Nikko is most commonly visited as a day trip from Tokyo via train (2 hours). If you have more time, you can use Nikko as a base to visit Kinugawa, home of the Edo Wonderland Historical Theme Park, as well as the beautiful hiking, viewpoints, and waterfalls near Lake Chuzenji, 1 hour by bus from Nikko.
The first temple in Nikko was founded more than 1,200 years ago along the shores of the Daiya River. However, in 1616, the dying Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made it known that his final wish was for his successors to "Build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as the God. I will be the guardian of peace keeping in Japan." As a result, Nikko became home of the mausoleums of two Tokugawa Shoguns, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Unlike most Japanese temples and shrines, the buildings here are extremely gaudy and ornate, with multicolored carvings and plenty of gold leaf, and show heavy Chinese influence. Some sense of dignity is restored by a magnificent forest of over 13,000 cedar trees, covering the entire area.
However, for all of the grandeur the shoguns could muster, they're now over-shadowed in the eyes of many visitors by a trio of small wooden carvings on a stable wall: the famous three wise monkeys.
A famous Japanese saying proclaims Nikko wo minakereba "kekkō" to iu na. Most tourist literature translates this as "Don't say 'magnificent' until you've seen Nikko", but there's another dimension to this Japanese pun: it can also mean "You shouldn't say 'enough' before you see Nikko", since "kekkō" is used in Japanese as a very polite way of declining an offer.
There are 2 train stations in Nikko: Nikko and Tobu-Nikko. The train stations are 200m from each other and are 2km from the temple attractions. The journey from Tokyo takes approximately 2 hours each way on all train services.There are luggage lockers at Tobu-Nikko Station and JR Nikko Station.
Tobu Trains to/from Asakusa station in Tokyo
Tobu operates hourly trains from from Tobu-Asakusa station in Tokyo/Asakusa. To get to the station, from the Tokyo Asakusa station, take exit 4, and the Tobu train station is visible once you reach street level. The journey costs ¥1360 each way or is included in the purchase of one of 5 passes, which are valid only on travel from Tobu-Asakusa:
These passes can be booked online or at the Tobu Sightseeing Service Center at Asakusa Station. Staff who can speak English, Chinese and Korean are available.
Passes valid only for foreigners:
- All Nikko Pass (¥4520) allows unlimited buses and train access in the Nikko and Kinugawa area and includes some discounts for nearby attractions for 4 days, but does not include entry to the shrines. Recommended for visitors coming to see Nikko's lakes and falls.
- 2Day Nikko Pass (¥2670) covers a round-trip to Nikko and Kinugawa and unlimited buses for world heritage area in 2 days. Some discounts for Kinugawa Theme Park are also included. It does not cover the bus fare to Lake Chuzenji (940 yen each way, Pasmo cards also accepted) This pass does NOT include entry to the shrines and temple.
- Kinugawa Themepark Pass covers round-trip train fare, bus pass and admission to Tobu World Square or Edo Wonderland or both theme parks. These passes cost ¥4080 for Tobu World Square, ¥6180 for Edo Wonderland and ¥7380 for both theme parks.
Passes valid for everyone:
- Marugoto Nikko Free Pass (¥4,520) is valid for travel for 4 consecutive days.
- Marugoto Nikko Kinugawa Free Pass (¥6,150) includes travel to the Kinugawa area
JR trains from Tokyo, Tokyo/Shinjuku, and Ueno Stations in Tokyo
Travel by JR is more expensive than travel by Tobu unless you have a Japan Rail Pass, JR East Pass, or JR Tokyo Wide Pass.
JR Skinkansen trains depart Tokyo and Ueno stations every 60-90 minutes for Utsunomiya (45 minute ride), where you can transfer for a local train to Nikko (45 minute ride).
In addition, trains depart 4 times per day from Tokyo/Shinjuku to Shimo-Imaichi, where you can transfer to a local train to Tobu-Nikko station. The trains from Tokyo/Shinjuku require a reservation and are not included in the Japan Rail Pass; however, they are included in the JR East Pass and the JR Tokyo Wide Pass.
The JR and Tobu stations both have a Tourist Information Center open during daytime hours. Both stations are about two kilometers to the west of the shrine area.
To reach the shrines, you can take a Tobu Bus (bus stop 2C just outside the Tobu Nikko train station, bus fare included in Tobu's World Heritage Pass, about a 6-minute bus ride to the UNESCO World Heritage area), or you can get up close and personal with the neighborhood and use your own two feet, following the pedestrian signs along the main road (Route 119). Getting off at bus stops 81-85 on the Tobu 2C bus line will get you to the shrine and temple area. Halfway between the stations and shrines, there is another Tourist Information Center (591 Gokomachi area; Tel. 0288-53-3795) where you ca get maps, ask questions (some English spoken), use the Internet (¥100/30 minutes), and quench your thirst with water from a small, ladle-drawn waterfall. Also if it is raining, they very happily lend out umbrellas and you are able to drop these off on the way back. Allow about a half-hour or so to walk from the train station to the shrine entrance.
Up until 2013, a cheap combination ticket was sold that included access to Tōshōgū, Rinnō-ji and Futarasan. Following a disagreement in pricing, the combination ticket is no longer sold and you will have to purchase admission to each site separately.
- 1 Tōshōgū (東照宮). Apr-Oct 8AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 8AM-3:30PM. The burial place of dynasty founder Tokugawa Ieyasu and the most extravagant temple in Nikko. Ieyasu was buried here immediately after his death in 1616, but the present complex was built in 1634 on the order of his grandson Iemitsu. The shrine took 2 years to complete with the efforts of 15,000 workers. Although the surrounding shrine is very ornate, the tomb itself is surprisingly simple and unassuming. ¥1300.
- After two flights of steps you will reach the Sacred Stable, housing a white horse. The most famous symbol here is the carving of the three wise monkeys, who "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil". They're part of a curious series of carvings about the life cycle of a monkey, from giddy childhood to fearful old age. Nearby, you can also find an interesting approximation of an elephant, carved by an artist who had clearly never seen one.
- Yakushi-dō Hall (薬師堂). The Hall of the Medicine Buddha is known for a dragon painting on the ceiling. A monk is usually on hand to speak (Japanese only, some broken English if you're lucky) and strike a special block which produces a sharp, piercing echo if struck directly below the dragon's mouth. This is said to be identical to the cry of a dragon — not quite the roar of English legend but an attention-getter all the same.
- Yomei-mon Gate (陽明門). An incredibly ornate gate with over 400 carvings squeezed in. To the right of the main hall is the way to Ieyasu's tomb, entry to which costs an extra ¥500. Look out for another famous carving, this time of a sleeping cat (nemuri-neko). There are 200 stone steps, and steep ones at that; and then you finally reach the surprisingly simple gravesite itself.
- Taiyuin-byō (大猷院廟). Apr-Oct 8AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 8AM-3:30PM. Iemitsu, the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun and grandson of Ieyasu, is buried here. Smaller, although much more beautiful than Tōshōgū. The main hall and mausoleum can only be viewed from outside. ¥550.
- 2 Rinnō-ji Temple (輪王寺). Apr-Oct 8AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 8AM-3:30PM. Founded by Shodo Shonin, the monk that introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century. Known for its three large Buddha figures (at the Sanbutsudoh Hall portion of Rinnoji Temple) and for the beautiful and peaceful Shōyō-en Garden (逍遥園), the temple is closed for renovation until 2020. The entrance price allows you to see one of the three Buddhas and the renovation works. ¥300 (Garden and Treasure House), ¥400 (Sanbutsudo).
- 3 Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社) (Directly west of Toshogu.). Apr-Oct 9AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 9AM-3:30PM. Originally founded in 782 by Shodo Shonin, the monk that introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century. The existing structure, built in 1617, is the oldest in Nikko. The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Nikko's three holy mountains: Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho, and Mt. Taro. ¥200.
There are a few other sites near the temple area:
- 4 Shinkyō Bridge (神橋), ☎ , fax: . This much-photographed red bridge separates the shrines from the town of Nikko. In feudal times, only the shogun was permitted to cross the bridge, and even today it's barred from pedestrian traffic — although there's a 4-lane highway rumbling right past. You can get a nice view from the sidewalk, but to set foot on the bridge and look down into the gorge below, you'll have to buy a ¥350 ticket from the booth nearby.
- 5 Takino-o Shrine (滝尾神社 Takino-o-jinja), ☎ . This often overlooked mountain shrine is situated slightly up the mountain behind Toshogu and provides a welcome relief from the more crowded areas of Sannai. It takes its name from the picturesque waterfall that greets you at the base of the entrance. You can get there by walking for about 15-20 minutes along an ancient and atmospheric stone path that begins behind the Toshogu Shamusho (office). This path also features several other notable sites such as the Kyosha-do Hall (Japanese Chess pieces are left here as offerings for hopes of a safe birth), the worship hall Kaisan-do and the gravesite of Shodo-Shonin (the latter two are maintained by Rinnoji Temple).
- Kanmangafuchi Abyss. A long series of jizo protector statues on the side of a hill, some adorned with hats and bibs, some crumbling with age, with a river, small waterfalls and rapids below. Legend says that the statues change places from time to time, and a visitor will never see them in the same order twice. It can be tricky to find - at Shinkyō, instead of heading up the steps to the temple area, follow the road around to the west (to the left, if you crossed over the bridge) and walk roughly half an hour following the river - look for signs along the way. You will be walking through a residential area. If you pass the Turtle Inn, you are heading in the correct direction.
- 6 Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park (日光田母沢御用邸記念公園) (Next to the Botanical Garden.), ☎ . W-M 9AM-4:30PM. Built for the Emperor Taisho in 1899, the former imperial villa also served as a hide-out for Hirohito during World War II.
- Nikko Botanical Garden (May-Nov Tu-Su 9AM-4:30PM), ☎ . Has plenty of the local flora and gardens that were said to be favorites of the Emperor Taisho. It's now an adjunct to Tokyo University.
Lake Chuzenji-area attractions
The Lake Chuzenji-area can be reached by taking bus #1 or #2 from the Nikko or Tobu-Nikko train stations and remaining on the bus past the temple area. The journey takes approximately 1 hour.
- 7 Kegon Falls (華厳滝) (Bus stop #24). 8AM-5PM; Winter: 9AM-4:30PM. One of Japan's top 3 waterfalls, Kegon Falls features a 97-meter drop. A viewpoint offers spectacular photo opportunities. In the winter, the falls freeze, offering a unique scene. ¥550.
- Akechidaira View Point (Bus stop #23) - You can take a cable car (¥730 9AM-4PM) to a viewpoint of Mount Nantaisan, Kegon Falls, and Lake Chuzenji.
- Lake Chuzenji - (Bus stop #26) - The highest lake in Japan, this lake has cool temperatures in the summer and is surrounded by summer villas of the rich. Sightseeing boats (hourly, 9:30AM-3:30PM; Winter: 10:30AM-2:30PM) offer spectacular views.
- Ryuzu Falls (Bus stop #35) - A cascade down rocky steps. In spring, this waterfall is surrounded by azalea flowers and in autumn, it is surrounded by lush colorful foliage.
- Odashirogahara Plateau (Bus stop #36) - An area of wetlands surrounded by Mongolian oak groves. Famous for a lone birch tree known as the Lady of Odashirogahara
- Senjogahara Plateau (Bus stop #38) - Wetlands with a wooden raised path for hiking (2 hours, circular trail). Beautiful flowers.
- Yudaki Falls (Bus stop #40) - A 70-meter cascade flowing from Lake Yunoko. There is a view point at the basin of the falls.
- Lake Yunoko (Bus stop #41) - A pretty lake surrounded by a hiking trail (1 hour).
- Nikko National Park. Offers plenty of hiking opportunities.
- National Route 120 heads from the center of town into the park, passing Mt. Nantai and Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖 Chuzenji-ko) on its way to the Senjogahara Plateau, where the gods of Mt. Nantai and Mt. Akagi are said to have battled for possession of Lake Chuzenji - with several animal and insect transformations and archery experts involved in Mt. Nantai's eventual victory. There's a 6.3km walking course of the plateau; allow a little over two and a half hours. Lake Chuzenji itself is surrounded by hiking trails ranging from 4.6km (an hour and a half) to 19.7km (six hours), and also has rowing and motor boat facilities in the warm season. The area is sometimes called Oku-Nikko (奥日光 Oku-Nikko), meaning "Inner Nikko".
- Route 120 then crosses over the Yukawa River and passing the Yudaki Falls, Lake Yunoko and the Yumoto spa and ski slopes to the northwest of the city, eventually reaching Mt. Shirane and Lakes Kirikomi and Karikomi, which have their own walking courses.
- Once inside the park, special "low-pollution hybrid" buses run from a depot at Akanuma, near the Yukawa River and the Ryuzu Falls, to the nature preserve at Senjugahama, on the western shores of Lake Chuzenji. Parking is free at Akanuma, but the road to Senjugahama is closed to all other vehicles.
- A short walk south from the center of town will get you on a strenuous but rewarding hiking trail to the summit of Mt. Nakimushi (鳴虫山 Nakimushiyama). Allow a few hours for a return trip.
- Adventurous hikers might want to take the city bus to Matō, down National Route 122 in the far southwestern corner of Nikko city territory, in order to hike to Akagane Shinsui Koen (Copper Hydro Park), billed as Japan's Grand Canyon, as pollution has killed all the trees and left the valley bare. The infamous Ashio copper mine was located nearby. (See Kiryu for details.)
- Woodsman's Village, 4401-1 Naka-Okorogawa, Nikko-shi, Tochigi, Japan (By Car: From Tokyo take Tohoku Highway to the Nikko Utsunomiya Toll Road about 2 and 1/2 hours. Get off at the Imaichi IC. It takes about 20 minutes from Imaichi to Woodsmans Village; By Train: From Asakusa, Tokyo Take the Limited express on the Tobu Railways (Nikko Line) to Shimoimaichi Station, this takes about 1 and 1/2 hours. Then you have two options: walk to the Imaichi JR station (takes about 10 minutes) and take the Okorogawa Bus or you can also take a taxi, which should cost about ￥4,500.), ☎ . Woodsman's Village is a place in the beautiful hills of Nikko, where one can rent a log cabin for a certain length of time to stay in. Also, there is an option for renting a barbecue grill.
- 1 Nikko Kirifuri Ice Arena, 2854 Tokorono, Nikko-shi, Tochigi, Japan (from Nikko st Take a Bus or you can also take a taxi.), ☎ . Home arena of Nikkō Ice Bucks of the Asia League Ice Hockey. No competition day, play ice skating. children: ¥650, Adults: ¥1,310.
Aside from the usual good luck charms at the shrines and souvenir shops selling phone straps of Hello Kitty in local dress there are several interesting secondhand shops along Hippari Dako selling used kimono, antiques and knick knacks. Many stores also sell yuba, the 'skin' that forms on top when making tofu, in packages that can be taken home to enjoy.
Yuba, the 'skin' that forms on top when making tofu, seems to be everywhere in Nikko. Even if you're not a fan of tofu, it tastes pretty good, especially with soba (buckwheat noodles in a soup broth). Yuba is also one of the most typical edible omiyage from Nikko.
- Hippari Dako (On main street just before the shrines.). Enshrined in Lonely Planet, every other foreign tourist to Nikko seems to stop here for yakitori (Japanese chicken kebabs) and noodles, so you might as well join the crowd. Every available space is plastered with business cards and scribbled recommendations from visitors. Their menu contains several vegetarian options as well. This restaurant is generally not recommended among locals and seems to thrive off the fact that they speak English. ¥500 and up.
- 1 Gurumans Wagyu, Tokorono 1541 (3-4 minutes taxi from Nikko Station.), ☎ . 11:30AM-2PM, 5:30PM-7:30PM. Wagyu (Japanese beef) steak restaurant. Reservation needed. The dress code is not too strict, but no sandals, no running wear.
- Shiawaseya Hakuun (Turn right as you come out of Toba Nikko Station. It is almost the last shop on your right before the traffic signal.). A great place to have a cup of tea and something sweet whilst waiting for your train or bus. Endless green tea comes with everything. Try the anmitsu (¥400) a dessert made up of fruit, bean jam and molasses.
There is a small alcohol shop across from the station that is run by an old couple and has an interesting selection of world beers.
Nikko can be covered in a busy day trip from Tokyo, but it's also a good place to spend the night, especially in a traditional Japanese ryokan guesthouse. The shrines are quite atmospheric early in the morning and at dusk, when the tour buses are not around.
There are several campsites in Nikko, although only Narusawa (+81 288-54-3374) and Ogurayama (+81 288-54-2478) are open year-round; several others run from April to mid-November or July to August.
- 1 SPACE riverhouse, Minami Okorogawa, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: noon. A remote hostel, surrounded by nature on the riverside with a ambient chillout lounge overlooking the river. Great Western breakfast. ¥4,000.
- 2 Nikko Suginamiki Youth Hostel (日光杉並木ユースホステル), 2112-7 Kiwadashima, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 4PM-9PM, 6PM for those having dinner, check-out: 10AM. ¥3112 for Hostelling International members, ¥3667 otherwise.
- 3 [dead link] Nikko Minshuku Narusawa Lodge, 1462-22 Tokorono, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. A Japanese traditional guest house. ¥3,675.
- 4 Nikko Guesthouse Sumica, 5-12 Aioi-cho, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 11AM. A traditional Japanese guest house, located a few minutes from the Tobu and JR stations. Friendly owners. ¥2,600-3,800.
- 5 Nikko Tokanso, Sannai 2335, ☎ . A traditional Japanese guest house walking distance to the UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples. The staff are helpful and friendly. The rooms are very clean, and the futons are comfortable. They have private half baths (sink + toilet). The main bathtub/onsen is public (shared among hotel guests), but you can reserve the private "family bath" for 50 minutes during your stay for no extra charge — this is a great way to get a private onsen experience, plus the antechamber to the private onsen has a sink and hair dryer. The dinner (¥3000 per person, served in a common dining room, reserve dinner time at check in on a first-come, first-serve basis — reservations for dinner can also be made at time of room booking) a great value (many dishes) and cultural experience. Breakfast is available for ¥1000, first service at 7:30AM. There is free coffee and tea in the lobby, as well as a public use computer with Internet. Information packets (in the guest room) are translated into English, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Spanish. ¥3600 per person.
- 6 Annex Turtle Hotori-An, 8-28 Takumi-cho, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. About fifteen minutes on foot from Shinkyō Bridge, in a quiet area near the Kanmangafuchi Abyss; includes a hot spring bath and internet access. Japanese-style rooms ¥6,500 for one person, ¥12,400 for two, ¥17,700 for three.
- 7 Catnip Bed & Breakfast (キャット二ップ), ☎ . This comfortable family-run B&B is a fair hike from the station but the 40 minute walk is beautiful and the owners promise you a free beer on arrival. Alternatively you can take the #6 bus or arrange to be picked up from the station. The rooms are spacious and charming, with shared bathrooms. The owners speak fantastic English. ¥5000 per adult or ¥4000 for children for the first night, there is a ¥1000 discount for each subsequent night and a hot breakfast is included.
- 8 Forest Inn Nikko Teddy Bear House (日光テディベアハウス), 1543-507 Tokorono, ☎ , fax: . A place to rest your head for the night, and a private collection of teddy bears to peruse! Japanese and Western-style rooms ¥5,250 for one person, ¥10,500 for two, ¥15,750 for three.
- 9 Nikko Park Lodge (日光パークロッジ), 2828-5 Tokorono, ☎ . This laid-back, friendly and unapologetic lodge is located about twenty minutes' walk from the town center, although the owner is happy to provide rides to and from the train stations (and to the temple area in the morning). There are twin, double and four-person rooms at ¥3990 per person. English is spoken. The lounge has comfortable sofas and a warm stove for the winter. Although most of the rooms have showers, there are lovely Japanese-style hot baths on the first floor. Zen yoga classes are offered every morning at 7AM for ¥300. A simple breakfast is ¥395 and the vegan 'zen' dinner (¥1800, reservation required) is recommended, but be prepared to spend a couple of hours waiting for your meal after the advertised starting time. Parking is available.
- 10 [dead link] Nikko Inn (日光イン) (right in front of Tobu Shimogoshiro Station (about 20 minutes by train from Tobu Nikko Station)), ☎ . Traditional Japanese style accommodation located in a farm village, with a professed interest in helping "Japanese people rediscover Japan and foreigners experience Japanese culture". Pricing is complicated, but basically you pay ¥5000 per person per night, plus a one-time "facility charge" of ¥3000-4500 depending on which cottage you stay in.
- 11 Turtle Inn Nikko, 216 Takumi-cho, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. About ten minutes to the temple area; includes a hot spa bath and internet access. Japanese and Western-style rooms ¥4,880 for one person, ¥9,000 for two, ¥12,600 for three.
- 12 Logette Sainbois, 1560 Tokorono, ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. A strangely French name for a pleasant little guesthouse a short walk from Toba Nikko station. Run by an old Japanese couple who moved here for the quiet life. The guesthouse has small and cosy western style rooms, a communal Japanese bath, and serves excellent breakfasts and dinners. Lifts to and from the station are easily arranged. Adequate English is spoken, credit cards accepted, free LAN internet in the lobby. ¥6,500 per night, dinner ¥2,000, breakfast ¥800.
- 14 Senhime Monogatari (千姫物語), 6-48 Yasukawa-cho (5 minute taxi ride from JR Nikko Station), ☎ , fax: . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Modern ryokan with both traditional Japanese and Western Japanese rooms. Indoor and outdoor hot springs available 24 hours/day. Impeccable traditional Japanese dinners utilizing a multitude of fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. Choice of Western or Japanese style breakfast. Very personal service, English spoken well. Every room has a beautiful view of the Otani River. Located about 1000 feet from Tōshōgū Shrine. ¥15,000.
- 15 Tōkansō (東観荘), 2335 Sannai, ☎ , fax: . A well-located ryokan used to English-speaking guests, the flip side is the large size and consequently impersonal service. ¥9450.
- Kirifuri Highlands — waterfalls, hiking and skiing
- Kinugawa — hot springs and the offbeat Tobu World Square/Edo Wonderland theme parks
- Yumoto — hot spring resort perched by another lake（yudaki-falls）, 30 minutes deeper into the hills.
- Those with an interest in pottery or steam locomotives may enjoy Mashiko on the way back to Tokyo.
|Routes through Nikko|
|END ←||N S||→ Tochigi → Kasukabe → into → Tokyo Skytree|
|Aizu Wakamatsu ← into Yagan Railway ← Shin Fujiwara ← Kinugawa ←||N S||→ END|
|END ←||W E||→ Imaichi → Utsunomiya|
|END ←||W E||→ Imaichi → Utsunomiya|
|Numata ← Katashina ←||W E||→ END|
|Yonezawa ← Aizu Wakamatsu ← Kinugawa ←||N E||→ Utsunomiya → Mooka → Mashiko|
|END ←||N S||→ Kiryu → Ota → Tatebayashi|
|END ←||W E||→ Daigo → Takahagi → Hitachi|