Nikko is one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo, just two hours away and filled with things to do. A shrine that holds the origin of the Three Wise Monkeys, ninja training attractions, multiple natural sights including mountains and stunning waterfalls, and a national park that spreads across the region. If you are looking to include a visit to Nikko in your Japan itinerary, whether it is for 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month, you should definitely check out TripleLights, as they have over 1,000 local tour guides that can take you to any (or all) of the best destinations in Japan.
1. Toshogu Shrine
Toshogu enshrines Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Shogun (military governor) of the Edo Shogunate (government), and it is also the location of Ieyasu’s grave. It was originally a simple and plain structure but the third Shogun Iemitsu built a host of brilliant shrines. This section introduces the must-see spots of Toshogu shrine. When the temple bell of Rinnoji is sounded at 8 o’clock in the morning, the gate of Toshogu shrine is opened. The shrine begins to get crowded from around 9 o’clock so you would probably want to enter the shrine immediately after the gate is opened. One of the highlights of Toshogu shrine is the animal related ornamentations. What must be mentioned first is the holly stable for the horses that serve the Gods on which the “Three Wise Monkeys” are depicted. The stable features eight pictures depicting the tale of a monkey from when it is born until it becomes a mother. Among these, the famous three monkeys symbolizing “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil (Mi-zaru, Kika-zaru, and Iwa-zaru, a pun between saru or vocalized zaru “monkey” and archaic -zaru “a negative verb conjugation”)” are depicted on the second picture. The meaning behind this picture is to prevent the infant monkey from seeing, hearing or talking about the wickedness of the secular society. Another highlight is the “Sleeping Cat” at the top of Sakashita gate, the entrance to the grave of Ieyasu. This artwork was carved by the grate craftsman of the Edo period (1603 – 1868), Jingoro Hidari. Although it is not well known, sparrows are depicted on the back of the cat. It is said that this design–sparrows playing right next to their predator–symbolizes Ieyasu’s wish to create a peaceful world free of wars and conflicts.
Yomeimon gate, the entrance to the main hall, is the symbol of Toshogu shrine. Dragons are depicted all over the gate. Some of these dragons are portrayed with unconventional characteristics such as hoofs and nostrils, and there are even ones that are depicted without whiskers. According to a Chinese tradition, dragons are a transformed form of carps; meaning, one can ultimately become a grand dragon by practicing daily. There are four columns at the back of the gate. Interestingly, patterns are depicted upside down on the second column from the right. Since it is said that buildings begin to demise from the instant they are completed, one column was purposely left in an incomplete state in hopes that the building will not collapse.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 1,300 / Child: ¥ 450
2. Nikko National Park
Straddled by 3 prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi and Fukushima, the total area is 114,908 hectares. The park inside can be divided into 3 zones (Nikko, Kinugawa/Kuriyama, Nasu Kashi/Shiobara). To enjoy this national park, let us introduce the spots that should be visited first.
Nikko Yumoto Visitor Center is a facility that gives out information on Oku-Nikko in Nikko Yumoto Onsen Town. News on conditions of walking paths and flower blossoming along with a calendar on places to see are displayed. Information on campgrounds, hiking and mountain-climbing is also provided. Oku-Nikko is an area for bears and information about them is a must. Events matching the seasons for walking, bird-watching, snowshoeing, etc. are held all throughout the year.
Next to Lake Chuzenji, the exhibit room on the 2nd floor displays models of the flora and fauna of Oku-Nikko. In the shop, there are many original goods including calendars and bear bells.
The Imperial villa in Nasu was used as a place of rest for Emperor Hirohito. On the 20th year of his reign, the emperor took the opportunity to give half of the villa (560 hectares) as an area to be returned to its natural state, and in 2011, Nasu Heisei-no-Mori Forest was opened. Two areas were organized. The Forest Recreation Zone is an area where you can enjoy a stroll free of charge. It’s even wheelchair-accessible and there’s a path leading up to Komadome Falls. You can go through the forest in about 1 hour. The Forest Learning Zone is a paid zone with a guide. You can enjoy even more rugged nature here with the purpose of learning. English pamphlets are available. An English-speaking guide is possible with prior consultation.
3. Kegon Falls
Kegon Falls is located by the outlet for Lake Chuzenji which was formed from the eruption of Mt. Nantai. The underground water from the steep cliffs flows out forming 12 small waterfalls that are wrapped into the main waterfall which creates a unique scene. Monk Shodo Shonin has been credited as the first discoverer of Nikko, and the name of the waterfall is derived from the sacred book of Buddhism, “Kegon Kyo” (Avatamska Sutra) of the Tendai sect. A waterfall with a long drop in elevation needs a certain amount of water. Around the waterfall basin, the fairly high water pressure flying out feels like a driving rain. The 4.5m-deep basin has a mysterious atmosphere. Designated as a National Place of Scenic Beauty, Kegon Falls has been recognized by many organizations for the wonder of its scenery, including its selection as one of Japan’s 100 geological features. There are observation areas at the top and bottom of the falls. An elevator at the base of the falls goes down 100 m, and through an underground path, you can reach the waterfall basin. Spanning 3 floors, you can freely come and go. Following the rainy season and typhoons, the amount of water rises and you can witness a lively show of huge sound and water spray.
From Akechi-Daira Observation Platform, you can take in the entire view of the waterfall flowing from Lake Chuzenji. Taking 35 minutes by bus from Tobu-Nikko Station, there is the ropeway going up near the end of the No. 2 Iroha slope that will take you from Akechi-Daira Station to Akechi-Daira Observation Platform (a 3-minute ride). You can feel the grand scale of the sight that cannot be seen from the bottom.
Kegon Falls does not freeze over. However, in January and February, the 12 small surrounding waterfalls do. Due to this, the waterfall as a whole takes on a blue color and as a result, the effect has been called blue ice. The spring and fall are fine, but the waterfall of snow and ice also leaves a considerably deep impression.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 550 / Child: ¥ 330
4. Yutaki Waterfall
The Yukawa River which begins from Mt. Nikko-Shirane, one of the 100 Famous Mountains in Japan, was dammed up from activity from the Mitake eruption which created Lake Yu-no-ko. Yutaki Waterfall flows from that lake. The bare rock made from lava measures 50m in height and the waterfall flows at a maximum width of 25m into the basin. The water temperature is slightly high due to the water gushing out from many source springs around the lake. During times like winter when the temperature is low, steam rising from the flow gave rise to the name “Yutaki” (hot water falls). The water from the Yukawa River goes from Lake Yu-no-ko over Yutaki Waterfall to Senjougahara, and then over Ryuzu Falls into Lake Chuzenji and then over Kegon Falls, which means that the water flows over the three famous falls in Oku-Nikko. There are observation points and places where you can see nature up close at Yutaki Waterfall which is the waterfall at the highest altitude of 1400m. There is a walking path beside the falls so you can view them at 3 points from the top, the side and at the basin. In particular, there is an intensity at the basin observation point of being able to approach the falls and view them right in front of your eyes. The area around Yutaki is famous for azalea and rhododendron. In Oku-Nikko, there are many hiking courses, but along the Yukawa River there are courses ideal for beginners that take you through Senjougahara. They are popularly used from spring to autumn even during the rainy season.
The Yutaki resthouse is located at the foot of the falls and is a resting area where you can enjoy having a meal while viewing the falls. There are also hiking course spots that stretch out all over Oku-Nikko, and there is fishing in the Yukawa River and birdwatching along with rest points which can also be used as photo locations. Tempura of yuba (tofu skin) and maitake mushrooms which are delicacies in Nikko are popular.
5. Edo Wonderland
The borders and town streets, the downtown area and samurai residences, everything is built as structures from the Edo Era. The staff boost up the atmosphere. Everyone changes completely into samurai, ninja and Edo town residents, and fights and detective stories play out for real along the roadsides. You will enjoy yourselves no matter when and where you are. There are few places to get warm, and from around 2 p.m. in winter, the cold intensifies so please dress up for the weather.
You can masquerade yourself as a citizen of the Edo Era such as a ninja, samurai, feudal lord, princess, artisan or female swordsperson, etc. for a day. The staff will even address you as that transformed character.
You will learn 5 disciplines (wall-climbing, crawling above ceilings, navigating through traps, underground infiltration, shuriken throwing). Experience the arts of protecting yourself and deception.
This is a huge maze. There are also tricks that aren’t present in the usual mazes. It is exceptionally hard but emergency exits are available.
You will have plenty of Edo Era amusement such as ninja, sword battles, water tricks, and courtesan dances. Spectacular performances will be right in front of your eyes.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 4,700 / Child: ¥ 2,400
Need help building your itinerary for Nikko?
You can check out all different types of tours hosted by TripleLights, and then get help from a professional local tour guide in Nikko or join a private tour group to have a hassle-free experience in Nikko. That means eliminating the concern of language or cultural barriers, getting lost in Japan, and not knowing where the most authentic places to eat are! Check out all the different activities that are occurring in Nikko for a better idea of what you would like your customized itinerary to include, and then feel free to send a message to any of the Nikko tour guides for a personalized trip schedule as well as a price quotation.
Trust me, having a private guide is going to make your trip so much more convenient and memorable as you can have all your questions answered immediately about Nikko and its cultural attractions. In addition, if you are trying to visit all the temples and shrines in a short amount of time, it may be inconvenient to travel by foot or by public transportation, so I would recommend taking a look at the private car tours that are offered so that you can maximize the time that you have in Nikko and make sure to hit all the highlights!
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