15 January 2007

Day 2, 16 Dec 06 - Nikko/Chuzenji/Yumoto

 Off to our highly anticipated 4-day ryokan and onsen indulgence! I say no trip to Japan should be without an onsen experience. Nikko 日光 is a city in Tochigi Prefecture 栃木県, where a number of shrines and temples are part of the "World Heritage Sites 世界遺産" and is also the entrance to Nikko National Park.
Left our 2 big luggage with Shinjuku Washington and carried only a haversack and slingbag. In fact it is not necessary to bring too many things as the ryokans provided everything from yukata (summer version of kimono, usually worn at ryokans) to slippers to toiletries.

Took the subway from Shinjuku to Asakusa station (change of line needed but stations are connected). At Asakusa station, get out and walk 5 minutes to reach the Tobu Asakusa station 東武線浅草駅. There is clear signage along the way so not a problem to locate the station. From there, we proceeded to the Tobu Sightseeing Centre where tourists can purchase different types of discount passes to Nikko and Kinugawa areas. We bought the All Nikko Pass at 4400 yen per person - valid for 4 days, inclusive of round trip train fare (rapid train only) to and fro Asakusa and unlimited trains and bus rides within Tobu Nikko 東武日光, Shimo-Imaichi 下今市, Kinugawa Onsen 鬼怒川温泉 and up to Shin-Fujiwara 新藤原. As compared to normal train fares and individual bus rides, the discount passes were a steal and much more convenient. Rapid train takes 2hr10mins, or for 1120 yen more per person, get upgraded to SPACIA, the Tobu Limited Express train which takes 2hrs with much more comfortable and spacious seats. We decided to take the 9.10am rapid train and reached Tobu Nikko station at 11.15am. It was 3 Degree Celsius, surprisingly not very cold.

Walked around the shops near the station for a while before boarding a bus bound for Chuzenji Onsen area 中禅寺温泉, took around 50 mins on a winding uphill road which would have been much more scenic during autumn. Chuzenji felt more chilling, perhaps due to higher altitude (1269m). We visited Kegon Falls 華厳ノ滝 first, took an elevator (530 yen) down to a platform for a clearer view of the waterfall. Not much colours, I guessed the fall would have been very pretty during autumn with multi-coloured leaves or in mid winter when it would be frozen.

After viewing Kegon Falls, we were lured by aromas from the eateries. I had yasai soba and hubby had tempura udon. Hubby claimed the soup stock and udon was best he had ever tasted. Well, what can I say? Cold weather + empty stomach + alluring aroma + tempting blend of colours + authentic great taste = happy belly

With our tummy gurgling happily, we strolled along Lake Chuzenji 中禅寺湖. A pity the lake is closed during winter, otherwise we could take one of those cutsy boats and row around. The lake looked somewhat "sabishii" (lonely).

Our ryokan for the night was located at Yumoto Onsen area 湯元温泉which is about 30mins away from Chuzenji. We decided to do some hiking at the Senjogahara Plateau 戦場ガ原自然研究路. The marshland of 400ha is located on the altitude of 1400m and surrounded by Mt. Nantai in the East, Mt. Tarou, Mt. Sannoh Boushi, and Mt. Mitsudake.

As we trekked along the raised wooden platform, we were delighted to see the route covered by traces of snow! It was very quiet, with us being the only trekkers. When we closed our eyes, we could feel the crisp air and a serene silence.

Along the way, we even stumbled upon a herd of deers playing around the forest. We trekked 4.5km and around 1hr30 mins to reach Yudaki Falls 湯滝 and by that time, it was beginning to get dark.
Wanted to take the bus but had to wait 45mins. A couple of obaasans who were at the fall decided to walk to Yumoto and we followed. 40mins and 1.5km later, we reached Lake Yumoto 湯ノ湖. That was certainly enough hiking for the day and we looked forward to sumptuous dinner and soothing onsen. Snow was everywhere at Yumoto-onsen area!
Our ryokan is Yumori Kamaya 湯守釜屋, found by chance while surfing the net. Cost 13250 yen per person, inclusive of 1 breakfast and 1 dinner. The ryokan staff were already expecting us, after all the checking in procedures and explanation of the onsen, we were ushered to our room. Our Japanese tatami room was spacious and overlooked the mountains. We spared no time to change into the yukatas and proceeded to the onsen. The onsen soothed our tired bodies and seemed to have a positive effect on my otherwise aching muscles.

Soon, it was dinner and we looked forward to a 90min "All-you-can-eat crab" promotion, but was disappointed that the reservations seemed to have missed our request and we were served a standard ryokan kaiseiki instead. Nevertheless, the food was oishii!. When we went back to the room, Futon (bedding) was already laid on the tatami for us. Another soak at the onsen and we were off to slumberland, snugged in the comfortable and warm bedding.
Day 2 thoughts: Great hiking at Senjogahara Plateau, sumptuous food, soothing onsen - that's life!
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  1. Hi! I found your blog because my husband and I are going to Japan in March and will be staying at Yumori Kamaya as well. Your descriptions were very helpful! Do you have any other tips on visiting the area? Thanks!

  2. Hi Maria,
    Nikko is really a beautiful place. Yumori Kamaya is at Yumoto where Lake Yunoko is and there are many onsen ryokans.
    If possible, get the Nikko free pass (there are a few types) as it is more worthwhile and also saves you the trouble of paying each time you alight the bus.
    Do note the bus schedule as the buses are not very frequent.
    I would also highly recommend Senjogahara Plateau, it's really serene.
    Enjoy your trip to Japan!
    > Tobu Bus Online: http://www.tobu.co.jp/bus/htdocs/pc/area/nikkou.html for bus schedule
    > Tobuland: http://www.tobuland.com/ for train schedule

  3. Hi your blog has been very helpful and incidentally we are also looking into Yumori Ryokan for the Nikko leg of our trip (which somehow leads me to your blog in the first place).

    I need to seek your help regarding Nikko. Is there a way I can contact you?

  4. Hi nana,
    I will try to help if I can.
    Feel free to drop me email at dreamersloft@gmail.com