Situated in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is a small city in Japan’s Nikko National Park, north of Tokyo. Rich in history and culture, it is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Shrines and Temples of Nikko” in the Nikko National Park, and is a place of great natural beauty. Its spectacularly scenic landscape is dotted with mountains, forests, waterfalls, hot springs, lakes, and beautiful hiking trails…even wild monkeys!
This unique place certainly packs a punch with plenty to see and do, and together with Tobu Railway, we’ve rounded up a guide on getting the most out of your visit to Nikko.
Getting to Nikko is simple and easy thanks to Tobu Railway. Tobu Nikko station is just under a two-hour scenic train journey from Tokyo’s Asakusa station on the Tobu Skytree Line. The journey is made all the more comfortable with Tobu Railway’s limited express carriage, ‘SPACIA’, featuring comfortable seats, as well as private rooms which are ideal for groups and families travelling together. There’s also free WiFi which is handy for posting all those great sightseeing snaps along the way.
Whether you just want quick trip out of Tokyo to check out Nikko’s top sights or you’re after a truly immersive experience and wish to explore the area over a few days, there are some great Tobu Railway discount passes to take the hassle out of your transportation.
The Nikko City Area Pass is a two-day free-board pass for the Nikko-Kinugawa district railroad, as well as buses running through the World Heritage Area. There is also a Theme Park & Nikko City Area Pass which is the same as above, but also includes buses through the Kinugawa Area and admission to Tobu World Square and EDO WONDERLAND Nikko Edomura.
The Nikko All Area Pass is ideal for those wishing to explore more of the area surrounding Nikko City, giving you four days of free-board travel for the Nikko-Kinugawa railroad, buses through the World Heritage Area and also the Okunikko Area.
All three passes are available for purchase from Asakusa Sation in Tokyo and online.
Where to stay and eat
Established in 1873, Nikko Kanaya Hotel is Japan’s oldest resort hotel and has hosted famous guests such as Albert Einstein throughout its illustrious history. The hotel is within walking distance to most popular attractions and its beautiful, nostalgic architecture and design is a sight to behold. Rooms are spacious and well-maintained with comfortable furnishings and the hotel is renowned for its traditional cuisine of local curries made from recipes that have been handed down for more than 100 years.
Another great option is the Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel. Situated near the shore of Lake Chuzenjiko, this hotel is especially popular for its incredibly beautiful and tranquil natural surroundings. There is a free shuttle bus from Tobu Nikko station to the hotel, a range of comfortably appointed rooms and suites, a restaurant overlooking the lake and serving traditional Japanese cuisine, and a wonderful natural spring onsen, perfect for soaking in after a day of hiking and sightseeing.
Regional food reigns in Nikko and a visit here would be incomplete without trying the local delicacies.
From the surrounding rivers, lakes and streams, theres ayu (sweetfish) which is served skewered, salted and roasted over hot coals from street vendors. One of the most popular specialties is yuba–the skin that forms on the top of soymilk. This milky delicacy is served like sashimi, with soy sauce and wasabi.
In summer, a popular and refreshing treat is kakigori–Nikko natural shaved rice. Made with ice harvested from naturally frozen spring water in and around Nikko, the treat is topped with your choice of fruit syrups and condensed milk.
Be certain to sample shojin ryori–the traditional vegetarian cuisine eaten by Buddhist monks. Gyoshintei restaurant offers multi-course spreads served in a traditional setting with kimono-clad wait staff.
There are also plenty of restaurants specilaising in ‘yoshuku’, meaning Western food, but in practice is a hybrid of old-fashioned dishes tweaked for Japanese tastes. The most famous place to try it is Meiji-no-yakata, which serves up yoshuku classics such as hayashi rice–hashed beef in a glazed sauce over sticky rice.
What to see and do
With its incredible history and natural wonders, there is never any shortage of things to see and do in Nikko.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site “Shrines and Temples of Nikko” features 103 historic structures including ancient Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. It includes the famous and generously decorated Nikko Toshogu shrine and mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled the country from more than 250 years. Others to look out for are the Nikkozan Rinnoji Temple, which consists of around 40 halls and towers, and three main temples in the Sannai area of Nikko, and Nikko Futarasan Shrine which is one of the oldest buildings in the area. It is said that visiting this particular shrine will bring the visitor good luck.
For a perfect photo-op, head to Daiya-gawa River where the glossy red Shinkyo Bridge sits arched over the river’s rushing torrents.
Get an unforgettable view of Nikko, by taking the Akechidaira Ropeway up to the observation deck at Panorama Rest House where you can look out over Kegon Falls, Mt. Nantai and Lake Chuzenji, the highest lake in Japan.
Take a hike through the many wonderful trails on offer, suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Head to Kegon Falls and watch the water come crashing 97 metres down from Lake Chuzenji. You can get even closer to the action by going down to the Kanbakudai, a waterfall observation area, by elevator. There are plenty of other stunning waterfalls to discover in the area, such as Ryuzu Falls, Yudaki Falls and Kirifiri Falls. There are also plenty of boat excursions to enjoy on Lake Chuzenji.
One of the most interesting walks is through the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, where the famous statues of Jizo, (Buddhist protector of children and travellers), reside. This peaceful, sometimes eerie, spot was formed by lava which erupted from Mt Nantai and features around 70 jizo statues lining the trail–it is said that each time the statues are counted, the number is different, hence the name Bake Jizo, meaning Ghost Jizo.
Architecture buffs will love the stunning Tamozawa Imperial Villa, which was built for the Emperor Taisho in 1899. It features a blend of three different architectural styles from the Edo, Meiji, and Taisho periods, transporting visitors to the Imperial culture of a time gone by.
After all that sightseeing, its time for a bit of rest and relaxation. Dating back nearly 1,200 years, Yumoto Onsen is a natural, sulfurous hot spring town located next to Lake Yunoko in Nikko National Park, an area rich in volcanic activity. In the north part of town is the Buddhist temple Onsenji, which has a small hot spring bath open to the public and a soak in its mineral rich water will leave you feeling purified both mentally and physically.
When to go
Just like the rest of Japan, each season in Nikko is unique and beautiful in its own right, and Nikko offers a range of experiences that can be enjoyed seasonally as well as year-round.
Spring offers a cool, mild climate and brings with it an abundance of blooming flowers such as the stunning Azaleas surrounding Ryuzu Falls, and many spring time festivals. The Tosho-gu Grand Festival is Nikko’s biggest annual festival, with many celebrations and festivities taking place on 17 and 18 May. The Yayoi Festival welcomes the Spring season with colourful floats paraded around town.
Summer tends to be warm and humid and Lake Chuzenji, which is located high up in the mountains, provides a breezy and tranquil respite from the heat on even the hottest August days.
Autumn paints the area in vibrant shades of red, gold and orange and is arguably the most beautiful time of year to visit, while winter brings fields of snow to the region, ideal for laid back snowshoe excursions through the snowy, white fields of Senjogahara and Yumoto.
Images supplied by Tobu Railway ©TOBU RAILWAY