Nikko Trip: Nature as Healing

Allen Chen
October 27, 2017

Day 1 | Thursday | October 26th 2017 | Nikko

Between essays, class field trips, and tests, I was in desperate, desperate need of a break. The trip to Nikko literally came just in time after a challenging Japanese test, and I could not have been more grateful. Although the trip only lasted two days, the experiences, memories, and cultural exchanges I had at Nikko have been the highlight of my time in Japan thus far (even though I said the same thing in my Community Service blog — what can I say, I’m easily impressed).

The combination of the things we did revealed to me my favorite parts of Japan and Japanese culture. At Nikko, I was astounded by the picture-perfect nature, the purity of Japanese cuisine, and the complex traditions of Japanese culture. And of course, my experience was only improved by the lovely people around me. It is truly an understatement when I say that I am eternally grateful for the friendships I have formed on this program. While the daily grind of school and commuting can be taxing and repetitive, moments like these are the ones that I will remember for years to come.

We started off our journey into nature with a three-hour bus ride from the IES Abroad Tokyo Center to Nikko’s infamous Toshogu Shrine. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Toshogu Shrine (東照宮, Tōshōgū) is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.” Traversing through the shrine, I was lowkey shaking from all the hiking (I’m weak), but my aches were overshadowed by the intricate structures and the beauty of Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

Fun fact: The proverb “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” actually has historical traces to Nikko! It’s a reference to sanbiki no saru, or the three wise monkeys.

 

 

 

After exploring Toshogu Shrine, we had to have a Nikko specialty: handmade soba. So, so comforting. And no meal would be complete without dessert, hence the soymilk ice cream.  

 

 

 

 

 

As the day turned to dusk, we checked into Kinugawa Onsen Hotel, also known as ryokan or a traditional Japanese-style inn with an onsen, shoji doors, tatami floors, and futon beds. In preparation for our kaiseki ryori, a traditional multi-course Japanese meal, we donned the complementary yukata.

 

 

 

My personal favorites from the meal were the sashimi, sukiyaki, and the melon (best melon of my life).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night ended with a relaxing dip in the onsen. Honestly, I never, in a million years, would expect me of all people to fall in love with naked, public bathing, but it’s unbelievably restorative and calming. It also helps that I literally can’t see without glasses — it takes away any looming anxiety. If you ever find yourself in Japan, try to set aside any cultural inhibitors and take a dip; it’s totally worth it!

 

Day 2 | Friday | October 27th 2017 | Nikko

Traveling an hour away from our lovely hotel, we arrived at Ryuokyo Ravine, otherwise known as “Valley of the Dragon King”. Frankly, I’m out of ways to describe the beauty that is Nikko, so I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For lunch, we had a tempura set meal. Yum!

 

 

 

To conclude our short Nikko excursion, we got to participate in a Nikko-bori, or woodcarving. Think of it like DIY wood projects — that’s an oversimplification, though, because there was a definite learning curve. We had to carefully balance the blade with our respective mediums (mirrors, picture frames, case holders). I messed up quite a bit, but I’m happy with my final product!

 

 

 

Like I said earlier, this trip came at just the right time, and as I write this blog at 2:00AM, I already miss Nikko. However, this short trip is motivating me to explore other spots in Japan that are known for history and nature. I might have to take a day trip to Kamakura soon!

If you can, devote some time to connect with nature. I promise you won’t regret it! And as always, thanks for reading.

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Allen Chen

Hailing from Southern California, I traveled the (not so) great distance of seven miles to attend Occidental College in Los Angeles. At Oxy, my coursework in American Studies and Sociology allows me to explore American history, literature, and culture. While abroad, I aim to broaden my understanding of the American experience, improve my Japanese, and grow as an individual.

Destination:
Term:
2017 Fall
Home university:
Occidental College
Hometown:
Alhambra, CA
Major:
American Studies
Sociology
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