In our opinion Nikko should not be missed, and it’s easy to take the train and spend the day visiting this beautiful place. Once you arrive in Nikko there are buses you can take to reach the entrance to all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. There is a ‘Heritage Bus’ and I recommend you skip that and just take the normal city bus, the Heritage Bus never seemed to show up. Nikko is famous for Toshogu, the most lavishly decorated shrine in Japan. Nikko National Park offers beautiful mountain scenery, hiking trails, lakes and waterfalls. We took the local bus to the Shinkyo Bridge (Sacred Bridge) which marks the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temples.
The walk along the beautiful path in the forest to reach all the sites was refreshing and really scenic. The first place we visited was Rinnoji Temple, the most important temple in Nikko. It was founded by Shodo Shonin, a Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century.
We continued our walk through the forest to reach Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of Tokugawa Leyasu. He was the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. The buildings are lacquered and decorated with beautiful colors, and the structures are covered in carvings. This shrine was absolutely incredible to see!
There are 121 lanterns at Toshogu and some of the lanterns were donated by feudal lords in the 1600’s.
Below is the sacred stable with the famous carving ‘hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil’.
The Yomeimon Gate is one of the most beautiful gates in Japan, it’s sometimes referred to as ‘Gate of the Setting Sun’ because it’s so beautiful and you could look at it all day. The 500 carvings are amazing!
The Kairo (corridor) is designated a National Treasure. The exterior wall is decorated with flower and bird carvings that are considered among the best in Japan.
The drum and bell tower were beautiful!
This building, Shinyosha, houses portable shrines used in sacred processions twice a year.
The Karamon Gate is painted with a white powder chalk. It has intricate carvings of legendary Chinese sages. This gate was so beautiful!
This gate is the entrance to the inner shrine which is the grave of the first shogun of the last and longest samurai government in Japan, ruling from 1603-1867.
This small carving is one of the most famous at Nikko Toshogu. The cat protects the entrance gate to the grave and on the reverse of the carving are two sparrows. The combination of the cat and sparrows represents the co-existence of the strong and the weak, and the wish for peace after centuries of civil wars.
After spending a considerable amount of time at Toshogu, we continued our walk to Taiyuinbyo (Lemitsu Mausoleum). It’s the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun Lemitsu, the grandson of Leyasu. This site has both Buddhist and Shinto structures. It was common for places of worship to have elements of both religions until the Meiji period when Shinto was separated from Buddhism. We bought a beautiful gold ‘Buddha’s Arrow’ from the temple here.
Below is Omizuya (purification fountain). I thought it was interesting that the water was coming into the building directly from the hillside.
Nitenmon – The Gate of the Heavenly Kings.
Yashamon Gate, the final gate to Lemitsu’s mausoleum.
The Honden (main hall) is so beautiful and such an ornate structure. The interior was incredible!
Our last stop of the day was at the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. It’s a beautiful trail through a gorge that was formed by an eruption from Mount Nantai. It’s also well known for the row of around 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased.
We walked through this neighbourhood to catch the bus back to the train station, we thought it was quite interesting how they left the old stone plumbing system intact.
The vending machine I needed after a long day of walking. Oh how I wish we had icecream vending machines all over like Japan does!
We had a great day in Nikko, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are fantastic and the scenery surrounding Nikko is really beautiful.
Where we stayed: Unizo Inn Tokyo Kandaeki West 👍