For my second trip to Lake Chuzenji / Kegon and Ryuzu Falls, I decided to enlist the help of a local expert. Despite short notice, I contacted the Utsunomiya Goodwill Guides and was assigned a wonderful local guide Yumiko, a retired schoolteacher, who lead me around Oku-Nikko for the day.
We met up at JR Nikko Station bright and early at 8:20 am. Designed and built by Frank Loyd Wright in the late 1800s, it is the oldest wooden train station still in use in eastern Japan.
The bus ride from Nikko to our drop off point near Yutaki Falls took about 1.5 hours. The weather was absolutely perfect: cloudless blue skies and a slight breeze.
Like Nagano, I was also surprised to see birch trees, and equally surprised by the fact the landscape looked so wintry even though it was late May and the temperature was nearly 30C/90F. (I have photos from my first visit in July 2016 and the waterfall looked much greener.)
Yutaki Falls is a thread-type fall that splits dramatically in the middle. I found it interesting there were some very intrepid flyfisherman who were standing right at the base of the waterfall.It measures 60 meters high and 25 meters wide.
After visiting and climbing to the top of the first waterfall, we hiked around the lake (Yunoko) at a pretty fast clip to make our bus connection to Ryuzu Falls.
Next, we took a 30 minute cruise of Lake Chuzenji.
after disembarking and having a lunch of Zaru soba with yuba, I requested to visit Chuzenji Temple to get 御朱印 and some photos.
I have actually never seen the temple written up in any English guide books, which is a shame because the architecture is stunning and looks more Korean/Chinese than Japanese traditional temple architecture.
Next, we hiked down to somewhere that had been on my radar since only recently but I was really excited to visit: the stunning Italian Embassy Villa. A 20th-century summer retreat for Italian diplomats, the exterior is paneled in light and dark bark shingles to spectacular effect. The entire building was recently restored and also has a cute Italian coffee shop and gift shop inside. The extensive balconies and picture windows offer stunning views over the lake.
The beautiful use of wood paneling inside reminds me of northern Michigan and Ojibwa birch bark boxes.
We also made a stop to the British Villa a few minutes down the path… Today they were having a classical concert that was being filmed by NHK on the beautiful porch.
Next, we took the bus back to the Lake Chuzenji terminal and made a short detour to Kegon Falls, but due to the time of day and the light, I did not get great photos. The excitement here was getting pooped on by a bird 😂
Our final stop for the evening almost didn’t happen… we had planned on visiting Tamozawa Imperial Villa and arrived at least 45 minutes before close, but when we got there there was a sign saying entries were finished for the day. My guide made a call from her cell phone and the staff kindly let the two of us in where we had the whole villa to ourselves!!
Built as a summer retreat for Emperor Taishō in 1899, it also served as a hide-out for emperor Hirohito during World War II. It is one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan and blends traditional Edo and early modern Meiji era and Taisho era architecture.
My absolute favorite elements were the beautiful gardens and the outstanding round window on the ground floor which frames the building beautifully. The view from the second floor was also amazing!
Thanks to my wonderful guide, I had an amazing, action-packed day and managed to see everything on my list that I would not have been able to do on my own.
Afterwards, I returned to my hotel for a fantastic, relaxing dinner and soak in the hot springs… The perfect end to a perfect day.