Where to begin? We've had such a busy few days we haven't even had time to blog.
On Wednesday morning the four of us (Rie's mum, brother Koichi and us) set off for Nikko, a mountain resort town a few hours' drive from Gunma. Along the way we stopped at a small waterfall, followed by a much bigger one you need to descend in a lift to view. Spectacular! Needless to say we stopped several times for snacks - and to see a tiny snowdrift, the first time Plane Boy has seen snow. He wisely resisted throwing a snowball at Nerdia.
Next stop was the huge shrine containing the Yohmeimon Gate - an amazing collection of ancient buildings with astonishingly intricate carvings. Nerdia went nuts with the camera.
After many hours negotiating hairpin bends around beautiful forested mountains, Top Gear style, we could just picture Jeremy Clarkson screeching along in a red Ferrari screaming 'I've soiled my trousers!'. Richard Hammond would be grinning and shouting 'This is what driving is all about' while Nerdia's beloved James May would be explaining how 'safe and careful motoring can be just as engrossing as Jezza acting like a lunatic'.
Finally we arrived at the resort, one of many straddling a river gushing through a valley in the mountains. (L&T: it wasn't the same one you stayed in, will show you photos when we get back.) Opulent if a little aged, with guests wandering about very casually in yukata and slippers without socks - very informal for Japan!
After settling in we were invited to Mama and Koichi's room for dinner. Wow. Not even shabu shabu had this much food! Nerdia bravely managed several small portions of fish, including tuna sashimi that tasted nothing like that flaky abomination that comes of out of a can, but sadly baulked at the small entire crab and fish that are chomped whole. Naturally non-squeamish Plane Boy ate some of everything, but we couldn't finish it all.
Then it was time for onsen. Plane Boy retired with a book but Mama enthusiastically introduced Nerdia to the world of Japanese communal bathing. First a rinse at the bathside taps, then into the massive main hot pool for a soak (atsui! hot!). Next was the sauna - 98 Celsius (totemo atsui!). Then back to the pool to 'cool off'. Next we had a thorough scrub, shampoo and rinse at the taps before heading to a set of smaller herb-infused tubs. We liked the rosemary and lavender ones best! Last was series of hotter and hotter pools, culminating in one Mama described as 'astringent' - very tingly indeed. After the soaking came girly pampering (hair treatment and drying, face cream etc), then we ended the session with several cups of water and Japanese tea. The famous feeling of immense relaxation hit Nerdia a bit later than most - back at the hotel room afterwards, in fact - but it was a very enjoyable experience.
Next morning we had an enormous breakfast (of course), checked out and headed to Edo Wonderland. This is a huge historical theme park recreating 17th century Edo (now Tokyo) - www.edowonderland.net if you want a look. Naturally Nerdia got very excited and wanted to see everything; the ninja training centre with slanted rooms was awesome, the haunted house laughable. (So was the one at the Gumna amusement park - or maybe we're just jaded?) The ninja show was truly impressive, the water magic show was cleverly done and the outdoor fight show was well executed - but the highlight was Plane Boy guest starring as the rich samurai in the panto-style court show, just like his dad did when they visited. He is now swanning around proclaiming himself the new Olivier.
Nerdia finally got to have her photo taken in period costume: a courtesan, though if there'd been a 'ninja disguised as traveller' choice she'd have gone for that! We fed the voracious carp from a bridge, popped more marble sodas, were photographed with sword-wielding street actors, walked through museum displays... and ate and ate, as one does with Mama and Koichi. (How can these people eat so much?!)
After a mushi atsui (hot and humid) five hours, we headed back to Gunma for a 'small' dinner (yeah, right). Despite two days of driving Koichi still found the time and energy to burn all his photos onto a DVD for us.
Today is a 'catch up' day before Rie takes us to dinner with Kiyo in Tokyo then puts us on the night bus to Nara.
Mata ne! Plane Boy and Nerdia.