Subiendo por el bosque.

Subiendo por el bosque.

Out of breath and short of proper grammar, I had a number of translation problems today in, unexpectedly, Spanish.

Here in the quiet mountains of Nikko, a vague town north of Tokyo by about two hours, most tourists to the UNESCO site this time of year are native Japanese. However, others have also found their way to the autumnal bamboo forests, including three foreigners of various gaijin status. Scout, a former New Yorker, runs the Zen Hostel, a bathhouse-tuIMG_6363rned-guesthouse perched alongside a tumbling river. Charlene, a charming British twenty-something, has left familiar England to teach schoolchildren in the area. And Eric, a Catalan vineyard developer and civil engineer, found his way to Zen Hostel, like me, to begin his own Hokkaido-Fukuoka adventure with a weekend in the mountains.

I’ve been lucky these last few days to run into other foreigners finding their way through Japan. Often, they have very good advice or at least very funny stories about being an outsider in a welcoming land. A couple going by tandem recumbent across Europe and Japan happened to park their contraption outside my last Tokyo hostel. A Canadian sitting at the neighboring table at breakfast joined me for a tour of the capital and told me I should go to Nikko. And so, here I am, at the end of this first week, slurring out “Arigato gozaimasu” and “Konnichiwa!” with a fake Spanish rhythm.

Within Yumeimon Shrine, the white temple shines out strikingly against more familiar crimson gates.

Within Yumeimon Shrine, the white temple shines out strikingly against more familiar crimson gates.

The Nikko area has innumerable shrines as well as a few highly popular points of interest, namely: the mausoleum of the very influential shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu; a depiction of the three no-evil monkeys; and the Sleeping Cat, a very cute carving of just that to symbolize Japan’s bicentennial period of peace as a result of the Tokugawa shogunate’s rule. Of course, there are many more sites of interest, which I had the great fortune of having Charlene’s guidance to understand. A guidebook is too heavy to lure me into spending money, but having someone describe the value of what I see makes each shrine so much more impressive.

And today, Eric and I ventured out for a hike, scrambling up some extremely steep climbs to reach as close to the top of Mt. Shirane as waning sunlight would allow. It was a good indicator of how tough bicycling the Japanese Alps might be, and makes me consider the coastline with new interest.

Anyhow, talk is perhaps boring, so rather than go place by place, I’ll let the pictures set the scenes. Expectedly back to Tokyo tomorrow, to reconvene with Hermes and start planning my moves out to the far north. Buenas noches, ymata ne!”

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Atop Mount Gozaki, Shirane’s steep right shoulder.

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 A shrine for children, red representing the color of the womb and placenta.

A shrine for children, red representing the color of the womb and placenta.

The highly photographed Shinkyo Bridge, a sacred structure built where the Buddhist monk Shodo and his followers crossed the Daiya River to pray at Mount Nantai in 766 CE. Without a bridge to make the passage easy, they managed with the help of two snakes that intertwined and formed a bridge. It has kept this design since 1636.

The highly photographed Shinkyo Bridge, a sacred structure built where the Buddhist monk Shodo and his followers crossed the Daiya River to pray at Mount Nantai in 766 CE. Without a bridge to make the fording easy, they managed with the help of two snakes that intertwined and formed a passage. It has kept this design since 1636.

Charlene cleansing her hands in preparation for prayer. The small cups dip into a flowing well, and the user washes each hand and their mouth to prepare.

Charlene cleansing her hands in preparation for prayer. The small cups dip into a flowing well, and the user washes each hand and their mouth to ready themselves for a sacred moment.

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On the way down, Eric and I realized how lucky we were that the clouds didn’t reach us at the top.

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Also widely photographed, these lanterns have been donated to the shrines by Japanese lords and samurai.

Also widely photographed, these lanterns have been donated to the shrines by Japanese lords and samurai.

The children's shrine, appropriately attended.

The children’s shrine, appropriately attended.

One last well-earned view from the summit.

One last well-earned view from the summit.

And a majestic marriage of nature and human design in Nikko, which can be translated to mean "sunshine."

And a majestic marriage of nature and human design in Nikko, which can be translated to mean “sunshine.”