Lake Yunoko was a wild card on our trip which didn’t just catch me by surprise – it left me breathless. The bus pulled up at a parking area where we got off to the most sulphuric smell coming from the water, a pungent reminder of Japan’s violent volcanic presence, and watched as the placid water suddenly plunged into a turbulent and frothy white fall- the Yudaki falls. Watching the water suddenly drop off the edge I thought how the water was a reflection of our lives. The calm and seemingly endless routine of life, at once plunged into sudden chaos taking you deep into uncharted territory where you fight your way through obstacles driven on only by the hope of rest at the end of your struggle. A bit like how this waterfall would turn into a river which would eventually quietly meet Lake Chuzenji for some much needed rest.
From the falls we began our 3km hike around Lake Yunoko – a naturally dammed lake which had formed with an eruption of Mt. Mitake. Unlike lake Kawaguchi and Lake Chuzenji, this lake was untrammeled by the trappings of commerce and touristy attractions like swan boats leaving us a pristine view of nature to appreciate in silence and the soft rustling of leaves. We were not competing for space with hordes of tourists in the narrow path that took us around the lake. Instead, we walked at leisure, at our own pace, appreciating the serenity of the lake afforded to us by the brief openings in the leafy cover and for once, I did not feel compelled to take many pictures, as though the silence would cement the memory for me instead.
Ma went on ahead, Z lingered somewhere behind and I took it all in in relative solitude interrupted only by fleeting conversations with our tour buddies. And as I walked, slowly realizing just how cold it had become, we came across a break in the trees through which we began to watch as lines flew through the air, landing still in the water, almost imperceptible if not for the widening pool of ripples in a lake softly disturbed as you would a sleeping child. There, standing waist deep in the water, were men who were fly fishing in complete silence. In fact, it was so quiet that you would never have noticed them standing there in their gear if it hadn’t been for the betraying ripples.
I watched mesmerized and later, when I stumbled upon a fisherman standing quite close to the trail, I asked him for a picture, so I could remember that men need not be loud to have their presence felt, but can move the world with patience, in silence and chosen solitude. The trail continued, and we came across the body of a fisherman lying on the bank of the lake. オサマさん, who had gone down to investigate, came back with the reassurance that the fisherman was very much alive and just fast asleep. He reminded me of the puzzle my dad had once put together, of a fisherman surrounded by trees, asleep by the lake. I wonder, if I should fall asleep there, what I would feel awakening in the darkness, undisturbed by street lights, the buzz of electricity and the familiar sound of cars and traffic, with only the light of the moon filtering through the dark canopy. I wonder if I should feel scared, or alone or perhaps closer to God and the Earth. I wonder if I should panic, or lie back and stare up at the sky, my eyes adjusting to the dark to trace outlines of the leafy canopy hiding the starts. I wonder if the sound of insects should scare me, or be welcome company… I wonder…
As we rounded off the trail, past enticing signs that lead up to Usagi Jima (Rabbit Island), I could spot ma at a distance in the middle of a photo shoot thanks to the ever obliging オサマさん who was capturing the moment for her while Z and I caught up. I ran all the way up to her and discovered that she was as much in love with this place as I was. With that settled, we began to think out loud on what it would be like if we could just stay there and what we would do to get by. I decided I would simply open a store that would stay open past 4pm, which is when the only store we’d seen there closes, and in doing so I should be able to tap into the night crowd. ^^
The weather had been divine- chilly but not distractingly so, like winter mornings back home or a summer afternoon spent at Nuwara Eliya. I was loth to leave, but we had to. It was going to be a long and winding drive back down the mountain and the driver had invited 4 people up to the front for enviable views of how those tight turns are navigated by the big bus. Z went up and I stayed back to enjoy the last views of the lake flying past our window. I was surprised that I hadn’t experienced any motion sickness on the way or down here. In Korea I’d been okay but it had been tough on Z whereas in SL I was in a bad sort of way. Perhaps it had something to do with the weather, or perhaps it was the less than daredevil driving on narrow two way roads.
We made our way down the mountain to much applause and began the long drive home to Tokyo thoroughly entertained by our in-house MC who had now taken control of the mic. We reached the familiar rest area with its origami decorated restrooms, took a moment to stretch our legs and went to the store to look for something, anything really that was halal because by this point all my rice and fried chicken had said farewell and left me a splitting headache as a parting gift. As soon as we went in, we came across the one vending machine that I’d been looking for at every train station since we landed in Japan- the vending machine that dispenses actual food – as in nice hot food…french fries and burgers and the whole unhealthy yet delicious lot.
Despite the hunger pangs we had to pass since we couldn’t be sure if it was halal (no idea what oil they use) so we walked hungrily back to the bus, me with an ornamin C and ma with an enthusiastically purchased jasmine tea. At this point I was craving anything salty that was NOT salted nuts and I would have killed for a pack of crisps. And just as I said this to ma, Z got on the bus… with a halal pack of Pringles. God works in mysterious ways. This pack of Pringles, I enthusiastically devoured, while ma tried to pass of her failure of jasmine tea to Z…who liked it. Success!
The skies darkened around us as the mood in the bus began to lighten up thanks to our resident MC’s efforts which left us in stitches of laughter despite our exhaustion. We learnt that one of our tour buddies had been on the same exchange program that our せんせい had been on years ago, in which she had met her husband. There were songs and stories and finally we were all asked to share what we had loved most about the trip- from the places to the food. The sukiyaki was a clear winner along with Mt. Fuji, but there are always outliers – like the one person who only enjoyed plain Japanese rice and another person whose favourite place was the company of his newfound friend. ^^ For me personally today’s visit to Nikko had been the highlight of my trip along with the mouthwatering yakiniku where I had to exercise the most self-control.
The mic passed down the bus, from one person to another, all of us sharing our thoughts on the trip. I just wanted to thank our せんせい, both of them in fact, for their patience in deciphering the halal quotient of ingredients for any and every food you could find in Japan, and that too in record time. I also wanted to thank everyone for having looked after ma as well as they had but I was too shy to say anything so I’ll just say it here instead.
Time seemed to fly and the bus ride back seemed nowhere as long as when we had set out in the morning. Before we knew it we were back in front of our hotel and walking towards dinner which was waiting for us at Saray Akasaka. This time our dinner buddy was せんせい’s daughter and in all her bubbly enthusiasm we exchanged all possible forms of social media contact details and that’s when it hit me. The trip was coming to an end. The next day would be our last and then who knew when we’d all come together again. With that thought, we headed back to the hotel to pack in preparation for our early checkout. It would be the last night I’d sleep on my bead filled pillow. The last night we would attempt to make tea in the kettle that doubles in a practical thermos the way only Japanese products can. There were a lot of lasts on a day that had been filled with firsts.
Missed Day 9 Part 2 in Nikko?
Stayed tuned for our last day in Tokyo!