We wandered off to Nikko, approx 2/3 hours from Nikko and we already had the feeling we were far from everything, in the Japanese Alps. This natural scenery is also home of some of the most beautiful temples, recognized by the UNESCO, notably the Tosho-gu sanctuary.
Nikko, not easy to get there!
Nikko, the mountain very near Tokyo! A small city 150 kms from Tokyo, it worth getting there to see the exceptionnal natural surroundings, as well as its UNESCO recognized temples, five main sanctuaries, Toshogu, Rinno-ji (Taiyuin and Sanbutsudo), Kanmangafuchi, Futarasan.
In order to go to Nikko from Tokyo, take your JR pass with you and after around one hour of subway you will be able to take an omnibus for Utsunomiya (45 minutes). Be careful to book well in advance your accommodation if you intend to stay there overnight, there is no vacancy quickly! Those with a private onsen are the most looked for. Most people will only spend one day here from Tokyo but 2/3 days over there allow you to get off the beaten tracks and experience the peaceful atmosphere of these quiet and amazing landscapes as much as you want.
Finally arrived! Trains are not regular and sometimes slow and not always easy to find the correct ones from Tokyo center.
The shinto sanctuaries
Obviously Tosho-gu is the place to see in Nikko. We assisted to a shinto ceremony late afternoon as well, the site is lively. Easily accessible by bus (everything is explained at the train station, what are the options depending how long you stay in Nikko and where you want to go). You won’t be the only ones, but looking at these sanctuaries lost in the middle of pines is someway captivating.
Can be bloody cold in winter, be prepared!
Climb the mountains
If you intend to stay more than one day, the best thing is to take the bus pass to go up to the mountains, where it is almost always snowy near the Chuzenji lake. However it is not the best spot if you want to go skiing obviously, too close to Tokyo, better go to the Japanese Alps, the Nagano region (where we didn’t go due to a lack of time).
The Chuzenji lake
The walk around the lake (or with a duck paddle boat, very kitch!) is nice. However we went there winter time and the place is a bit vintage with 60s, 70s style looking shops and restaurants, quite funny! It’s like that place hasn’t changed for the past thirty years 🙂 The tourists prefer to stay in the Nikko valley rather than going up to the mountains, near the lakes and the snow as it is impossible to do both the lakes and the Tosho-gu sanctuary with the same day (or only running!). The place is quieter and it is not bad, as people who want to go skiing to Japan definitely don’t go to Nikko. To conclude, this walk around Nikko mountains is a good relief and you can breath fresh air and experience loneliness, which can be enjoyable when you have spent days in Tokyo before!
A good day out!
A very intense geological region
If you go up again and again, you will reach the hot springs. It is not possible to have a bath of course as the water is directly leaving the land mixed with suffer (therefore the strong and unpleasant smell), similar to Rotorua in New-Zealand (but much smaller!). The scenery is amazing, you are surrounded by mountains, a bit far away but is is worth getting there. A good recovery in the onsen of your hotel (many hotels of the region have their own onsen, carefully check online) will more than enjoyable after this big day out!
Inside our guesthouse, watching tv while having the bath and traditional Japanese futons
As a conclusion, Nikko is one of the best option to get out of the buzzing Tokyo, as you feel you are completely one sometimes, in the (not so remote) countryside or mountain.
Where did we sleep?
- Nikko Suginamiki Youth Hostel: We slept there as it was the only accomodation left in Nikko but impossible to recommend this place, a children’s adventure holiday hotel, like a summer camp (but we were there in winter…) As the offerings for decent hotels is more than limited in Nikko (most of the tourists go only there for a long day trip from Tokyo), and with no vacancy anymore, we chose this hotel, lost in the middle of nowhere for our stay in Nikko. Clean but a bit seedy, with a 60’s decoration and faded paintings. And to get to the city of Nikko, we needed to ask the owner drive us back and forth to the train station (train takes 30 mns to get to Nikko center), with no common transport in the village (with a very limited communication, as he didn’t speak english very well!). To conclude, don’t go there until you have your own car.