Thursday, 17 May 2012

Itsumo Japan's 'Must See' Guide to: Nikko

Nikko is one of my favourite places in Japan. Yes it's full of tourists and it's definitely not a hidden gem but the town, nestled high in the mountains and filled with gift shops, has a real charm, like an English seaside town. The surrounding mountain countryside is beautiful and the Daiya River that runs through the town is a vivid azure blue. And all the tourists, both native and foreign, are there for a reason, there are a lot of interesting and historical sites to see. Here are my 7 'Must See' sights in Nikko plus some suggestion for where to stay and where to eat ...

1.  Nikko Sannai 日光山内

Photo: Japan-Guide
Of course you can't visit Nikko without seeing its famous shrines and temples. Centred around Tōshōgū, a mausoleum built to house the remains of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the UNESCO World Heritage Site also includes Taiyuin-byō, the final resting place of Ieyasu's grandson Iemitsu, Rinnō-ji
an important temple that includes a museum containing Buddhist and Tokugawa related artifacts and a beautiful Japanese garden and Futarasan Jinja a shrine dedicated to Nikko's 3 sacred mountains. Within the grounds of the Tōshōgū Shrine you can also see the Scared Stable which has the famous three wise monkeys carving on one of its walls, the very ornate Yomei-mon, Yakushi-dō a hall famous for the dragon painted on its ceiling and the sound, said to be just like the piercing cry of a dragon, that rings throughout the great room when a block is struck by one of the monks and a five-storey pagoda.
The shrine complex is fairly big and there is a lot to see but it is possible to do it all in one day and a special combination ticket can be purchased which allows access to all the sites. The bright colours and heavily ornate decoration of the shrines and temples is striking and incredibly beautiful and truly awe-inspiring After visiting the many holy buildings you can buy omamori good luck charms, omikuji fortune slips and other souvenirs at the many kiosks nearby.

Tōshōgū - 東照宮
Opening Times: Mar-Oct: 8am-5pm/Nov-Mar: 8am-4pm
More Information
Website (Japanese)

Taiyuin-byō - 大猷院廟
Opening Times: Apr-Oct: 8am-4:30pm/Nov-Mar: 8am-3:30pm
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Rinnō-ji - 輪王寺
Opening Times: Apr-Oct: 8am-4:30pm/Nov-Mar: 8am-3:30pm
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Futarasan Jinja - 二荒山神社
Opening Times: Apr-Oct: 8am-4:30pm/Nov-Mar: 8am-3:30pm
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A combination ticket for the whole complex costs ¥1000.


View 'Must See' Guide: Nikko in a larger map

2. Shinkyō Sacred Bridge 神橋
Photo: Japan-Guide
Just outside the entrance to the shrine complex is another of Nikko's famous sights - the Shinkyō Sacred Bridge. The bright red wooden bridge stands out in stark contrast to the lush green foliage around it and the crystal blue water that flows beneath it. You can see the bridge clearly from the road but you can buy a ticket and walk across it too. On my second visit to Nikko I was very excited to see the famous bridge in all its vivid red glory as it was covered over due to maintenance on my first visit.

Opening Times: Apr-Sept: 8am-5pm/Oct-Nov: 8am-4pm/Nov-Mar: 9am-4pm
More Information
Website


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3. Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park 田母沢御用邸記念公園
Photo: Itsumo Japan
A less well-known but fascinating and beautiful place to visit in Nikko is the Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park. The villa, built in 1899 for Emperor Taisho, is a beautiful example of traditional Japanese architecture while the surrounding gardens are tranquil and serene. After leaving your shoes at the entrance you can wander across the tatami mats from room to room enjoying views of the garden and learning about the history of the villa.

Opening Times: Apr-Oct: 9am-5pm/Nov-Mar: 9am-4.30pm (closed Tuesdays)
Admission: ¥500
Website (Japanese)
More Information


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4. Kanmangafuchi Abyss & Bakejizō 憾満ガ淵と化地蔵
Photo: Japan-Guide
This gorge, just outside of central Nikko, makes a lovely riverside walk especially during autumn when the foliage is in full colour. The rocks deposited in the river by a past eruption of Mt. Natai create dramatic swirling whirlpools in the bright blue water. Along the riverside is a row of 70 jizō, stone carvings of a bodhissatva who guards the dead. They are often called bake or ghost jizō as it is said that if you try to count them the number will be different each time.

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*For a more detailed guide to the location of this site please download the map of Central Nikko below.


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5. Lake Chuzenji & Kegon Falls 中禅寺古湖と華厳の滝
Photo: Japan-Guide
Up in the mountains above Nikko is the pretty Lake Chuzenji or Chuzenjiko. Most of the lakeside is covered with woodland which looks particularly pretty during autumn whilst at the eastern end of the lake is the Chuzenjiko Onsen, a touristy resort town filled with hotels and gift shops. Whilst at Chuzenjiko you can hire a swan-shaped pedalo and explore the lake, learn about the flora and fauna of the surrounding area at the Nikko Natural Science Museum or visit the area's most famous site Kegon Falls. To view the falls, and risk getting pretty wet, you can ride a lift from the lakeside to the base of the falls. At almost 100m high the falls are an impressive sight and attract many visitors.

Chuzenjiko - 中禅寺古湖
To get to Lake Chuzenji from Nikko you can get a bus from outside of either Nikko or Tobu-Nikko train station. It takes approximately 50 minutes, costs around ¥1100 and takes you along the winding Irohazaka mountain road.
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Boat Hire
Costs from ¥1000 for an hour in a rowing boat to ¥1500 for 30mins in a swan pedalo. You can also take one of a selection of pleasure boat trips around the lake.
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Nikko Natural Science Museum - 日光自然博物館
Opening Times: Apr-Oct: 9am-5pm/Nov-Mar: 10am-4pm
Admission: ¥500
More Information
Website (Japanese)

Kegon Falls - 華厳の滝
Opening Times: 8am-5pm
Lift Admission: ¥530
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View 'Must See' Guide: Nikko in a larger map

6. Nikko Woodcarving Village Craft Centre
Photo: Itsumo Japan
A little off the beaten track, in the Ogurayama Forest Park just to the north of the town's centre, is the Nikko Woodcarving Village Craft Centre or Nikko Kibori no Sato Kōgei Centre. At the centre you can see exhibits of various traditional wooden crafts and even have a go yourself. The walk from Tobu-Nikko train station is pleasant and takes about 30 mins. Near to the craft centre there is also an old farm house to look at.

Opening Times:
Admission: Free
More Information
Website (Japanese)


View 'Must See' Guide: Nikko in a larger map

7. Nikko Edo Wonderland 日光江戸村
Photo: Japan-Guide
If you need a break from soaking up the high culture of Nikko's temples, shrines and other historical sights why not take a trip to Edo Wonderland, a theme park that recreates Edo-period Japan? The park, just outside Nikko,  contains a whole town of Edo-period buildings and streets filled with staff in period costume, restaurants and souvenir shops. There are also attractions like a Ninja Theatre where you can watch live sword-fighting and martial arts shows, a maze, historical waxwork exhibits and a haunted temple. The park is really fun to walk around with lots of things to see and do and makes a novel day out.

To get to Nikko Edo Wonderland you can take a free shuttle bus from Nikko train station.

Opening Times: Summer: 9am-5pm/Winter: 9.30am-4pm
Admission: Full Day Pass - ¥4500/Half day Pass - ¥3900
More Information
Website


View 'Must See' Guide: Nikko in a larger map

Where to stay:
On both occasions that I have visited Nikko I have stayed at the Annex Turtle Hotari-An. Although it isn't the cheapest hotel in town it is a lovely, relaxing and friendly place to stay plus there is a small private onsen which is perfect for unwinding in after a long day of sightseeing.
Read my review here

Where to eat:
There are lots of restaurants and cafes in Nikko. One of the most famous amongst western visitors is Hippari Dako a cheap and cheerful eatery on the main high street. The cosy restaurant's walls are covered with hundreds of cards, messages and doodles left by visitors from all over the world attesting to its popularity. A little further down the street is Skylark Gusto Restaurant a chain restaurant popular with local teens and families. Similar to other chains like Saizeriya and Coco's, Gusto serves a mix of japanese and western dishes at reasonable prices from a menu filled with bright glossy pictures. Further still down the hill is Ramen Bonten an authentic noodle shop serving big bowls of hot and tasty ramen. Not exactly a place to eat but still worth a mention is the Lion D'or Supermarket located on one of the back streets near to the train stations. This large supermarket proved very useful during my visits to Nikko for cheap meals and interesting snacks and drinks. As a bonus the supermarket also has a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains from its car park.

All the locations mentioned in this guide can be found on my 'Must See' Guide: Nikko map over on Google Maps.

Further Reading:
If you'd like to know more about the sights and attractions of Nikko or you're planning your own trip you can find out more from these websites:
JNTO
Japan-Guide
Nikko Tourist Association
和-Pedia

You can download useful leaflets about Nikko here:
Tourist Guide to Nikko
Oku-Nikko Hiking Guide
Nikko Historical Walking Map
JNTO's Guide to Nikko and Kinugawa

And more detailed maps here:
Central Nikko
Lake Chūzenji Area

For more of my photos of Nikko go to Flickr:
www.flickr.com
Itsumo Japan's Nikko: July 2006 photoset Itsumo Japan's Nikko: July 2006 photoset

2 comments :

If you want to see the old Japan, go to Nikko. It's a long day trip from Tokyo but all worth a visit.

So true Chris. Nikko has a lovely old-fashioned atmosphere.

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