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Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture is a gift of nature with amazing autumn foliage, beautiful mountain & forest sceneries, and plenty of wildlife to spot. It is also one of the most religiously important places in Japan with Nikko Toshogu and Rinnoji Temple. Onsens are also some of the area’s greatest attractions.
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Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture is one of the most historical cities in Japan, especially when it comes to religious origins. It is a sacred place to both Shintoism and Buddhism with Nikko Toshogu Shrine (Shinto) and Rinnoji Temple (Buddhism) as significant places not just historically but religiously as well.
Rinnoji Temple dates back as early as the 800s when Buddhism was first introduced to Japan. In fact, the temple was actually established by Shodo Shonin whom we have to thank for the Buddhist faith in Japan.
In Nikko Toshogu Shrine’s case, it is around 400 years old. First built as a simple structure, it was renovated into the magnificent structure it is today. Fitting for the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu as he wanted.
※ Nikko City Tourism Association, "History and Culture" ※ Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., "Nikkō"
For some ideas of what to do in Tochigi Prefecture as a whole:
Tochigi Prefecture: Strawberries, Flowers, Gyoza and More
Nikko's rich history in Shintoism and Buddhism makes visiting a perfect opportunity to learn for those who wish to know more about Japan's religion and history. It’s also a special trip for people wishing to renew or strengthen their faith.
Here are some notable shrines and temples within Nikko to visit:
Built to enshrine Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first ot the Tokugawa shoguns and one of Japan’s Great Unifiers, Nikko Toshogu was rebuilt into its present majestic form by Tokugawa Iemitsu, Ieyasu’s grandson and also the 3rd Tokugawa shogun. It is one of three properties that make up the UNESCO World Heritage collection - Shrines and Temples of Nikko. Aside from that, Toshogu Shrine is also home to many Japan designated Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures. Built during a time when Shintosim and Buddhism coexisted, one of Toshogu’s greatest features is the blend of Shinto and Buddhist architecture and designs.
※ UNESCO, “Shrines and Temples of Nikko”
Established more than 1,000 years ago by Shodo Shonin, the monk responsible for introducing Buddhism to Japan, Rinnoji Temple is a symbolic and treasured Buddhist Temple. The temple houses several priceless artefacts including golden statues of Amida Buddha and other religious figures. The temple’s 38 buildings are considered UNESCO’s Shrines and Temples of Nikko. The temple’s main hall, called Sanbutsudo, is the largest wooden structure in Nikko and also eastern Japan.
※ Nikko Official Guide, “Nikkosan Rinnoji Temple”
Considered part of Rinnoji Temple is Taiyuin, the mausoleum temple of Tokugawa Iemitsu. Similar to Nikko Toshogu Shrine, it contains both Shinto and Buddhist elements but is considered a Buddhist temple. The temple’s design is humble, as requested by Iemitsu himself in respect of his grandfather’s more grandiose shrine. Many National Treasure artefacts and structures can be found in the temple’s complex, as well as designated cultural properties.
With an earlier history than Nikko Toshogu Shrine is Futarasan Shrine that was established in 767. The shrine worships a family of deities, namely Onamuchi the father, Tagorihime the mother, and Ajisukitakahikone the son. It is the final property to make up UNESCO’s Shrines and Temples of Nikko. The shrine is home to many National Treasures and important cultural properties including Shinkyo Bridge, a picturesque vermillion bridge a short distance from Rinnoji Temple.
Nikko is a popular area for enjoying hot springs. Here are some choice onsen spots to have a good soak:
Located within Nikko National Park is Yumoto Onsen hot spring town. Although small, this onsen town has a number of ryokan facilities offering quality hot springs to rejuvenate your body and spirit. Right next to a lake and surrounded by mountains, the town is also a beautiful sight. You can visit any of the onsen facilities but try to fit these in your itinerary:
Lake Yunoko for breathtaking view
Yunodaira Hot Water Marsh
Anoyo no Yu free footbath
Alongside Lake Chuzenji is Chuzenji Onsen. Its hot spring waters come all the way from Yumoto Onsen. The long distance it travels cools the water down to a comfortable temperature for untampered bathing. Make sure to stop by the nearby Kegon Falls, a popular scenic spot.
※ Visit Tochigi, “Chuzenji Onsen 中禅寺温泉”
And last, we have the former rest home of Date Masamune, the late feudal lord of Sendai during the Edo Period. The Nikko Tokanso is a hotel and resort located in the Sannai Area. They offer traditional meals like their famous Honjin Gonzen.
The best access to Nikko from Tokyo is via train. You can also make the trip by bus, albeit slower. By car, it takes about 2 hours with clear traffic.
JR and Tobu lines service the route to Nikko. You can take the Tohoku Shinkansen (not direct), as well as limited express, express and local trains. Naturally, the cost and time taken differs.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo / Ueno Station to Utsunomiya Station, then switch to the Nikko Line and head to Nikko Station. This trip costs 5,480 yen one way. It is only worth using if you have a Japan Rail Pass which covers the route.
Limited express trains heading to Nikko can be boarded at Asakusa (Tobu Line) and Shinjuku Station (JR-Tobu Line). These trips cost around 4,000 yen.
The Asakusa-Nikko Limited Express by Tobu offers discount tickets and passes to make your trip more convenient and cost-saving. Check here for a selection of them and browse for one that fits your needs best.
The Shinjuku-Nikko Limited Express is a joint route operated by JR and Tobu lines. The trip takes around 1.75-hours. For Japan Rail Pass holders, the JR part of the trip is covered by your pass but you will have to pay for the Tobu half which is around 1,500 yen (give or take). Note that some JR passes like JR East covers the entire trip.
For less than 3,000 yen, you can still make the trip to Nikko. It’ll take up to 3-hours to get from Shinjuku to Nikko via Utsunomiya.
A Nikko side trip is always highly recommended when visiting Tokyo. As amazing as Tokyo’s metropolis city sights and entertainment are, you haven’t really seen Japan’s true beauty till you visit its natural scenery. From lush greenery and mountainscapes, to Shinto shrines and Buddhist Temples, bubbling onsen to waterfalls, a trip to Nikko is one you do not want to miss.
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