Holiday – Japan: Nikko

Tueday 16 June

After the smooth ride on the shinkansen, we switched to a local train and rode another 40 minutes where we reached Nikko. It’s a little chilly, overcast, and misty. We drop off our luggage at the hotel and then head to a sake brewery.
Alcohol is not my thing but it was interesting learning about the process. Sake has 2 fermentation stages like beer (wine has 1), but sake has fermentation occurring in parallel which is not true for beer.

They hold the sake in massive tanks (~7000L) during the brewing process which takes 1.5 to 2 months. Each day the sake is stirred for 15 minutes. They sing while this occurs because they didn’t have watches back in the day to time the stirring. The tradition is still carried on.
Then it was off for sake tasting. I had a taste which was tolerable as a sip.

We returned to the hotel for a short break before heading off to dinner at an Izakiya Hanamusubi.

We had to remove our shoes, climb up on a 1 step platform and sit on the floor at the table. I found it uncomfortable but the tapas style dishes we ordered and shared were really delicious.

Crisp Fried Chicken – lovely crunch with the chicken containing a lovely ginger flavour.
Bacon & Asparagus Cooked in Butter – oh what a combination! Slight saltiness from the bacon and the rich butter partnering the tender asparagus with some Japanese ingredients added for extra flavour.
Scallops and Roe – tender melt in your mouth stuff, so tasty.
Grilled Squid with Ginger – a little on the firm side but really tasty once dipped into a soy sauce mixture containing minced ginger.
Vinegar Octopus – Amazing! What flavour! One bite and the sweet and acidic juice just out but goes superbly with the tender octopus. Dish of the night for me. This dish is akin to drunken chicken at Chinese restaurants.
Crumbed Octopus – I’m more of a fan of the cooked variety and I love anything deep fried. With a squeeze of lemon this was excellent.

Wednesday 17 June

The hotel buffet breakfast had an excellent selection with the French toast being a standout!
The French toast here is amazing!
Today we set off to Toshugo Shrine and Temple which involves a 20 minute bus ride before getting off and walking.
You will pass the Shinko Sacred Bridge which is a lovely sight before crossing the road to the world heritage listed Toshugo Shrine and Temple.
But this involves a long trek up many steps before you start seeing the various temples. At one point we’re at the same height above sea level as the height of the Tokyo tower.
Each are unique and carefully crafted from top to bottom. Some disallow photography, some require the removal of shoes.
The site is located on the side of a mountain so there’s plenty of steps to take to see each of the sections. Quite an experience and a cardio workout in stages.
Nikko - Toshogu Shrine

We then walked out of the site and headed down the road where one will see an orange coloured house directly across the road, Hayashiya. It’s here we stopped for lunch where they make delicious noodles. I had a tempura and egg noodle set which was tasty.

After that, a group of us decided to see Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji. We caught the bus and 30 minutes later ascending the mountain, we reached the plateau.
We then caught a cable car to the top and just managed to grab some photos of the waterfall and lake before fog blew in and enveloped the view. We’re over 1000m above sea level.
We headed one more bus stop and walked to Lake Chuzenji which was barely visible.
Further along is the waterfall which was now no longer visible, just a bunch of thick mist and fog so close by the observation deck.

It then started raining so we found a place close by and had some hot chocolate and cheesecake which turned out to be a sponge cake. Still tasty and considering the weather must be at least 10 degrees cooler than that at the temple, hot chocolate was just what the doctor ordered. We’re all pretty sleepy so a few hours of rest will be perfect.

It was time for dinner so we went to no. 9 stop and walked down a side street from there to the restaurant, Bell. I ordered the Yuba festa (monk’s diet) which consists of the following:
Nimona (boiled food): rolled yuba, village potato, carrot, shitake mushrooms
Yuba with sweet miso topping & koyadofu
Yuba & vegetables with dressing
Tempura (seasonal)
Yuba-flavoured Konyaku/fresh (sashimi)
Miso soup with yuba
Yuba cooked in soy sauce & rice
Dessert (seasonal fruit)

Yuba festa (monk's diet) Nimona (boiled food): rolled yuba, village potato, carrot, shitake mushrooms Yuba with sweet miso topping & koyadofu Yuba & vegetables with dressing Tempura (seasonal) Yuba-flavoured Konyaku/fresh (sashimi) Miso soup with yuba Yub

Yuba is the skin produced from soy milk but it’s a lot thicker and is used in many ways like in my dish. It tastes very nice and is a little sweet. I liked the tempura very much and the variety of elements. Some were unusual like this thing called devil’s tongue which has no taste but is like a slightly chewy jelly.

Blueberry cheesecake
Nikko is also well known for it’s cheesecake so I got some blueberry cheesecake which was very enjoyable.
Chestnut cheesecake
I also had a taste of the chestnut cheesecake which was really tasty – the earthiness of the chestnut balances the sweetness of the cheesecake mixture.