Nikko: Amazing blend of culture, onsen; the best jetlag cure

As a family, we love going to Japan for our holidays.  It’s reasonably close to my parents, no-one needs to have the stress of being the hostess, my nephew loves pokemon and  my sister and I are there for ALL THE FOOD (and  Tokyu Hands, home of ALL the knick-knacks). The problem is we get really jet lagged and end up wasting the first couple of days being cranky. This year, however I had a brainwave- inspired by our amazing trip to Bouyourou, we’d go to the onsen for the first day! Early dinner, early night and lots of dips in hot water- great for insomnia. And so we trooped off to Hotel Tokugawa in Nikko for our sojourn in the countryside before entering the fray of hectic Asian city living.

Nikko is incredibly easy to get to.  We spent the morning at Tokyo Sky Tree (a mall with a pokemon store, pon de lion park [a special, extra adorable Mister Donut], an aquarium and an observation tower stuck on top for good measure). As Japanese malls serves up some awesome food, we started the holiday with a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi (remember real Japanese don’t take from the belt, you order like you’re in a real restaurant). We also had some awful yoghurty ice lollies at the mall, but you win some, you lose some. The Tobu train station is directly underneath, so super easy to hop on and have a much needed 2 hour nap! Once at Nikko it’s a doddle- the ryokan came to pick us up. We were soon left to our own devices to enjoy the bathing facilities before dinner time. (I’ll spare you the details but I got into a SUPER competitive conspicuous washing contest with a Japanese lady in the bathhouse).

Yay! Pokemons! And urm, not a pokemon.

After steaming and cleansing and chilling at the bath (and, for the umpteenth time, made sure we didn’t cross the yukata the wrong way because we’re not dead people ), we arrived at dinner refreshed and ready to stuff ourselves with more Japanese delights. Nikko, along with its cooler climate (it’s the home of the Imperial Summer Palace), is famous for its yuba (tofu skin- it’s much tastier than it sounds), therefore our meal featured yuba for starters and used soy milk as an interesting twist to the traditional beef shabu shabu.

I wonder how many hours they spend washing the dishes aftewards…

The star of the appetizers was the salmon roe/edamame soup. Initially the brightness of the soup was veering on being scary, but it was testament to just how fresh the beans were. Silky smooth with tiny salmon roe surprises, this was definitely the winner of the first course. Not to say Nikko’s famous yuba roll or tofu was lacking in the taste department at all! They were lovely, light companions to the soup and the tomato consomme/ jelly thing was perfect to get the gastric juices going.

Starters! Corn ‘tofu’, tomato salad, tomato jelly thing, edamame soup, shrimp ball, yuba, tamago and more yuba!

I then forgot to take pictures of what was actually inside the bowls, so you’re just going to have to trust me on the marvels of how a perfectly clear bowl of soup could be so flavorful  (though no fluffy clouds of prawns this time, slightly sad face).

For sashimi, we had my absolute favorite, some melty-in-the-mouth toro: cut from the depths of the tuna belly, these glistening cubes were laced with just the right amount of fattiness (sometimes they give you the really high-end white [with tiny hints of pink] stuff which *almost* verge on being too fatty), uni (urchin) and ika (squid). If you, like me always thought that squid was chewy and icky, then you really need to try it when it’s super fresh (but no, you don’t have to have it so fresh that the suckers stick to you- fun but not necessary). A good piece of ika is hyper creamy, sweet and very soft (and I’ve never eaten it outside of Asia).

Pretty pretty toro.  Sitting in an actual bowl of ice as well!

Finally, the beef. Just look at the marbling on that beef (sigh) for the shabu shabu- if only i could actually fall in love with foodstuff…. According to my dad, wagyu should be served medium-medium well because any less the fat would not have completely dissolved, and proceeded to make us cook our beef till it’s brown colored. Normally I’d shy away from beef like that (and let’s be honest- shabu shabu in general) but it worked…ish. The soy milk side made the beef so incredibly soft and silky and imparted a lovely hint of soy milk flavor. The flip side of kombu and fresh veggies allowed the beef to shine on it’s own.  Do I agree that the beef should be served medium-well? Let’s just say I sneakily gave the rest of my slices a perfunctory wave in the water instead of waiting.

Wagyu, wagyu, wagyu, why are you inanimate…

(There was a sushi course but erm, I forgot, so…) I’ll just leave you with this disco dessert.  I’m not entirely sure why they served it this way or whether the light added to the tastiness of the fruit salad/ jelly combo but it was very cool.  Possibly because I was a bit tipsy by then.

We jumped into the bath again before bedtime and the bath definitely came into use during the night too (many times and for many hours).

Midnight bathing at its best

 

Selfie time!

At 8:30am sharp (and after about a hundred midnight selfies) we trooped back to the dining area for brekkie- a traditional Japanese spread of veggies, rice, fish and tofu. I loved the yuba salad in the minty bowl and the umeboshi went very well with the rice (I have very fond memories of umeboshi because the first time I encountered it my mum ate the very sour pickled plum whole!). The tofu was fantastically silky as expected and my nephew attempted to try the natto (but was horrified by the texture). Time for another bath before the hotel kindly dropped us off at the local shrine for a bit of sightseeing.

 

A good Japanese breakfast will fill you up with deliciousness for hours

‘The local shrine’ doesn’t really describe the grandeur of the Nikko UNESCO shrine/ temple complex.  It’s currently in the midst of a decades long MAJOR restorations (current end date is c. 2025), which means that until then you won’t be able to see the site without scaffolding (for example, the main hall of Rinnoji is currently encased in a giant metal sarcophagus) or in its entirety. As we are a family of nerds, we loved the fact that we could see the roof deconstructed, how they had to number and refresh all the existing wooden parts (some of which are hundreds of years old) and how each part has 37(!!!!) layers of treatment before it’s relacquered.  You can see most of the Toshogu complex, one of the most important and complete example of Japanese Baroque architecture (think European Baroque), which is so different to our standard idea of Japanese aesthetics.

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The famous ‘original money emojis’

 

Japanese Baroque is SUPER ornate!

We had a leisurely stroll back to the train station after a lovely lunch (where I had this wonderfully light tempura of eel/shisho leaf), another nap and wheeeee… we’re at Tokyo Sky Tree again, ready to start our urban adventure.

 

Tempura anago and shisho.  SO light and flaky!

Hotel Tokugawa is a 10 minutes drive from Tobu Nikko station (from Asakusa and Tokyo Sky Tree). The JR line also runs to Nikko from Tokyo station. Journey time from Tokyo depends on the train type, we took the Tobu limited express and it took just under 2 hours. The hotel spoke good English and were super helpful, note that it is much cheaper to book in advance on the Japanese website (vs JapanIcan).

Hotel:★★★
Food:★★★
Service:★★★
Atmosphere:★★★
Value:★★★
Overall:★★★

(Really, everything was 4.5 but I can’t see a 1/2 star option in wingding.)

P.S. Sorry for the stickers, my sister thinks someone might eat her adorable child if he’s on the internet. He’s really skinny. Won’t make a good BBQ.

 

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