Japan Travel: Nikkō

Nikkō – The timeless town

Not far from Tokyo, there is a town that could be described as magical. This is Nikkō, literally “The town of sunlight”. Located in the mountainous region of Tochigi Prefecture, it is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Japan. Rich in historical monuments, it has been listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its most famous monuments are the Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine dedicated to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the Futarasan shrine dating back to 767.

The city is also surrounded by nature with mountains, hot springs and the Nikkō National Park where several beautiful waterfalls can be found.

Between sacred and modern

On March 20, 2006, the old town of Nikkō merged with the city of Imaichi and the municipalities of Ashio, Fujihara and Kuriyama, resulting in the new city of Nikkō . Sacred and profane, a division that is even more evident thanks to the great “sacred bridge” Shinkyo, completely lacquered in red and that was originally reserved to the emperor and the shogun. Today, this same bridge is crossed by hundreds of visitors each year arriving at the Rinno-ji, the great temple best known for the “Three Buddha Hall”.


Behind this temple there is the Tōshō-gu shrine where the great Tokugawa family established their Shinto shrine making it the most richly decorated temple in the country. More than 15000 artisans of the country participated in its construction and with its gildings, its bright colors, its sinuous lines, this place of worship is considered as one of the most beautiful examples of Momoyama architecture (1573-1603). Even more famous is the pediment of the sacred stables, genuinely minimalist and especially known by all the Japanese for the three little monkeys carved in the wood: Mizaru (“the blind”), Kikazaru (“the deaf”) and Iwazaru (“the mute”). In fact, they symbolize the precepts of the Tendai Buddhist sect, inspired by Confucius: do not look at evil, do not pronounce it, do not listen to it.

If you have a whole day to explore the city, you can not miss the opportunity to visit the statue of the sleeping cat that marks the entrance to the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Subsequently, along the Daiyagawa river, you can find the Kanmanga Fuchi path, a sumptuous walk through the woods and the strange volcanic formations of Mount Nantai. At the end of this walk, dozens of statues of Jizō, protector of the children, await you where time seems to have stopped.

At a distance of 30 km from there, you can then find the magical Chūzenji lake, where you can take a boat trip to the spectacular Kegon no Taki waterfall and the Yumoto Onsen hot springs.

A city between history and modernity, between mountains and enchanted lakes, a small pearl of history not far from the metropolis of Tokyo. Here you can still perceive the classic feeling of Japanese tradition in its fullness. A destination not to be missed for all those who love this nation and its culture.

How to get here

The train is the quickest and most convenient way to reach Nikko from central Tokyo.

Tobu Line – Asakusa

From Asakusa Station, easily reachable by metro from all the main districts of Tokyo, you can take the Tobu line which offers rides to Nikko every hour. The cost per round trip is about 2800 ¥, the ride takes about 2 hours and is by far the cheapest option. The JR Pass is not valid on this route.

info: Tobu Line website

Limited express – Shinjuku

The JR limited express connects Shinjuku station directly with Nikko, the cost of a round trip ticket is 8000 yen. Unfortunately, the JR pass does not completely cover the route so, it will be necessary to pay an additional charge. To book your seat just consult the JR East website.

Info: JR East website 

JR Shinkansen – Tokyo

This is the fastest and most convenient way to get to Nikko, especially if you have a JR Pass. It is possible to take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo station, but you will have to change at Utsunomiya and continue on the JR Nikko Line. The cost of the round trip is 10000 ¥, not recommended for those who do not have the JR Pass..

Info: Hyperdia website