Japan’s hidden gem. Tucked away in the forests and mountains of Japan, Nikko is a special place that has something for everyone. It has ancient temples, beautiful natural scenery, hot springs, and even Japan’s oldest resort hotel. What’s more, it’s not as crowded as some of the more famous tourist spots in Japan, and it’s only a two-hour train ride from Tokyo.
Nikko’s Fascinating Past
Nikko might be a small city in Tochigi Prefecture, but it has a rich history. It’s home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites and boasts stunning natural beauty, with wild mountains, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls.
People in Japan have a saying that goes, “Never say kekko [satisfied] until you’ve seen Nikko.” This saying shows how much the Japanese people value Nikko.
Travel Back in Time
Your journey in Nikko should start in the forested mountains, where you’ll find over 100 religious buildings that make up the UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples of Nikko. Among the ancient cedar trees, you’ll discover the Toshogu Shrine. This shrine is a collection of around a dozen beautiful structures. It’s visually impressive and holds historical significance as the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a famous samurai leader and shogun from the 17th century. The shrine’s intricate designs, tiered pagodas, ancient cedar trees, golden gates, and golden decorations make it a must-see.
While exploring the shrine, you should look for an old wooden carving of three wise monkeys. They symbolize “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” If you visit in May, you might be lucky to witness the 1,000 Samurai Procession, a special warrior ceremony filled with tradition.
Rinnoji Temple is another cultural gem. It was founded by a legendary eighth-century Buddhist monk named Shodo Shonin. The temple adds to Nikko’s charm with its mountain backdrop, wooden halls, and peaceful Japanese gardens.
Nikko’s natural surroundings are a big part of its charm. Nikko National Park is a huge area with lots of mountains, making it a perfect place for people who love the outdoors. You can go hiking, and there’s even canyoning for those who seek adventure. If you prefer a more relaxed experience, you can enjoy the onsen, which are natural hot springs found all around Nikko.
You’ll also want to visit some of the waterfalls, especially Kegon Falls. Here, water falls from a great height, nearly 100 meters, surrounded by thick, green forests. Another beautiful spot is Lake Chuzenji, often called the Sea of Happiness. You can see cherry blossoms in spring, colorful leaves in autumn, watch birds, and go for nature walks. Nikko is a place where the past and nature come together to create a peaceful and memorable getaway.