Nikko

About Nikko

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CITY OF NIKKO:

 

 

 

   
   

Nikko Town Centre

 

 

 

Shrines and temples

Nihon Romantic Highway
Nikko Station, Park Lodge

 

NIKKO NATIONAL PARK:

      Toshogu Shrine, Taiyuinbyo Shrine, Rinnoji Shrine, Futarasan Shrine
   
Kegon Falls  

Lake Chūzenji

  West Nikko
    Mount Nantai, Road to Nikko   Shinkyo Bridge, Temple area, Nikko Shinko Church
   

 

ABOUT Nikko:

Population: 84 000
Language: Japanese
Founded:
766 (town 1889)
Region:
Kantō
Prefecture:
Tochigi
Island:
Honshu
Area:
1449.83 km²
Year visited: May 2018

 

Nikko is a small city and a national park, Nikko National Park, 140km North of Tokyo. The area is known for ancient shrines, hot springs, lakes, an ancient bridge, green surrounding mountains and water falls. Nikko is known as the most beautful place in Japan. There is a Japanese saying "never say 'beautiful' until you have seen Nikko". Despite the low population, Nikko is the 3rd largest city by area in Japan. After Monk Shodo Shonin founded the first temples in Nikko, climbed Mt. Nantai and discovered Lake Chuzenji, the city became an international buddhist center, with shrines also used during the Meji period. Since Nikko lies high above the sea, the climate is much colder then nearby Tokyo.

In 2006 the city expanded and incorporated the town of Ashio, along with the city of Imaichi, the town of Fujihara, and the village of Kuriyama (both from Shioya District). Kinugawa River flows through Kasagoe in the North of Nikko, where most large hotels can be found (with beautiful riverviews), and Daiya River through Nikko's main town. Watarase River is another one. Thus it can be confusing to navigate since Nikko is consisting of several towns, and lots of mountains, lakes and greenery between. But it was the central town, Nikko, with its many sights, that we visited. The town is very narrow. Nikko Station is where we arrived. In front of the station is a square. From the square goes a long road, Road 119 or Nihon Romantic Highway, filled with small 2-storey buildings in typical Japanese style, housing apartments, shops, restaurants, cafés etc. Souvenir shops, noodle restaurants and a Hello Kitty shop can be found along this road. The main city of Nikko and its surroundings is just like a Japanese version of Twin Peaks, with waterfalls, special people, slowscale life, bikers, forests and surrounding mountains!

We arrived by train to Nikko Station. The main building is white and almost like a mansion. Another station building, further to the East, is pink and was designed by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Unforrtunatley we mistaked the old City Hall for the station by Wright so we never saw the actual building. The Nikko City Hall is an imposing historic building, situated on a hill above the main road. A very rare sports car, a Mitsuoka, parked right next to this building when we passed by. There are many exotic cars in Mitsuoka, we also saw a Lotus, a Jaguar E-Type and a vintage VW Bus.

Shinkyo Bridge (the Sacred Bridge) is an ancient bridge, that is one of the most famous bridges in Japan and symbols of Nikko. It is a red wooden bridge crossing the Daiya River. It is part of the Futarasan Shrine. According to the legend, Shodo Shonin crossed the river on the backs of two huge snakes on this spot. The bridge was originally built in 1636 for the shogun but it was destroyed by a flood. Today's bridge is from 1907. It is not allowed to walk on the bridge. Near the bridge is Nikko Shinko Church (True Light Church), a stone church, that is one of the few churches in Nikko.

There are many Buddhist Shrines and Temples in the green West part of Nikko, originally founded by Monk Shodo Shonin. There are more then 100 religious buildings in the temple area, surrounded by forest with tall pine trees and lakes. The area has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage site and is 50.8 ha in sinze . The most famous temples and shrines are:

Toshogu Shrine (Nikkō Tōshō-gū). Tokugawa Iemitsu (1603-51) built this as a mausoleum for his ancestor Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, a politicans that founded the dynasty that ruled Japan for more then 250 years. It took only two years to build the shrine in the 1600s, 15 000 art workers were involved. Ieyasu's grave and tomb is here. There is a 5-storey red pagoda from 1818 (originally from 1650) at the main gate, the Niomon Gate, guarded by two Nio figures, speaking the first and last letters of the Japanese alphabeth. Yomeimon Gate and Karamon Gate leads you trough stairs higher up to Honden, the inner sacred place.

Taiyuinbyo Shrine (Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin) was completed in 1653 as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Iemitus that built the previous shrine. It is more relaxed and less visited by hords of tourists then Toshogu Shrine, but it is even more beautiful in a way because it is closer to the trees in the forest. The main entrance is Niomon Gate, then you go higher and higher on the stairs of the Nitemon Gate and Yashamon Gate. Honden, the inner sacred place with a golden buddhist altar, was open during our visit!

Rinnoji Temple was the first temple founded by Monk Shodo Shonin, in 766. In the 1600s it became the temple of the Tendai sect. Its sanbutsudo is the largest hall with three buddhas in Nikko. There are 1000 volumes of sutras (the holy script of the Buddhism). In the Hall of Treasure, there are treasures from the Edo period. Shoyoen is a beautiful garden, just behind the temple. The temple was under reconstruction 2018, so the exterior of the main temple was hidden. Unfortunately it was prohibited to take pictures inside also, so we can't show many pictures of this shrine.

Futarasan Shrine was founded by Shodo Shonin in 782. The bronze lantern is said to look like a monster. The shrine was dedicated to the gods of the Nantai and Nyotai mountains, together with two other shrines at Lake Chuzenji and Mt. Nantai. The Sacred Bridge (Shinkyo Bridge) belongs to this shrine.

There are also other temples in Nikko, some are around Lake Chuzenji and Mt. Nantai.

Nikko Botanical Garden is a 10.5 hectares large botanical garden on terrain, operated by University of Tokyo. It is situated just West of the main town, near the temple area.

Since Nikko is so spread out and one of Japan's largest towns by size, there is a tour bus that goes around the most important spots in the area. The bus ride to Lake Chūzenji and Kegon Falls is spectacular with winding, narrow roads going up and down green mountains. The bus has been a landmark in itself.

Lake Chuzenji is a scenic lake that was created 20 000 years ago after the eruption of Mount Nantai (or Futara-san), a 2 486 m high stratovolcano. Lake Chūzenji has a surface area of 11.62 km², a depth of 163m and elevation of 1,269 m. It is a popular tourist spot and village, with frequent tour buses going up there from the city of Nikko, that is 10km East of the lake. There are many residences belonging to embassies in the area around the lake.

Near the lake is Kegon Falls, a beautiful waterfall that we visited. It is 97 m high and surrounded by beautiful green montains. The falls were formed when the Daiya River was rerouted by lava flows. An elevator and a tunnel takes you down to viewing platforms on different levels. There are monkeys around the lake, visitors are encourage to be careful while eating. In spring, cherry blossoms are blooming. 12 smaller waterfalls are situated to the behind, and around Kegon Falls. The famous Japanese poet Misao Fujimura comitted suicide at the falls in 1903.

There are also many other waterfalls in Nikko, for example Ryuzu Falls, Yudaki Falls, Urami Falls, Jakko Fallsand Kirifuri Falls. Kegon Falls is the most impressive though.

 

OUR EXPERIENCE:

Initially we planned just a daytrip in Nikko from Tokyo, but found out there was simply too much to see, and the place is really spread out. So we added a whole extra day, after we arrived from Tokyo in the afternoon.

We stayed at the Nikko Park Lodge Mountain Side, a 3-star hotel in the mountains above Nikko's town center. The main building of Park Lodge was situated just opposite the Nikko Station. But it took an adventurous walk in the late evening up steep hills to reach the Mounain side (that is less central but much more atmospheric), before we got help from a really friendly Japanese couple at a nearby hotel that drove us there in their car. The interior of the hotel felt American (Northwest USA), with a dark wooden furniture white walls, guitars, DVD player and a library with tourist information. The corridors were white with many paintings, and there is a nice veranda that belongs to the hotel. The staff seemed very busy at times, and didn't know the hotel was already paid on booking.com, but spoke English well. However, we had to put our shoes off before entering the lobby, reminding we were in Japan. The breakfast was nice with pancakes. The man drove us back to the station the last day, heading back to Tokyo.

HISTORY:

Monk Shodo Shonin is the founder of the temples in the Nikko National Park.  He is one of the great Buddhist Monks of the Heian period.  In 766 he crossed the Daiya river and founded Shihonryuji Temple in the Nikko National Park.  This temple has been named Rinnoji Temple later on.
Monk Shodo Shonin is known to be the first person to explore the great summits of the Nikko National Park.  He has climbed Mt. Nantai and visited the great Lake Chuzenji.  On the foothills of the Mt. Nantai and next to the Lake Chuzenji he built the Chuzenji Temple.  Chuzenji temple is one of the Bando Kannon pilgrimage temples.  There is a wooden thousand armed Kannon inside this temple.  The legend has it that Monk Shodo Shonin has carved this Kannon statue with one single large Katsura Tree.
He passed away on March 1, 817, and was buried in Kaizan-do Temple in the Nikko National Park.  His statue has been erected at the entrance of the Nikko World Heritage Temples and Shrines site as a remembrance of his contributions to Buddhism in Japan.

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