With a week to our backs, we departed Tokyo and fled to Nikko (lit. sunshine), a gateway city to the Tochigi Prefecture. Tochigi is popular amongst Tokyo residents looking to escape the weight of metropolis life. It sits approximately 140 kilometres north of Tokyo- a few hours by train- and embodies countless cultural artefacts and natural landmarks.
During October of 2010, Ryan visited Nikko for the first time and befriended local riverside hostel, Zen Hostel, owner, Scout. Summer of last year, Scout learnt of our impending return and encouraged us north. Nikko seemed an obvious destination as we began to gather footage for By Nippon. Despite each of our moderate educations on the Japanese language and Kanji, rural transit outside major cities can be somewhat of a gamble. Most Airbnb hosts in Tokyo provided us mobile WiFi hotspots, from which we could connect our phones, however; we'd left Tokyo with little luck at train station networks in reaching Scout to confirm our time or a meeting location. Expecting about a twenty-percent chance success, we were relieved to find him anticipating our approach, at the station gates. We adjusted our fares, and loaded his compact van with our bags. To this point, we had been led by a small oversight, miscommunication, or lack of entirely- that we'd be staying in the hostel with Scout, despite him having closed it for the winter. As he excitedly greeted us with open arms to a very cold and cloudy, city of sunshine, we began to understand this was not to be the case.
A stop by the 100-yen store,to stock up on snacks and supplies was strongly recommended. This only further alluded to a departure from our understanding of any plan made prior. Scout drove us then to one of his favourite, though not-particularly-interesting, Okonomiyaki restaurants in the area. (Okonomiyaki, お好み焼き, is a savoury Japanese pancake, consisting of grilled ingredients to your choice, on an open tabletop griddle). It was perhaps the same particularly-uninteresting nature of the restaurant, that allowed for the sort of comfort and satisfaction we felt. Stowing one's shoes in dank, wooden lockers, and sitting floor-level to embrace some unfiltered, Japanese culture was somehow incredibly familiar; rewarding, even. It was here that we inquired of the plan. There was no plan.
It was brilliant. What we'd failed to notice were Scout's bags, also packed into the van. Somehow, in all of our preceding spontaneity, through islands and fields and monkey-villages, we'd assumed a plan was in place. He suggested we drive deeper into one of neighbouring the mountain villages of Tochigi in search for a ryokan- a traditional Japanese inn. It being fairly late into the evening, he phoned his wife, to aid in the search. Being Japanese, she certainly helped in our efforts. But ultimately, the search became another gamble- a gamble well-decorated with Japanese tradition and culture.
Following a night of wonderfully-affordable, high-end Japanese whisky, mountainside onsen (hot springs), and rest in a hotel- akin to something of a Ghibli film creation- we awoke to a lobby lined of old-world monkeys harvesting wild yuzu outside the door. Scout led us to a day of exploration and adventure, starting with Ryuo-kyo (Dragon King) Gorge. As we could have only hope for, we were bestowed a set of mossy and icy experiences only best described, without words. Enjoy a glimpse into our journey with the Dragon King.
Photography by Dylan Slater Brabec, 2014 | Fungi, By Nippon.