Many people mistakenly think that Nikko is only a day trip from Tokyo. The region offers so much to do. The area where “untouched nature meets spiritual fusion” was explored by us for five days.
Things to Do in Nikko, Japan
Nikko can be found 157km north of Tokyo. Nikko is located 157 km north of Tokyo.
While local Japanese are familiar with the beauty of Nikko National Park, only a few foreigners know about this Unesco World Heritage site and vast nature reserve. We saw very few Westerners when we visited Nikko National Park’s 1,147 km (443-mile) peak season.
It was busy, however. Nikko is a hidden gem that thousands of tourists from Japan visit to see the Tokugawa shrine complex and its surrounding area.
We had the opportunity to stay four nights in Nikko and fell in love with the culture, beauty, and people. When you travel to Tokyo or any other part of Japan, include Nikko on your itinerary.
While we had a private driver in Nikko (see below), the best thing about this destination is that all locations are accessible by public bus. Nikko is a popular day trip from Tokyo. See more at The Best Day Trips From Tokyo, Japan.
It is easily recognizable as the main attraction of Nikko. Tourists flock to the Shinkyo Bridge, which is located downtown. They pay 300 Yen to cross the sacred site. There is another way to see it.
While many day tours limit you to a short shot of the Shinkyo Bridge on their time, we had the opportunity to stay at the Historic Nikko Kanaya Hotel, which was only a 5-minute walk from the bridge. Dave and I woke up at dawn to set up our cameras before the crowds.
We had the place to ourselves and could imagine the Shinkyo Bridge legend.
This bridge is the symbol of the legend of Nikko’s first priest. Our guide Yoshi told us about the first priest who settled in the area in 766. Two serpents helped him cross the Daiya River, but he couldn’t. You are following legends as you cross the bridge. Although the bridge’s design is simple, it is beautiful with the backdrop of rushing water running through deep valleys.
Nikko Kanaya Hotel
The Nikko Kanaya Hotel, Japan’s oldest resort hotel, is in Tokyo. It is among a few Japanese Classic Hotels that appeal to Tokyo’s more traditional, older patrons. The Kanaya Hotel feels like you are stepping back in the past. The Kanaya Hotel is where servers offer five-course French-inspired meals with white gloves. It also has staff who treat you like a dignitary.
Evening tours offer stories about 100-year-old events that took place on the property.
Although the building could do with some updating, it still has a charming character, a dark lounge with leather chairs, and a fireplace that Frank Lloyd Wright possibly designed. We wouldn’t mind it changing.
Our traditional room was stylish and modern, with all the standard amenities found in Japan. Even though they don’t usually stay at the hotel for dinner or lunch, many people stop by to enjoy old Japan. Back to Top
Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Tosho-gu Shrine shrine is Nikko’s most popular attraction. Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s most powerful man in 1600, was also the first Shogun of Japan. After unifying Japan from civil war, he was named Japan’s first Shogun. His Mausoleum can be found within the Tosho-gu Shrine, considered one of Japan’s most important shrines.
Tokugawa Ieyasu Shrine
We first had to walk through the maze-like temples to reach the Mausoleum. Then we got to the 207 stone steps that led to the inner shrine. It was first opened to the public in 1965. Here, the first Shogun of Japan’s longest-serving samurai government is buried.
It has been through three versions: the original wooden version was in 1617, a stone version in 1683, and finally, the final copper, gold, and silver version that reached 5 meters high. We witnessed it today.
Grounds of Tosho-Gu Shrine
The shrine is the most significant monument in the Toshogu. However, the grounds are worth a visit. There is a large, 5-story pagoda right outside the Shinto Gate. We knew that we were about to experience something unique every time we entered the Shinto Gate in Japan.
The complex houses original statues, pillars, and several sacred stables and storehouses. The “hear no evil,” “see no evil,” and “speak no evil” monkey carvings greet you at the entrance were also very impressive. Yoshi noted that the elephant carvings on outer buildings were fascinating, as no one had ever seen an elephant when they were made.
Although you are permitted to enter the temples, shoes must be worn. We only stayed for a few minutes as the tour was in Japanese, and we wanted time to soak in the rest.
The Buddhist temple of Rinnoji is located right next to Tosho-gu Shrine. It was a welcome relief from the Tosho-gu crowds that it allowed to enter the temple grounds.
We found it interesting that Shinto shrines were built next to Buddhist shrines. They work together, even though they are two different religions. The lines blurred between Shintoism and Buddist religions. You’ll see people worshiping both Buddhism and Shintoism. Shintoism is more fluid and believes that harmony with nature is possible.
When we visited Rinnoji, it was easy to feel a sense of calm and understand the purpose of the temples and pagodas.
After suffering from jetlag and being overwhelmed by the Tokyo crowds, taking part in a Zen Experience, it helped me feel calm and peaceful. After a hectic few days of flying from Canada to Tokyo, the Zen Experience helped me find my center.
It is a fantastic experience to watch a Buddhist Monk lead a meditation at the Rinnoji temple. It was hard to imagine how this would work without understanding the language, but I realized that the language for tranquility is the same. Relax, clear your mind, and just be.
As I sat silently, he walked around the temple clockwise. Each breath relaxed me, and the 20-minute meditation went by quickly. Before I could blink, he was right in front of my face. He seemed almost to give me the blessings of the Queen knighting a soldier.
He translated and said I had learned three things: “To adjust the aspiration, my body, or my mind.” I will need to keep it in my head because it is necessary to adjust.
The Kanmangafuchi Abss is more than a scenic glen with waterfalls and winding rivers. It also contains a collection of Bake Jizo statues that care for the deceased overlooking the river.
The temple monk told Joshi that these statues were made to remember those who had died. Locals decorated Jizo statues using caps and red capes to ward off evil spirits.
According to my sources, the statues possess a mystical aspect. The two numbers don’t match up when you count them. I was not one to quit a challenge. I counted them, and the second set came out with the same number. Then I was told that I had to add the second set. Two different counts came up when I counted the second set. 82 and 84. Oooh!