We had to go all the way to Japan for it, but the Midwesterners among us finally got our snow fix! A New Year’s snowstorm created an unexpected but ultimately worthwhile adventure. Our plan for the day was to visit Mt. Hiei to see the temples and explore the area during the day and then head back to town in the evening for dinner and New Year’s celebrations.
On our way up the mountain, we started to see a light dusting of snow on the ground. At the first stop, as we moved from the gondola to the cable car, we started to see occasional flakes in the air around us. By the time we reached our destination we were surrounded by steady snowfall and starting to feel the wind rush past us. We were prepared to move through a bit of snow, but soon after we arrived and started looking around the wind picked up and snow started falling hard. Before long we could hardly see off the mountain!
Nevertheless, we were determined to see what we had come for. As a large group we toured the main hall and saw the preparations for the Esoteric Buddhist ceremonies. Then we split into smaller groups to explore the area. Many of us went to the smaller halls and admired the statues and paintings there. Others walked along the mountain paths enjoying the snowy scenery and peaceful, if chilly, atmosphere. After a little while we met up back at the visitor’s center for food. We may have been way up on a mountain, but the soba was excellent!
The Real Adventure Beings
We had planned to continue exploring Mt. Hiei after meeting up again, but several inches of snow had piled up and we were told we had to leave soon or the roads wouldn’t be safe for the busses. On the way down we skipped the cable car and took a gondola all the way down to the first bus stop. We were surrounded by a beautiful winter wonderland on the ride down!
Once we got back into town we set out to find dinner and anything we still needed for the monastery stay the following day. The snow on Mt. Hiei had convinced us of the need to prepare for the cold of the monastery, so we loaded up on heat packs and extra layers. It took us a few tries, but we found a place with room for all of us and had a lovely dinner to celebrate the new year. Fun fact, Japanese Italian food is VERY different from American Italian food!
Our first day of 2015 was full of unexpected changes of plans, but we rolled with the changes and came out with many new memories and stories to tell. Throughout it all, the snow added to the beauty of the surroundings and heightened our sense of adventure. And yes, we did have a snowball fight.