I woke up at 4am, and I'm totally fine with it. As much as I crave a good night of sleep (and so rarely get it), I was eager to hit the road and chase waterfalls this morning. It took us nearly an hour to get the heater in our AirBnb running last night (apparently we're not the only ones), and it wasn't until 2:30am that it fully kicked on. We brought camp gear because we're aiming for at least one overnighter in Fuji next week, so tucking my 15-degree sleeping bag under the blankets on my futon saved me from shivering all night.
While I was wide awake and eager to explore, the noise outside made me question whether I really wanted to be outside. The pitter patter of raindrops is one of my favorite sounds, but going out and hiking in it is an entirely different matter -- especially when it's just a few degrees away from being snow or sleet. After scrapping our sunrise plans and waiting for the drizzle to subside (it never really did), we headed to the falls again, but it was so socked in I only snapped about 45 seconds worth of long exposures before it was completely gone. We'll try again tomorrow.
We ventured up to the Futarasan jinja (dear autocorrect, please stop switching that to ninja), and I can't remember the name of the coffee shop near the shrine, but it was probably one of the best lattes I've ever had. The red maple leaves were absolutely incredible, and seeing a carpet of them all over the sidewalk was a sight I'll never forget. The shrine is across the street from the Shin-kyo bridge, which isn't the sort of scene I normally shoot, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
After a quick stop at Ryuzu Falls and yet another rest stop (I know I'm going to gain ten pounds on this trip, even with hikes), we realized we should probably grab dinner wherever we could, because most restaurants closed up shop by 5pm in Nikko. We walked up to a spot that looked like someone's kitchen, but it was lined with dozens of sake bottles, and an older woman smiled and motioned for us to come in. I think it might have actually been her kitchen at one point, but there were a few Japanese men in suits scarfing down noodles, so clearly we were in the right place.
Many of the restaurants all over Japan have picture menus, which is incredibly helpful. We pointed to udon noodle bowls on the menus, and the woman immediately started cooking. When she saw that I was picking at a splinter on my index finger, she dug through some drawers in a cabinet next to the kitchen and handed me two bandaids from her first aid kit. I'll never forget that. I wanted to give her a hug, and I wish she could read this blog and understand how much I appreciated her doing that. As you can imagine, the language barrier here is a bit frustrating for me, and a smartphone translation app can only get you so far. Spanish is easy for me and I could probably survive in France, but any language with characters is just...beyond my pay grade. I wish I could carry on a conversation with some of the people here, but right now all I can really do is smile and say arigato with my obnoxious American accent. Their willingness to learn English and put up with idiot tourists makes me really want to make and effort to learn some of their language on this trip.