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[Ultimate Guide] 10 Things to Do in Nikko in the Summer, Including World Heritage Sites and More!

Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture is an area blessed with nature and numerous historic sites and ruins that have been designated as World Heritage Sites. This article introduces standard tourist spots that you don't want to miss if you are going to Nikko.

What is Nikko Like?

Nikko, a town nestled among the mountains of Northwestern Tochigi Prefecture, is one of the Kanto Region's foremost tourist destinations and received approximately 12 million visitors in 2018. The World Heritage Site area is known for its fall foliage while Oku-Nikko is cool in the summer and is a popular resort to get away from the heat.

↑View from Hangetsuyama Observation Deck on the south bank of Lake Chuzenji in Oku-Nikko

It is about two hours by train, bus, and car from central Tokyo and perfect for day trips.

■ Access from major stations in Tokyo
・Tohoku Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station or JR Ueno Station ⇒ Utsunomiya Station (approx. 50 mins) ⇒ Take JR Nikko Line to JR Nikko Station (approx. 42 mins)
・Tobu Railway Limited Express SPACIA from Asakusa Subway Station ⇒ Tobu Nikko Station (approx. 2 hrs))
・JR Saikyo Line from JR Shinjuku Station ⇒ Omiya Station (approx. 30 mins) ⇒ JR Tohoku Main Line (Utsunomiya Line) ⇒ Utsunomiya Station (approx. 60 mins) ⇒ JR Nikko Line to JR Nikko Station (approx. 42 mins)

Now to the recommended tourist destinations in Nikko!

1. Nikko Toshogu

Toshogu is Nikko's most famous tourist destination. It is a Shinto shrine that was built in 1617 in honor of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a famous historical figure, and is called Nikko Toshogu.

Tokugawa Ieyasu left a will to "bury my body on Mt. Kuno (Shizuoka Prefecture) then build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me there as a deity." After his death, his heir and second Shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada, built a very simple grave on this site. Wishing to honor the memory of Ieyasu, the third Shogun later had famous artisans rebuild it to its present glorious form over a period of 1 year and 5 months. It was completed in 1636. (In Japanese history, this is referred to as the Great Reconstruction of the Kanei era). Approximately 4.5 million workers were engaged in the reconstruction, which is said to have cost about 40 billion yen in today's money.

Nikko Toshogu, which was built using the most advanced techniques of the time, has beautiful, delicate decorative carvings painted in bright colors. It has a solemn and sacred presence within the grounds that make use of the natural landscape of Nikko. Recognizing the preservation of its cultural value over the years, it was registered as a World Heritage Site as one of the Shrines and Temples of Nikko, together with Futarasan-jinja and Rinno-ji, in 1999.
There is much to see at Nikko Toshogu, including the national treasure, Yomeimon Gate, which is symbolic of the shrine, as well as Gojunoto (Five-story Pagoda), Omotemon (Front Gate), Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses), Shinkyusha (Sacred Stable) and Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys) and Karamon Gate. Be sure to visit if you are in Nikko. The present Yomeimon Gate was renovated for the first time in 44 years and re-opened to the public in 2017. The numerous beautiful decorations that were resurrected through four years of renovation work are not to be missed!

■Hours
8:00 am - 5:00 pm (April - October)
8:00 am - 4:00 pm (November - March)

■Admission
General (high school age and older): 1,300 JPY
Child (elementary and junior high school age): 450 JPY

■Audio Guide
Rental fee: 500 JPY/day
*Available in Japanese, English and Chinese

The best time to visit is during a limited period when it is lit up and open in the evening. You will be able to enjoy a mystic scenery not available at other times of the year.

*Schedule: Late April - first week of May, late October to early November

1. Nikko Toshogu

2301 Sannai, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

2. Nikko Futarasan-Jinja

Once you've visited Nikko Toshogu, head over to Nikko Futarasan-Jinja to the west of it.
It is a World Heritage Site like Nikko Toshogu and of recent years has been particularly popular among the romantically inclined as a place with many benefits for matchmaking and improved fortunes.

It has a longer history than Nikko Toshogu and is said to have been built in the 8th century. It was long revered as a sacred ground for Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism), but its importance was boosted with the building of Nikko Toshogu. The main shrine buildings were built during the Edo era. The grounds span 34,000,000 sq.m., making it the second largest after Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture. Kegon-no-Taki Falls, Iroha-zaka, Shinkyo Bridge and Nikko Mountains, including Mt. Nantai, are all a part of the grounds of Nikko Futarasan-Jinja, which is surrounded by giant Japanese cedar trees.

All areas of the shrine grounds, except the Shinen (shrine gardens) at the back of the main shrine building, can be visited for free. The grounds have three sacred trees, one each for marital harmony, familial harmony and matchmaking, as well as an extremely sacred place called Takamagahara, where the deities are said to come down to earth. It is a shrine believed to be full of sacred powers, so be sure to visit and pay your respects.

■Hours
8:00 am - 5:00 pm (April - October)
8:00 am - 4:00 pm (November - March)

■Admission (to the Shinen)
General: 200 JPY
Elementary school and junior high school student: 100 JPY

Kamishin Michi, the passage between Nikko Toshogu and Nikko Futarasan-Jinja, is also famous as a "power street", were the mystical powers of the two shrines converge. It is lined on both sides with tall Japanese cedar trees, so you can breath in the clean air and also absorb the "power" of the shrines.

2. Nikko Futarasan-Jinja

2307 Sannai, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

3. Nikko Rinno-ji

Nikko Rinno-ji is not the name of a temple, but the general term for a number of temples on the hillside of Nikko. It is designated as a World Heritage Site together with Nikko Toshogu and Nikko Futarasan-Jinja. It is a reijo (sacred ground, famous shrine/temple in Japan) that was established more than 1,200 years ago by a monk by the name of Shodo Shonin and has long been popular as one of the Kanto Region's most famous reijo.

The main shrine building, Sanbutsudo, which is said to be the largest wooden structure among all structures in the mountains of Nikko, has three golden Buddha statues (that are 7.5m high) in it that are worth a look.
Renovations that were being done for the first time in 50 years have been completed so you can now see the renewed facade.

Taiyuin, which is closely connected to Nikko Toshogu, is also recommended.
While Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined in Nikko Toshogu, Tokugawa Iemitsu is enshrined in Taiyuin. Taiyuin, which is built to face Nikko Toshogu to honor Ieyasu, is decorated simply in accordance with Iemitsu's will that it not be grander than Nikko Toshogu. The understated building with black tones yet has decorations that are testament to the great skills of the craftsmen. It is an attractive building where you can see the evidence of the respect that many people felt for Iemitsu, so be sure to visit.

■Hours
8:00 am - 5:00 pm (April - October)
8:00 am - 4:00 pm (November - March)

■Admission
・Rinno-ji (Sanbutsudo, Taiyuin)
General (high school age and older): 900 JPY
Child (elementary school, junior high school age): 400 JPY

・Single admission (Sanbutsudo only)
General (high school age and older): 400 JPY
Child (elementary school, junior high school age): 200 JPY
・Single admission (Taiyuin only)
General (high school age and older): 550 JPY
Child (elementary school, junior high school age): 250 JPY

3. Nikko Rinno-ji

2300 Sannai, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

4. Iroha-zaka

Iroha-zaka is a windy tourist road that connects the city of Nikko with the Oku-Nikko area where Kegon-no-Taki Falls and Chuzenji Lake are. It consists of two one-way roads with a total of 48 sharp curves, the same number as characters in the Iroha system of Japanese syllabary, giving it the name Iroha-zaka (Iroha Hill).

It is popular as a scenic driving course and is sure to be packed with cars during the fall foliage season, so give yourself plenty of time when going. The early summers, when the leaves on the trees are still young, is also a great time to take a drive.

4. Iroha-zaka

Chugushi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

5. Akechidaira Ropeway

Take the Akechidaira Ropeway, which is near the end of No. 2 Iroha-zaka, the side of Iroha-zaka that goes towards Oku-Nikko, and go to the Akechidaira Lookout. It will take you about 3 minutes to get to the lookout, which has a stunning view.

The grand panorama from the lookout will take your breath away. This is the only place where you will be able to see Lake Chuzenji, Kegon-no-Taki Falls and Mt. Nantai together. It is a great place to try to get a wonderful photograph.

■Hours of Operation
8:40 am - 3:30 pm (April - November)
9:00 am - 3:30 pm (December - March)

■Fares
General (age 12 and over): 730 JPY roundtrip, 400 JPY one way
Child (ages 6 to 11): 370 JPY round trip, 200 JPY one way

5. Akechidaira Ropeway

709-5 Fukazawa, Hosoo-machi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

6. Kegon-no-Taki Falls

Kegon-no-Taki Falls, which is at the foot of Mt. Nantai within Nikko National Park in the Oku-Nikko area, is famous as one of Japan's three great waterfalls. The water flows from Lake Chuzenji, which was created by lava when Mt. Nantai erupted. The waterfall is 97m high with up to 100 tons of water falling at its most vigorous. It is a great location to enjoy the grandeur and beautiful forms of nature.
The best viewpoint is the waterfall viewing deck that is accessed by an elevator There is an exciting view of the water splashing combined with the powerful sound of the water falling into the basin.

■ Hours
8:00 am - 5:00 pm (March - November)
9:00 am - 4:30 pm (December - February)

■ Rates
General: 550 JPY
Elementary school student: 330 JPY

6. Kegon-no-Taki Falls

Chugushi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

7. Lake Chuzenji

Lake Chuzenji is at the entrance of Oku-Nikko. It is said to have been created by lava that formed a dam when Mt. Nantai erupted approximately 20,000 years ago. It is at a height of 1,269m above sea level, making it Japan' highest lake.
The paths around the serene lake are great to walk on and see the seasonal flowers. There are also ferries to ride and enjoy the fantastic views.

the Chuzenjiko Cruise

2478-21 Chugushi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

8. Ryuzu Falls

Ryuzu Falls, which is one of Oku-Nikko's three great waterfalls, is located just before Yugawa river, which flows from Yuno Lake upstream of Chuzenji Lake, flows into Chuzenji Lake. The area around the plunge basin is split into two so that the water is shaped like the head of a dragon, thus giving it the name Ryuzu (dragon's head).

The sight of the water flowing down a steep 200m incline of lava rock that was created by the eruption of Mt. Nantai is stunning!
There is a great view of the side of the dynamic waterfall from a walking path on the east side. In addition, there is a wonderful frontal view of the powerful waterfall from the observation deck at Ryuzu no Chaya near the plunge basin.

Ryuzu no Chaya

2485 Chugushi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

9. Senjogahara

Senjogahara is a lake that has turned into marshland at an altitude of 1,400m within Nikko National Park and is now a popular hiking spot. The name (which means battlefield) derives from a myth that it is the place that the deity of Mt. Nantai fought over Lake Chuzenji with the deity of Mt. Akagi

The vast marshland that spans 4,000,000 sq.m. has many nature trails that have been built around it so that you can take a walk to enjoy the great nature and see various plants and birds.

9. Senjogahara

Chugushi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

10. Yutaki Falls

Yutaki Falls is located along a hiking trail that leads north from Senjogahara, deep in the Oku-Nikko area. It is one of Oku-Nikko's three great waterfalls, together with Kegon Falls and Ryuzu Falls. It is a waterfall that spreads out at the bottom, with a height of 70m and width of 110m.
The sight of the waterfall with the water flowing down from Yuno Lake is powerful. The view from the waterfall viewing deck that is so close to the basin that you may be splashed by water is outstanding. This is a place to be healed by the power of nature.

10. Yutaki Falls

Yumoto, Nikko-shi, Tochigi

Nikko is an area that is full of assets that Japan can be proud of. Be sure to visit this area to enjoy its numerous historic sites and dynamic nature.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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