| "Kinugawa Onsen" by Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass, Tokyo
Kinugawa Onsen (鬼怒川温泉), in Nikko City (日光市), within Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県), is a hot spring resort area dating back to the Meiji Era. Apparently there was a lot of resort development there in the 1970's, then a decline from the 1990's due to cheap overseas travel, etc., and recently somewhat of an upturn. Combined with the famous temples and shrines in Nikko (a reasonably short train ride away), it makes for a nice vacation to stay a night or two at a hot spring hotel or inn along the Kinugawa River and spend the day(s) looking around the Nikko temples and shrines. (Here are some pictures from a trip I made to Nikko in 2005: "Nikko", and here is a [link] to a Japan-guide.com site about the area.)
Having already visited the famous areas of Nikko several times over the years, for this trip, I decided to focus on the Kinugawa area and also to go up the line a little and see what was at some ordinary stops without any particular tourist attractions. I bought a ticket for a reserved seat train that left from Shinjuku Station (above) [video], and I was lucky in getting one of the few old trains that began life as a JNR Tokkyu-Express train (although it now has the Tobu Line colors). The newer Tobu Line trains are just as comfortable, but the old type is (historically) more interesting.
One of the things I always enjoy about going to Nikko by reserved-seat express train is being by a window and sitting back and looking out on the green countryside with a drink in hand. [Video]
(Above and below) - These pictures were taken in October, so it's not as green as it is at some other times of the year, but still - even just the lack of buildings is nice to look out on after living in a concrete jungle MegaCity. [Video]
(Below) - Looking at this... elementary school?, middle-school? baseball game, I looked at the open space with views stretching off into the the distance and contemplated the influence between one's surroundings and one's state of mind.
Of course, since I was on a speeding train, no sooner had I taken in the kids on the baseball field than I was looking at completely different scenery. On to different thoughts....
This constant changing of scenery rolling by as you sit comfortably in your seat, is the best part of rail travel. No stop lights, and you're a part of the scenery, basically, in contrast to looking down on it in an otherworldly way from an aircraft.
Looking out on farmhouses and small cities passing by my window - I wonder how it would be to live out away from high-pressure big-city life... but I simultaneously realize that there are pressures of once sort or another wherever you live.
On the way to Nikko and Kinugawa-Onsen
Rolling along - the mountains get closer and mega-city life in Tokyo begins to recede from the conscious mind as you begin to relax in a timeless feeling of getting back to something simultaneously tame and wild.
(Above) - Nearing Nikko
(Above and below) - Area near Tobu Nikko Station, not far from the temples and shrines. There's a JR Nikko Station as well, but it's down the street in the opposite direction, and just handles one line that goes to Utsunomiya.
(Below left) - The ticket gates at JR-Nikko Station [video]. (Below middle and right) - I had an unlimited use ticket for the Nikko area, so bounced around a bit using local trains like this one [video]. The round-trip package tickets get you to the Nikko area in reserved-seat trains, and then you have to use the local trains for the unlimited usage part, and then return to Tokyo via a reserved seat train. (It's possible to visit Nikko using regular trains, but it involves more planning and transfers.)
Nikko area local Tobu trains
(Above and below) - Going back and forth, I had to transfer at Shimoimaichi Station (下今市駅) a few times, so I got off and wandered around here a bit (there are some pictures from the area taken the following day further down the page). Click on this [video] link for a view of a traditional procession I saw here.
(Below left) - Taken near Tobu-Nikko Station. (Below middle) - View on the way to the ryokan I stayed at. (Below right) - Looking through trees at the Kinugawa River near the ryokan (Ryokan Funamisou).
(Below) - I walked along these tracks when going to and from Kosagoe Station and the ryokan. A view of a passing reserved seat express can be seen in this video clip: [Video]
(Below center and right) - Kosagoe Station (小佐越駅) area - looking both directions from the upper walkway of the station. (Below right) - The ryokan I stayed at was down the street and to the right. The middle picture is looking towards the main cluster of large ryokans which are near the next stop - Kinugawa-Onsen Station (鬼怒川温泉駅).
(Below) - I went a few stations down the line to Shinfujiwara Station [Video] and walked around in a non-tourist area [Video] - eventually finding the wooded area shown in the three pictures below [Video]. For someone living in the Big City - the mountain stream was very nice to see and hear. [Video]
(Below) - A back road I stumbled upon while walking around on the other side of the Kinugawa River from where I was staying. From Tokyo's perspective, that would be a relaxing scene - but I had just come out of a very quiet area, and so the internal combustion machines seemed quite loud by comparison - especially the trucks. [Video]
(Below center) - An old pedestrian suspension bridge near my ryokan. Using a bridge that is absolutely free of internal combustion machinery is vastly more pleasurable than walking in exhaust fumes and noise. (Below left and right) - A quiet area in the trees on the far side of the suspension bridge. [Video]
(Below center) - From the middle of my room at Ryokan Funamisou - looking out towards the green and the river. This design I like - with tatami mats and futon for the room, and with sliding wood-frame, paper-screen doors between the tatami and a small wood-flooring area with regular chairs and a table - next to a balcony. There was a sink to the right (out of sight) and a small refrigerator in the room as well. This by-the-balcony area is perfect for having a drink while looking at the scenery before going to bed (in a futon).
(Above left & right and below) - Views from the balcony of my room. I got up in the middle of the night a few times to take it all in. It seemed like a waste to go to sleep. Just one night there. One of these days I want to take my time doing this sort of thing, and spend several days in each place I visit. Just relaxing and not worrying about schedules. (It is forbidden to relax in Tokyo - you must always be striving.)
(Below - far right) - The roof of the ryokan - which was a bit cold at night when I visited in October, but would be a nice place to go in the summer. Nikko is a nice place to visit in the summer - with much cooler temperatures than in Tokyo.
(Above 1st) - A midnight view from my balcony of the river, with steam from the outside bath in the bottom of the picture. (Above 2nd) - The Kinugawa River as seen in the daylight.
(Above) - The men's outside bath [video] - with a view of the river and a small waterfall falling into the river, which provided a nice sound backdrop while in the hot spring water. The waterfall was spotlit at night, so it could be seen then as well - in fact, it could be better seen at night, spotlit with the surrounding darkness of the night as contrast.
(Above left) - Interior of the room I stayed at. This design is one I never tire of. Houses and apartments used to be of this style, but typically are of very different designs now. (Above center) - The table by the balcony with the teapot and cup from the room. (Above right) - An outside deck with tables and chairs beside the Kinugawa River. A little cool in October, but probably very nice in the summer!
(Above) - Scene from the roof of the Ryokan - looking upriver towards Kinugawa-Onsen Station and also in the direction where I found the mountain stream (see further up page).
(Above) - View from the pedestrian suspension bridge, looking up the Kinugawa River, with my ryokan partially visible on the right side of the picture. Views of the river further up the page were taken from one of the balconies.
(Above center) - A picnic table at the ryokan, with a view of the small waterfall on the opposite side of the river. (Above left and right) - Looking down, and then up the Kinugawa River respectively. Group wooden boat tours drift until here after passing through rapids further upriver. From this point they are met by a boat with a motor and towed downstream somewhere. [Video]
(Above) - Looking back at Ryokan Funamisou after checking out. If in you'd like to stay there, here are a couple of links. In Japanese: http://funamisou.com/ , and in English: http://www.japanbooking.info/ryokan/funamisou . The room, food, service, and both inside and outside baths were all good.
(Above) - After checking out, I took one last look at the pedestrian suspension bridge, and then walked along the tracks back to Kosagoe Station (小佐越駅), where I intended to take a train to the next stop - Kinugawa-Onsen (鬼怒川温泉駅) - so I could walk around there a bit and see what was there, but I just missed a train, and so instead of waiting for the next one, I decided to walk up the Kinugawa River to the next stop and have a look at the scenery along the way.
(Above and below) - Scenes along the Kinugawa River from the Kosagoe Station area up to the Kinugawa-Onsen Station area. (Below center) - Real dirt! Not asphalt or concrete!
(Below) - Area on the far side of a newer pedestrian foot bridge upriver from the one by my ryokan. This area provided a nice view of the town by Kinugawa-Onsen Station (see photo further down page).
(Below) - A few of the trees were already changing color in October when I took this picture, but this hillside would be more impressive as the season of autumn colors reaches its peak.
(Below) - With clouds drifting across the sun, the light kept changing - generating very differently illuminated pictures. Some of the paths on the far side of the river appear to have been fairly recently constructed.
(Below) - A panoramic view of the town by Kinugawa-Onsen Station. This appears to be a resort town built up around the many hotels and ryokans in the area. It's a fair distance from Tokyo, but you can get here via one reserved seat express train, so it's convenient to visit. Non-reserved seat trains require some transfers, but it's not difficult to get to.
Nikko Kinugawa-Onsen Area
(Below right) - A nondescript sign mentioned this place (Furukama Waterfall) at a fork in the path from the suspension bridge, but the area - as seen from the distant position of the sign - didn't look very interesting, so I almost didn't go and have a look. Once I did, I was glad I had, as the stream with its many falls was quite nice to look at and listen to. [Video]
Nikko Kinugawa-Onsen Area
(Above left, and below) - A very new-looking pedestrian suspension bridge that leads over to the paths to the hill with a panoramic view and also to the stream with its many waterfalls. The bridge and the paths appear to be (successful I think) efforts by the city to improve the area after its decline from its tourism peak in the... 70's and 80's I think it was. [Video]
Nikko Kinugawa-Onsen Area
(Above right) - Area near Kinugawa River. (Below center and right) - Souvenir shop area near Kinugawa-Onsen Station. In the old days, selling souvenirs in places like this was just about a license to print money, but the current young generation doesn't spend much money on souvenirs, and the business of selling regional items has somewhat been undercut by local specialties being sold in big cities now anyway, which wasn't the case before.
(Below) - An area between Kinugawa River and Kinugawa-Onsen Station. This was a Monday in the off-season, so there weren't a lot of people on the streets. The pace of things was so different from Tokyo.
(Below) - The plaza in front of Kinugawa-Onsen Station. This also appears to be rather new. I don't know what the area in front of the station looked like before, but the current plaza is quite nice - with a fountain in one corner (just out of sight on the left of this photo).
(Above and below) - At the start of my return trip to Tokyo - riding a local train to Shimo-Imaichi Station, where I had a seat reserved for a reserved-seat express train to Shinjuku.
(Above and below) - I especially like the view in the picture below. Life within a mega-city offers nothing quite like this in terms of natural beauty - the distant mountains, the river, the grass and trees all together as a cohesive whole. In this setting, you can imagine how it was to live here hundreds of years before....
(Above) - Scenes I found when walking around not far from Shimo-Imaichi Station - where I had over an hour before my train (bound for Tokyo) was due to arrive. "Imaichi Shotengai" / "Side-Street Diving in Imaichi" / "Imaichi Walkabout" / "Large Carp in Small Pool in Large Parking Lot" / "Shimoimaichi Station Wooden Passageways"
(Above and below left) - A temple that I stumbled upon while walking around before returning to Shimo-Imaichi Station. (Below center) - One of the platforms at Shimo-Imaichi Station. (Below right) - A view of the colorful western sky from a station bridge window - taken while I was walking over to the right platform for my return train.
(Below left and right) - Looking both directions from the platform while waiting for my train. (Below center) - Looking out my window into the night during the return trip to Tokyo. [Video] How to sum up the trip? I felt like I encountered an area that was probably over-developed in the 70's and 80's, but is becoming a nice getaway spot with improvements the city has made, and the ever-present attraction of the mountains, the river, and the culture of the old temples and shrines not far away. As I mentioned further up the page, I think spending two or three nights at a ryokan and leisurely exploring the area is the best way to both relax in an outside hot-springs bath in the evening (and at night) and to see the temples and shrines in the day. Not rushing things.
Copyright 2010 by Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass, Tokyo