shrine. There are lots of things I see in my own religion, the need to cleanse yourself before you pray and the use of beads whilst praying for example.
I was still tired from yesterday and all this walking and my heavy messenger bag were not helping matters, so I stopped at this little traditional Japanese restaurant and had the udon set meal. It came with yuba, which is a specialty of Nikko. Yuba is tofu skin, and it’s rolled up so it looks like a spiral, a bit like a swiss roll. The meal itself was so wonderfully balanced, the udon was salty and the noodles were chewy, but then you would have a bite of sour pickles, fresh local green veggies sauteed, some rice that had some sort of green herb that made it spicy but also citrusy and then the yuba, which was slightly sweet and nutty. Everything complimented everything else and it was an absolutely delicious tray of food. I want more yuba actually. I have been thinking about it a lot.
After the shrines, I went down to this old bridge that looks straight out of a fairy tale. Shinkyo Bridge was one of the things that drew me to Nikko in the first place. It’s ranked one of Japan’s three best bridges and is certainly a sight to behold, the red pops against the blue river down below. It was built in 1636, which is just astounding to me. There are so many things here that are just super old, contrasted with things that are so super modern they seem futuristic. The bridge itself was closed to the public today but it was still awesome to stand a look at it.
On my walk back to the station I stopped in at a Purin shop. So the Japanese know how to make pudding amazing. The pudding itself is like custard in its consistency, a bit like American kinds of pudding but it is SO AWESOME. It’s super creamy and just delicious. Nikko has its own special kind that has a salty-sweet sauce that goes on the creamy pudding. It wasn’t overly sweet, and it just melted into your mouth. I wish I’d got a variety pack of the purin because it was so good and I wanted to try some of the other flavours they had like sakura flavour. I made friends with this Irish girl who must have been about 20 years old, so that was a nice way to kill some time. She was studying in Tokyo, doing a degree in world languages, her major was French and her minor was Japanese, so she was in Japan for a year. She taught me that in Japan the school year ends before the winter holidays, so their big long holiday isn’t summer, it’s in winter. She was doing a bunch of travelling during her break, having just got back from Sapporo, she was heading to Okinawa next. There’s so much of Japan to see and just not time to see it all. I know everyone back home thought a month was too long but honestly, I don’t even think three months would be long enough.
I said farewell to Nikko and headed back to Tokyo. Nikko is my dream location, it has everything that I love. If I lived in the perfect utopian world I would have my own little Montessori school there where I would teach in the mornings and early afternoons and then spend the rest of my time out exploring and painting and writing. But I live in Brexit and I have to go home to Brexit Britain. Bleh.
My pocket WiFi died on my way home from Asakusa station which left me to use my own sense of direction to get back to my Airbnb. I stumbled into Senso-Ji which was just stunning lit up at night. I couldn’t quite get over it and all the tiredness I had been feeling on the train melted away at the sight of it. I had to get photos of this beauty. I got home easily, stopping to pick up my tradition of combini snacks for dinner. They have a long roll, a bit like brioche, that is just full of mayonnaise and corn and it is AMAZING. How do they do it? Tomorrow we head to the Manga Capsule hotel, which I am super excited for because I may just chill and read a load of manga in the day before I head to a punk show in Setagaya in the evening. It’s good to be back in Tokyo for a few days before we begin our big adventure out to Osaka!
Maryam Hassan is a 32 year old Photographer, Montessori Teacher, Wearer of Yellow from London who transplanted herself to Chicago in 2015. She likes punk music, hash browns, animal facts and mangoes.
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