explore Nikko, Japan

What to see in Nikko, Japan

The temple area in Nikko consists of the three main temples: Toshogu, Rinnoji, and Futarasan and numerous smaller ones. The combination ticket for the sites is no longer available, so you need to purchase individual tickets. Guides can be arranged for 1-20 people.

  • Tōshōgū. Apr-Oct 8AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 8AM-3:30PM. The burial place of dynasty founder Tokugawa Ieyasu and the most extravagant of the lot. Ieyasu was buried here immediately after his death, but the present complex was only built in 1634 on the order of his grandson Iemitsu. The shrine took 2 years to complete with the efforts of 15,000 workers.
    • After two flights of steps you will reach the Sacred Stable, housing a white horse. The most famous symbol here is the carving of the three wise monkeys, who “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”. They’re part of a curious series of carvings about the life cycle of a monkey, from giddy childhood to fearful old age. Nearby, you can also find an interesting approximation of an elephant, carved by an artist who had clearly never seen one.
    • Yakushi-dō Hall, the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, is known for a dragon painting on the ceiling. A monk is usually on hand to speak (Japanese only) and strike a special block whose sharp, piercing sound is said to be identical to the cry of a dragon — not quite the roar of English legend but an attention-getter all the same.
    • Yomei-mon Gate is an incredibly ornate gate with over 400 carvings squeezed in.
    • To the right of the main hall is the way to Ieyasu’s tomb. Look out for another famous carving, this time of a sleeping cat (nemuri-neko). There are 200 stone steps, and steep ones at that; and then you finally reach the surprisingly simple gravesite itself.
  • Taiyuin-byō. Apr-Oct 8AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 8AM-3:30PM. After completing Toshogu, Iemitsu himself was buried here. Smaller in scale (but not by much), this is generally held to be artistically superior to its predecessor.
  • Rinnō-ji Temple. Apr-Oct 8AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 8AM-3:30PM. Known for its three large Buddha figures (at the Sanbutsudoh Hall portion of Rinnoji Temple) and for the beautiful and peaceful Shōyō-en Garden, the temple is closed for renovation until 2020. The entrance price allows you to see one of the three Buddha’s and the renovation works.
  • Futarasan Shrine, (Directly west of Toshogu). Apr-Oct 9AM-4:30PM, Nov-Mar 9AM-3:30PM. This structure, built in 1617, is the oldest in Nikko. The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Nikko’s three holy mountains Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho and Mt. Taro.
  • Shinkyō. This much-photographed red bridge separates the shrines from the town of Nikko. In feudal times, only the shogun was permitted to cross the bridge, and even today it’s barred from pedestrian traffic — although there’s a 4-lane highway rumbling right past. You can get a nice view from the sidewalk, but to set foot on the bridge and look down into the gorge below, you’ll have to buy a ticket from the booth nearby.
  • Takino-o Shrine(Takino-o-jinja). This often overlooked mountain shrine is situated slightly up the mountain behind Toshogu and provides a welcome relief from the more crowded areas of Sannai. It takes its name from the picturesque waterfall that greets you at the base of the entrance. You can get there by walking for about 15-20 minutes along an ancient and atmospheric stone path that begins behind the Toshogu Shamusho (office). This path also features several other notable sites such as the Kyosha-do Hall (Japanese Chess pieces are left here as offerings for hopes of a safe birth), the worship hall Kaisan-do and the gravesite of Shodo-Shonin (the latter two are maintained by Rinnoji Temple).
  • Kanmangafuchi Abyss. A long series of jizoprotector statues on the side of a hill, some adorned with hats and bibs, some crumbling with age, with a river, small waterfalls and rapids below. Legend says that the statues change places from time to time, and a visitor will never see them in the same order twice. It can be tricky to find – at Shinkyō, instead of heading up the steps to the temple area, follow the road around to the west (to the left, if you crossed over the bridge) and walk roughly half an hour following the river – look for signs along the way. You will be walking through a residential area. If you pass the Turtle Inn, you are heading in the correct direction.
  • Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park(open 9:00am-4:30pm, closed Tuesdays). Built for the Emperor Taisho in 1899, the former imperial villa also served as a hide-out for Hirohito during World War II. It’s next to the Botanical Garden.
  • Nikko Botanical Garden(open 9:00am-4:30pm, closed Mondays and Dec.-mid-April). Has plenty of the local flora and gardens that were said to be favorites of the Emperor Taisho. It’s now an adjunct to Tokyo University.
  • Nikko National Parkoffers plenty of hiking opportunities.
    • National Route 120 heads from the center of town into the park, passing  Nantai and Lake Chuzenji (Chuzenji-ko) on its way to the Senjogahara Plateau, where the gods of Mt. Nantai and Mt. Akagi are said to have battled for possession of Lake Chuzenji – with several animal and insect transformations and archery experts involved in Mt. Nantai’s eventual victory. There’s a 6.3km walking course of the plateau; allow a little over two and a half hours. Lake Chuzenji itself is surrounded by hiking trails ranging from 4.6km (an hour and a half) to 19.7km (six hours). The area is sometimes called Oku-Nikko (Oku-Nikko), meaning “Inner Nikko”.
    • Route 120 then crosses over the Yukawa River and passing the Yudaki Falls, Lake Yunoko and the Yumoto spa and ski slopes to the northwest of the city, eventually reaching Mt. Shirane and Lakes Kirikomi and Karikomi, which have their own walking courses.
    • Once inside the park, special “low-pollution hybrid” buses run from a depot at Akanuma, near the Yukawa River and the Ryuzu Falls, to the nature preserve at Senjugahama, on the western shores of Lake Chuzenji. Parking is free at Akanuma, but the road to Senjugahama is closed to all other vehicles.
  • A short walk south from the center of town will get you on a strenuous but rewarding hiking trail to the summit of  Nakimushi(Nakimushiyama). Allow a few hours for a return trip.
  • Adventurous hikers might want to take the city bus to Matō, down National Route 122 in the far southwestern corner of Nikko city territory, in order to hike to Akagane Shinsui Koen(Copper Hydro Park), billed as Japan’s Grand Canyon, as pollution has killed all the trees and left the valley bare. The infamous Ashio copper mine was located nearby.
  • Woodsman’s Village, 4401-1 Naka-Okorogawa, Nikko-shi, Tochigi, Japan. Woodsman’s Village is a place in the beautiful hills of Nikko, where one can rent a log cabin for a certain length of time to stay in. Also, there is an option for renting a barbecue grill. 
  • Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura is a cultural theme park that resurrects and showcases the life and culture of the Edo period, the park hosts Edo period architecture from rural lodgings to urban samurai residences and government buildings. Also features 7 theatres featuring various traditionally themed shows including Ninja action and Oiran shows in addition to outdoor live shows, seasonal festivals, restaurants shopping etc. Edo Wonderland also has a range of visitor experiences for adults and children including Ninja workshops, Japanese traditional archery, shuriken throwing and costume hire. Address: 470-2 Karakura,Nikko, Tochigi,321-2524 Operating hours: Changes seasonally please refer to website available in English.
  • Chuzenji — lakes, temples and waterfalls
  • Kirifuri Highlands — waterfalls, hiking and skiing
  • Kinugawa — hot springs and the offbeat Tobu World Square/Edo Wonderland theme parks
  • Yumoto — more hot springs
  • Those with an interest in pottery or steam locomotives may enjoy Mashikoon the way back to Tokyo.