Although I should have learned the lesson from last year when we went to Kyoto on a weekendday, we decided to go to Nikko on a Saturday, and I learned the lesson once more and with gusto.
To get to Nikko, one has to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Utsunomiya Station. Well we got on the wrong track and ended up taking an express to Ueno Station, as I assumed (correctly) that it would be easier for us to find the right Shinkansen bound for Utsunomiya Station, on that much smaller station. Arriving at Ueno and unsure whether it would be difficult to get seats on the unreserved parts of the trains (at this hour there seemed only to be either reserved or unreserved trains), we went to the ticket office to reserve some seats. This was the first time I was lost with the young woman at the counter as she spoke close to no English, fortunately a supervisor was close by and we managed to reserve some seats on the next Shinkansen.
Then having enjoyed a comfortable 40+ minute train trip to Utsunomiya Station, we there proceeded to the very small train to Nikko (only 2 small cars) which was filled up, we had managed to squeeze in quickly so we got 2 seats. After a slghtly bumpy 50 minute or so ride we then arrived at JR Nikko Station.
The previous night I had done some surfing and jotted down how to get to Nikko, how to get to the shrines (where the tourist information center was), what to see and what to eat. Well, arriving at Nikko it all seemed a bit chaotic, with limited signs for helping one around. We managed to to the tourist information center, which was close by at a different companys railway station. Note that JR is really not the best choice to get to Nikko from Tokyo, but as we had a JR Railway Pass, it was a no-brainer to use JR to get there, although it was a bit more bothersome. At the center we got a rather large and somewhat thin and flimsy map (there was a slight wind) which we studied and decided to take the scenic route along the river (which in retrospect was a bad choice, one should take the direct route to the site and then the scenic on the way back), which was not marked by any pedestrian signs in any way. What was worse was that the river bed is currently being worked on, so although the river was nice (and small) it was overshadowed by the machinery and other stuff spead around the side of the river bed. The scenic mountains on this side of Nikko had unfortunately been dotted with human intrusion, masts, roads and buildings. So this route can not really be recommended in any way.
As we got close to the shrine and temple area, we unfortunately also got close to a lot of cars. There were cars jamming the small roads in the area, making it slightly hazardeous to walk along the side of the ro.ad, and really not enjoyable to breathe. After a lot of map studying (again we had made the wrong choice and were actually getting to the place through the backway) we finally, with the help of a friendly English speaking monk to find the most 'important' site, the Toshogu shrine. As it was Saturday it was filled with people.
On our way away from the shrine we ran into a souvenir shop, and I ended up up with buying a nice cherry coloured Kokeshi doll as well as a hand-carved (and signed) set of the three monkeys from the 2 nice ladies in the shop, who got quite enthusiastically when I told them I was from Denmark.
We continued to wander a bit around, but really felt we had had our fill of shrines and temples for today and tried to look for some nature. But although we found a car-less and discreete road walking a couple of hundred meters up the mountain did not bring anything other than a slightly more scenic view with less human interference but there was still some.
It was getting late and we were getting hungry so we sort of choose the first restauant we ran into, and managed to choose probably the only one in all Nikko where nobody spoke any English, This is normally not a problem, cause one can use a few words and point and get the meaning across. But in this case the waiter needed to bring across that the kitchen did not reopen until 3 oclock. I sort of got that quickly, but it was impossible for me to bring across that I had understood. Fortunately a young lady at the neighbouring table had some rudimentary English and could translate. This meant we had to wit half-n-hour for the food.
I had ordered some Curry Rice which came after the promised half-hour. It was really nice and very spicy (and looked much much better than the picture ended up above) , something I needed as it was starting to get cold and we had quite a walk ahead of us back to the station.
After a long and cold (the sun was setting) walk along the direct route, which everybody seemed to be taking, We arrived at the station just in time to jump aboard the 2 car train, this team without getting seats though so we had to stand for the 50 or so minute ride.
Arriving at Utsunomiya Station we reserved some tickets on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo (although it turned out that there now where unreserved sections on the train as well) and had the usual smooth Shinkansen ride back. In retrospeck I would say, go for the nature in Nikko, taka bus there and if more time is available visit a shrine or temple. Regretably we made the other choice and had no more energy (and it was way too late) to go and enjoy the nature in Nikko.
After nearly two hours of rest we then went to Akihabara where a little power shopping was done, I got several USB accessories including a small mouse to be used with Maka (my netbook laptop which I have brought with me) and some puzzles. This time around I seem to by mostly gifts and very little for myself, hm.
Most restaurants seemed to have closed and as we were tired anyway, something was bought at the local 7-11 and home we went.