Nikko is one of the most impressive towns in Japan. The town lies in the Nikko National Park, which is known for its lavished shrines, monuments, and mausoleums. Nikko has always been a spiritual hub, being the center of Shintoism and Buddhism worship.
Aside from its religious buildings, Nikko National Park offers its visitors a very scenic mountainous landscape, which is composed of hot springs, lakes, waterfalls, and trails. This is the reason why many avid hikers make their way to the park. Nikko can be visited year-round, but the town, together with Lake Chuzenji and the Okunikko area, is especially picturesque during autumn when the changing of leaf colors makes a dramatic sight.
The history of Nikki is centered on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. This powerful shogun requested that upon his death, a small shrine will be built in his honor. This simple wish started the building of the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns, which is a grand collection of temples, shrines, and buildings.
Unlike the usually simpler gilded Japanese architectural style; the buildings of Nikko are purposely made to appear ornate, lavish, and multicolored. They reflect a great deal of Chinese design influence and are declared collectively as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Surrounding these historical buildings is a marvelous forest housing more than 13,000 cedar trees. The presence of this forest is impressive in itself and adds to the overall mystical appeal of Nikko.
Nikko is very much accessible from Tokyo. You only need to take a 20-hour train ride and you are in the footsteps of this historical town. Upon arriving, it will take you about 3 hours to explore the complex thoroughly. Because of its proximity to the capital, it is possible to make it a day trip destination, but you need to properly plan. Getting to the shrine complex early is the most practical thing to do to maximize your sightseeing and exploration time.
The highlight structure in Nikko town is undeniably the Tosho-gu shrine, which is an exquisite and beautifully decorated shrine, which completely deserves the heritage site status. The site’s entrance, which is the Yomei-mon Gate, features one of the most magnificent pieces of woodwork in Japan. Tosho-gu’s prominence extends to thousands of worshippers from all around Japan who make their way to the shrine year-round. Tosho-gu welcomes visitors every day starting at 8:00 a.m.
Another landmark you will want to experience is the Nikoosa Rinno-ji Temple. This equally impressive building contains three shrines called Gohonzon, where worshippers pray for their families and the country. One of the most incredible features of the temple is its wood pillars, which stand at 25 meters and are coated with several layers of lacquer.
Another structure that has been stealing the attention of many tourists is the small wooden carvings on one wall, known to the world as the ‘three wise monkeys.’ Other notable sites within the complex that deserve your time and attention include the Futarasan Shrine, known for its large stone lanterns; and Shinkyo Bridge, which is the legendary snake bridge that stands as the official entrance to Nikko.