Nikko, Japan

Wednesday, October 2, 1929

Had a good night’s sleep and was a little ashamed for getting up so late. After breakfast I was surprised to find it was 7:30. They must beat the chicks up here.

It was cloudy and cold, so I put on my slicker and started up Main Street to see things. Temples look better in the sunshine, so I passed them up for whatever lay ahead on the road I was following.

The first thing was the Sacred Bridge or Mihashi—83 feet long, 22 wide, and made of red lacquer. It is closed to ordinary traffic and in the past was only used by Shoguns and the Imperial Messenger. It was built in 1636; destroyed by flood in 1902, and rebuilt in 1906.

Hundreds of visitors and pilgrims were on the road, many going to the temples close at hand, the majority congregated at the edge of town at the bridge waiting for the trams and buses. The hills were awfully fresh and pretty and walking was a pleasure—so much so that I passed everybody on the road all day long. The better I feel, the faster I amble along. The road climbed up the Daiya River Valley between irregular forested hills and mountains. About a mile and a half from the bridge a path branched off to the Jakko-no-taki Waterfall, a mile of rather stiff climbing up a side valley. The falls itself is not so impressive, 100 feet high and tumbling down over several ledges to go bounding on down the rocky stream to the Daiya River. But the falls in its gorgeous setting of mountains and forests was well worth the climb.

On the main road once more, I followed up the ever turning valley, the mountains crowding forward and the river’s murmurs growing louder and louder. About six miles from the Sacred Bridge the tram and bus lines come to an end. From here, Umahaeshi, the real pilgrim stream began. Rich, poor, old men and women almost stooped double with age, women with babies on their backs, men carrying the lunch basket and wearing black knee-boots, no end of children, groups of fifty down to the single old pilgrim, grass mat on his back, gray shirt of wool hanging to the belt, white britches and wrapped leggings, grass shoes, peaked straw hat from under which a short goatee could be seen, and a walking stick in hand. Everybody was jolly—laughing, singing (Ramona in Japanese), calling to one another, kidding those who, in trying to take a short cut, slipped and fell.

The road soon became very steep and narrow. It crossed the river three times close together, then began a long three-mile climb to the level of Lake Chuzenji. Back and forth, back and forth, doubling upon itself like a huge writhing serpent, but always getting higher and higher. The grade was plenty steep and some of the turns so sharp that an auto had to back up to make them. The trees covered not only our mountain but all its neighbors. Leaves were beginning to turn and the landscape was a riot of color.

In clear spaces you could look down and see the road winding up to meet you and the pilgrims. Above you trees and clouds. Huge green mountains on either side, numerous waterfalls cascading down over precipitous ledges, dark gray places in the mountain’s side where a landslide had carried away the trees. And finally, hundreds of feet below, the snaking valley with its torrent foaming and dashing over the bounders, now splitting into three or four streams, now two, losing itself behind a towering forest-covered mountain. The view was as exquisite as any one sees on the road into Kashmir.

I climbed and climbed till I was certain I was half way to heaven. Why don’t they install escalators? Effort was rewarded at last. Just as I came up into the thin mist of a cloud, the road flattened out. But my advantage was short-lived. All fat people who wish to reduce and vice versa should drop in on Nikko. I guarantee a tough schedule of sightseeing unless one gets lazy and takes to the tooting Flivvers that taxi the more wealthy to the top.

Well, I wasn’t on top long. There was the path to the famous Kegon Falls that demanded following. Once at the top of the steps leading down there was nothing to do but travel down about 350 feet worth of mud steps and follow the crowded path to the foot of the falls. The Kegon Falls is OK. As the outlet of Chuzenji Lake, these falls give the water a tumble of 330 feet. It is a beautiful sight and you are deafened by the roar. Several small falls also can be seen from around here.

Raced a man back to the top and beat him by a hundred perpendicular feet. Felt like the last rose of summer till I got some breath and an apple.

Lake Chuzenji was at hand. It is 20 miles in circumference, 8 by 2½. The temperature is not too hot in the summer, thus making it a popular resort. But that doesn’t apply to autumn nor winter. It was 50° today, misty with clouds, damp, and cold. Still it was a pretty place, only you could not see much of the lake nor mountains that surround it. Souvenir shops are as thick as fleas on a pup.

I walked around the lake both directions for some distance, then fell in with the crowd back to Nikko. From the top of the mountain to the car-line, a distance of three miles, I counted the people coming the opposite direction—up. There were 1,200! One every 13 ft. And that was only one way for one hour. An equal number were descending—and traffic like this goes on steadily from early morning to late evening. Today being a holiday would account for some increase in numbers, but yesterday Nikko was packed too.

Today is a national holiday, the anniversary of the birth (?) of the late Emperor Meiji.

Walked all the way to the hotel, a drop of 2,400 feet from the 4,400 feet of Lake Chuzenji. The soles on my shoes were S.O.L. and I was getting lots of punctures on the stones. Fearing a blowout, I hunted up a shoe shop and had another sole tacked on for 72¢. Plenty of leather on the dogs now. Walked 24 miles today and am all here except the heels, toes, and part of the bottoms of my socks.

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