So yesterday we had a first snow in Tokyo. It was said to be the first November snow in 54 years. The temperature was down below zero at night, quite unusual for Tokyo.
Which bring us to today’s post, Nikko! Although it’s in Kanto area, Nikko is generally a lot colder than Tokyo making it a great destination in summer (to escape the heat) and winter (to see snow!)
For those interested in experiencing Japanese temples and shrines in a day trip or night away from Tokyo, why not go to Nikko?
Previously we have written about Nikko here, but this time I would like to focus on the main attraction of the town, the shrines and temples.
How to get there
Unfortunately the shinkansen does not go directly to Nikko, so I took one to Utsunomiya before changing to the JR Nikko line local service.
You can also get there on the Tobu Limited Express which is a little slower but cheaper for those without a JR pass. The trip takes approximately two hours.
World heritage area
The first thing I did after dropping my luggage off at my hostel was head towards the World Heritage Area.
The beginning of a trip through the World Heritage Area is the Shinkyo Bridge. It is a kind of gateway between the main town (on the left) and the World Heritage sites (on the right).
You can cross it for a few hundred yen or can simply view it from the road bridge.
Heading up the stairs towards the World Heritage Site area.
First I went to Rinnoji, which is said to be the most important temple in Nikko. Unfortunately the main gate was being renovated (scheduled to finish in 2019) however the temple is still in operation.
Next was the largest and most famous shrine in the town, Tosho-gu. There was a small gate at the entrance of the shrine complex.
The five story pagoda. It reminded me of similar structures I saw in Kyoto and Nara, but this one was a lot more colourful and majestic.
Unfortunately the Yomeimon gate was also under construction. Although the gate was not in its best state, there is a lot to see inside!
There seemed to be a set course that people took around the shrine. I followed the crowd.
First I saw the “three wise monkeys” carvings. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo of these. Most people tend to focus on the “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” carving but it was interesting to see the entire story.
Next was Nemuri-neko, or “sleeping cat”. Can you see the wood carving above the pathway?
Here it is! This carving is considered to be a national treasure of Japan. I am a cat lover so could really appreciate the peacefulness of the carving.
There is also an assortment of cat themed luck charms (omamori) sold around the shrine.
Passing through this entrance, I went up a long flight of stairs towards Tokugawa Ieyasu’s resting place
Finally I reached the mausoleum. There is a place to pay your respects at the entrance and exit. I was surprised at the sheer size of it.
After going down the stairs, I arrived back at the entrance to the shrine. This time I could see it from a different angle that wasn’t affected by the renovations as much.
Continuing through the World Heritage area
Next I made the short walk to Futarasan Shrine. One of the great things about Nikko is how many of the attractions are close to each other.
Here you wash your hands and mouth before paying your respects at the shrine.
You can also write your wishes on an ema plaque. This is a popular spot for those wishing to find love or to continue their relationship.
After that, it was time to head back to the centre of town for a dinner of soba with the regional specialty, yuba tofu skins.
Although you could easily make it a day trip, I stayed the night, spending the next day walking around the western side of town.
I hope this could give you an idea of the shrines and temples that you can see in Nikko.
If you’ve decided to stay the night in Nikko, but are wondering what to do after exploring the World Heritage area? It is a very beautiful town so it is a waste not to see all it has to offer.
After checking out Rinnoji Temple, Toshogu Shrine and Futarasan Shrine (all in one day), my suggestion is to go for a walk through the western area of town.
Although I went in winter (you can see snow in the pictures) I would recommend Nikko during the warmer months when the walking trail is more clear.
You may have seen similar statues around temples or other places in Japan, but do you know their meaning?
These Jizo statues have a long history and cultural significance. But to put it simply, they represent the guardian of children, who protect them from the underworld.
The shape is a simplified human, designed to look like Buddhist monks. Jizo statues all over Japan have red knitted caps and bibs. These refer to the children who they watch over.
The Jizo in Nikko are unique in that there is a huge number all standing in a line (narabi jizo literally means “jizo in a line”. Although there are around 70 of them, the exact number is unknown. There is a legend that the number changes if you count again walking the other direction. Why not try counting yourself?
The path you walk along with the Jizo statues has a river running next to it. The area with the Jizo statues and river is known as Kanmangafuchi Abyss because of the dark, deep water. There are some pretty and interesting waterfalls too, so keep your eyes open in both directions!
Continuing the walk
After the line of Jizo statues reached an end, you can go back the other direction, heading back to town. I still had quite a bit of time before my shinkansen back to Tokyo, so I decided to continue walking. I took the path marked “Nikko City Walking Trail”. I got to see some beautiful parts of town. I can only imagine how lush this area would be during spring, summer and autumn!
My first thought seeing this was that it was an abandoned shrine, but on a closer look…
See that white tray inside the shrine? It actually contains rice cooked with beans and vegetables. It looked quite fresh so it must have been put there as an offering recently.
Even more Jizo statues!
After this, the walking path connected again to the main road. It was around a 30 minute walk back to the main town from here.
Back in town
I had a late lunch in town before doing some window shopping.
There were some beautiful ceramics.
I loved these colourful little houses.
A figure of the sleeping cat as seen in Toshogu Shrine!
This post makes up my 2 day trip to Nikko. Although it is possible to go there as a day trip, I really enjoyed the more relaxed pace that you can take when staying the night.
I hope you can have a satisfying trip to Nikko too.
See you next blog!
ps. Rachel, our blogger went to Nikko earlier this year in February and thus come up with this blog post. If you plan to visit soon and wish to see snow, please check weather conditions.
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