The next time you visit Japan, plan to spend time north of Tokyo in the Tochigi Prefecture, where you will enjoy national forests, waterfalls, important World Heritage sites and natural hot springs.
There, you will find Nikko, a beautiful, historic and peaceful place, away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Visitors have flocked to Nikko since the opening of the railway in the late 19th century—westerners, in particular, were attracted to the area, particularly its Lake Chuzenji, where they would spend their holidays, as the landscape is reminiscent of the British Lake District and the European Alps.
Nikko also has an incredible history as it is the location of important Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Anyone planning to attend the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics should be sure to arrive early or stay longer to spend time in Nikko.
The easiest way to get to Nikko, which is 150 kilometers north of Tokyo, is by Tobu Railway. A private train service, the Tobu Nikko Line starts at the Tobu Asakusa Tokyo Skytree station in Tokyo (easily accessible from Haneda Airport via a 35-minute ride on the KEIKYU and Toei Subway Asakusa Line).Tobu Railway offers a scenic and comfortable ride, complete with reclining seats, that takes less than two hours to get to the Tobu-Nikko station, the final stop on the line.
International visitors are eligible for a discount pass that includes round-trip train fare as well as unlimited rides for bus and train services in the Nikko area, including the World Heritage area (and the Kinugawa-onsen area). Tickets can be purchased from a ticket machine at Tobu Asakusa station, from Tobu Travel Co., online or a travel agent.
The Natural Beauty Of Nikko
Nikko, the town at the entrance to Nikko National Park, offers a lush landscape that is a stark contrast to the metropolitan area of Tokyo. Nikko is a peaceful respite, and as such, it is one of most iconic places to visit in the North Kanto region. Nikko is well-known for its natural beauty, from verdant forests, rolling hills and breathtaking waterfalls to raging rivers, streams and a beautiful lake.
People from all over the world travel to Nikko during the autumn months to see its striking foliage (arguably the best fall colors that can be seen anywhere in the world). During the winter, there is skiing and other snow-related activities, while spring offers the cherry blossoms. Summer, when the weather is warm (though much cooler than in Tokyo), is a great time to visit for those who enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, walking and biking.
The area has long been a holiday destination for foreign dignitaries stationed in Tokyo. Great Britain, France, Belgium and Italy at one time had or continue to own residences on Nikko’s famous Lake Chuzenji. The British Embassy Villa and its grounds is currently a museum and park open to the public. The café on its second-floor veranda is a great place to enjoy traditional scones and afternoon tea while taking in the picturesque landscape of the lake.
Be sure to see the Cedar Avenue of Nikko, which is world-renowned. Its cedar trees were planted during the early Edo period on the sides of three different roads. With a total length of 37-kilometers, it is recognized as being the world’s longest tree lined road with approximately 12,000 existing cedars. The Cedar Avenue of Nikko is the only example in Japan that is designated by the national government as both a “special historic site” and “special natural monument”.
Also in Nikko is Tamozawa Imperial Villa, a former summer residence for the Imperial family of Japan, is open to the public. Here, visitors can take a self-guided tour through many of its 106 rooms, where you will see such rooms as the emperor’s bedroom and dressing room, as well as the family’s dining room, library and sitting room. The architecture of the villa, which was built in 1899, is a blend of traditional Edo and early modern Meiji styles.
The villa is stunning and it is impossible not to notice the incredible craftsmanship that was used to create it, from the tatami mats that are lined with silk to its hand-crafted walls and ceilings. The Japanese-style garden outside is a manicured setting with paths, a stream running through it and beautiful landscaping.
Nikko’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Nikko was long a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship, and as a result, many important temples and shrines are located there. Two shrines and one temple, Nikko Tosho-Gu, Rinno-ji, and Futarasan Jinja, comprise a world-renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Nikko Tosho-Gu Shrine, was built to honor Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Tokugawa shogun and the founder of the Edo Bakufu, the last feudal Japanese government which existed from 1600 to 1868. The most famous shrine in Nikko, Tokugawa is buried at the top of 275 stone steps. At the base of the shrine, you will see the impressive and highly decorated Yomeimon Gate. Also called the “Sunset Gate”, it is a national treasure.