Travel

This Cute Japanese Town Is Straight Out Of A Wes Anderson Film

A train in Nikko, Japan

There’s an Instagram account you might have seen called @accidentallywesanderson. Just as the name suggests, it collects photos of scenes from around the world that look like they could be plucked straight from the set of The Royal Tenenbaums or The Life Aquatic: rows of pastel seats in a sports stadium in Germany, a 1950s bowling alley in Italy, a blue art deco hotel in Los Angeles.

 

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Arriving in Nikko, Japan, feels like stepping into that Instagram account. The small town is only a couple of hours by train from Tokyo (which can be reached via direct flight from Perth on All Nippon Airways from September 1), but it feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Here, tiny four-seater coffee shops seem to almost outnumber the locals. The decor of its restaurants feels frozen in eras past. Everything is framed by mountains so pristine they look like they belong on an ‘80s alpine postcard. Hell, even the train station is painted what’s come to be known as “millennial pink”.

It’s all so delightfully retro it’s a wonder Wes Anderson himself hasn’t filmed a movie here yet.

 

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Many come to Nikko to see the famous attractions it serves as a gateway to – like Toshogu, the Shinto shrine erected in 1617, or the photogenic Shinkyo Bridge. Even these tourist attractions are a little Anderson-esque: to see the 97m-tall Kegon Waterfall, you take a ride over the mountains on picture-perfect cable car, just like the one in Grand Budapest Hotel. At the small Nikko Natural Science Museum, endearingly kitsch statues of brown bears perch in surreal outdoor scenes. At the restored imperial villa of Tamozawa, the velvet rose red-and-blush pink carpet is, as the kids would say, aesthetic.

 

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But it’s what’s in the centre of Nikko that really captured my heart. Just off the town square is Cafe Fleur, a tiny, 1950s-style diner that sells only cheesecake, butter toast, tea and coffee. It’s decorated with pink vinyl stools, oversized ferns, photos of the owner’s dogs, and a picture of Le Mont Saint Michel that appears to have been cut out of a magazine, sticky taped onto a cardboard backing, framed, and hung on the wall.

In an impressive commitment to pastels, even the toilet paper is pale pink and mint green. During my visit, an elderly Japanese man sat alone and gracefully smoked a cigarette at another table, staring soundlessly out the window. It’s the sort of place that you’d roll your eyes at if it existed in Surry Hills. Here, it’s perfect.

 

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Around the corner is Coffee Break, another cafe that’s aesthetically different but spiritually akin. When I walk in, the only other customers are two old men who sit around smoking, watching TV, and chatting with the owner. They’re surrounded by a mishmash of eclectica: an out-of-order pachinko machine, a Monsters Inc clock, a family of soft toys, drawers full of old papers, and a fish tank with one lone goldfish swimming around. While I sip my banana smoothie, a cat comes and curls up outside the front door, unaware it’s being a totally perfect cliché.

On the way out, one of the men tips his hat and the owner tells me he’s already paid my bill. Nikko is like that.

 

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They aren’t the only adorable eateries the town has. Take another bend and you’ll find an adorable, lace-curtained cake shop run by a team of middle-aged women who sell pumpkin pudding and scones with jam. Across the way is Ramburu Restaurant, where you can pull up a pink vinyl seat and order a bowl of the local delicacy, bean curd skin fettuccine (or, um, just some chicken karaage). Up the road, a peach-walled, wood-panelled diner whose design approach feels like truck stop eleganza-meets-Scandi cool slings hot bowls of ramen and plates of gyoza on the cheap.

But my favourite thing of all about the town? Back in the Nikko Station Hotel, there’s a bar that’s open just three hours a night, from 8pm until 11pm (with last drinks at 10:30, thank you). Flyers for the bar, printed on A4 paper and taped up in the elevator, advertise strawberry daiquiris, a siren song that speaks to my inner 18-year-old. When I walk in a bit before 9pm, there are only two other people in the room, no music playing and a plastic disco ball has bathed the room in rainbow hues.

Like everything in Nikko, you get the feeling Wes Anderson would approve.

 

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Katie Cunningham was a guest of Japan National Tourism Organization and All Nippon Airways.

(Lead image: Finan Akbar / Unsplash)

ANA flies direct from Perth to Tokyo from September 1.