After spending time in the biggest city in the world, Tokyo, Nikko is a great escape from city life and an excellent day trip to plan, and just a short trip out of Tokyo. Nikko is home to spectacular natural sights, and one of the most elaborate shrines in Japan, Toshogu.
Nikko is a small town just 125 kilometres out of Tokyo. It is a town rich in history and culture, and was once the centre of Shinto and Buddhist worship in the mountains for centuries, and is home to Japan’s most lavish shrine, Toshogu. If you happen to be there from November to December, the area around lake Chuzenjo, is particularly know for the beautiful autumn colours of its trees. The autumn colours start earlier in October at higher altitudes, and make their way down to the town centre of Nikko in the first half of November.
While you’re wandering around this historic area, you will find some amazing temples and shrines to visit, including the former Nikko residence for the imperial family, lets start first with Nikko’s most famous site: the Toshogu Shrine.
Toshogu Shrine is more of a complex, with over 40 buildings making up the site. It is the mausoleum of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogunate ruled over Japan for over 250 years. The shrine itself is dedicated to Tokugawa’s spirt and other influential historical figures from Japan.
The whole complex, with its dozens of buildings, contains over a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings and is all set in a spectacular forest setting. This is considered the most lavish shrine in Japan, with an amazing amount of detail and artistry found all over the grounds and buildings. Eight of the buildings are registered national treasures of Japan, and one also houses two swords that are also registered treasures of Japan.
Originally the shrine was just a small mausoleum, however it was expanded into the amazing sprawling complex it is today by Ieyasu’s grandson during the beginning of the 17th century.
From Nikko station, Toshogu Shrine is a 30-40 minute walk, or a 10-minute bus to the forest area which is also home to most of Nikko’s shrines and temples. The shrine is open year-round from 8am to 5pm.
Rinnoji Temple complex comprises of 15 buildings, and was established in the year 766 by the Buddhist monk, Shodo. It’s origins were as a quaint Buddhist temple, however, due to it’s remote location in the mountains of Nikko, it soon attracted other Buddhist monks who were in search of solitude.
The most famous building in the temple site is the Sanbutsudo (or Three Buddha Hall). The building features three famous statues in the Buddhist faith, Amida, Kannon (who has a horses head), and Kannon (with a thousand arms).
The temple grounds are quaint, with beautiful wildlife, considering its mountain/forest location, with it’s Shoyo-en Garden being a great retreat from the buildings and a place to reflect on nature and find your own solitude.
Rinnoji is located in the temple and shrine complex in Nikko forest. Located a 30-40 minute walk, or 10-minute bus ride from NIkko Station. The Temple is open year-round from 8am to 5pm.
Taiyuinbyo is actually part of the Rinnoji complex, however it is considered a separate site. Taiyuinbyo is a mausoleum for Leyasu’s grandson, Lemitsu, who became the third Tokugawa Shogun. The complex resembles Toshogu in many ways, especially in its layout, however the decorations are are not as lavish as Toshogu -- intentionally. Much like Toshogu, the site has incorporated many elements from both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs.
Taiyunibyo is a bit of a distance from the other main attractions in Nikko, which give it a quaint, and peaceful environment. The atmosphere of this holy place is quite spectacular, especially in late Autumn. On a foggy morning, the silence and mist gives the entire complex an entirely serene feel.
Taiyuinbyo is about 300 metres from the Toshogu complex, located a 30-40 minute walk, or 10-minute bus ride from NIkko Station. The Temple is open year-round from 8am to 5pm.
Futarasan is a Shinto Shrine in the Nikko forest area, set nearby all the above sites too. The Shrine was founded in 782 by Shodo Shoin, who was the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikko, he also founded Rinnoji.
The Shrine is built into the mountainside, with many buildings and smaller shrines, however the main sight of this Shrine is the Shinkyo Bridge. Part of the Shrine complex, this historic and beautiful bridge is considered one of the three most beautiful bridges in Japan. According to legend, a priest and his followers climbed Mt. Nantai in 755AD to pray for the nations prosperity. However they couldn’t cross the Daiya river, so they prayed to Jinja-Daiou, a 10-foot tall god, who appeared with two snakes. She released the snakes, and they transformed themselves into a rainbow-like bridge, which is the Shinkyo bridge we know today.
Futarasan is about just down from the Toshogu complex, located a 30-40 minute walk or 10-minute bus ride from NIkko Station. The Temple is open year-round from 8am to 5pm
Toshogu, Rinnoji, Taiyuinbyo and Futarasan form the shrines and temples of the Nikko UNESCO world heritage site. Admission for all the shrines and temples in the UNESCO world heritage site can be paid separately, or for just 1000 yen, you can get a combination ticket that gets you admission to all of the temple and shrine grounds.
HOW TO GET THERE
Nikko is located just over 125 kilometres north of Tokyo. Nikko is accessible by train from Tokyo, on both JR lines and the Tobu railway line. Limited express trains to Nikko depart from Shinjuku Station several times daily, and takes approximately 2 hours and costs 3900 yen.
Nikko is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Japan for it’s rich history and beautiful countryside locations. It’s a perfect day trip to escape the city and find some regional tranquility, it's always a popular choice amongst the Japlanning team.