Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Road trip! Ninjas, Nature, and Initial D

DSC00022 It’s not often I get to start off a month with a long block of holidays. The first few days of May starts a block of national holidays in Japan called “Golden Week.” Even though its called Golden Week, it feels more like a weekend but I’ll take what I can get.
For the first time, I actually participated in the planning of my holiday with Yuko. Usually I sit on my butt and play games or watch TV and let her handle most of the planning. But this time I actually had a good idea what I wanted to do, so I wanted to help plan the trip out. I decided to re-visit some places I visited back when I was an exchange student in 2004-5. So I decided to go to Edo Wonderland in Nikko and Irohazaka which is also in Nikko. Yuko tacked on Utsunomiya for her dining interests since it was nearby.
img01_04 In preparation for our long road trip, I got Yuko psyched to buy an electronic toll transmitter/receiver for her car so we could drive through Japan’s overpriced pay highways and newly affordable, reduced prices. The transmitter sure paid for its self over our first road trip. It saved us time, money, and even more time. It allowed us to move on our own time, freely without any real restriction.
nissan-march-2[1] So, with the toll transmitter in our possession, I took the wheel of her Pink 2008 Nissan March and drove 280 KM across the middle of Japan. I got to drive on the highway for the first time ever through the mountains, and the ever so famous Tokyo highway loop “Shutoko”, twice. Yuko doesn’t like driving all that much so I am always automatically elected to be chauffer every time we go out together. I really don’t mind all that much because I enjoy driving, especially on famous mountain passes and highways in Japan.
DSC00063 On our first day in Nikko we visited a cool amusement park called Edo Wonderland. It’s a theme park that is set in the Edo period of Japan with ninjas, geisha, samurai, and feudal lords. Every employee there wears some kind of authentic period costume and also behaves as if they were living in the Edo period. We got there about two hours before it closed so we only got to see one Ninja show, which was pretty cool, along with a couple of haunted houses and a full walk around of the grounds. We took some pictures with the park attendants but for the sake of time and bandwidth on my website, I’ll just post the ones of myself.
can you see the ninja?

Heaven or Hell, let’s rock.
By the time we were finished looking at Edo Wonderland it was sunset, so Yuko decided to head down to Utsunomiya city. We ate at a famous local Gyoza restaurant there. Gyoza are basically Chinese pot stickers.  I am not much of a cuisine fanatic but Yuko seemed satisfied.
On the second and final day of our trip I drove us back to Nikko to check out Toshogu temple and Irohazaka. On the way to Irohazaka, we stopped over at a famous large historical landmark in Nikko called Toshogu. I visited here a few years back with my friend Yuko but I really didn’t know what it was till now. I got a ton of pictures there but I’ll only post a few good ones below.
DSC00159 Irohazaka is a famous, notoriously windy, mountain pass that is featured in the famous street racing manga/anime series Initial D. Even though I was driving in a pink girly car, I still got to experience something most people who enjoy the anime series will never get to try for themselves. Maybe next time I’ll drive a real car through there, but at least I got tons of pictures off of it. The best thing about the treacherous Irohazaka is that the uphill and downhill portions are one way, so the roads are wider and safer than most Japanese passes.
DSC00133 At the top of Irohazaka there is an elevated, mountain-top lake with a waterfall called Tegonotake where we stopped for lunch and more photo opportunities. After we got tired of walking around in the cooler mountain air, we got back in the car and drove back down the other side of Irohazaka.

MR2 SW20 vs. AE86 downhill on Irohazaka.
The only thing that tarnished a nearly perfect weekend was that it rained hard on the way back. I had to drive in a strong downpour even through the tight and dangerous Tokyo highway.
DSC00134 Yuko and me had a ton of fun up in Nikko. I got to see what I wanted, and she got what she wanted too. I also got an added bonus of highway driving so now my Japanese driving experience is complete. I’ve driven on all kinds of terrain possible to drive on in Japan. If I end up staying here longer, I think I will invest in a 4 seat sports car or something, so I can enjoy my drives even more.

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