Published: May 12th 2012May 11th 2012
I met a friend in Tokyo, Hiro, and we traveled together to the mountain town of Nikko, about 2.5 hours north of Tokyo. Nikko is known for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Toshu-gu, Rinno-ji, and Futarasan Shrines. Declared a world heritage site in 1999, and founded in the 800s AD, the area is also known for its hot springs (onsen).
We took the train together and transferred once, arriving in Nikko and checking in to our hotel, then proceeding to check out the main temple complex. With a combination entry ticket for all three major shrines, we explored the gardens of Rinnoji, complete with stone lanterns, water features, and beautiful landscape. Rinnoji itself is under renovation, so the front is covered by a fascade, and the building itself dates to the 1600s. Inside no pictures are allowed, but the main attraction is the 3 huge statues of buddha, and two other gods, covered in gold leaf. Everything is incredibly ornate and even gawdy, and there is a small museum that displays treasures from 800- 1500
AD ish.Toshgu is the major shrine, and consists of over a dozen different buildings, all extremely ornate and again, covered in gold. The
massive scale of the buildings is like nothing I have ever seen, and is quite a sight. There are parts where one can enter the building and on the ceilings are painted 100 dragons, each unique, and very detailed. This is where the shogun would come to pray and where people of great power would give offerings to the gods, and ceremonies would take place. We also ventured to see the grave of the first shogun, and with the deep forest scenery, it provided an incredibly different feeling than the big cities of Japan.
Being in the mountains and the forest, the air is different, and we felt very relaxed and peaceful.Nikko is known for its local cuisine called Yuba, which is the skin that is created when making tofu. It tastes much better than it sounds! There is Yuba everything, Yuba sashimi, Yuba pasta, Yuba in soup, Yuba with veggies, etc. we had a variety of food in Nikko, including chicken cartilage, beef tendon, miyatake mushrooms, tuna sashimi, pork cutlet rice bowls, soba noodles, tempura, and more. We stayed near the JR train station which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Our second day in Nikko, we
traveled about an hour to see Lake Chuzen-ji, and Kegon falls, which was spectacular and very wet! Normally the waterfall spews 3 tonnes of water per second, but is day we were lucky to see it at 9 tonnes per second!!! We got wet, lucky we had our umbrellas. We walked around town and enjoyed the mountain lake and the scenery, and we felt like we were the only people in town. We checked out a bit more of the temple complex and took it easy in the evenings drinking sake and beer, as there isn't much else to do at night in Nikko!!
Our third day we traveled about an hour to the nearby town of Kinosaki Onsen, where we went to an incredible hot spring spa called Matsuya. Located in a hotel, and overlooking a giant canyon with the fast flowing river - we sat it the outdoor rotenburo ( outdoor hot spring pool) and the rain fell down on us while we relaxed in the 105 degree waters. For a while we were the only people in the hot spring, and it was an incredibly relaxing end to a trip full of walking. We stayed for
about 3 hours, using the indoor hot spring pool, the sauna, and the bathing facilities. Se both declared that it was one of the nicest spas we had ever been to, and it cost 1000 yen for entry ( about 13 USD)!
Nikko is a magical town, and there are numerous bakeries, coffee shops, and an iconic bridge across the main river. We could not stop taking pictures, although it seems none can do it justice - you just cannot capture the beauty and the freshness of the air in a photo.We are heading back to Tokyo for a few more days together before I leave for Kyoto!
There are more photos below