Nikko Japan An Exploration Guide

Nikko is a small town in Japan that can be found at the entryway to Nikko National Park and is popular thanks to its association with both Buddhism and Shinto.

Nikko national park has long been popular with locals, as well as tourists, thanks to its importance in Buddhism and its use as a location for Shinto marriages. The park is home to one of the most elaborately decorated and lavish shrines in the religion known as Toshogu. 

Toshogu Shrine at sunrise Nikko

The town itself has long been a center of importance for Buddhism and this even predates the shrine which was constructed in the 1600s. The town also attracts visitors, including many foreign tourists, thanks to other attractions such as the beautiful landscapes, hot springs, and wildlife. 

The Ryuzu Falls “Ryuzu-no-taki”, near Nikko

The town and its surrounding area are known to be one of the best spots in Japan to view the beautiful fall colors and to see the change of the leaves. The colors gradually descend down the mountain from the top to the lake at the bottom and affect the town around the beginning of November.

Here we’ll tell you about some of the best and most interesting things to see and do in Nikko Japan to help you organize your trip there. There is something for everyone in Nikko.

In The Center Of Nikko

There are many different attractions within Nikko and you can easily spend your entire trip in the center exploring.

Toshogu shrine

If you are heading to Nikko then the first thing on your to-do list should without a doubt be the Toshogu shrine. This center of Buddhist worship and Shinto is a must-see for all visitors and its elaborate design is sure to remain in your memory. 

Toshgogu Shrine Location Via Google Maps

Toshogu Shrine In Nikko

Toshogu Shrine Official Website

The shrine was built to honor the memory of Tokugawa Ieyasu who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate which remained in power for 250 years. The shrine was originally constructed to be a simple mausoleum but in the 17th century, it was developed and turned into the incredible display that you can see today.

In total the shrine is comprised of 12 buildings and is set in the beautiful park, surrounded by countless trees. 

Rinnoji temple

The Rinnoji temple is considered to be not only an important temple in Nikko but also Japan’s most important temple. This is because the Rinnoji temple was founded by the person who bought Buddhism to Japan in the 8th century, Shodo Shonin.

Within the main building complex and within the shrine, the Sanbutsudo, are three wooden statues depicting the three deities that are thought to be the Buddhist versions of Nikko’s three mountain gods. The entire shrine has been recently renovated, with the project finishing in 2019.

Just behind the temple is a little Japanese garden that has several maple tree varieties that change with the arrival of fall. This is particularly popular with tourists at the beginning of November.

Rinnoji temple garden 

Shinkyo bridge

The Shinkyo bridge can be found at the entrance to the shrines and is also considered to be sacred, with the word “Shinkyo” literally meaning “sacred”. The bridge ranks amongst Japan’s best bridges and is considered to be in the top three in Japan. 

Shinkyo Bridge Location Via Google Maps

Shinkyo Bridge in Autumn

The history behind the bridge is not exactly clear as although it is known that there has long been a bridge of some description at this spot, the original construction date is unknown.

However, the version that you can see today was built in 1636 but was not accessible until recently in 1973 after a laborious renovation program.

Although the bridge is never closed there is a fee to pay in order to use the bridge. 

Shinkyo bridge in winter

Nikko botanical garden

If you are looking to see some of the best colors that fall has to offer in Nikko then make sure to visit the Nikko botanical garden which is owned and maintained by the University of Tokyo.

Originally opened in 1902, the botanical gardens were traditionally used to cultivate and study alpine species of plants.

Nikko Botanical Garden Location Via Google Map Location

Traditional Japanese wooden bridge in the botanical garden, Nikko

Nikko Bontanical Gardens Official Website

Now the garden is open to the public and used as an exhibition of over 1500 different types of plants and is still in use by the university for horticultural study purposes.

The botanical garden is a great place to go to in order to escape the business of the city and to give yourself some quiet time to relax and walk around in peace.

Outside of Nikko

If you are willing to head just outside of Nikko then there are some great attractions just a stone’s throw from the town.

Kinugawa onsen

If you want to escape the city and enjoy one of Japan’s most relaxing cultural experiences then consider a visit to the Kinugawa onsen. It is located in the resort town and can be traveled to using the Nikko Pass. The resort was built around the hotel on the river and also offers other activities such as the Nikko Edumora amusement park

Kinugawa Onsen Official Website

Kinugawa Onsen Hotel in Nikko Tochigi Prefecture

As a result of tourism to this particular spot, the town has begun to clear away old and abandoned structures along the river to help develop the resort and make it a more appealing spot for travelers.

There are a number of hotels a short distance away so you can pick whichever one suits you.

Nasu-Shiobara

If you are looking to be more adventurous on your trip and would rather explore than rest then consider a trip to Nasu-Shiobara. Here you will find grounds around an active volcano that have a large number of fantastic hiking trails and enchanting forests.

 Nasushiobara station at sunrise

There are also some onsens located here too if you want to relax your muscles after a long day’s hike. The natural landscapes on the mountainous hillsides are quite a view to behold and will certainly be a marvel to remember. There are a number of recognized trails that are graded to help you navigate your way around the mountain.

Shiobara Onsen Official Website

Summary On Exploring The Nikko Area

When traveling to Nikko Japan there is an abundance of things to see and do, meaning that no matter your reason for visiting the area there is something to suit every type of traveler. If you want to understand the cultural history of Nikko and its importance in Buddhism and Shinto then make sure a visit to the shrines and temples is on your list. 

Souvenir stalls and food vendors at the entrance to the famous Kegon falls in Nikko national park

If you are looking to relax then Nikko has an amazing botanical garden as well as several forested parks for you to wander through and be one with your thoughts in peace. The town has many onsens both near and further out from the town center that offer a wide range of different attractions to suit people of all ages.

Gomado of Rinno ji, Nikko, Rinno ji is a complex of 15 Buddhist temple buildings in Nikko

There are also a number of hiking trails located nearby, including some around an active volcano to satisfy the need of the adventurous traveler. So, if walking around a garden is not enough of a challenge for you then do not fret there is also something to suit you too. 

Nikko Pass Official Site

Because there is so much to do in and around Nikko Japan it is worthwhile planning out which activities you want to do in advance so that you can plan your days carefully to ensure that no great attraction is missed out on.

This can also help with understanding your traveling routes, such as getting the Nikko Pass.

Nikko Area Attractions Via Tripadvisor

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.