Nikko.. well the title is a bit misleading because this post will hardly be about Nikko. Instead, it will focus on the surrounding events. We made a big mistake, but we didn’t know it was one until we were in way too deep. Way way to deep. We booked a tour to Nikko with a Japanese tour organizer. It advertised some Ut-carving in the morning and then an afternoon in Nikko. Nikko is really most famous for the mausoleum of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, he also built the predecessor of the highway leading us there that day. But the site is much older than that the first shrines and temples were supposedly built there almost 1500 years ago. We visited only the mausoleum, which itself contains at least three temples and the world famous three monkeys that hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. It’s one the list of UNESCO world heritages and, there’s no denying it is pretty. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Nikko.. The trip to Nikko began at 7:00am with a pick up bus, so far so good. We want to get their early to make the best of the day. Once we had everyone collected we set off towards Nikko, about 180km away and roughly two and a half hours by bus according to the guide. Then the guide said the first confusing thing “We’d be stopping every hour to get out and move a bit”. Personally I would have preferred to just drive through, make it a 2h drive and be done with it, but ok. So we stopped for 20min at some abandoned fuel station to ‘move our feet’.
After this information was dispensed the lady set off onto a non-stop monologue. It was hilarious, infuriating, unique and depressing all at once. She talked to us (not with us) about her marriage, rice crops, the water cycle, Japanese river and, eventually, also some things about Nikko itself. By that time it was 10:30 and we were meant to arrive to the Ut-carvings. Ok, none of us had been eager to do this, but we were willing to endure it if it made us get to Nikko and, in fact, it was quite fun. After a short introduction on how to hold the device, we started carving out the lines which had been drawn onto the plates for us. I’m obviously very much not gifted, but at least I tried, no?
Then came the first big disappointment of the day. At 11:30 we were done with the carving and eager to get to Nikko. However, our guide veto’d this. The plan said two hours wood carving and we would be doing two hours wood carving. Those who no longer wanted to carve could go outside and look at the foliage of the trees. Finally the time arrived at which we were to go to Nikko. From here earlier ramblings we knew that the restaurant was just ten minutes from the site itself, so we had high hopes to be able to sneak in early and get a bit more time at the site itself. No deal. There was a set menu deal which we were supposed to eat and only after we’d done that would she go to get the tickets. Finally at ten to two we were standing in front of the large areal and she informed us that she was going to give us the tickets now and we’d all meet again here at 2:45 to drive back home.
This caused a minor revolt among the Europeans who’d come to see the shrine, not just wave at it from the distance and after my attempts to mediate for a later departure time failed sinister plots were devised in which we’d jointly return one hour later than supposed to. In the end we did rush though, because we’re not as sinister as we’d like to believe ourselves and while we did take the time to see everything we did not take as much time as we’d have liked to and arrived back 10min late at the bus. I think 90min would’ve been good to visit the mausoleum (without looking at any of the surrounding temples, which would’ve been fun as well), 50min definitely wasn’t enough. Our Japanese guide was a bit besides herself when some Chinese tourists did not return. They took much longer than us, though not because they decided to visit the shrine extensively, but because they got lost in the town while buying souvenirs. Finally we all were back in the bus and arrived home before 4:30. A full two hours before the schedule said we would be back.
This was the first and will be the last time that I take a Japanese guided tour. I think my interests and the average Japanese sightseeing don’t go well together.