Last weekend we went on our first overnight trip by ourselves. We took the train to Nikko and then jumped on a bus that took us a couple hours higher up the mountain to snowy Yumoto Onsen.
When we got off the bus in the middle of what seemed like a deserted parking lot there was only one other vehicle, a small van. The driver of the van jumped out when he saw us disembark: "McCarthy-san?" He drove us the two short blocks to our hotel, where a front desk person was waiting for us, not at the front desk, but outside in the snow. She checked us in quickly, gave us our assigned time for dinner and brought us to our room, where she then proceeded to make us tea. She served us the tea on the black lacquer table in the middle of the room (where the bed would be put while we were down at dinner).
The rooms come with a set of yukatas that everyone wears all over the hotel, to dinner, to the onsen, around the room. They are quite comfortable. There is a heavier jacket that you wear when out in public.
Dinner was traditional ryokan fare, which means an endless array of bowls filled with things.
Under each lid was a new mystery.
Below is their star attraction: tofu skins. The skins aren't bad. Those little red leaves are incredible.
Below that is another preparation of the skins. Here, shredded and deep fried.
The next day, after a quick dip in the sulfur-rich onsen and a hearty Japanese breakfast, we took the bus back down the winding road to Nikko. Nikko is most known for its multiple shrines and temples, that are World Heritage sites. They are all nestled up on hillside in a National Park area with lots of pine trees and hiking trails. It is very quiet and easy to walk from one to the next.
Apparently there are wild monkeys running around during certain times of the year (harmless unless you are eating something they want - but you shouldn't be strolling around shrines eating anyway). When we were there, the only monkeys we could see were from the famous "Hear no evil..." wood carving of Toshu-go below.Other interesting carvings depicted animals that the artist created either from a very poor memory or from hearsay I guess: an elephant with claws and hair on the right and some inexplicable teal thing on the left.