Below lists the top 10 attractions to explore in Nikko, Japan:
- Visit the Shinkyo Bridge
- Stay at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel
- Visit the Tokugawa Ieyasu Shrine
- Visit the Tosho-gu Shrine
- Visit Kegon Falls
- Visit Rinnoji Temple
- Have a Zen Experience
- Go to Kanmangafuchi Abyss
- Explore a Ropeway in Nikko, Japan
- Hike Mount Hangetsu
Continue reading to discover more about Nikko, Japan, and the top 10 exploring attractions.
Why Should I Travel to and Experience Nikko, Japan?
Nikko is a Unesco world heritage site widely recognized as one of Japan’s most important cultural hubs. While staying overnight is recommended to appreciate the area’s enchantment fully.
However, a day trip to Nikko is a popular alternative due to its proximity to Tokyo.
Buses transport many visitors to Nikko, particularly during the summer and fall. Winter in the foothills is also breathtakingly gorgeous, and you’ll have the opportunity to see heritage sites without the crowds.
If you travel during the week, you’ll feel you’ve been granted VIP viewing privileges.
Visit the Shinkyo Bridge
Shinkyo is a bridge that spans the Daiya River. It is just at the entrance of the Rinnoji Temple, Nikko Toshogu, and Futarasan shrine region.
The length is around 91 feet, and the breadth is approximately 24 feet.
It is thought that high priest Shodo, the founder of Rinnoji, and his disciples landed here for the first time in 767. They were unable to cross the Daiya River due to its swift water. Shodo, the priest, prayed, and then a deity appeared.
The deity flung two giant snakes at each other, which intertwined and made a bridge. Shodo’s party successfully crossed the river and proceeded to the sacred Nikko mountains.
Unfortunately, a flood in 1902 washed away the bridge, and the current bridge was erected in 1904.
Shinkyo was off-limits to the general public until 1973. It was extensively renovated in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and tourists can now pay an admission charge to walk across the bridge and return.
Stay at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel
The Nikko Kanaya Hotel is Japan’s oldest resort hotel. It is one of a few Japanese Classic Hotels that draw more aged and traditional Tokyo visitors. Staying at the Kanaya Hotel is like taking a trip back in time.
It’s a place where servers wear white gloves and offer five-course French-inspired meals, and the staff treats you like a visiting dignitary.
Nightly tours are available, telling the stories of visitors from the last 100 years, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Charles Lindbergh.
Many guests who do not stay at the hotel come here for lunch or dinner to experience classic Japan.
Visit the Tokugawa Ieyasu Shrine
Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which controlled Japan for nearly 250 years until 1868, is honored at Toshogu Shrine.
The temples were decorated with many wood carvings and enormous quantities of gold leaf in a fashion not seen elsewhere in Japan, where shrine design has traditionally emphasized simplicity.
Until the Meiji Period, when Shinto was purposely split from Buddhism, it was usual for houses of worship to include features of both religions.
Buddhist elements were removed from shrines and vice versa around the country, but the two beliefs were so interwoven at Toshogu that the division was not completed.
Visit the Tosho-gu Shrine
The Tosho-gu Shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, is Nikko’s most popular attraction.
In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu was Japan’s most powerful ruler. Following unifying Japan after a bloody civil war, he was appointed the country’s first Shogun.
His Mausoleum is housed within the Tosho-gu Shrine, one of Japan’s most prominent shrines.
Exploring the grounds of Tosho-gu Shrine
The shrine is the most notable landmark in the Tosho-gu, although the grounds are also worth exploring. Just outside the Shinto Gate, there is a magnificent five-story pagoda.
Original sculptures and pillars going back to the 1600s led to this enormous complex’s sacred storehouses and stables. The traditional “hear no evil” monkey sculptures that welcome you as you enter are also interesting to view .
The elephant sculptures on the exterior structures, according to the guides, were particularly remarkable because no one had ever seen an elephant when they were constructed.
If you remove your shoes, you are permitted to enter the temples.
Visit Kegon Falls
The Kegon Waterfall is considered the most famous of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls. Kegon has been measured to fall at about 3280 feet tall.
The Kegon Waterfall is the only way out of Lake Chuzenji. It may be seen from both a free observation deck at the base of the falls and a fee-based platform at the top of the falls.
The premium platform, accessible by a 100-meter-deep elevator, has better views.
From Akechidaira Observatory, accessible via a ropeway from Akechidaira Plateau, you can see Kegon Waterfall in conjunction with Lake Chuzenji.
Kegon Waterfall is also a well-known autumn color destination. From mid-to-late October, the trees surrounding the waterfall are at their most vivid.
Visit Rinnoji Temple
The most prominent temple in Nikko is Rinnoji. Shodo Shonin, the Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to Nikko in the eighth century, established it.
The Sanbutsudo, the temple’s main structure, features massive gold-lacquered wooden sculptures of Amida, Senju-Kannon, and Bato-Kannon. The three deities are Buddhist incarnations of Nikko’s three mountain gods, worshipping at Futarasan Shrine.
The Sanbutsudo’s ten-year refurbishment was finished in spring 2019.
The temple’s treasure house, which houses Buddhist and Tokugawa-related exhibits, is located directly across Sanbutsudo. Behind the treasure house lies Shoyoen, a tiny Japanese-style garden.
The garden is a favorite autumn leaf location with numerous maple trees standing photogenically around its center pond. Autumn colors are usually at their finest in the first part of November.
Have a Zen Experience
Zen meditation isn’t only for natives in Japan. Zen meditation has been shown in studies to help people manage worry and stress, among other things.
Meditation is an excellent technique to calm down and enjoy peace of mind in a fast-paced country like Japan.
Go to Kanmangafuchi Abyss
An eruption of adjacent Volcanic Mount Nantai created Kanmangafuchi Abyss. This gorge is only a few hundred feet long and may be viewed from a beautiful riverside walking route in the center of Nikko.
Kanmangafuchi is especially noted for its 70 stone sculptures of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who looks after the dead. “Bake Jizo,” “Narabi Jizo,” and “Hyaku Jizo” are all names for this specific set of Jizo sculptures.
The sculptures stare out over the Nikko Botanical Garden and across the river.
Explore Akechiddaira Ropeway in Nikko, Japan
Near the summit of the climbing Irohazaka Winding Road is the Akechidaira Plateau. A parking lot with a free viewing area on the plateau provides excellent views of the Irohazaka and the valley below.
As fall colors spread throughout the countryside, this becomes a favorite autumn color viewing destination.
A rest house, which also serves as a souvenir store, café, and the lower station of the Akechidaira Ropeway, is alongside the parking lot.
The ropeway takes guests to an observation platform higher up the mountain in three minutes, providing breathtaking views of the Kegon Waterfalls and Lake Chuzenjiko.
Outside of the coldest winter months, a hiking track from Lake Chuzenjiko may take you to the highest observation platform in about two hours, one way. Mount Hangetsuyama is also accessible by this path.
Hike Mount Hangetsuyama
Hangetsuyama is a mountain near Lake Chuzenji’s southeastern portion. Hiking paths reach the mountain’s summit. An observation platform near the peak offers spectacular views of the Okunikko area, including Lake Chuzenji and Mount Nantai.
Autumn colors contribute to the beauty observed from here from roughly mid-October to early November each year, making this a favorite autumn leaf viewing destination.
A challenging nature route leads to the observation platform near the peak, which takes around 30 minutes to reach. It is recommended that you pack hiking shoes if you plan on attempting any hiking activities.