‘One of the principal points to which travelers will direct their steps is the Lake of Chuzenji,” writes Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) in “A Guide Book To Nikko,” the first English tourist guide of the area published in 1875. Satow, a British diplomat and Japanologist, arrived in Japan in 1862 at a time when the nation was facing a shift in political power and rule from the shogunate to the Emperor in the form of the Meiji Restoration.
"Within a week after his (Satow's) arrival, the country experienced the 'Namamugi Incident,' in which a British merchant was killed on the Tokaido road. But, still, he decided to stay in Japan," says Kimio Kojima, the owner of local liquor shop Raku Sen Koh Kojimaya who often volunteers to give lectures about the area. "Traveling from east to west, he worked for almost 20 years to establish a strong bond with clans such as the Satsuma and the Choshu."
It's late November and I'm on a Tobu Top Tours travel agency tour to Oku-Nikko, where Kojima, as our guide, is taking us around the area, explaining its history as we travel. Although it's too late for the autumn leaves that the area is famous for, Kojima's knowledge of the historical background of his hometown and his commentary about the international exchanges that took place there make the trip different from the usual sightseeing tour.