Nikko is a couple of hours north in Japan from where I’m staying. Getting there involves a drive through Tokyo (and a REALLY long tunnel) that continues through the countryside and then into the mountains. Nikko itself is nestled in the middle of the mountains. As we drove and got closer to the town I felt like I was driving through the Pacific Northwest in some ways. However, it also was completely different as well. Nikko is the home to World Heritage site shrines and temples, waterfalls, hot springs, lakes, and at this time of year, beautiful autumnal views. The latter was the main reason we chose to visit Nikko when we did.
After leaving quite early in the morning and making our way up to Nikko, we arrived mid-morning. This turned out to be a very good thing as later in the day parking became much more difficult. However, this was not an issue for us. We found a parking spot near the Nikko Toshogu Shrine at the bottom of the hill somewhat near the Shinkyo Bridge. Fall was in full bloom in Nikko and it really was beautiful.
We made our way up the hill to the Nikko Toshogu Shrine where there were multiple temples and gates. This had quite the expansive grounds with multiple beautiful buildings and a pagoda. The buildings were absolutely beautiful as they were surrounded by fall colors and a forest. There also seemed to be different eras of buildings as we explored the area. I would love to learn more about the different parts of this location and the different eras they were built in.
This was built on a hill with a LOT of climbing. And climbing we did. We made our way up through multiple different eras of the temples it seemed before arriving at a staircase that was much older than all the others that wrapped its way up through the forest. What was at the top? I really wasn’t sure. However, my sister said we should make our way up there so we did…. as did a lot of other people.
This staircase was really quite the trek. As we continued up and up, I was also people watching as I helped my nephew up the stairs. I noticed other people climbing their way up. In some cases, they were carrying their dogs. In other cases, I saw people stumbling as they worked to make it all the way to the top. I was a little concerned about this but in the end, it seemed that everyone eventually did make it up to the top. The nephew I was with reached the top with me before my sister and my other nephew and niece. As we waited for them to catch up, we observed people huffing and puffing as they reached the top and then a lot of “whews” once they got to the top. Some also would sit down to recover.
At the top was the Inner Shrine (Okusha), which was the grave for the first Shogun of the last and longest samurai government in Japan (1603-1867). There were several buildings up here, one of which housed the official appointment documents from the Imperial Court. There were also shrine treasures as well stored there. This area definitely felt older than everything else we had experienced. It was quiet, peaceful, and beautiful in its secluded location in the woods at the top of a hill.
After looking around for awhile, we made our way back down the stairs to explore the rest of the grounds. There were some absolutely beautiful views to be found. Some of these were just of the grounds/gardens, others were of the buildings, and there were of course more views to be seen of combinations. By this time, there were plenty of tourists, students, and other groups who had arrived. The grounds were getting quite busy. After stopping at a vending machine to get water, we decided to head on to our next destination. Thankfully, it was within walking distance.
The next stop was the Shinkyo Bridge, which was not a long walk down the hill. The Shinkyo Bridge (Sacred Bridge) is ranked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges and is at the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temples. The current Shinkyo was constructed in 1636. However, it wasn’t the first one and there has been a bridge there for much longer. The exact origin date isn’t known. This bridge is beautiful and has been open to the public for only a relatively short time. It was opened to the public in 1973. We took a few pictures there before continuing on with our journey.
The next stop was the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. This was a pleasant autumn walk along the river to get there. A small park was found at the entrance. It appeared to have been built on the grounds of some old ancient buildings. The area was really quite lovely though. We made our way into the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, which really is a beautiful gorge. Throughout the hike, there were 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased. There were some other interesting buildings and what appeared to be a bridge that fell out apart at some point. The whole gorge really was beautiful in a weird way sad as I looked at it. After taking many more pictures than was necessary (it really was beautiful), it was time to find some lunch before heading to the next stop.
Lunch was from 7-11. Again, I’m completely surprised to say that this is a viable way to live and eat when visiting Japan. In fact, it is more than viable, it is delicious. If I recall, I had a spicy piece of fried chicken and a packaged sandwich. Both were delicious and I would eat them again in a heartbeat. Lunch finished, we made our to our next destination. This happened to be up in the mountains and required a drive up a very windy and steep hill. Supposedly there was the chance to see Monkeys, however, we weren’t that lucky. It was quite the drive though. The fall leaves were gorgeous and also some beautiful vistas.
Finally, we made it to the top of our hill. There we found Lake Yunoko. It was like a postcard come to life. A beautiful bridge spanned one end of it that went into a brief little river before falling off the edge as a waterfall. I would learn what this was at our next destination. The bridge was really charming and the whole area was serene and beautiful. I could have just stayed there and taken in the beauty, however, there were more places to visit before darkness fell!
The next stop was one hill lower than Lake Yunoko and was called Yudaki Falls. We made our way into what seemed like a state park. There was parking for cars and also for buses. When we arrived, there were just about four buses parked there. Their occupants were not to be seen as we made our way to the bottom of the falls. There was a nice little viewing area that was mostly empty when we arrived. We enjoyed taking some pictures of this waterfall before moving on. As we made our way out, more buses could be seen making their way into the parking lot. After running my nephew to the restroom, there were now over a dozen buses either parked or waiting to park in the lot. Once again, we were leaving just as the crowds were arriving.
The next stop was a quick one and just for me at Ryuzu Falls. I was dropped off while everyone else stayed in the car so I could go check out these falls. This one is more famous than Yudaki Falls supposedly, but I didn’t think it was quite as impressive. It was pretty but it almost felt like it was more of a tourist destination than just a natural hidden treasure. There was a carved dragon made of wood at this location as well. This was quite impressive but also felt a bit like a tourist trap as well.
The final destination of the day was Lake Chuzenji. We had driven by this lake on the way up to Lake Yunoko. It was pretty but it also had a lot more development around it. This included some rather interesting looking paddle boats. Another bigger boat took tourists on tours of this lake that was rather substantial in size. There were some absolutely gorgeous trees found here. We parked and wandered around a park that was by the lake for a half hour or so. It was a lovely way to wrap up the day before heading to our AirBnB for the night. The air was crisp and fit perfectly with the fall colors that surrounded us. Clouds had come in throughout the day and it appeared that rain could happen at any time. Our AirBnB, however, was about an hour away on the other side of Nikko. The goal was to get to the apartment before it was too dark and difficult to find the location.
By the time we reached the location of the AirBnB on the other side of Nikko, dusk was definitely falling. The apartment building was at the foot of a hill that was changing colors. It was also in the middle of a residential area that really was quite lovely. It was fun to drive through the neighborhood and see what small town Japan was like. After finding the small apartment building and parking lot, we made our way back to the apartment to wrap up the night. As we climbed up to the second floor where we were staying, I noticed something rather odd about a block away. There were miniatures (that weren’t so tiny) of the Twin Towers and also what appeared to be the Empire State Building. It was rather odd but it also was just part of a bigger display at the Tobu World Square.
We made our way into the apartment, which really was quite tiny and also quite authentic for a Japanese apartment. This included mats on the floor to sleep on and not a lot of space. However, it was a place to sleep and as we wrapped up the night the rain could be heard coming down outside. It really was a pretty town and a lovely place to visit.
Nikko is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Japan so far. There were plenty of incredible things to see and experience, including monkeys (maybe the next time I go I will see them). This is definitely a place to visit when in Japan, especially in the fall. I absolutely loved it and also loved the photos I was able to get there. The next morning, the rain would be coming down even harder and the wind blowing so much stronger. We made our way back to Tokyo and then home. However, that adventure we will save for another update.
What do you think of Nikko from what you are seeing in this trip update? What was your favorite part of this adventure? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!