Nikkobabibubebo | 12 11 2006
Nikko (日光市), located in Tochigi Prefecture, is a relatively small city population wise, but after recently merging with a few other cities in March of 2006 it covers a vast area. Nikko is very famous for it’s beautiful nature– including waterfalls, lakes and especially fall leaves–and it’s temples and shrines. For the main part, these two famous features of Nikko, nature and temples, are divided into two different areas, so you need at least two days to see Nikko; however I recommend 3 days and 2 nights, staying one night close to Lake Chuzenji and one day in the actually city. The nature area, Nikko National Park, is about an hour drive away from the temple area and the drive is up a curvy mountain road. For more information about Nikko National park, including Lake Chuzenji, please see my post about Nikko National Park. For more information about the city of Nikko (often called Central Nikko), keep reading here.
If you are going to see the fall leaves know that the two areas of Nikko change colors at different times. The Nikko National park at a much higher elevation and tends to change color about 2 weeks before the central area. I was there just a little late for Nikko National Park area just a little early for Central Nikko.
Nikko is about 2 hours by train from Tokyo and there is no shinkansen that stops there. From Tokyo, you should take a train from Asakusa and if from the north you can take a shinkansen to Utsunomiya (if you like gyoza, Utsunomiya is famous for gyoza) and change to the JR Nikko line. For more information about access, see the Nikko Tourist Site.
To be honest, you probably only need a day to see most of, if not all, of the temples Nikko has to offer. The main ones you will want to see are Toshogu Shrine (housing the mausoleum of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and that of his grandson Iemitsu), Rinnoji, Futarasan Jinja (a shrine which dates to the year 767) and Shikyo Bridge (sacred bridge which after November 2006 you can no longer walk across).
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