Nikko is quite literally a breath of fresh air – a mountain town where gleaming shrines reside in perfect harmony with an arboreal landscape. Just a few hours north of Tokyo, the city and its picturesque environs offer natural beauty, with everchanging colours, and an unrivalled collection of cultural treasures.
Over a hundred buildings, spread across two Shinto shrines and one Buddhist temple, make up a spectacular religious complex, rightfully declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The most visited of these – Toshogu – is a richly decorated shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Japan’s last shogunate. Intricate wood carvings and lavish gilded elements make this one of Japan’s most fascinating and photogenic attractions, a sprawling mausoleum that you could spend many hours exploring.
While the manmade treasures of Nikko are reason enough to visit, the natural stage they sit upon is one of utmost wonder. With towering avenues of cedars, stunning waterfalls, and the crystal-clear mirror of Lake Chuzenji, the scenery around Nikko is truly unforgettable. The autumn colours here are deservedly famous, but the region exceeds expectations in all seasons. Whether to witness the blooming azaleas on a welcome break from the summer humidity, or to find a secret spot for some late-Spring cherry blossoms, it is obvious why Nikko is one of the most popular countryside jaunts from Tokyo.
Despite its popularity as a daytrip destination, it is hugely rewarding for those who are able to spend more time here. Sleeping overnight in the historical Kanaya Hotel – the oldest Western-style hotel in Japan – will add your name to a long list of famous former guests, such as Albert Einstein, Ulysses S. Grant and Eleanor Roosevelt. With a lengthier stay in the Nikko region you can enjoy some incredible long hikes too – circumnavigating the aforementioned lake, looping around the Senjogahara Marsh, or trekking up to one of the many iconic waterfalls. With so much sacred history and noteworthy scenery, there is something for everyone. To paraphrase an old Japanese saying – never say you have seen enough beauty until you have seen Nikko.