We survived: the Ibaraki/Tochigi Typhoon

Posted on 03.10.2015

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This post is a little late, but I’ve been trying to get through all of the cool stuff we’ve done lately. There’s been a lot!

IMG_5240For Jav’s final trip during his Japan visit in September, we had this great idea to take him to our favorite place (so far): Nikko. So we booked the Ryokan and train tickets. The weather report was calling for rain, but a little rain was no problem for us: if anything, it meant that there would be LESS tourists on the trails and at all of the attractions.

We had no idea that the typhoon they were calling for on the east coast of Japan would go so far inland. And why would we even be concerned? We’d been through typhoon season for the past month or so, and every time Tokyo was supposed to get one, it was understated and almost disappointing. So why should that typhoon on the east coast cause us any concern? Exactly.

it's just a little rain, right?

it’s just a little rain, right?

We went up on the train, and it was ‘just a little rainy’. No big deal. We talked to a traveler who was only planning to spend the day there, and gave her some recommendations on what she should see, what to skip, etc. It was very Japanese of us, hahah.

By the time we got to Nikko, it was raining pretty steadily, and there was no sign of the clouds breaking. We walked from the main station on over to the JR station to meet up with Jav, who had made use of his Japan Rail pass and gone up separately. It was almost like a race, but we all got there at about the same time.

One of the best things about Nikko is their Tourism Information desk at the main station: most of the workers speak excellent English, and they are really so helpful. You don’t need to buy maps or guides to go to Nikko, they’ll give it all to you as soon as you arrive, as long as you go up to the desk! So we were a bit annoyed when we got to the JR station (just down the road from the main station) and their Tourism Information employees’ English wasn’t as good. I guess we’ve gotten spoiled by a few places.

DSC_0708While we were waiting to take a bus up to our Ryokan, which was located just across the street from Shinkyo Bridge, the rain really started to come down. We figured it would probably just let up eventually, and planned our route: we would go up to Kegon Falls and walk around there, and then take the bus further up the mountain to Yutaki falls, which is basically the top of the mountain, and then hike our way down across the Senjougahara plateau, passing Ryuzu falls and Lake Chuzenji.

As we assumed the rain would stop soon, it wasn’t really that big of a hike we were planning: maybe a few hours, at most, add another for taking lots of amazing photos of all of that nature we’d be surrounded by.

After checking in to the Ryokan and unloading, we headed down the road to our favorite vegetarian restaurant, which was also located on the same road, about a block or two away and across the street from the Ryokan itself. It was also closed. And it looked like it had been closed for a while.

DSC_0709We should have taken it as a sign, but we rationalized it to ourselves as ‘the high season just ended and this is the beginning of the slow season for them, so they must have just taken a short vacation’. Which was rational enough.

Starving and getting progressively wetter, we went back up the road and checked out the other (open) restaurants, and looked for what vegetarian options they offered. There were a few, but none would ever compare to the excellent Hippari Dako. I wonder if they’ve opened back up by now. Maybe, in hindsight, they closed because there was a typhoon coming, and figured no one would be dumb enough to go to Nikko.

Wind: 1. Umbrella: 0.

Wind: 1. Umbrella: 0.

After lunch, still wet, still raining, we made our way up on the bus to Kegon falls.

It was a damn disaster.

We didn’t even make it to the actual falls themselves. We got off the bus and went to cross the tourist information/bus stop space, and ended up staying there, talking to the stranded tourists who were already drenched and unsure of what to do. The parking lot was covered in water, and the rain was pouring, steadily. For some reason, it STILL hadn’t crossed our minds that it was unsafe to go up the mountain. We tried to offer help and advice to the first-timers, and decided to try to see if maybe the weather would be better at the top of the mountain. So we took the first bus that came up to the top, to be let off at Yutaki.

you know it's bad when you need the poncho AND the umbrella.

you know it’s bad when you need the poncho AND the umbrella.

Yutaki was effectively deserted. There was a school group there when we arrived, but they took photos quickly and then left again, leaving the falls to us, the only people dumb enough to be up there in the typhoon. I’m not sure if we were even aware that it WAS the typhoon, actually. We just thought it was raining a lot.

We went into the shop/restaurant there and got some hot tea and dango, and decided what to do next. We thought we should take a SHORT walk down the nature trail, but maybe not try to do the full hike, since it was clear the rain wasn’t going to stop. The falls were practically overflowing, the river was overflowing, and the rain was still coming down in buckets.

this is the sight that saved us.

this is the sight that saved us.

So we took a short walk over to the nature trail, and found that the stairs leading down were flooding. I really think that seeing this, and not being able to even walk down, is what saved us. Had those steps not been overflowing with rain, we might have tried to go down the trail, and thus missed the final bus, which was effectively evacuating the mountain.

Seeing that the trail was flooded, we decided to basically scrap all the plans, and head back to the ryokan. Maybe the weather would be better tomorrow. At least we could use the onsen at the hotel, and get some dinner.

DSC_0777We waited, in the rain, for a good half-hour for the bus to come. But there was nothing else we could do, so we made the most of it and waved to all of the people on the big, private tour buses that drove past, and took lots of fun, ridiculous pictures in the rain. We were completely soaked by this point, and still needed to get all the way down the mountain.

When the bus finally came, it took us back to Kegon, and then no further. That was when we found out about the mountain and sites being evacuated and closed down. We also had to wait there for about an hour, and switch to a smaller bus, which was almost full, so we could get back down the mountain safely.

To get up and down the mountain, you have to take this winding road called Irohazaka. I find it absolutely terrifying, but can somehow manage to survive the ride. Thank goodness it’s one way up and another way back down. Seeing cars on the other side of us, or passing us, might make me lose my shit.

DSC_0797By this time, the parking lot we’d seen earlier was flooded, as well. We sat in the full, slowly warming bus for about 45 minutes, and then suddenly a new driver (not our original one) jumped on, said ‘let’s do this!’ to no one in particular, and then got us on the road for the slow journey down.

And it was terrifying, as usual, but with MOAR TERROR added, due to the fact that there were waterfalls spilling onto the road from overflow, and wide-angle turns in the rain above a very steep drop. But we thankfully all made it down, and got off the bus in front of the ryokan, and then went up to our room to figure out what to do.

IMG_5239After stripping off all of our clothes, getting into the wonderfully dry provided Yukata, turning up the heat to full blast so the clothes could dry, and sitting down, we found out that all of the trains out of Nikko were canceled. We didn’t really understand why until we turned on the TV ans saw the news: even though it was ‘just raining’ in Nikko, there were landslides and floods happening to the east and south of us, which is the route the trains would have to take. All over the damn place.

There wasn’t really much to do, so we ate some snacks, contemplated what to do for dinner, and went to the onsen to relax for a bit. My onsen was blessedly empty, as usual. And I got to use all of their fancy shampoos and bath products, as usual. I LOVE onsen shampoo!

While I was gone, Jav got some info from the front desk. Apparently, there was ONE open restaurant, “just a short walk down the road”, that might serve some vegetarian things.

party city.

party city.

So after getting back from the onsen, we had to put our clothes back on and brave the rain, since our only options at the hotel were cup noodles and some different varieties of chips. I would have been totally fine with this, but the guys wanted to try their luck at the restaurant.

The street was empty, everything except for the liquor store was closed, and when we got to the restaurant, it was one of those ‘family restaurants’ that serves a variety of food, just about all of it containing some form of meat.

The guys had pizza, pasta, and salad for the umpteenth time during Jav’s trip, and I had steak, because I wanted a gd steak after all of the shit we’d just been through. It was fine. Jav had fun trying out all of the drinks at the drink bar, and we ate a lot of french fries. Then we made our way back in the pouring rain, and settled in for the night.

There was really nothing more we could do that night. Nikko, even without the rain, is a city that shuts down when the temples close at sunset. Multiple checks on the train and bus schedules showed all cancellations, the news showing all of the damages that had occurred, and only the onsen for entertainment. We figured that if we went to bed early, we could wake up early and go do things, once the rain had cleared. Because we still, for some reason, had it in our heads that the rain would clear.

And of course, it didn’t. After waking up and checking the schedules, and a comical performance by a French couple who rolled into breakfast 10 minutes before close and threw an absolute FIT because there was no bread remaining, we went to the front desk to find out what our options were.

They told us that we could catch a bus, from our stop, directly to Utsonomiya station in 15 minutes. This was GREAT news, since Utsonomiya was the closest station with a running shinkansen, and it was still open for business. We just needed to get there, and ‘there’ was about 45 minutes away by car or bus.

Awesome, great! We pDSC_0801acked all of our stuff, did the checkout, and waited for the bus. 10 minutes later, the people at the desk told us that it had been canceled. Then, they tried to get us a taxi there, or look for another bus, but they were all canceled as well. Everything was canceled.

We weren’t quite sure what to do, and it was still a torrential downpour, so we made the decision to just get down to the train station. At least there, if the buses or trains started back up, we’d be on the first one out of dodge.

So we caught the bus to the train station to try our luck there. It seemed that a lot of people had the same idea, and it looked a lot like a beginning scene from a horror movie, with too many people crowded in one place.

IMG_5503As expected, the helpful lady at Tourist Information had already found a solution, and was rounding foreign tourists up to put them on a shuttle to Utsonomiya. We got on the first shuttle for the bargain price of Y2000 each, and spent the next 45 minutes crammed in, riding to Utsonomiya. What luck.

It was like an EU meeting in there. We met a few Germans, who were surprisingly from Wuerzburg, where we’d lived. What a coincidence that was. We spoke to them in German and also in English, since they probably needed the practice, anyway, and we still needed to speak to Jav.

dango!

dango!

At the end of the ride, we got some tickets for the next bullet train back to Tokyo, got back on, and were home by 2pm. But what a gd ridiculous trip that was.

I’m a little sad Jav didn’t get to see and experience the real Nikko, because I think he would have loved it. But I guess he already saw Hiroshima, Kyoto and most of Tokyo, so missing out on Nikko might not be that big of a disappointment. And I guess it’ll still be there, the next time he decides to visit Japan.

LONGEST. POST. EVER.