Monday, February 3, 2020

Winter Touring in Nikko

After running over some ice during my last drive on Hakone Turnpike in December you might remember that I vowed to find more FR-friendly road conditions for my next touring. Well, I lied.

Just a few weeks later, on New Years Eve, a friend and I decided to take advantage of the slowest days of the year to visit Nikko, one of the best sightseeing places in Japan. 

We left Tokyo nice and early, smoothly cruising through the morning mist on the Tohoku Expressway. The quiet note of the exhaust combined with the firm yet not too stiff ride of the S-tune suspension make the Nismo Z an ideal companion to devour kilometers with. We even found some company along the way.

Taking advantage of the very light traffic we were able to cover 160 kms in less than two hours and parked right next to the Futarasan Shrine. 

Before heading inside we visited the Shinkyo bridge, which is considered the main entrance to Nikko’s temples.

It’s been a while since I last visited and I must admit that being able to walk through this place without the usual horde of tourist takes the experience to a whole new level.

The spiritually of a place like this can easily be spoiled by hundreds of people screaming and waving selfie sticks, but on the last day of the year we were the only ones amongst a very small number of visitors.

We then ventured through the Rinno-ji Temple, which is probably one of the most beautiful complexes you can visit from Tokyo.

Visiting these places is an experience in itself, but being able to soak in the atmosphere in silence (as it should be) makes a huge difference. The famous Toshogu Shrine and Yomeimon Gates are two of the main symbols of Nikko.
The intricacy of the architecture and incredible attention to detail must have taken thousands of man-hour to achieve. Despite being 400 years old they are preserved and restored to perfection.
On the way to the Taiyuin Temple you are greeted by a statue of Ebisu, one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. Ebisu is the god of fishermen and luck: rub his belly (and leave an offer) to receive his blessing! 

The Taiyuin is definitely one of my favorite temples. While the Toshogu is finished in gold, the Taiyuin is lacquered in vermillion. Cross the gates and it won’t be hard to understand why it’s listed as one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Zochuten and Jikokuten, (two of the four heavenly kings) do a pretty good job in keeping the temple safe and guarding off evil.

Restored in 1797, the statues are believed to have been made around 1653. I absolutely love how they are so well preserved despite being exposed to open air all year round. 

This concluded our first leg of the trip. On our way back to the car I ran into a little March that seemed to have been lightly tuned. Look at the fender covers!

Having arrived so early in the morning we were able to tour all the major temples way before lunchtime, so we decided to climb the Irohazaka (Iroha Slope) and head towards Chuzenji Lake.

This is when things started to get interesting as it didn’t take very long before we found the roads completely covered in ice. Both the upslope and downslope have a total of 48 curves, which are plenty to have fun with.

The visit to the lake was as fascinating as brutal: we parked in the nearby village and ran into what is possibly the strongest and coldest wind I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Blowing from the mountains ahead and through the lake, the current carried frozen water particles in the air, making it almost impossible to get around. I literally froze my face trying to take this photo from a pier.

Later in the day I learned from the news that this was a unique weather phenomenon they had issued warnings for in some areas.

After a brief attempt to get around we quickly desisted and searched for shelter in a local soba restaurant.

Perhaps I was just adamant to get indoor, but this was some of the best soba I ever had. It’s incredible how something so simple can taste so good!

After lunch we decided to visit Kegon Falls. They are by far the most famous waterfalls in Nikko and, as you wouldn’t expect anything less from Japan, they can be accessed by elevator.

With just a couple of hours of sunlight left we decided to further venture through some secondary roads. This revealed to be a short-lived idea as I quickly found myself plowing snow with the oversized front lip spoiler of the Nismo bumper. Common sense eventually kicked in and we decided to call it a day.

As you can imagine I would never have the courage to bring the CRS on a trip like this. The Fairlady collected a serious amount of grime, ice, salt and even a couple of stone chips over the course of the day.

Surprisingly I wasn’t particularly annoyed (well, the chip on my ultra-rare Omori Factory Rays did bother me): you can’t take cars to your grave and what really matters in the end are the experiences you make. If this is the price to pay, so be it, plus I’ll make sure to treat the Z to some takumi love once I’ll retire it from long-touring duties.

The next day, on January 1st, I gave the car a well deserved wash and stopped by Tatsumi for a cup of coffee before heading to Enoshima to catch the first sunset of 2020.

Two days, over 600 kilometers covered through twisty mountain roads, lakes, coastal roads and the expressway, and the Z performed like a champion without skipping a beat.

Hopefully this post will serve as a good answer for those of you who have asked why I have temporarily retired the GT-R. I’m sure I will drive it more very soon, but for now I have simply been too busy exploring some of the best (and sometimes less known) roads that Japan has to offer.

Until next time.

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