One of the top recommended things to do in Japan is to visit Nikko. This city is filled with important Japanese history, most famous for Toshogu, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. It is only a short train ride from Tokyo and we decided to spend almost a full day in Nikko.
There are a lot of temples and shrines to choose from, but there are a few that are under construction. Some even until 2017! We decided to just go to 1 or 2 temples, since we wanted to see some of the nature in Nikko in its beautiful national park as well. We chose Tosho-gu, the oldest and most important temple of Nikko. The temple sits on a huge territory and there are more buildings to visit on its grounds. What makes this temple so special is that it is surrounded by old cedar trees, which gives it a wonderful atmosphere.
We were at the temple quite early (around 10:00), but it was already filled with lots of tourists. Tomorrow marks the start of Golden Week here in Japan, which means that from now on it will be busy and full everywhere. I didn’t mind having them there, since it didn’t ruin any of the pictures I took 😉
We walked to the Shinkyo bridge after our visit to the temple which took about 10 minutes. The Shinkyo Bridge (translated as “sacred bridge”) is ranked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges. Until 1973, Shinkyo was off limit to the general public. It underwent extensive renovation works in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and visitors can now walk across the bridge and back for an entrance fee. I wouldn’t recommend walking over the bridge though, since the sight of the bridge itself is what makes it special.
We were at the temple longer than we hoped and after some deliberation we decided to go to Lake Chuzenji. This is about a 45 minute busride from JR Nikko station and tickets can be bought at the JR Nikko station. Lake Chuzenji is a scenic lake in the mountains above Nikko. It is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, Nikko’s sacred volcano. The lake was beautiful and the water was so clear. There weren’t many people there at all and Mark and I almost had it all to ourselves.
From there we walked to the Kegon Falls. This waterfall is almost 100 meters tall and is the most famous of Nikko’s many beautiful waterfalls. Kegon Waterfall is the only exit for the waters of Lake Chuzenji.
We thought that there would be a hike closer to the falls, but unfortunately the closest we could get was via an elevator which cost 550 yen. The view from there was pretty, but it would have been so much more impressive if we could have come closer. Our best experience were the Cheonjiyeon waterfalls on Je-ju Island in South Korea. From what I’ve heard, the Kegon Falls is at its prettiest during the fall.
Since we didn’t have to hike to the falls, we had some time left and went back to the tourist information center to ask if there was a hike we could do that didn’t take longer than 2 hours. The women behind the counter recommended the ‘Kanmanganfanguchi’ hike along the Daiwan river which led to an abyss and 70 jizo’s. The Kanmanganfanguchi Abyss was formed by an eruption of nearby Mount Nantai. The jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased, were all lined up and dressed in red. This particular group of Jizo statues is alternately called “Bake Jizo” (Ghost Jizo), “Narabi Jizo” (Jizo in a line) or “Hyaku Jizo” (100 Jizo). The statues look out over the Daiwa river.
We were in Nikko for only 1 day and if you have time, I would definitely recommend staying here 2 or 3 days. We had to skip a lot because of our limited time, but really wished we could hike a little more in the national park of Nikko.
As I am writing this, we are on the Skinkansen from Sendai to Aomori. One of the last places to see the sakura in full bloom and in a beautiful setting is in Hirosaki. It will take us about 4,5 hours to get there, but I’m sure it’s more than worth it. Can’t wait to share the photos!