As with most Japanese businessmen who work late hours and spend their weekends at home trying to recuperate, seldom do I regularly have the chance to travel with my daughter. Chances were even less after my daughter’s graduation from college, her starting to work full-time and the appearance of a father’s enemy (well,,, in a way), her boyfriend. However, one day and by chance, my daughter accepted my proposal to a trip to Nikko, and how happy was I!
The campervan (which we call in Japan, “camping car”), which we rented is a Nissan Caravan mini-van converted vehicle called “Buccantches”. It is equipped with a table, curtains, a mini-refrigerator, microwave oven, electric heater and other amenities that you would expect from a campervan. It is just the right size for two adults.
After renting a campervan on Friday night, we headed off to our first destination, “Kanna-no-yu” Note 1, where we will spend the night. To get there, I used the highway, which toll fee will be charged according to the distance you travel Note 2.
I was glad that I was able to prepare an ETC card Note 3 beforehand because by using it, the highway fares were less than the normal fares and it was so easy to use.
After driving through central Tokyo’s congestion, the highway and streets of Kamikawa-machi, we finally reached Kanna-no-yu around 9pm.
After arriving, we checked-in, parked our camper van at the designated area and located the restrooms for campers so we wouldn’t have to search for it when we need it.
The next was to take a bath because it was a cold 5 °C (41°F). The facility was very clean, had six or seven types of bath with towels provided. If you do not mind the Japanese style of sharing a big bath with others, which might be intimidating at first, I would recommend these places if you haven’t experienced one before. But one word of advice: When bathing, be courteous, be polite and stick to common Japanese rules Note 4.
Now, the major event of the evening! A hot bowl of ramen for myself and my daughter.
Returning back from dinner, the parking area was pitch dark. This was because the area was surrounded by rice patties and required no street-lights. Worried? Of course not. This is Japan.
The next morning we headed off to Nikko, a two and a half hour drive from Kamikawa-machi.
As you may know, the Nikko area is famous for the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, a world heritage site famous for its relation with the renowned shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa.
I won’t bore you with further historical details but it is definitely a place where you can feel the cultural spirit through arrangement of buildings and structures, while enjoying the richness of decorations and vibrant colors.
It is a place found no where else, with carvings and structures having philosophical expressions of religious beliefs and human values.
Heading toward our final destination, Chuzenjiko Lake, we drove up the hill on a winding road called “Irohazaka”. Irohazaka consists of 48 tight corners, which is the same number of characters in the Japanese alphabet poem.
Once we reached to top of the hill, we first visited the Kengon Falls.
The falls are located at the edge of Chuzenjiko Lake our final destination.
Lunch time! One local-area specialty is a food called “yuba” which is a tofu skin. I have never seen yuba used as topping of warm soba or udon noodles.
One place I would recommend is Futarasan-Jinjya temple. Unfortunately, we were unable to see the main temple of Futarasan-Jinjya since we were running out of time. However, we were able to enter its Homotsukan or treasure museum. It is a small museum that exhibits some samurai swords and spears, including a national treasure and a sword longer than 3.3 meters (over 10 feet), which are incredible and valuable treasures of the past.
Finally at 3 pm, it is now time for us to leave.
The drive back home was considerably acceptable. There were some traffic jams along the way, but my daughter kept good company. A trip together with only my daughter may probably be the last, but I know we will never forget this one.
Note 1: Kanna-no-yu is hot-spring / spa facility located about 100 km (60 miles) north-west of Tokyo in a town called Kamikawa-machi in Saitama prefecture. Kanna-no-yu provides 7 types of bath (such as carbonic bubble baths, tingling electric baths, etc.), marble slate baths, saunas, massage services, esthetic services, restaurants, karaoke rooms, video game room and more. The facility consists of a main building, a camping area and parking spaces. They also rent tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, BBQ equipment, etc. for campers and outdoor electrical sockets for camping vehicles. There are not many signs in English and the English speaking abilities of their staff members are not the greatest but they are very kind and patient and sure to assist you.
Note 2: In Japan, almost all highways are not free-of charge. The toll fare is used to maintain the highways in good and clean conditions as well as to operate facilities called “parking areas” or “service areas”, which located about 20 km to 40 km apart. Parking areas have parking spaces, gifts shops, convenience stores, restaurants and restrooms for highway travelers who wish to take a short break. Services areas are usually larger, providing the same facilities as parking areas with the addition of a gasoline station.
Note 3: If you plan to travel long distances by car in Japan, I would recommend that you obtain an ETC card beforehand if you plan to use highways or toll-charging roads during your trip. When reserving a motorhome or campervan, contact a camping car rental shop in Japan for more information. Not only will you be paying less than the regular price, you wouldn’t need to stop at the tollbooth. You will be charged by just driving through the toll gate, but please slow down when you do.
Note 4: As to Japanese common rules, please note that almost all Japanese facilities that mainly provide bathing services will require that you take your shoes off. Baths are divided by gender (i.e. men’s / women’s) and can be identified by color i.e. bath entrance curtain color “blue” for men and “red” for women). Always wash & shampoo and thoroughly rinse yourself before soaking into the bath.