As a stopover on the way back to the States for Christmas, we stopped in Japan for the weekend. It was my second substantial visit to Japan and the Tokyo area, so we took the train up to Nikko for an overnight stay.
You can't tell in that picture but there was snow on the ground. There was snow on the ground! Today I'm in Maine, there's snow everywhere and it's nothing special, but I was very happy to get to Nikko last weekend and have snow on the ground there after a Taiwanese December. We stowed our luggage at the train station and got day bus passes to head to the temple and shrine area.
That last picture shows the bus (foreground) that rolled backwards while the driver was attempting to put chains on its tires, causing it to smash into our bus (background, just barely visible) thus forcing all us passengers to get off and mill about outside. No one was hurt, and we just walked the rest of our way to the temple complex.
Our first day was at the Tosho-gu shrine, where one half of Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined.
Toshu-gu in the snow.
The snow made the ground slippery, Jenna had to be careful because of her busted ankle (she'd torn a ligament a few days earlier), and I enjoyed the feeling of moisture soaking through my not-entirely-waterproof shoes. But the snow was beautiful.
Dinner that night was excellent yakitori - my first real Japanese-style yakitori - and then a train ride to the rural bit of Nikko where our hotel was located. Our train let us off in a middle-of-nowhere station with no employees, as rural an area as I've ever seen in Japan. You could see stars. I spotted Orion for the first time in weeks, perhaps months. Fortunately the hotel was across the street from the train station. We were shown to our cabin, a tasteful Japanese house with paper screens and fancy electronics, including a small TV built into the wall, an iPod, and fast wireless Internet.
The following morning, we set out to explore this semi-rural area of Nikko.
Looks oddly like parts of the eastern United States, in terms of population density and the mountains in the background.
We visited a well-known pickle store where we all stocked up on high-quality Japanese pickles, and we went to a tempura&noodle restaurant for some good tempura and noodles.
This friendly cat lives at the hotel and decided Jenna's backpack would be a comfortable place to sit for a couple of minutes.
After that, it was back to the temples for another day of sightseeing - to be continued!