For the third day in Nikko, I was all alone. J and S took an early train to Nagano Prefecture, while I spent the day hiking in Oku-Nikko before heading back home to Ibaraki. I mean, we had already spent the 3,000 yen for a 2-day bus pass in the Oku-Nikko area, so why not get the most for my money and use the pass again before leaving?
My trail began at Ryuzu Falls and led me through the stunning Senjogahara Marsh, ending at Yumoto Onsen. Altogether, it’s about an 8km (or 5 mile) walk. Thanks to the detailed descriptions of the route found on this blog, I didn’t get lost once!
The first part of the hike winds along the river that turns into Ryuzu Falls, through a very peaceful forest speckled in light. At one point, though, there was a very Jurassic Park-like fence dotted with warnings about bears and monkeys. The trail was still pretty quiet at this point, and I was all by myself. By all rights, I should have been nervous… but the only thought that popped into my head was a radio story that my mom couldn’t stop laughing at, about a hiker being mauled by a bear because instead of running away from the creature, he had crept closer and started taking selfies with it.
After about 20 minutes in the forest, I crossed into the boardwalks of Senjogahara Marsh. This part of the trail was very popular — and it was easy to see why. For quite a few kilometers, I just walked and took pictures, listening to the chorus of jingling bells that EVERYONE seemed to carry to ward off bears.
I spent about three hours on the boardwalks of Senjogahara Marsh. In all of that time, I encountered just two other non-Japanese hikers. As I passed people, I would always smile and offer a friendly “Konnichiwa!” My foreign presence was a real shock for some, but others (especially elder Japanese hikers) lit up in response to my greeting. I even had one elderly couple ask to take photos with me… so somewhere out there, there’s a vacation album that includes a shot of me posing with said couple in front of one of the scenic overlooks.
By far, though, my favorite part of the walk occurred at the end. All that remained of the trail was a half-hour stroll around the small lake that leads to Yudaki Falls. On the other side of the lake lay Yumoto Onsen, where I would catch a bus back to Nikko Station.
The lake itself was stunning. The colors of the water were absolutely unreal. But while circling the lake, I discovered something even better: mushrooms. And more specifically, the elderly Japanese couple who were hunting them.
As I passed this couple, I threw out my customary Konnichiwa. But the conversation didn’t end there. The woman mistook my ability to say “hello” as a sign that I was fluent in Japanese, and she began excitedly asking me questions. Of course, my less-than-elementary ability was soon realized, but the couple didn’t give up. I, too, gave 110% of my effort to communicate.
The three of us circled the lake together, and during that time I informed them that I was “eigo sesnei” (English teacher) in Ibaraki-ken. I pointed to them and asked “doko?” (where?) and found out that they were from Chiba, which is the prefecture on the other side of Ibaraki. They asked where I was originally from and were pleased when I managed the full phrase “Amerika kara ki mashita” (I’m from America). I pointed to their bag of mushrooms and asked, “Shiitake?” to which they shook their heads and spurted out the names of mushrooms that I have never heard of. They asked for my name, so I pointed to myself and said “Watashi wa Karen desu” (my name is Karen) and they responded with their names so fast that I didn’t even process them. Basically, our conversation consisted of wild gestures and pointing and random words and misunderstandings and laughter.
When the three of us reached Yumoto Onsen, they asked if I were staying in one of the village’s hotels. I shook my head and said “Busu. Tobu-Nikko.” Then I looked at my phone and somehow conveyed that the bus was leaving in 10 minutes.
The couple freaked out. We were still on the edge of town–far from the bus stop–so they started running and urging me to run as well. Panicked at this new development, I made more wild gestures and started running along side of them, yelling “Daijoubu! Daijoubu desu!” (It’s alright! It’s alright!). We made quite a scene in the quiet little onsen town.
I made it to the bus with two minutes to spare, and the couple stood a little distance away, waving me off as the bus departed. It was the sweetest thing. As I waved back from the window, I only regretted not knowing their names. All too soon, the couple from Chiba disappeared from view, and I was headed home to Ibaraki.
Also, a quick shout-out to the people who know where the title of this post comes from!