Nikko is a beautiful city near Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture. Nikko is very popular for its UNESCO world heritage shrines and scenic spots during autumn and you get to see very beautiful fall foliage! As the saying goes “Never say Kekko (in English-enough/satisfied) until you visit Nikko”, it’s an apt saying and I second it without a second thought!
Day trip: Toshogu Shrine -> Shinkyo Bridge -> Edo wonderland
Toshogu Shrine is the most famous Shinto shrine and is the most lavishly built shrine in the whole of Japan. It’s usually crowded as early as 8-9AM in the morning. It has an entrance fee of 1000 JPY, but absolutely worth visiting this shrine. As you get in to the shrine, the main door is impressive with intricate carvings painted in bright colors with unique sculptures
There are many must visit spots which are highlighted here like:
Just outside the entrance is the beautiful 5 storied Pagoda, again colorful , intricate carvings and is the most beautiful pagodas (outside view) I have seen in Japan (other popular pagodas are in Kawasaki, Miyajima & Nara)
Wooden Warehouses and 2 of them being most popular for the wooden carvings and decorations on it, one portrays the famous 3 monkeys – See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil and the other one which has unique elephants as it is said that the artist who created it has never seen elephants in real and its purely his way of depicting the elephants!
Sleeping Cat on the way to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum
Crying Dragon painted on the ceiling of one of the building with unique acoustics which shall be explained by the priests
There are 2 more Shrines in this area, but since I was running outta time, I picked the most famous and Beautiful Toshogu shrine.
Shinkyo Bridge, to be frank when I was reading about Nikko and this bridge being a main attraction, I though it’s just hyped as you see tons of such bridges all over Japan. But to my surprise, when I visited this bridge (you can get off the bus at Shinkyo bridge stop and then walk to the shrine), I was in awe of this red bridge built across beautiful water streams and greenery , I visited in early autumn and instantly fell in love with the amazing view it offers. This experience is better in real than to read! I agree to the fact that this little bridge is ranked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges
Edo wonderland – one can make a choice to visit world heritage area (all the Shrines, waterfalls in Nikko and so on) or head to a rather unique and one of its kind of history theme park – Edo wonderland (A man made township imitating Edo period). So you don’t just get to see but experience a lot of aspects from back in the times of Edo period in Japan’s history. You can buy tickets from Klook or directly at the counter. Do not forget to pick a copy of Show timings + Map of this area here. All the experiences, performances are extremely unique and beautiful.
My recommendations: (Performances & Experiences)
Ninja Karasu Goten : If you are a kid who has grown up playing Ninja games, this show is bound to entertain you the most as you witness live Ninja power packed action sequences , absolutely brilliant show with people – as Ninja’s performing stunts in front of your eyes with light and sound effects!
Mizugei-za is a water, music and lights show. A unique and mesmerizing experience. All though all the shows are in Japanese, you can absolutely enjoy these shows as they are treat for the eyes wrapped with unique cultural aspects of Japan
Wakamatsu-ya – you can see a funny theatrical tale having a chosen person from the audience playing a role of an aristocrat enjoying the dance performances of Oiran Courtesan and trying to find love!
Oiran Courtesan Procession – most popular procession in Edo wonderland. It’s a short procession that happens once in a day (I think) and it lasts for about 5-10 mins. Oiran courtesan (dressed in beautiful, colorful Kimonos) walks with a rather unique wooden sandals with a bunch of people accompanying her with synchronous moves. You will be amazed by the sync amongst all the people walking in this procession
Coming to the experiences, I would recommend trying:
Kai Kai Ninja House & Karakuri Ninja Maze
Try the Edo style makeup- red lipstick made of fully plant based natural products or get a tattoo done
Try your hands on playing Shamisen (three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian. It is played with a plectrum called a bachi). . . Also don’t forget to get clicked with Japanese Luckycat!
Also, there are museums explaining the Japanese skills of designing , manufacturing swords, knifes, even Nail cutters and the history/evolution behind, In this place I could relate to my Mother’s wish to get a Japanese Nail clipper/cutter as a gift to her from Japan and why was she praising it so much!
Samurai swordsmen experience has limited number of slots and must be booked before , but you can see it however and is a nice experience
Edo wonderland is definitely my first history theme park which took me back in Edo period and gave me an experience of one of the significant periods in Japanese history. Also here you can hire various kinds of Kimonos , dress up and walk around. There are free shuttle buses to reach this place (please check the timings)
What to eat in Nikko (vegetarian): Answer is “Yuba” – Tofu skin dishes are extremely popular in Nikko. I tried 2 varieties of Yuba dishes – one was fermented Yuba sheets served with a soup of mushrooms and the other one was more like a kebab with veggies. The first dish was delicious and the best thing in any Japanese restaurant is that they serve hot green tea with anything you order!
How to commute? Tobu railways operating from Aasakusa station in Tokyo offers 2 kinds of Nikko Travel passes
The Nikko World Heritage Area Pass includes the round trip from Tokyo and unlimited travel on buses in central Nikko and on trains between Nikko and the Kinugawa Onsen area. The pass is valid on two consecutive days.
The Nikko All Area Pass is additionally valid on buses between Nikko and Okunikko and several other designated means of transport in the Nikko area. The pass is valid on four consecutive days.
I purchased Nikko world heritage pass for my itinerary + onward journey update to limited express by paying an extra fare
Also, since I recommended making a weekend trip, you can easily find accommodation near JR station of Nikko.
Shopping? Near JR station of Nikko, there are a lot of shops offering everything you can possibly want to buy from food, clothes and gifts!