Nikko – Temples, Forests, Waterfalls… and Monkeys!


This year for our vacation, we decided to head somewhere I’d never been before. I don’t think most foreign residents of Japan have checked it out, actually. It’s a tourist spot called Nikko, famous for lush scenery and giant shrines. And monkeys!

I had never really heard of Nikko before, but my family brought up going there. I’ve had an itch recently to see some of the countryside. With all I’ve got going on, I rarely get out of Chiba. I never get out past Tokyo, and I never see anything. So, this year I was determined to hit the road.

Nikko is up north of Tokyo, in Tochigi prefecture. It’s a couple hours by car or train. We drove, but there are convenient train routes that will take you there, and it is cheaper than driving.

As soon as we got out of Tokyo a little ways, the mountains were all around. Japan’s mountains are green and lush, and the air is cool and clean.

Lavish Shrines

The biggest draw (other than the monkeys… see below) of Nikko is the shrines. I don’t know much about Japanese history, but basically there is a famous Japanese shogun buried there in a mausoleum, named Tokugawa Ieyasu. The oldest shrine at Nikko dates from before 800 AD, which is pretty mind blowing to an American, whose whole country dates back 400 years!

I don’t know if you’re into looking at temples or not. Like most people say, they start to look the same after a while. But the temples at Nikko really are different. Unlike other Japanese temples that I’ve seen, they are gaudy and colorful. There are carvings of dragons and elephants everywhere, which give them a Chinese look. I guess that temple experts in Japan consider Nikko’s to be some of the best.

Lush Mountains

Like I said, the area around Nikko is beautiful. Actually, Nikko sits at the edge of Nikko National Park, which is on UNESCO’s list of cultural heritage sites. Nikko National Park is a paradise of giant cedars, shining lakes, waterfalls, and pristine mountains. If you like hiking, Nikko is a great trip. I’m not a big hiker myself, but I got pretty into it. There are lots of trails everywhere, even short ones if you’re not a mountain man.

Nikko also has onsen, or hot springs. This time around, we didn’t hit those. We only had two days and we wanted to see more of the sights. Including the monkeys!… Okay, I’ll get to those.

Intoducing… The Monkeys Of Nikko!

At Nikko there are stone monkeys and living monkeys. First, the stone ones.

There is a famous statue at Nikko that practically everybody knows about. It shows three monkeys, one covering his eyes, one covering his ears, and the other covering his mouth. Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil! And, they all have goofy looks on their faces.

But even better, there are REAL monkeys at Nikko. I don’t know this for sure, but I think they’re the only wild monkeys in Japan. These little guys are running all over the place, and if you’re not careful they’ll snatch a sandwich right out of your hand. They’re kind of cute, and kind of scary at the same time. I wouldn’t get too friendly with them, just snap a few pictures.

Nikko is a great out of the way place to visit for a few days. It’s close and convenient for those of us who live in Tokyo. Like I said, we only had two days, but we’ll probably head up there again!

Making Friends With Mixi

To friends Rocking out in Japan
By now, practically everybody knows about Myspace and other social networking sites like Friendster and Facebook. But, have you ever heard of Mixi? Mixi is a Japanese social networking site, and it’s a good way to make friends and meet people in Japan.

Mixi is the biggest social networking site in Japan, with almost 5 million users. That’s a pretty big chunk of the population of Japan! There are also Mixi members from outside of Japan, too.

You can sign up for Mixi only if you’re invited by a friend. If you live in Japan long enough, you’ll surely get asked, “Are you on Mixi?” and when you answer that you’re not, you will be soon afterwards.

You make an account and then add friends. You can surf your friends’ friends, or do Mixi searches to find interesting people. There are also tens of thousands of Mixi subgroups. These are communities based around common interests, musical groups, stores, and practically anything else that anybody can think of to create a subgroup on.

What’s really big on Mixi is blogs. On most social networking sites, like Myspace or Friendster, you can blog and many people do. But, Mixi is out of control with blogging. Everybody’s posting on Mixi, and if you’re studying Japanese, it’s a great way to work on your reading skills!

Mixi also has photo albums, message boards, and footprints, where you can see who’s been looking at your profile.

Getting Friendly

Lots of people use Mixi to make friends. Japan is a country where people don’t easily walk up and talk to each other, so websites like Mixi allow those with common interests to hook up. But, be warned that randomly requesting people to be your friend probably won’t work so well. Unsolicited friend requests usually get deleted.

The way to make friends on Mixi is to join a community and contribute something to it. At the very least, join in on a community discussion and people will get to know you. This is the best way to make friends on Mixi.

People also use Mixi to make love connections! I have heard of this happening, but I can’t give you detailed information about it. I’m a married man, for goodness sakes! But I will tell you that I’ve heard of people using Mixi as a singles service, and I’m sure there are some Mixi communities devoted to dating.

You should also be warned that there are stalkers who prowl Mixi looking to hook up. I don’t know how they do it, but this is the reason Mixi has a footprints function that allows you to see who’s been checking you out.

If you live in Japan, or are interested in Japan, Mixi is a great way to keep in touch with things. One warning, though – Everything is in Japanese. There is no English Mixi, not yet anyway.

Beat The Heat In Japan

If you plan on traveling to Japan during summer think again or head for Hokaido where it’s cool!

The Japanese summertime is brutal. It’s hotter than an oven, and humid as a rain forest. You start sweating before you even get out of the shower. Everyone on the train looks more tired and grumpy than usual. There’s no escaping it!

Summer in Japan

Your first summer in Japan is the worst. Everybody laughs when they tell you, “It gets pretty hot,” but you can never be totally ready for it. This is probably the reason so many English teachers put in transfers for Hokkaido!
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The Art Of Nanpa

Here is a typical story of cross cultural misunderstanding in Japan…

A man from a foreign country walks up to a Japanese woman. He asks her a simple question, for directions to the train station. She doesn’t really speak English, or she doesn’t have much practice anyway, so she points, gestures, grunts, shouts in some form of half-Japanese/half-English… “THERE!” and the interaction is seemingly over.
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Mt. Fuji

The Big Adventure Of Climbing Mt. Fuji

It’s the time of year when people get a few precious days off from work, and lots of people take those days to tackle the beast itself and… climb Mt. Fuji!

Mt. Fuji

Now, if you’re a foreigner in Japan, your Japan experience is just not complete without the trip up the mountain. For those who have never done it before, it’s an amazing experience. For those of us who have done it before, well… we’re still tired.
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