THE travel time from Isesaki in the Gunma Prefecture to Nikko City in the Tochigi Prefecture took hours.
But the ride was scenic, relaxing and exciting especially through the Irohazaka Winding Road.
But before reaching the famed 48 winding roads, each marked with a character of the Japanese syllabary, there are breathtaking spots that should not be missed along the way.
Time permitted us (or my hosts made sure we did) to stop in three of Nikko National Park’s rejuvenating sites. The sight of still waters and sound of it flowing was the break we needed through the long drive to and from our destination, the Unesco World Heritage Site shrines and temples of Nikko.
It was 20,000 years ago when Mount Nantai in the Tochigi Prefecture erupted and blocked the river to form Lake Chuzenji.
The expansive lake is set before rolling hills and mountain ranges that reaches to the blue skies as its background, and embraced with lush vegetation along its banks, all of which cast a reflection on the glassy, still water fed by the Yukawa River. To say that the lake is picture perfect is an understatement. Standing before this splendor was being bestowed with one of nature’s gifts.
Time was kind and allowed this tourist to catch the flora in this spot still wearing the colors of fall. Red and gold played with patches of green and brown. The lake is said to be famous for its autumn leaves.
The rest of the seasons are just as breathtaking, I was told. Lake Chuzenji in spring is a painting of candy colored blooms of the cherry blossom trees. It’s a go to spot to escape the summer heat, hike trails or go bird watching. In winter, there is a Snow and Ice Festival.
It is said that the lake was discovered by a priest named Shodo in 782 after successfully scaling Mt. Nantai, which was deemed sacred and didn’t allow women, horses and cows to pass until 1872.
During the mid Meiji and early Showa periods, the lakeside became the vacation address for many European embassies. The former Italian villa has been restored and opened to visitors, while the British Embassy still owns and uses the home Sir Ernest Satow built.
Worth checking out are the 790-constructed Futara Shrine, the Chuzenji Temple, and the Kegon Falls.
No, it’s not boiling despite its name. "Yudaki", which translates to "boiling water falls", flows from Yunoko Lake, which goes through several waterways before flowing into Chuzenjiko Lake.
It’s a 70-meter high waterfall that flows down a steep rock face 25 meters wide. Capturing the flowing water on a still shot, the falls is like cascading silk silver threads. But don’t be fooled, if you want to see and feel the true might of the falls, the viewing platform near its basin will be the perfect spot for this.
The third water feature we stopped at is the Ryuzu Falls. In Japanese it means "dragon head waterfall". It was named as such because the shape of the twin falls resembles the head of a dragon. It’s water flows from the Yugawa River and makes its way to Lake Chezunji.
Fall, or October, is said to be the perfect time to view this waterway. It’s location makes it one of the first areas in Nikko to meet autumn. Flanked with tees, autumn turns its leaves into golden yellows and bright reds giving the waterfall’s dragon-like appearance a fiery look.
From the small café and souvenir shop, walk the path that snakes down to the observation deck, which is as eye-catching as the falls it faces.
Knowing that Nikko’s mountain ranges are best seen in the fall, I will go back to see this prefecture again soon. I can’t wait.
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