What a weekend, such a special time with Sumire’s parents, Yuko and Takehiko.

We left the heat of Tokyo and travelled by train to Sumire’s home town, Ashikaga, famous for its Spring time Flower Festival. They have a lovely house, full of art, much of it painted by Takehiko who’s an art lecturer at one of the top Tokyo universities. It wasn’t long before Lyle and Sumire were playing on Yuko’s beautiful family Yamaha piano.

That first night we cooked food together, shared music and got to know each other. The next day we drove up high up into the mountains. The air temperature was a refreshing 25 degrees, so very green and tranquil

Lot’s of people were visiting Nikko’s famous shrine, one of the most ornate in Japan, decorated with gold leaf but Takehiko took us to a place away from the crowds where we could enjoy natures’ beauty, the majestic pine trees, streams and smaller shrines. I found this quote and think it explains the essence of this place.

Shinto, Japan’s traditional religion was born from an existing primitive form of religion that worshipped nature. The ancient people of Japan honored sacred spirits that they recognized in nature, manifesting in mountains, rocks, rivers and trees.

Yuko took me to a shrine for safe births and deliveries. I prayed for Helena there, she’s expecting her first baby in September. At the entrance to one shrine, the Japanese gate or Torii had a hole in the centre. If you can throw a stone through the middle it will bring you good fortune. I was determined and after lots of attempts the silence was shattered with my cries of delight. Damn tourists!

Later on we went onto the main temple site full of colour, gold and riches but my heart remained in that quieter place that I know Steve would have loved so much.

Over that weekend in the mountains we did so many wonderful things, we stayed in an Onsen Resort at Kai Kawaji, had the most incredible 7 course meal, enjoyed a communal foot onsen, soaked our tired feet in the hottest water from the  nearby hot springs. During our stay, we lit paper sparklers at night, we ground beans to coat mochi or gooey rice cakes, we bathed outside at midnight in rock pools, Japanese onsens are strictly unisex and we fell into the most comfortable low bed on a raised platform for the deepest sleep ever.

And if that experience wasn’t enough, the next day we piled into canoe boats big enough for 30 people and rode the rapids for 40 minutes down the river with our oarsman guiding us through the river gorge. It was hot, very hot but at times we were allowed to dangle our arms in the water. I wish I’d brought my water proof fan that Lyle and Sumire had bought me.

We staggered out of the boat, up a huge flight of steps and at the top we were greated by vendors selling all kinds of treats, sardines baking over hot coals but my favourite, shaved ice sweetened with matcha tea, lemon and peach syrup, so refreshing.

I had an amazing time in the mountains, totally organised and paid for by the Kikuchi family. How do you repay such kindness? Impossible. I feel so honoured to have spent quality time with such a lovely family.