Japan has provided the world with a variety of tourist spots – and one of them is Nikko. Located in the northwestern region of Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is teeming with natural wonders, historical temples, sacred shrines – and Yuba! Nikko was the place where people came to worship the mountain gods – and while the practice has long since stopped, the mystical air is still there, luring people in and cleansing their soul and mind while providing a perfectly authentic Japanese experience!
There are only three waterfalls that are considered to be the most mesmerizing ones in Japan – and one of them is Nikko’s own, Kegon Falls. It is an ethereal, 100-metre-tall waterfall and is an only exit for the glittering waters of Lake Chuzenji. The falls came into existence when the beautiful Daiya River changed its course due to lava flows. One can gaze at the falling waters from two places – a free observation platform, accessible by foot and a paid observation platform, located right at the falls’ base. The trees clustered around the waterfall are at their most beautiful in autumn, while the frozen falls in winter are equally fascinating. Listed as one of the ‘Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls’ in 1990, Kegon Falls is a must-visit attraction.
Visit the mountains above Nikko and you will stumble across a beautiful, 20,000 years old lake, Lake Chuzenji. It lies at the foot of Nikko’s sacred volcano, Mount Nantai, whose volcanic eruptions birthed the lake permanently. The lake’s shores are untouched, wild and forested, even after all these years, except for the eastern end of the lake, where the town Chuzenjiko Onsen is situated. The northern shores are not only the termination point of the Yukawa River but also where Ryuzu Waterfalls rests. People are seen hiking around Lake Chuzenji’ circumference of 25 kilometres through the surrounding walking trails. Visit the Chuzenjiko Skyline, from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the lake for free. The lake provides a whole lot of attractions and activities – make sure you enjoy them all!
If you’re looking for the ultimate hiking experience in Nikko, waste no time in reaching Senjogahara Marshland. It stands 1400 metres above the sea level and covers the land between Yumoto Onsen and Lake Chuzenji. There are many trails in the marshland, but one of the popular ones is the Nature Trail of almost 3 hours, running alongside Yukawa River’s course, with beautiful views of the surroundings. The place is bursting in vibrant colours during summer; the autumn paints the view in beautiful red-golden colours, while in winter, the marshland looks like a snowy paradise. There are more than 350 types of plants, where many species of wild birds have made their homes. Wear your trekking shoes and get ready to enjoy the day amidst nature!
Once you have taken your fill of Lake Chuzenji, gaze across the southeast side and your eyes will land upon the magnificent Mount Hangetsuyama. The mount is popular for hiking, as there are a variety of accessible hiking trails that lead straight to the mountain top. For those who are not excited to climb all the way up the mountain, they can opt for rental vehicles. These go as far as three quarters up the mountain from a beautiful winding road, i.e. the Chuzenjiko Skyline. Once there, you can either enjoy the scene from that spot – or continue hiking up to the summit. The observation deck of the top offers some amazingly picturesque views of the surrounding area – something that shouldn’t be missed out on!
Yuba is nothing but tofu skin, which is thrown away in other parts of the world – but is a versatile dish in Nikko. It is used in a wide variety of dishes, including noodles, dumpling, burgers, curries and drinks, as Tsuruya Yuba is seen doing. It is one of the top-most restaurants in Nikko, specializing in all-things-yuba. The menu is oriented all towards yuba, with yuba soba, yuba udon and yuba rice bowls being the popular dishes. The restaurant is a large space, with a friendly atmosphere and a blend of casual and traditional Japanese architecture. If you are looking for yuba-based products, the restaurant’s souvenir shop is located just beside the restaurant. Tsuruya Yuba, located just a little away from Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls, is an amazing location to enjoy authentic Japanese food - even you'll agree.
All of Nikko’s shrines and temples are located near each other – and this sacred cluster can be accessed only by the sacred path, i.e. The Shinkyo Bridge. The name literally translates to ‘sacred bridge’, which is rather an apt name. It is one of the most amazing and finest bridges in Japan, the others being Saruhashi in Yamanashi Prefecture and Kintaikyo of Iwakuni. The bridge, crossing the Daiya River, dates back to 17th century, which was itself a reconstruction of a poorly-made structure, with no known date of creation. The mythical origin behind the bridge is a fascinating one, resonating in every particle of the bridge as you walk on it. Cross over Shinkyo Bridge, and you’ll see a beautiful and sacred world waiting for you!
Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine
Hidden deep within the Nikko region is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, named Tosho-gu shrine. He was the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan for more than 200 years. He is now enshrined as the Tosho Daigongen, a deity named ‘Great Deity of the East Shining Light’. The shrine is an amazingly lavish complex, a cluster of buildings in the middle of a beautiful forest. Tosho-gu has amazing wooden carvings and gold leaves adorning the building, the amounts of which are unseen anywhere else in Japan. Attractions such as five-story pagoda, elegant storehouses, Yomeimon Gate, Honjido Hall and the Museums are a must-visit, apart from the main shrine. A beautiful confluence of Shinto and Buddhist elements, the shrine is a peaceful, not-to-miss place.
The grandson of Ieyasu, Iemitsu, was the third Tokugawa Shogun and a person with many amazing political achievements. He was given the name Taiyuin after his death and a Mausoleum of the same name was established, more lavish and modest than the Tosho-gu. A blend of Buddhist and Shinto architecture, it shrine is located just at a short distance from the Tosho-gu shrine. Pass through the Niomon Gate, then through the more elegant Nitenmon Gate and you’ll finally step at the Karamon Gate, which is the entrance to the Haiden, i.e. the beautifully designed praying hall. The haiden leads to Honden, i.e. the main hall, whereas at the end of the halls is the sacred mausoleum, making you Taiyuin experience reverential and wholesome.
Showcasing an uncanny mix of traditional Edo architecture and early modern Meiji Period design is the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, built-in 1899. It was moved from Tokyo to Nikko, having built, in the later period, around the already existing pieces from the original structure. It belonged to the Tokugawa family, before being used as the Imperial Palace. Nikko’s Palace was meant to be the same thing, but World War II brought neglect to it. The villa was then opened for public in 2000 and has been one of the favourite tourist destinations to date. The villa is one of the largest wooden buildings, not just in Nikko but also in Japan, complete with a maple-filled Japanese style garden – and a must-visit too!
Nikko has many hidden gems tucked away in the folds of its civilization – and one of those offbeat attractions is Kanmangafuchi Abyss. It is a beautiful gorge, only several hundred meters long, providing the visitors with a riverside walking trail. What people are impressed by is the row of 70 stone statues of Jizo, which is a Bodhisattva helping the deceased. The line of the Jizo statues here is referred to as Bake Jizo, meaning Ghost Jizo, as one can never count the number of statues erected there. This heavenly place was formed some 7000 years ago, due to the Mount Nantai’s fortunate volcanic eruption. The result, as we see it today, is this extraordinarily fascinating abyss, where peace reigns among the flowing waters and red-capped Jizo.
Cascading down from an impressive height of 75 metres, is the two-tiered, beautiful waterfall, below the Kirifuri Highlands. The lush greenery surrounding the blue, foaming waterfall is an eye-pleasing sight, thanks to the relaxing pitter-patter of the drops and the confluence of bright and beautiful shades of red, green, orange and blue. ‘Kirifuri’ means ‘falling mist’ in Japanese – and that is exactly the case of this fall. A wooden observation deck, high up in the surrounding mountains, gives a mesmerizing view of the falls and is easily accessible from a paved trail. Public toilets and a few restaurants are lined up by the bus stop. Gaze at the Kirifuri falls, have some delicious snacks at the restaurants – and you’ll go home with a content heart.
Tobu World Square
At Tobu World Square, the whole world will be at your feet! It is a theme park located in Nikko’s Kinugawa Onsen and features a handful of replicas of renowned buildings from around the world, all of them on the scale of 1:25. These replicas are big on UNESCO-designated World Cultural and Heritage Sites. To make the replicas more realistic, there are more than 100,000 miniature people placed around them. The park is categorized into different zones, on the basis of the regions, such as the Japan Zone, Europe Zone, Egypt Zone, Asia Zone, America zone and not to forget, the Modern Japan Zone. Amidst all these, there are shops and restaurants that offer dishes and products from around the world, thus completing this wholesome experience.
Katayama Sake Brewery
Katayama Sake Brewery has taken ‘using quality water’ to a whole new level! The Brewery’s founder wanted his Sake to be the best and therefore, only stopped when he found high-quality water, in Nikko’s mountain spring water. Sake – or Japanese Rice Wine – of the brewery is made from the ‘Senryosui’ as well as best-quality yeast and rice, with the techniques used being traditional and less efficient but which provides the purest sake you’ll ever taste. The brewery, quite unsurprisingly, won the place a gold medal at the New Sake Appraisal in Japan. Tours are taken around the brewery, where you can learn about the production process. You will exit the brewery with delicious sake-soaked cakes and bottles of sake in your hand and a big smile on your face.
Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura
Spread over 1223 acres of land, is the beautiful and fascinating park, Edo Wonderland and Nikko Edomura. The area seems as if the Edo period actually left some of their parts, their essence behind – which was then turned into a Japanese cultural theme park. Reflected in the park is the 17th century Japan and the life, beauty and culture of that era. You can dress up – with a rented costume – and stroll in the streets lined with museums, restaurants and shops, enjoy some games and immerse yourself in the performances and shows at the theatre. The park is a mesmerizing one and in no time, you will be feeling like a real Edo citizen!
Nikko Kanaya Hotel
While there are many lodging options in and around Nikko, one of the recommended places is the Nikko Kanaya Hotel. It was established in 1893 and has been a proud host to a number of popular figures, including Helen Keller, Albert Einstein and even King George V. The hotel has a fascinating history, something which resonates within its classical architecture and Western furniture. Japanese-style rooms have been constructed in the newer wing, along with vistas, private bathrooms and spacious quarters. Other amenities include a seasonal outdoor pool, four dining options as well as a souvenir shop and currency exchange services. Let the Nikko Kanaya Hotel pamper you and give you the time of your lives.
Nikko, the Mystical City of Japan, is a beautiful blend of modern air in a traditional atmosphere. The city is a literal embodiment of Kekkō, the Japanese word for magnificent, something that says satisfaction. There’s a reason behind the Japanese saying, “Never say 'Kekkō' until you've seen Nikko” – now you know why.