Nikko’s Lake Chuzenji, Japan’s Highest Elevation Lake


Nikko’s Lake Chuzenji, Japan’s Highest Elevation Lake

We arrived in Nikko on a rainy afternoon.
Despite the lifting of the emergency declaration in Japan, many places still remained closed.
All of Nikko’s most famous World Heritage sites were still closed.
But lots of places were open, and the owners seemed eager to go back to more normal lives.

We booked a four night stay at a small hotel on Lake Chuzenji.
Lake Chuzenji, in Nikko, is Japan’s highest elevation lake, at 1,269 meters above sea level.

The lake is surrounded by mountains, and the area has lots of hot springs, most of them sulphuric.
Normally, the place is full of tourists.
We were in Nikko ten years ago, during an annual matsuri (festival).
I remember the streets being so full of people that we could barely walk or find a place to sit.
Now the streets were completely deserted.

We saw quite a few fly fishermen, casting their lines, standing in the deep cold water of the lake.
The lake is home to a salmon colored trout that is very delicious.

Our hotel is one of the only places that was still open around the lake.
Most places were closed, and so we booked our room with meals included.

The sulphuric hot springs are lovely and very hot.
It is recommended that you do not wash off the sulphuric water with soap after your soak, to maximize its health benefits.
First you wash up very well, then soak in the onsen and then just rinse off with hot clean water without soap.

There is a long hike that can be done along the shores of the lake.
It is a separate nature hiking path, that follows the car road.
It is very scenic.

On our first day of hiking, there was a mist covering the trees and the lake.
It created a beautiful light, with layers of shadowy shapes that seemed to be emerging from the veils of illusion, forming themselves into reality and dissolving once again.
It was beautiful.

There are old and glorious villas on the lake, dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
They used to be the summer villas of the consulates of countries including Italy, France, the UK, the USA, Finland, Belgium and more.
The foreign diplomats built these modernist villas in the 1900’s and their modern designs seem classic and timeless.

Several of these villas can be visited now as small museums.
They kept all their original furniture and have photo exhibitions of life in those times, quite different than today, times when communing with nature, by simply staying by a beautiful lake, fishing, dining, sailing, listening to music or to someone playing the piano, was a wonderful way to pass the whole summer.

Nowadays, tourists come for a very short time, looking for excitement and for things to do.
And there are lots of things to see and do here.
There are swan boats to paddle out on the lake, small fishing boats to hire, a ferry boat to take a ride around the lake in, many hikes, temples and shrines, dozens of indoor and outdoor hot springs, local food and amazing waterfalls to visit.

As we walked in the mist, I felt like we were being transported back to those olden days.
I could see the appeal of being isolated in nature by the lake, reading a good book, contemplating, eating a good dinner with forest mushrooms and lake fish, listening to music on the gramophone, going for a long walk in the woods.

I chose to add the photos that we took today in black and white, in honor of these times.

There are lots of walks, hikes and things to see in the area, and I will describe more of what we did during the days we enjoyed in Nikko over the next two posts.

There is a cool and large cafe on the lake, called Toki Cafe, that makes soy lattes and homemade baked goods.
It was nice to enjoy their space and warm hospitality when the rain intensified.

Dinner in our hotel was a sampling of much of the local produce.
Beside the salmon trout prepared in different ways, the area is famous for its local tofu and for Yuba, the tofu skin that forms on the top of tofu as it is being made.
The yuba is rolled and fried, and then prepared in many dishes with mountain vegetables, or with a hot broth.

That night I slept well and with a calm and optimistic heart.
I have a good feeling that things are improving, and my heart rejoices.

With peace and love,
Tali and Jules

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