The city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture is one of the most culturally significant destinations in Japan. Surrounded by the dramatic landscape of Nikko National Park, the region offers an unrivalled combination of major historical landmarks and stunning natural scenery. The remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years are entombed at the ornate Nikko Tosho-gu shrine – the area’s most famous attraction.
Buddhist monk Shōdō Shōnin founded Nikko’s Rinnō-ji temple in 766, followed by the Chuzen-ji temple in 784 and the settlement gradually built up around them. By the time of the Edo Period (1603-1868), Nikko was long-established as a sacred pilgrimage site, making it the ideal resting place for Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Tosho-gu shrine, which houses Ieyasu’s remains was built in 1617, and soon afterwards began to attract hordes of visitors wanting to pay their respects to the late Shogun.
As Japan started on its journey towards modernisation during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Nikko became an increasingly popular resort owing to its abundance of hot springs and the introduction of a railway line between the town and Tokyo.
Things to do
If you’re travelling on our 1-night extension trip, you’ll be staying in the heart of Nikko National Park. You’ll have the opportunity to explore the unspoiled area around Lake Chuzenji, a large volcanic lake located at the foot of Mount Nantai – an important site in Japan’s native religion Shinto. You’ll then head to the nearby Kegon Falls, one of Japan’s most beautiful and sacred waterfalls. Later, (weather permitting) you can hitch a ride on the Akechidaira ropeway, a cable car that ascends above the Akechidaira plateau and stops at a viewing platform from where you can observe breath-taking views of the national park.
There are dozens of historical landmarks dotted around Nikko city, most notable among them the Tosho-gu Shrine. The shrine is made up of several buildings, many of which are decorated with elaborate carvings and gold leaf. Other attractions include the almost 400-year-old Shinkyo Bridge in the grounds of the Futarasan Shrine, which can be crossed for a small fee.
Children will love Edo Wonderland, a theme park based on feudal Japan. The park is a reproduction of an Edo Period village and attractions include dressing up in traditional costume as well as ninja training and a samurai swordsman class.
What to eat
Given the large number of Buddhist temples in Nikko, the area has become known for its vegan and vegetarian friendly food. Buddhist cuisine is called shojinryouri in Japan and typically consists of a number of delicate and delicious dishes made using plant-based ingredients.
Yuba, or tofu skin, is Nikko’s most famous ingredient and can be found used in a variety of dishes, from ramen to sushi. Look out for the characters ゆば to find restaurants that specialise in Yuba dishes.
Shisomaki Togarashi – a hot pepper cured in salt and wrapped in a shiso leaf – is another local dish, said to have been eaten by monks on pilgrimage to Nikko in an effort to keep warm.
When to visit
From April to October, Nikko tends to be warm with temperatures typically ranging from 16ºC to 29ºC. The winter months are a little colder, though still relatively mild. The national park is at its most beautiful during the autumn months as the dense foliage of the forest turns from green to vibrant red.