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Where To Go In Nikko, Japan For A Dose Of Culture

With ancient shrines and temples tucked away in remote mountains and lush cedar forests, it’s easy to be entranced with the quiet magic of Nikko. Just a few hours north of Tokyo, it’s an accessible destination to choose for a day trip.

Most of Nikko is part of a national park with great forests, hidden waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, and majestic lakes with scenery reminiscent of the European Alps. But while it’s easy to see why many travelers fall in love with the natural attractions of the town and Nikko National Park, every visitor comes to realize that Nikko is so much more than an outdoors destination. 

If you want to delve into the town’s evocative history and learn more about Japanese culture and customs, here are some of the must-visit Nikko sites you should add to your Japan itinerary.

 

 

Toshogu Shrine

via Shutterstock

Toshogu Shrine is the most famous shrine in Nikko, Japan, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with grand halls, opulent furnishings, and magnificent paintings and sculptures. It is home to the tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Tokugawa shogun and founder of the Tokugawa Bakufu, Japan’s last feudal military government. 

One of the designated National Treasures in the complex is the ornate Yomeimon Gate or “Sunset Gate,” decorated with countless of delicate gold leaves and intricate carvings. It’s such a strikingly beautiful piece of work that its makers worried that gods might become envious, deliberately positioning one of the pillars upside down to detract from its perfection.

 Other key sights in the Toshogu Shrine include five-story pagoda Gojunoto, Honjido hall with the Crying Dragon, Nikko Toshogu Museum of Art, main courtyard Gohonsha, and Ieyasu’s tomb Okumiya.

 Visit Toshogu Shrine and other top Nikko attractions in KKday’s Nikko Day Tour from Tokyo.

 Address: 2301 Sannai, Nikko
Hours:
April to October: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM
November to March: 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM

 

 

Rinnoji Temple

via David McKelvey on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Just next to Toshogu Shrine is Rinnoji Temple, a Buddhist temple that was founded 1,200 years ago. There are many temples set within the complex, the most famous being the main temple Sanbutsudo, also known as the “Hall of Three Buddhas.” Inside this hall are three gilded wooden statues: Amida Nyorai, Senju, and Bato.  

Roam the rest of the Rinnoji Temple and marvel at all 15 temples. Keep an eye out for the famous Kongo cherry tree, a designated National Monument that’s believed to be about 500 years old. 

One of the best things to do in Nikko is to sit down for a private meditation session with a Buddhist monk. While you have to schedule a session in advance, it’s well worth the effort and extra fee. The space will be temporarily closed to create a peaceful, quiet setting as you tap into your spiritual side.

 Address: 2300, Sannai, Nikko
Hours:
April to October: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
November to March: 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM

 

 

Kanmangafuchi Abyss

via Alyson Hurt on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Kanmangafuchi Abyss is a gorge that was formed when Mt. Nantai erupted about 7,000 years ago. It’s a beautiful spot for a stroll, but the highlight isn’t just the natural scenery, but the Jizo statues that line the trail. Jizo is a beloved deity in Japan who is said to be a guardian of children and lost souls.

Indeed, the statues wearing bright red caps and bibs appear to be guarding the pathway along Kanmangafuchi Abyss. There are about 70 of these figures, although no one knows the exact number. Local mythology says that statues routinely appear and disappear with every attempt to count them yielding a different number. As such, they’re dubbed as Bake Jizo or “ghost Jizo.”

Address: Nikko, Japan (30-walk from Toshogu Shrine)

 

 

Edo Wonderland 

via Dennis Amith on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

If you’re thinking of unique attractions where to visit in Japan, Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura is a fantastic option. The history theme park is a living, breathing tribute to the Edo Period, the final period of traditional Japan that’s remembered for its political stability, relative peace, and a thriving economy. 

Edo Wonderland is quite small, but it is impeccably modeled after the Edo Period with Edo-style architecture and locals walking around in traditional period clothing. Rent a costume to immerse yourself more fully into the setting and to feel like a true Japanese living in one of Japan’s most remembered eras. Historical museums, galleries, and shops offer a detailed peek at life in the past, while live shows and games add to the fun.

 Address: 470-2 Karakura, Nikko

Hours:
Mid-March to November: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
December to Mid-March: 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM
Wednesdays: closed

 

 

Tobu World Square

via T Y on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

When you visit Japan, you may not be expecting to get a glimpse of the Egyptian Pyramids, Colosseum, or China’s Forbidden City. Tobu World Square is home to all of these iconic international destinations and more—or miniature versions of them, at least.

The Tobu World Square theme park features 1/25th scale replicas of the most well-known structures in the world. Gain more appreciation for these ancient and modern buildings with a close look at the intricacies of the miniature model. Go around the world with a stroll through the theme park, snapping photos with more than 100 famous landmarks.

 Address: 209-1 Kinugawaonsen Ohara, Nikko
Hours:
Mid-March to November: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
December to Mid-March: 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM

 

 

Get from Tokyo to Nikko and travel throughout the sacred town easily with the Tobu Railway Nikko Area Pass.

 

 

*Featured image from Shutterstock

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