My first stop was the historic town of Nikkō, known for its World Heritage temples, yuba (rather like tofu) and, apparently, チーズたまご (chiizu tamago, ‘cheese-egg’, which turned out to be a blob of soft cheese encased in a thin layer of cake). Of greater significance than all of this for your intrepid correspondent was the sudden presence of fields, quiet and, later, the smell of foliage as we left the capital and worked our way up to the deep countryside.
The temple area is one of mossy stone steps and lanterns dispersed around enormous and intricate shrines and temples set in the hills above the town. They are significant for a number of reasons, not least because most are dripping with gold and enshrine Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the last shogunate of Japan which would last for over 200 years. Although labelled as gaudy by many, the shrines satisfied my general proclivity for pomp and ostentatiousness, and were figuratively breathtaking in their intricacy. Unfortunately the most famous monument, the Yomeimon Gate, is being restored until 2019. What better reason for forcing a return to Japan?
We were allowed in to several shrines, which were just as decorated on the inside as they were without. A highlight was an enormous painted dragon on the ceiling of the building shown above, the head of which marked a spot wherein the sound of woodblocks being slapped together would reverberate around the whole room.
I returned home via an impressive if misty and therefore photographically challenging lake and a rather more photogenic waterfall, before being treated to a meal with the family of friend of a friend wherein I suspect I was almost married off to one of the daughters, and made a grandmother very happy with the foreignness of my face and hair. After being fed to bursting with all manner of delicious and somewhat alien foods (incredibly spicy scraps of a nondescript vegetable and highly compressed haddock roe that exploded into tiny beads in my mouth chief among the latter category) I was walked home, in the spirit of true Japanese hospitality, to my almost comically out of the way hostel to spend one of my most comfortable nights yet on a mattress and blankets of the floor of a room without a table.