Beautiful curvy street on the Nikko mountain, Japan.

Nikko, the Pilgrim City – An Oasis of Peace

This post was last updated on February 1st, 2020 at 06:14 pm


If you choose a destination for a day trip from Tokyo, it must be the pilgrim city of Nikko. Here you will find the famous Tōshō-gū shrine which lies between the mountains. This city and, in particular, the Tōshō-gū, is one of the most popular sights in the country. It attracts thousands of Japanese every year who all want to see the shrine and other holy buildings in Nikko.

 

Nikko; A Place of Peace

Located among hilly forests, Nikko is one of Japan‘s most important sights. The Tōshō-gū shrine and other UNESCO World Heritage Sites indicate the richness and power of the well-known Edo period.

 

The city is not very special, but the ancient temples that were built here and the natural environment make up for that. Every year thousands of tourists come to visit these temples.

 

This means that it can be very busy during the high season (summer and fall) and on weekends. It is best to stay a few nights so that you do not have to stick with the hectic pace of the day trippers. You can also explore the beautiful nature in the area, as well as the national park and other sights (Imperial Palace) and do other activities.

 

Image of: The quiet Chuzenji Lake in the early hours, Nikko, Japan
The quiet Chuzenji Lake in the early hours, Nikko, Japan

 

The Most Beautiful Temples in Nikko

It is not without reason that this city captivates thousands of travelers and locals every year. In addition to Kyoto, there are few if any places in Japan where you will find so many impressive temples as here. It’s like walking through an open-air museum! Below we will list some of the most beautiful temples of Nikko.

 

You can visit the temples in one day, but the area of ​​Nikko is certainly worth staying longer. We recommend that you stay around Nikko for at least two days.

 

1. Tōshō-gū

The main draw of Nikko is without a doubt the Tōshō-gū. This shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokuwaga shogunate or dynasty. The temple was built in 1617 during the Edo period when Ieyasu’s son Hidetada was the leader of the army (shogun).

 

Later, the temple was expanded and enlarged. There is an annual festival around the Tōshō-gū temple.

 

Image of: Tosho-gu, a Shinto shrine in Nikko
Tosho-gu, a Shinto shrine in Nikko, Japan

 

The sanctuary complex consists of more than a dozen buildings that are gathered in a beautiful forest. Innumerable carvings and large amounts of gold were used to beautify the buildings in a way that you don’t see anywhere else in Japan.

 

This temple is considered one of the most beautiful in Japan.

 

TIP – The temples are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 4 p.m. from November to March). The entrance fee is 2,100 yen per person, around $19 (museum + temple).

 

Renovation

The Toshogu Shrine is being renovated between 2017 and 2020. They tackle small things at the same time, so you will not be too bothered by it, but it is visible.

 

2. Iemitsu Mausoleum (Taiyuinbyo)

The Iemitsu Mausoleum and Taiyuinbyo is the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu. Of all the temples we saw in Nikko, we found this one to be the most impressive.

 

It is close to the Toshogu shrine but was deliberately built more modestly than the Toshogu. This is because of the great respect Iemitsu has for his grandfather, Taiyuin.

 

Just like the Toshogu, the Taiyuinbyo has a mix of Buddhist and Shinto structures. Of all the temples, this temple is situated in the most beautiful place among forests and moss-covered buildings.

 

It is a lot quieter here than around the Toshogu and that makes this temple a bit more impressive. Take the time to visit the temple! It’s definitely worth it.

 

Image of: Taiyuinbyo temple in Nikko
The Taiyuinbyo temple can be quite eerie, depending on the time you go here

 

TIP – The temple is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 4 p.m. from November to March). Entrance fee is 550 yen p.p., around $5.

 

Renovation

The Iemitsu Mausoleum will also be renovated up to and including 2020. Keep this in mind. The large entrance gate, for example, is completely covered with sails (June 2017).

 

 

3. Rinnoji temple

This is one of the most important temples of Nikko. The temple was built by Shodo Shonin, a Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism in the 8th century. The main building of the temple, the Sanbutsudo, houses large golden wooden statues of Amida, Senju-Kannon, and Bato-Kannon.

 

The three gods are important Buddhist figures.

 

Rinnoji Temple in Nikko

The Rinnoji Temple in Nikko

 

TIP – The temple is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 4 p.m. from November to March). Entrance fee is 400 yen ($3.65) p.p. for Sanbutsudo Hall and 300 yen ($2.70) p.p. for the Treasure House and Shoyoen Garden.

 

Renovation

The Sanbutsudo Hall is currently undergoing major renovation work. This means that the entire temple is now covered by a temporary, rather ugly, scaffolding structure. From the outside, you don’t see anything of the temple, except for a large image. The work is planned until March 2019. The temple remains open to tourists, but we had to skip it for this reason.

 

4. Futarasan Shrine

The Futarasan Shrine stands next to the Toshogu in Nikko. The Futarasan Shrine was built in 782 by Shodo Shonin, a Buddhist monk who also built the nearby Rinnoji Temple.

 

This shrine is dedicated to the gods of the three most sacred mountains of Nikko: Mount Nantai, Mount Nyoho, and Mount Taro. Futarasan is another name of Mount Nantai, the most prominent of the three mountains.

 

To be honest, we thought this was the least impressive of the temples in Nikko. In addition to small temples, you will also find a small wooded garden with a few halls and old sacred trees (Love Trees). The Shinkyo Bridge is one kilometer from the shrine, and also belongs to Futarasan Shrine.

 

TIP – The temple is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 4 p.m. from November to March). Entrance fee is 200 yen p.p. (around $1.80).

 

5. Shinkyo Bridge

Probably the most photographed bridge in all of Japan. The Shinkyo bridge (“holy bridge”) is situated at the entrance to where the shrines and temples of Nikko begin. The bridge actually belongs to the Futarasan Shrine, but everyone visits it separately.

 

In Japan, they call this bridge one of the three most beautiful bridges in Japan, along with Iwakuni’s Kintaikyo and Saruhashi in Yamanashi Prefecture.

 

If you want to take photos without dozens of tourists showing up in your photo, come to the bridge after 5 p.m. At this time all the day trippers will be on their way back to Tokyo.

 

Image of: The vermilion lacquered Shinkyo bridge
The vermilion lacquered Shinkyo bridge

 

The current bridge was built in 1636, but another bridge had been in the same place for much longer, although the exact origin is unclear. Until 1973 you could not reach the Shinkyo bridge.

 

Towards the end of the 1990s, the bridge has undergone various renovations, and visitors can now walk across the bridge (and back, yay!).

 

TIP – The bridge can always be visited. But if you want to walk across the bridge you have to pay 300 yen p.p. (about $2.70).

 

What to Do in Nikko

The temples and shrines are not the only things that Nikko has to offer. The area itself is also impressive. Many people come here to walk in the area after visiting the temples.

 

A number of things you can do here is cycling or going to one of the many spas that all have natural heat sources.

 

Perhaps even more worthwhile is Lake Chuzenji and the Kegon Waterfall.

 

1. Visit Lake Chuzenji

Lake Chuzenji is a picturesque lake in the mountains above the city of Nikko. It is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, the sacred volcano of Nikko. The lake originated around 20,000 years ago. The bus ride there is perhaps just as beautiful as the lake itself.

 

You can drive on well-maintained roads by bus over the mountains with many extraordinary views.

 

Image of: View of Lake Chuzenji in Nikko, Japan
View of Lake Chuzenji in Nikko, Japan

 

TIP – The bus from Tobu Nikko Station to Lake Chuzenji takes about 50 minutes and costs 1,150 yen ($10.50) per person. You can also buy a 2-day bus pass between Nikko and Lake Chuzenji for 2,000 yen ($18.20) at the Tobu Nikko Station.

 

2. View the Kegon Waterfall

The Kegon Waterfall is a 100-meter high waterfall within walking distance of Lake Chuzenji. In the area of ​​Nikko, you will find many waterfalls, of which the Kegon Waterfall is not only the best known, it is also the highest. This waterfall is seen as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan.

 

The water of the waterfall comes from Lake Chuzenji. You can see the waterfall from a free observation platform. However, it is more fun to take the lift that carries you right through the rock formations; about 100 meters lower at the foot of the waterfall.

 

Image of: Beautiful view of the Kegon waterfall in Nikko
Beautiful view of the Kegon waterfall in Nikko

 

TIP – The waterfall can be reached in the same way as Lake Chuzenji. Entrance to the lift is 550 yen ($5) p.p.

 

How to Get to Nikko

Nikko is one of the most famous sights of Japan and therefore easily accessible. You can cover almost all distances and terrain in Japan by train. The same applies to the route to Nikko. It is located approximately 125 kilometers north of Tokyo.

 

It is, therefore, a popular day trip or two-day trip from the capital. Nikko is connected to Tokyo by Tobu Railways and Japan Railways (JR).

 

Tobu Railways

If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, this is the best option. The Tobu Asakusa station in Tokyo connects Tokyo with Nikko. The station is easily accessible by metro (Ginza and Asakusa Subway Lines).

 

There are fast trains running every hour between Asakusa and Nikko, which take around two hours and cost 1,360 yen p.p. (one way). In the morning and in the afternoon there are also a few express trains (all seats reserved), called “Kegon”. They only take 105 minutes but are twice as expensive.

 

Japan Rail Pass

If you go to Japan, we recommend purchasing a Japan Rail Pass (JRP) anyway. This is much cheaper than buying all the tickets separately. If you have a JRP then take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen (from Tokyo or Ueno Station) to Utsunomiya Station.

 

Here you have to switch to the JR Nikko Line. With a good connection at Utsunomiya, it takes a little longer than 1.5 hours. This ride is free if you have a JRP.

 

Best Time to Visit Nikko

Although you would think summer is the best time to visit Nikko, or Japan in general, that is not true. Certainly not for Nikko. Nikko is at its best in the fall. This one of the best four-season destinations in Japan. One of the reasons that people come here so much in the fall is because the trees and forests turn beautifully orange/brown.

 

In combination with the temples, the mountains, and the fog, this is a wonderful time to be here.

 

Average temperature and rainfall in Nikko

Average temperature and rainfall in Nikko

 

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