An old friend (from grad school, a Japanese art historian) had a few days in Tokyo at the end of a work trip through Asia and decided she wanted to go to Nikko for the weekend. She planned to spend Saturday (when she knew we had to work) wandering around the shrines but asked me and U if we wanted to join her for a hike in Oku-nikko on Sunday.
So, U skipped out of work by 3pm and picked me up outside the museum at 5:15. We stopped for dinner at one of the service areas and pulled up to our ryokan by 8:30. After we discussed plans for the next day, U excused himself to soak in the onsen bath and my friend and I knitted and chatted, catching up until the crazy work schedule she has been on the past few weeks caught up with her. A quick soak in the bath for me, and I too was ready for bed - burrowing under a thick down comforter as Nikko is quite a bit cooler than Tokyo.
The ryokan my friend had picked, the Annex Turtle Hotori-an, seemed to cater to foreigners and, instead of the usual grilled fish and rice and miso soup for breakfast we were given a large plate of lovely fresh fruit, a hard boiled egg, and thick slices of crusty french bread dripping with butter. U wavered in between saying he was glad it was a light meal as he doesn't like heavy breakfasts and complaining to me that it wasn't a "traditional" ryokan breakfast, but I was a very happy camper.
As we drove up Iroha-zaka all three of us tried to remember the old poem for which the road is named, the old order for Japanese characters, which is used for the road as a sort of numbering with each switch back given a successive character as the road snakes back and forth up to Oku-Nikko.
We parked by the Yu-no-taki and caught a bus up to Yumoto, then walking back along the lake and then doing the Senjogahara hike back to the car. The hike was gorgeous. The path wound through forest and across the Senjogahara plain (debating the differences in meaning and local usages of "plains," "marsh," and "moor"). Nikko itself is still green, but as we drove up to Oku-Nikko the spots of colour increased, a little splash of yellow here, a bright red blotch there... And Senjogahara was beautiful! Probably not quite peak, but given the peak of fall colour will also mean hordes and hordes of people, I'll take almost peak and only mildly packed parking lots!
After our hike we drove back to Yumoto and soaked our feet in the free public foot bath (a long narrow covered wooden building with a stone bath with hot hot hot spring water bubbling out of cement fonts. I'm trying to break in a semi-new pair of hiking boots, so the ashiyu was a perfect follow up to the hike.
All too soon, however, it was time to head back to Tokyo (first via a road called "Japan's Romantische Strase as we knew the roads would be packed with cars heading back after a weekend enjoying the lovely fall weather... something we're going to have to do again and again this fall!