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Tuesday, March 26 2013 @ 02:56 PM EDT

Enjoying a Fall Hike in Nikko, Japan

© noel morata

You can feel that Fall is in the air up in Nikko, Japan. The air is crisp, clean and quite invigorating, unlike the gloomy vibe of the Tokyo Metropolis I left just a few hours ago. Riding at super fast speeds on the Shinkasen, Japan's bullet train, can bring you into a totally different part of Japan in no time, and I'm looking for beautiful fall colors up in the foothills of NIkko's national Park. Although I read earlier that fall does not peak until mid-November timeframe, I'm hopeful that my northbound trek will bring me a glimpse of the amazing colors of the Nikko countryside. I pass by a rack of postcards at a souvenir stand close to the station and see images filled with fall colors. I just want to assess ideal photo spots that I can visit and indeed find a few interesting landmarks and head out with a handy map given by the local tourist information desk.

Finding unique places to visit outside of the typical destination spots and World Heritage sites around Nikko is usually a matter of research or even word of mouth from other travelers or locals. I find that locals love to share different places outside of the packed crowds if you're friendly and strike up a rapport. Fortunately, I get a nice lead from my B&B host on a nice out of the way trail following the main Daiya river which flows through the national park into the main town of Nikko and is lined with cafes and tourist shops. It's already mid-afternoon, so a short two or three hour hike would be perfect with some place where I can capture some sunset photos.


© noel morata

I follow the main road along the riverbank and pass the famous Shink-yo or sacred bridge which is the gateway to the Nikko National Park and the world heritage sites nearby. This bridge tends to be very crowded and is the typical first shot that every tourist will take arriving the city. I hesitate to actually take a picture, but the vista itself is quite striking with the aqua blue waters rushing through amid the ornate red bridge, a stately landmark. Beautiful fall foliage line the banks and add colorful fall elements into the composition,  you can't go wrong any photos taken here, in fact I take a few more photos in different angles, heights and location to try and make a unique stamp to this iconic site.

Okay, enough with working just this one image.  I continue my journey up-hill,  closely following the river and stop every time I see some striking fall color that just screams, "Take this photo now!" The shops, restaurants and hotels start to disappear after taking a left detour on a smaller side street. Then and then crossing another bridge over the Daiya, it soon becomes very quiet. The scenery is mostly residential with little family plots and farms, and eventually a smaller trail leads into forested areas with thick shrubs hinting of falls upcoming fervor. I really wish I was here another few weeks down the road, but I'm quite optimistic that I'm already seeing some beautiful color ahead. There's only the neighbors walking their dogs and myself along the trails now and its very peaceful. Aaaaaah, breathe that fresh air. I mentally and physically envelop this tranquil space.

© noel morata

After rounding a short walk through some cypress groves, I see the entrance to the small shrine here marked with a little wooden gate. The Atsuta shrine on the banks of the Daiya is lined with maybe a hundred decaying and worn buddha statues. The aged patina and moss covered bodies create an air of forgotten and slowly decaying history, something I'm more drawn to than elaborate and shiny buildings that scream "Tourist Site". I study some of the details individually and smile that most of the statues have individual red bibs and crochet hats. Someone must have gone through a lot of effort to make all these hats.  I think and smile about this type of dedication. This walk was just the kind of thing that I love to experience and photograph. I take out my camera and try a few angles and different techniques again, maybe a little too many photos in this one spot. But that's okay - its digital so I can just delete the ones that are not up to snuff. I notice some more fall colors along the banks and walk up to a beautiful copper arbor overlooking the river. The maple trees were just starting to turn their dusky hues of amber, rust and indian red colors. I'm drawn to this new scene and target some more amazing vistas, river views, waterfalls, aqua waters and eddies... it's so inspiring!

Eventually, I follow the path further down and bump into a Spanish couple. They suggest I continue up the trails which eventually ends up at waterfall and another shrine, so  I decide to keep walking in that direction until I see the path terminate by a set of stairs going up-hill with no end to the steps in site. Hmmmm (I'm thinking), its already dusk and if I head up with no flashlight, I may have a difficult time getting down from this place.  I ask myself this question aloud and quickly (more-so to convince myself) retreat down the trails and back to the village.

© noel morata

It was quite a remarkable and easy walk and I enjoyed this first time visit to Nikko without the rushing and crowds pushing to take a multitude of photos without really seeing and appreciating all the wonders of this area. Even though the little shrine I visited was simple, to me it embued an authentic and welcomed visit to seeing Nikko the way I wanted to see this beautiful countryside.

I think maybe I will walk further up those stairs tomorrow if I feel challenged. But for now, I'm quite content to have this quiet walk along the shorelines of the Daiya river, and now the scouting continues, but this time it's to find a suitable place for an evening meal.

© noel morata

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