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Nikko: Part Two of Two

I awoke before 8am, my icy nose the only portion of my body that was susceptible to the morning chill, as my eyes were covered with my winter hat. I peeled my hat and hood off my face, and discovered some sunlight trickling through a wide, frosted window pane.

I got up enough strength to force the body of blankets off of my chest, only hesitating a minute in the warmth of my bedding. I repacked my bag and folded up all that had made the uninsulated, seemingly unwelcoming autumn sleeping quarters more than bearable, indeed, quite comfortable.

I forced open the old door, which made enough noise to chase away a few deer that had been standing not fifteen or twenty feet from my tiny, isolated cabin. After brushing my teeth and marking an unlucky tree as mine, I hiked back out and rediscovered the messy home of Nikko National Park’s maintenance crew.

I was immediately and warmly welcomed by the old man, who appeared, in the morning’s light, to be even smaller and, if possible, even gentler and more welcoming. He offered me some coffee and, without much fussing, he helped me into a small, Japanese panel van. I managed to understand his questioning where I’d like to be dropped off and, not wanting to play him as my chauffeur and not knowing how to say anything else in Japanese, I asked him to take me back to the train station in Central Nikko. After the half hour drive, which was highlighted by more miscommunication that was solved with jovial gesticulating and smilingly silent suffering, he dropped me off at the station and, with a final wave, the man was gone, likely never to be seen by my eyes ever again.

After eating a sloppy breakfast of green tea and a soggy bento from a konbini, I boarded a bus, destined for a plateaued shelf of Mount Nantai. It was an hour long trip scaling narrow and windy, cutbacked roads on a hybrid bus. In the northwestern distance was Mount Shirane and the smaller peaks of Mount Hangetsu appeared every time my bus window faced south. Whatever the angle the colors were dazzling, the elevated views breathtaking, and the occasional brightly-red colored face of a furry macaque was refreshingly exhilarating.

Once at the top, the bus depot and area’s lone street, packed with cars and lined with tiny woodcarver and souvenir shop had all the feel of a ski-resort town. I suppose the cold and the elevation managed to override the obvious lack of any snowfall. Like mushy snow melting off a roof on a warmish day after a recent winter storm, I brainlessly stumbled downward, ignoring my map and remaining unaware of where I was going.

Despite my current permanent address in Philadelphia, the fifth most populous American city, I am, by no means, a city dweller. I am country boy by heart and an outdoorsman by wish. Nikko was a very welcome break from smoggy Tokyo, and there, even on an asphalted sore on Mount Nantai’s back, I immediately garnered a better appreciation for Japan and, oddly, simultaneously, became desperate to return to the glories of the United States.

The pounding wish to go home, manifested as a pain in what I would describe as my stomach, was, happily, suppressed when I came, through means of blind tour guide-ship, to the 318 foot Kegon-no-Taki Waterfall, an emblematic sight of Nikko National Park. In comparison to the brilliant autumn colors elsewhere, the deadened brown and decaying earth that surrounded the open faucet of Kegon Falls was not, by most standards, the finest of photographs at that moment. Still, as it poured down the rocky slope and vibrated my gloved hands as I stood hundreds of feet away on a viewing tower above the canyon that the waterfall rushed to fill, the waterfall was captivating, if only to my eyes and only at that moment in that place.

I stood there for some time, before wandering towards a woodcarver’s storefront, taken in by the delicate chisel-work of an old man on a stool. I walked in and found 600 square feet of intricate carvings, neatly displayed and subtly overpriced in the age of mass production. The methodical work of the old man eagerly defended the costs, particularly when teamed with his honest eyes and slaving and timid wife dressed in an aged kimono, but I simply couldn’t justify the $50 or $60 USD for a handheld carving of the three wise monkeys.

Still, I made a small purchase and walked out of the open-faced store. I finally opened the map I was given by Nikko’s eager tourist staff, and planned my final fun for Nikko, knowing I had a long trip home and lots of school work awaiting me.

I walked a short trail, not particularly memorable but calming and worthwhile nevertheless. After fidgeting at a street corner, I turned towards the famed Lake Chuzenji-ko. Resting over 4,000 feet above sea level, Chuzenji appeared to be a placid and intolerably unused swimming pool, surrounded by mountainous sunbathers with big bellies, who nervously squirmed as the clouds fought the warming sunlight. A few scattered poles used to anchor small boats, gave Chuzenji distance and depth, demanding I not mistake it for anything but enormous and impressive. A startling 500 feet at its deepest, it became colorless when the clouds repeatedly interrupted the sun, which appeared to be working on a fine landscape painting, Chuzenji both its subject and canvas.

I curled up on a cement-topped rock wall, guarding Chuzenji through the restrained means of eyes closed and mind drifting. In time, Tokyo began calling me, and I knew I had to tell Nikko that, while I had loved our time together, I was tied to another. I found myself on a long line, awaiting a bus to take me down Mount Nantai, and took to naming all of the U.S. states and their capitals. I watched the mountain peaks around me and thought it would be nice to be taking a bus to one of those American states to see the mountains that are apparently purple and quite majestic.

Rather, a couple hours later, I was back in Central Nikko, buying another bento and loading another train, destined for three more before I found myself back in Jiyugaoka of Meguro-ku, Tokyo. My key in the door, my bag on the ground, my body on my bed, staring at my computer and a pile of school books. Nikko: she was so beautiful, but found me at the wrong time and the wrong place. It was nice to meet her and be with her for a time, but our relationship was defined more by a ticking clock than a well-founded permanence.

Jaa ne,

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