The city of Nikko, nestled among the mountains of the Tochigi Prefecture, boasts beautiful natural surroundings and a plethora of UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples. And being only a couple of hours from Tokyo, a trip out to this city is definitely worth adding to the destination list.
If you only visit one cultural site while in Nikko I’d recommend Nikkō Tōshō-gū.
A number of the buildings at this ornately decorated shrine are among the National Treasures of Japan and its easy to see why.
Look out for the famous carving of the three wise monkeys (a traditional symbol in Japanese culture) and the sleeping cat (a symbol of peace).
The Buddhist temple complex of Rinnō-ji is also impressive and also boasts some intricate and lavish decoration (though it was sadly undergoing renovations when we visited so we didn’t get to see it in its full honour).
There are a number of restaurants close to Rinnō-ji where you can try Nikko’s speciality yuba (tofu skin which is then rolled up, and often deep fried). We tried this local delicacy served with a vegetarian broth – it definitely did the job of warming me up on a freezing day but the consistency of the yuba itself wasn’t exactly to my taste.
The most famous temples are located conveniently close together but its worth taking a walk outside of this area to see the beautiful vermilion lacquered Sacred Bridge,
with the crystal clear waters rushing below it, this is such a peaceful place.
I also loved walking the Kanmangafuchi Abyss alongside the river and statues of Jizo (the guardian of children).
It was a bit snowy and treacherous when we visited so we didn’t test the local legend (that if you count the statues on the way out and way back the numbers always differs) – has anyone tried this?
As I only went for a day trip I didn’t make it into the Nikko National Park but if you’re a nature-lover the waterfalls and hiking on offer are meant to be spectacular. There are also a number of onsen towns in Nikko National Park, such as Yumoto, for a more relaxing option.