Nikko Travel Guide
Need a break from the big cities of Central Japan? Nikko is the cure for what ails you, as its position in the mountains which run up the middle of Honshu like a spine ensures that nature is firmly in control here.
There are some temples, but its lakes, waterfalls, and hiking opportunities are the star attractions here.
Come check out our Nikko travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Nikko, Japan.
While much of the Nikko area is attractive to travellers for the nature it offers, there are a number of cultural landmarks worth seeing. The foremost of these is the Toshogu Shrine, as it is a mausoleum which serves as the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of one of Japan’s greatest Shogun dynasties.
Ruling over the whole of Japan for 250 years up until the Meiji Restoration, the normal simplicity of Shinto shrines was disregarded in a bid to show respect to one of Japanese history’s greatest leaders. To that end, you’ll find plenty of gold leaf, numerous sculptures, and a level of elaborate design you simply won’t find in other shrines around Japan.
Another thing that sets this Shinto shrine apart from the others: the integration of Buddhist themes into its decor. Before the Meiji Period, this was common, but once the Restoration arrived, Buddhist elements were stripped out of most shrines across Japan.
This one was the exception, as removing this aspect from a temple designed to pay homage to an influential leader respected by the Japanese people could have sparked an uproar. Thus, its setup was left untouched, which is how it remains to this day.
There are many aspects of nature in Nikko National Park that are worth seeing, but personally, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the Kegon Waterfall. Dropping more than 100 metres into a spectacular gorge, it is ranked by many local travel publications as one of the top three waterfalls in the entire country in terms of beauty.
Providing the only outlet for Lake Chuzenji, this awesome sight is impressive enough from the free observation platform. However, if you are willing to pony up a little extra dough, you’ll be able to access an elevator-serviced platform that offers views so close that you’ll feel the mist from where it impacts the water.
Lake Chuzenji is impressive enough in its own right; after all, it has a volcano at its base, boat tours ferry customers around this alpine gem, and two foreign embassies have villas on their shores. However, if you are looking for a place that offers a more relaxing vibe, we recommend heading up to Yunoko Lake instead.
Situated at a higher elevation than Lake Chuzenji, this body of water spawns a fast-flowing creek which ends in Ryuzu Waterfall, emptying into its lower counterpart. Here, instead of throngs of tourists, you have fishers casting their lines at the shores of a placid lake. Instead of tour boats, people in rowboats, canoes, and kayaks paddle peacefully on its surface.
Note that if you choose to join the locals, you’ll have to buy a licence on the spot. Anything you catch must be released – no fish are permitted to be taken from the lake. Not into paddling or fishing? No matter – there is a circuit trail that will take you around its quiet shores through a serene forest.
However, those looking for one of the best casual hiking experiences in Nikko National Park will want to ensure that a stroll through the Senjogahara Marshland is on their list of things to do. This walk is best done during the fall, as it is at this time when the marsh grasses turn a brilliant crimson colour, and the larch trees a radiant gold.
With clear sight lines to the mountains in the near distance, interpretive signs, and an Onsen close at hand for a post-trek hot soak, this is an experience that no hiker should turn down while there are visiting Nikko National Park.
Travelling as a family in the Nikko area? Help your little ones learn the local culture in a kid-friendly way by spending part of your day at Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura. Not only will you get to see how people lived during the Edo Period, you’ll get to learn about the way of the Samurai and of the Ninja through live shows.
These include everything from song & dance to the throwing of shurikens, so don’t miss it.
See how the Imperial Family spent their summers by touring the Tamozawa Imperial Villa. Boasting Edo and Meiji Period architectural touches, it currently has 106 rooms and is only one-third of its original size, but it is still one of the largest surviving wooden buildings left in Japan.
Looking for more impressive waterfalls after taking in Kegon’s glory? Include Yudaki Falls in your plans as well. While the cataract which drains Lake Yunoko is not as dramatic as the one that empties Lake Chuzenji, its more intimate nature and approachability (for free) will make it a hit nonetheless.