Tokyo is an amazing city, what with all the breath-taking skyscrapers that graze the edges of clouds and the endless streams of departmental stores where you can shop till you literally drop. Still, the metropolis can get a little overwhelming at times with its fast pace of life, and there are certainly moments where people wish they could a break from the rush of it all. Thankfully, located near Tokyo are several beautiful places that offer great destinations for a day trip, or higaeri (日帰り) as it is called in Japanese. One of these places is the Nikko (日光), a place rich in both history and beautiful landscapes.
Train Station Sign ‘Nikko’
From Asakusa Station, there is a direct train to Shimo-Imaichi Station, which is only an 18-minute walk away from Nikko. The train ride will take less than two hours. If you catch a train at 8am, you’ll arrive at approximately 10am, which gives you plenty of time for sightseeing. Taking the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsunomiya and then switching to the JR Nikko Line to Nikko Station would be another option, but the travel time is around the same. Depending on where you stay one option would be better than the other!
Entrance of Toshogu Shrine
If visitors could only choose to go to one place in Nikko, the Toshogu Shrine is definitely it. Built in 1617, the Toshogu Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, it is actually one of the three establishments that make up the Shrines and Temples of Nikko UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu who established the Tokugawa shogunate, it beckons tourists from various parts of Japan and also from all over the world. The carving of the Nemurineko (sleeping cat) marks the beginning of a steep 5-minute climb and also serves as the path to Ieyasu’s mausoleum, which is located above the temple.
Ever heard of the saying ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’? Most people would have probably heard this phrase at least once in their lives, but a majority would not where it originated. It was actually the carvings of the three wise monkeys – Mizaru (see no evil), Kikazaru (hear no evil), and Iwazaru (speak no evil) – at Toshogu Shrine that popularized this maxim. The endings of the names -zaru is a negative conjunction on the verbs (see, hear, speak) and is not generally used in modern Japanese, but it evokes a nice pun on the word ‘saru’, which means ‘monkey’ in Japanese. Take a walk around the shrine and see if you can spot the three wise monkeys as in the picture below!
Carving of the three wise monkeys
The entrance fee of the Toshogu Shrine is priced at ¥1,300, while the museum entrance has a fee of ¥1,000. If you wish to visit both, you can purchase a combined ticket at ¥2,100. Both the imposing architecture and the intricate carvings make the Toshogu Shrine a visit that you definitely do not want to miss!
A second place to visit is definitely the Shinkyo Bridge, which is part of the Furarasan Shrine. Like the Toshogu Shrine, they are one of the three establishments that make up the Shrines and Temples of Nikko UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shinkyo Bridge actually means ‘The Sacred Bridge’ and is a World Heritage in its own right. In addition, it is also considered as one of the most beautiful bridges in Japan, and it is easy to see why.
Painted a brilliant shade of vermilion, the bridge traverses across a lake that shimmers ethereally under the sunlight. Against the backdrop of clear, blue skies and the lush greenery of nature, the picturesque sight looks like it was taken right out of a fantasy novel. Viewing the bridge afar from downstream actually provides the best views of it, but visitors can pay a fee of ¥300 if they wish to have the experience of walking across it.
The third establishment of the Shrines and Temples of Nikko UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually the Rinno-ji (輪王寺), a Buddhist temple. However, there is more to Nikko than just its shrines and temples – waterfalls are another appealing attraction of the city. The Ryuzu Falls is one of them.
Ryuzu is translated as ‘Dragon’s Head’, and the waterfall is so called because the twin waterfalls invokes the imagery of a dragon’s head. The pouring water is a hypnotic view, and the soothing sound of water crashing against the rocks is enough to drown the deafening thoughts in your head, giving you a much-needed moment of respite even if only for a few minutes.
Trekking further up the stone steps, you will reach the top of the Ryuzu Falls, which offers a different yet equally stunning view. The incline of the waterfall upstream is a lot gentler, and the flow of water over the rocks is almost reminiscent of a woman’s long, cascading hair. Although the top of the waterfall eventually leads to a road, you wouldn’t be able to hear the sounds of car engines pumping away from where you stand next to the waterfall. The modern world is only a few metres away, but the Ryuzu Falls are so heavily encased in nature that it feels like you have been transported back to the past. Accessing the Ryuzu Falls is also free of charge, and the only challenge is climbing up the stairs. However, the scenic view at the end is worth every effort, and you won’t even remember the climb once you’ve set your eyes on these lovely falls!