The Fear Factor

Posted by on Oct 4, 2011 in Tochigi, Travel Volunteer Journey | 7 Comments
The Fear Factor

Anyone who’s ever travelled to a UNESCO World Heritage site knows the feeling – hell, anyone who’s ever been to any tourist attraction of any note knows the feeling.

Just for a second, you wish you could have the place all to yourself.

But you can’t, because the world is overpopulated, the number of tourist attractions is finite and this one (the one you’re trying to take pictures of) was discovered many, many moons ago. Yet, irrational as it seems, you fantasise about closing the place down so you can walk around untroubled, free to imagine what it all must have looked like in its pomp. Not what it looks like now, with a garishly-clad yob barking down his mobile phone, a family of 50 who’ve decided to pose for a snapshot right in front of you, and a stranger’s screaming child who’s just been sick on your shoes… You get the picture – you know the picture.

So whenever we travel to somewhere UNESCO have promoted, there’s always a lingering worry at the back of our minds that it will descend into a rugby match, with cameras. And from what we understand, in years gone by, a visit to Nikko could have resulted in exactly that kind of semi-polite, semi-organised chaos.

It was added to the World Heritage list in 1999, and not before time: “The shrines and temples of Nikko, together with their natural surroundings, have for centuries been a sacred site known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces,” booms the official website. What awaits is a vast array of shrines, temples and pagodas, all to commemorate Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period. As you might expect for a man of such importance, everything is grand, and ornate, and well worth the entrance money. It’s been packed full of tourists from around the world for years.

However, if there’s any silver lining to the events of March this year, it’s that the combined disasters put The Fear into people. Not that there’s any reason to be afraid of coming to Nikko: the earthquake caused no damage here, the tsunami-ravaged coast is miles away, and the radiation levels are normal – likely lower than where you live.

But people – gentle, simple people – are an easy scattered school in time of perceived menace. Which is great news if you’re planning on visiting this area, especially in autumn. In any other year, the sacred sites of Nikko are perennially busy, but up towards the glittering Chuzenji lake, things become particularly manic as the foliage is set alight by the change of season.

Yukari Kawai, our guide for the day, explained that the drive from the centre of Nikko, up the winding roads that pass Mount Nantai, has taken her two hours in the past. Today it took us 25 minutes. We stumbled from the serenity of the lake to the thundering 97m high Kegon waterfalls, and the only time we felt at all crowded was when we surrounded by a gaggle of schoolkids who individually insisted on greeting us “Hello!” and then scurried off giggling if we responded with: “How are you?”

Of course this peace and quiet isn’t good news for everyone. Take Scout, the owner at the Zen Hostel. Business for him has tanked since March, even though his home and business were virtually unscathed by the earthquake. Though he’s American, his hostel is kept in a traditional Japanese style and is nestled in the elbow of the crystal-clear Kurokawa, or Black River. In short: this is a winning formula – or at least it should be.

So fear is good – and bad at the same time. What to do? Come here anyway, just do it before everyone else does.





しかしながらそれは叶わぬ夢というものだ。人口は増え、そして人気のある観光地は限られている。そして今あなたが写真を撮ろうとしている“その”スポットは、すでに数十年も昔から多くに人に写真を取られてきた場所なのだ。 そう、叶わぬ夢と分かっていてもやっぱり思ってしまう・・・。



今日私達を案内して下さっている川合ゆかりさんによると、例年のこの時期、日光の中心部から男体山まで2時間ぐらいかかってしまうらしいのだが、今日はたったの25分。私達は中禅寺湖から華厳の滝へ移動し、唯一“混雑”に遭遇したのは、学校の遠足の皆さんに出会った時ぐらいだ。彼らは“Hello”と話しかけてきてくれたので”How are you?”と返したら逃げられてしまった・・・。

例えば今晩お世話になっているZen Hostelのオーナー、Scoutさんは、日光が地震の影響を全く受けていないにも関わらず3月以降のビジネスの状況がいかに厳しいものであるかを語ってくれた。彼はアメリカ人だけれど、非常に美しい黒川のほとりにある日本の伝統的なスタイルを持ったホステルを経営されている。



  1. Natalie Neal
    October 4, 2011

    Fabulous photos. The message really is, simply—come here. And leave all of your fears at home. Enjoy the passionate beauty that is Japan.

  2. Joe Lafferty
    October 4, 2011

    Terrific combination of words and pictures revealing the beauty of nature, engagement with people and the impact of the disaster on Japanese business. Keep up the good work you guys!

  3. Eric
    October 5, 2011

    Once again Jamie, you’re telling a truth that everyone should listen to…

    This is exactly what I’ve been telling to everyone: NOW is the best time to come to Japan!
    Why ?
    Because one will get to see the unimaginable a few years back: Japan’s most beautiful sights all by oneself, avoiding the mass tourism flocking in in big busses + one will earn the respect and gratefulness of Japanese people, for simply being here!

    So, once again everyone, hurry! This won’t last for long! ;-)

    Katy, as always, great pictures!
    I just wish there would be more “wide angle” views to show the “whole picture”, but I also know why there isn’t! Your wide-angle lens will be back with you soon! ;-)

  4. Howard and Maggie
    October 5, 2011

    Thanks for sharing and all the photos are so true and beautiful. We are ready to go to Japan on this coming Nov and really looking forward. Anyway, please keep the good job and enjoy your trip in JAPAN. Take care.

  5. Zablon Mukuba
    October 5, 2011

    you have great photos, its always something if we overcome our fears

  6. Japan Australia
    October 5, 2011

    Some great pictures! Japan is a land of beauty and adventure and one of the best places in the world for any traveller to visit.

  7. Simone
    October 5, 2011

    Lovely pictures! I did love Nikko when I visited it. Staying there gave us the possibility to start our visit early, a real advantage. It was truly a beautiful place in the fall.

    I think people were foolish to abstain from traveling in Japan because of the tsunami. I was there in April and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was also thanked several times by locals for visiting Japan at that time.

    It is an exceptionally beautiful and interesting country.