Nikko National Park (日光国立公園) is located 150 kilometres north of Tokyo. It is considered one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful park in Japan. It is an ideal destination to escape Tokyo’s busy city. Not only can you take beautiful walks here, but there are also many interesting sights to discover.
Are you planning to travel to Nikko National Park? From Tokyo you could easily do that as a day trip. But if you have the time, then at least 1, but preferably 2 nights is highly recommended. If only to discover the most important temples of the country. And it’s not for nothing that they are on the Unesco World Heritage list. Let’s go to Nikko National Park… !
What would you like to know about Nikko National Park in Japan?
History of Nikko National Park – A journey through the past
Before you start your trip through Nikko National Park you will find here a short overview of the most important historical events of this beautiful park. This can be summarized in 3 events.
766 – The Monk Shodo Shonin as founder of various temples in Nikko
In 766 A.D. the monk Shodo Shonin (735-817) crossed the Daiya River in Nikko and founded a few temples. It started with the Shihonryuji Temple, now better known as the Rinnoji Temple. Later he also founded the Futarasan shrine. Both temples can still be visited in Nikko National Park. But more about that later…
Shodo Shonin also climbed Nikko’s most famous mountain, Mount Nantai, and founded the Chuzenji Temple at Chuzenji Lake. He died in 817, but his merits for Nikko and Buddhism are still praised.
1620 – Construction of the golden temple to the great leader
Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) was the founder of the Edo period (1603-1868). A few years before his death he commissioned the construction of a mausoleum in Nikko National Park. At the same time a temple, the Toshogu Shrine, was built. If you are a lover of gold, you should definitely go here. The tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa lies behind the temple.
1934 – Nikko becomes a national pride
In 1911 Nikko National Park was elected as an imperial park. But when the law on National Parks was introduced in 1931, Nikko was soon given the status of national park. In 1934 it was decided to give it the status of a national park. And since 1999 the sanctuaries of this park are on the Unesco World Heritage List. This park now consists of a surface area of 1148 km². So there is plenty to discover.
Sightseeing – 7 x to see and do in Nikko National Park
The best time to travel to Nikko National Park is between April and November. The months October and November are preferred because of the beautiful autumn colours of the park. However, are you going to Nikko in the summer? Then it can still be quite busy. Not only tourists, but also locals like to come here. A must is to visit the temples early in the morning or at the end of the afternoon, when the busses with tourists are gone.
Of course you can make beautiful walks in Nikko. The most famous hike is the one to Mount Nantai, the highest mountain of this region. It is situated near the lake of Chuzenji. Count on a minimum of 4 hours for this climb and descent. Do you prefer to take it slower and do you especially want to see some special sights? Then read on and discover 7 historical sites with an impressive story…
1. Discover the place where Shodo Shonin crossed the Daiya River…
This is the first historic site you will see in Nikko National Park. It is perhaps one of the best known and most photographed bridges in Japan, the Shinkyo Bridge (神橋). The monk Shodo Shonin wanted to cross the river and prayed to God. He helped Shonin by sending 2 snakes which together formed a bridge. The monk crossed the river in 766 and founded a few temples. The current bridge has been there since 1904, when a storm destroyed the former bridge. As far as we know, there has been a bridge since 1673, but it could also be many years older.
For a small amount of money you can enter the sacred bridge. But of course it is a bit more fun to photograph the bridge from a distance.
2. Go to Nikko’s main temple, the Rinnoji Temple
After the Shinkyo bridge do you walk straight on to the Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺)? This is the first sanctuary founded by Shonin in 766. At that time it was called the Shihonryu Temple. With it he introduced Buddhism to the region. Over the centuries the temple has grown to 15 buildings of which the Sanbutsudo is the most important. You can also stroll through the small Japanese garden. Count on a visit to this temple for about 1 to 2 hours. A ticket per person costs 400 yen.
3. Toshogu Shrine: Visit the mausoleum and the golden Temple
The Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) is actually a tribute to the first leader of the Tokugawa shogunate: Ieyasu Tokugawa. A lot of gold, the mighty leader must have said at the time. And that has come true, because with more than 500 kilos of gold, this temple is an unmissable landmark in Nikko National Park.
Would you like to read more about the Toshogu Shrine? Then read the article Toshogu Shrine: Visit the Golden Temple!
4. An another important sanctuary: the Futarasan shrine
In 782 Shonin founded a second temple, the Futarasan shrine (二荒山神社). This sanctuary is dedicated to the gods of Mount Nantai, Nyoho and Taro. The first, Mount Nantai, is mainly referred to in Futarasan. Part of the complex can be visited free of charge, but a small part has to be paid for. This costs 200 yen per person.
5. Kegon Falls: The most beautiful waterfall in Japan, but with a dark edge…
The Kegon Falls (華厳の滝) is one of the three most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. At a height of 100 metres, the water plunges down into a wide gorge. But this place also has its dark sides. More than 200 people committed suicide here by jumping down from the top of the waterfall. And why did they do that?
Curious about the background of this story? Then read the article The Kegon Falls | 200 suicides in Nikko National Park
6. Take a walk through the Kanmangafuchi Abyss
Kanmangafuchi Abyss (憾満ヶ淵) is a gorge near the temple complex of Nikko. If you have any time left, a walk of an hour along the river is an excellent option. Because along this road are also the mysterious Jizo statues that can disappear just like that. Or can’t they?
For more information about these mysterious figurines with red scarves, read the article Discover the mysterious statues in the Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko
7. Finally: Walk around the free temples of Nikko
A number of temples, such as the Futarasan and the Toshogu Shrine, cost money to visit. But if you don’t want to, there is also the possibility to visit some of the surrounding temples. These are also located on the complex, but in a quiet environment. Lovely to avoid the hustle and bustle of the Toshogu Shrine and Futarasan Temple.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Nikko?
Anyone who has decided to stay at least 1 night in Nikko National Park will undoubtedly be wondering where the best accommodation can be found. The most common places are near the two train stations, near the temples or, for example, near Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖). For the latter, there is still 40 minutes to travel by bus. Below you will find a number of possibilities.
Hostel: Nikko Sumica Guesthouse (budget) is a small hostel run by a nice couple. In the evening a game is played, think of the classic sumo wrestling! Only not with real people, but with two figures on a game board. By tapping the table, the vibrations cause the dolls to move. And whoever lies on top wins.
Hotel: Nikko’s most famous hotel is perhaps the Kanaya Hotel. During the Second World War the emperor and his family stayed here. From 1945 to 1952 this was the home of American officers. But also some famous stars stayed here, like Albert Einstein (scientist), Charlie Chaplin (movie star) and Frank Lloyd Wright (architect/writer). Prices for a room in this 4 star hotel start from 200 euro per night.
Onsen: Are you more of a relaxed person and would you like to visit a typical onsen (hot springs)? Then go to Okunikko Yumoto Onsen. The first time an onsen here was mentioned in documents was in 788. If you visit the small town of Yumoto you can choose from around 10 hotels and can visit the nearby Yudaki Falls. The town is past Chuzenji, so from the bus station Nikko it is best to buy a 2-day bus ticket.
Transportation – How to get to Nikko National Park?
The easiest way to get to Nikko National Park from Tokyo is by high-speed train, the Shinkansen. In between you get to Utsunomiya. With the JR Tobu Line you go from Utsonomiya to JR Tobu Station in Nikko. This trip takes about 2 hours. With the JR pass this route is completely free. There is also a private line that goes to Nikko, but it is generally more expensive.
On the website Hyperdia you can see exactly how the route to Nikko National Park will be
Arriving in Nikko it is about a 30 minute walk to the famous Unesco temples of this park. But it is also possible to take the bus. For more information take a look at the website of Tobu Bus.
What did you think of Nikko National Park? Do you have any tips or other ideas about destination? Feel free to leave a message below.
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