Summer 2014: Nikko (Aug 26th – Aug 28th)

Oh, the water
Hope it don’t rain all day

((George I)van Morrison, And It Stoned Me)

Nikko is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. It’s a sleepy little town a fair bit north of Tokyo, steeped in Japanese history, best known for being home to the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu who was a big deal back in the day.  (He unified Japan, and was, obviously, a badass. For example: at the battle of Sekigahara, one of his allies was dithering about whether to join in or not. So Ieyasu ordered his army to start firing on him. Guess who made up his mind and joined in to help Ieyasu? CLANG CLANG. That’s the noise Tokugawa made as he walked about, when he wasn’t wearing his tighter underwear.)

There’s also a carving showing the three monkeys with their paws covering bits of their faces that’s pretty popular too. Oh, and a sleeping cat that is devastatingly underwhelming. Then there’s the famous hairpin bends of the Irohazaka that twist and turn into the mountains, where you can find Lake Chuzenji and the Kegon Falls.

I’ve done most of the touristy things in Nikko, and, ever since my first trip there when I found a map in English showing just how much more there is in Nikko, I’ve wanted to get up into the mountains proper and go hiking.

Even if there are bears.

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Summer 2014: Hokkaido – DAY 2

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Today, we’re going kayaking. For real this time. Lakes don’t have problems with waves.

Another early start, this time to pick up a rental car. Then it’s out into the countryside.

The sun is out, picking out the beautiful colours of the hillsides. We head onto the highway, and the views drop off a little, but we’re still surrounded by fields, trees and hills. I catch the ocean sparkling in the distance for a fleeting moment.

Once we exit the highway, we take a back road beside a river that twists and turns through pine trees, farmland and then up into the mountains. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the opening to The Shining.  (Or the ending to Bladerunner.)

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Summer 2014: Hokkaido – DAY 1

It’s Grim Up North

– The KLF, It’s Grim Up North

It really, really isn’t, however. Leastways, not in Japan. A lot of people might argue that it’s pretty grim up there in winter but I love Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. The countryside I’ve seen reminds me of Northern Ireland, on a larger scale. Swathes of empty, rolling hills, available in varying shades from brown to green, occasionally breaking upwards into mountains thick with trees. Winding back roads with more animals than people. Signs above the road pointing down to where the edges are for when the snow gets too high.

OK, maybe not that last one.

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Summer 2014: DAY 4 – Good morning, Mr. Tyler

Down, down, down

Don’t mess around

– Arcade Fire, Reflektor

DAY 4 – Lake Yamanaka to Yokohama (August 8th, 2014)

6am Fuji

Mount Fuji & Lake Yamanaka from Panorama-Dai.

Get up early, break camp in a jiffy (because my tent is BADASS) and off we go – up again. My leg doesn’t like the uphill. It asks if we can take a break, and so we stop at the Lake Yamanaka panoramadai – one of apparently eight such places located all around the Big Lass (Fuji) that give the public breathtaking views of her in all her majesty. There’s quite a few people up here, even though it’s six in the morning. Some of them are having breakfast. I already ate.

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Summer 2014: DAY 3 – Slow and low

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream

– The Beatles, Tomorrow Never Knows

DAY 3 – Around Lake Yamanaka (August 7th, 2014)

Fuji from Yamanaka Campsite

View of Fuji from Misaki Campsite

Wake up feeling rested. At last.

I’d arrived too late the night previous but a phone call to the campsite owner got me permission to pay the morning after. He seemed a bit rude when we met, but I figured it was just the rural Japan meets gaijin phenomenon – a peculiar thing that happens mostly in the countryside: you walk into a shop/restaurant/whatever, smile & speak perfectly acceptable Japanese; there’s a moment of wide-eyed confusion before the person you’re talking to realizes the words are Japanese, despite what the visual may be advertising. It almost never gets old.

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Summer 2014: DAY 2 – Up

The only way is up, baby

– Yazz and The Plastic Population, The Only Way Is Up

DAY 2 – Lake Sagami to Lake Yamanaka (August 6th, 2014)

There’s always a plan. Even if that plan is just to get up early and see where the road takes you. Unfortunately, there’s always something to act as the wrench in that particular wheel. For me it was the group of drunken university students who were still setting fireworks off at 2:30am.

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Summer 2014: DAY 1 – What Was I Thinking?

All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi

The last time I went camping was probably about 10 years ago. Something inside just made me buy a train pass, make my way up north with no plan and next to no Japanese, all with a bunch of equipment I picked up at the local DIY store, for the most part. It was fantastic.

Older me is certainly wiser about gear. I don’t know about choices. I decided I was going to cycle up to the Fuji 5 lakes. Of course, I was in no shape to do this. It was definitely too hot. I misjudged those hills by a factor of at least 80. And yet, hindsight assures me it was amazing fun.

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