Nikko to Tokyo - Half the fun is getting there
I was traveling in Nikko and heading back to Tokyo to Asakusa for some sightseeing and an overnight stay. I decided to take the scenic route and hopped on the SL train out of Nikko Station. Outside the station is the train depot and since this is the terminal station, a cool turnaround for the trains. I had no idea this was just as much of an attraction as a ride on the train but it's quite a site! While boarding the the C11 207 SL train called the Taiju, there are lots of great photos because the staff are dressed in period clothing and really friendly. When you hear that whistle don't miss your train. After boarding the train the staff cheerfully introduced themselves and along the way they point out sites outside either side. There are many original goods to purchase and even a one cup sake jar with an illustration of the train. As you move through the countryside neighbors and photographers show their hospitality by waving at you from the nearby towns. It's quite a cheerful trip!
Once I arrived at Shimo-Imaichi station I jumped ahead to modern times and boarded the Tobu-Nikko Line Limited Express SPACIA to Asakusa station, about a 1:45 minute ride. Along the way I tucked in to a special bento box shaped like the SL train. It even had a little golden coal-shovel spoon! After arriving I checked in at my hotel room, the Richmond, right in the heart of Asakusa. The room was bright and spacious with everything I needed. I liked how they had partnered with some famous brands like, Simmons Mattresses and Mikimoto Cosmetics and many things were written in English, like the TV remote.
I quickly freshened up and was out the door because I wanted to check out this Japanese glass carving workshop at Sokichi. They use a technique using a diamond cutting wheel called Kiriko. You can choose from a dozen glasses and designs some are easier than others but the staff helps you out and there is some practice time first. When you are finished you get to take the glass home. They also have a shop on the ground floor to check out some amazing examples!
My next excursion was to relieve a little stress at Kawara Smash! It was just a short walk from my hotel. Kawara are Japanese roof tiles, and yeah it's a lot like breaking bricks, not that I have any experience. I had some instruction first and a bit of practice in slow motion. Since my traveling companions all broke 5 tiles I decided to try 10 since I was last. I was more nervous than I thought I would be but of course I did not disappoint and I received cheers and accolades from all. It was quite exhilarating actually! The whole thing was videotaped and you can have the video uploaded to your iPhone as a souvenir.
We had some time to kill before dinner so we roamed the historic streets of Asakusa soaking up the mood of shitamachi Tokyo (the old downtown). I discovered a large modern market called Marugoto Nippon. Inside there were food and drink meibutsu (famous products) from all over Japan and there was even a sink where juice flowed from the tap! This is a great place to buy last minute souvenirs. There is lots to see and do in Asakusa and the mix of traditional and modern never gets boring. We had dinner in a spacious private dining room at Aoi Marushin, a beautiful tempura restaurant, in the area since the 1940’s, located close to the Tourist information center and Kaminarimon gate of Senso-ji Temple. We had a course meal and everything was delicious from seafood to vegetables with salt and sauce for dipping, along with a suggested Sawanoi sake from Okutama, a perfect pairing. I ended the night with a quiet stroll around the area of Senso-Ji Temple and even sawan early blooming cherry blossom tree. After a good night's rest I went down for breakfast in the lobby restaurant where there is a nice little outdoor seating space, great for people watching. I grabbed a coffee to go and headed toward the station. It was raining a bit, but beautiful as I passed by a woman going to work in a kimono, business as usual in Asakusa.