Tokyo Day Trips: Nikko

Nikko is a magical location that I cannot wait to go back to, that I was supposed to be going back to this April (2021), but dang Covid 19 is still out there ruining lives. I decided to finally make this post on Nikko, to help me get over my No-Vacation-Blues, and also re-excite me all over again for the next time I am able to go to Nikko.

I wanted to wait until after this trip, because I was an even worse photographer then, but hey, life didn’t allow for that to happen, so bear with my zero photography skills while still imagining how beautiful it must be if even I was able to capture beauty in it.

The first thing I want to touch on is how to get to Nikko from Tokyo. There are a few different ways and some of them can seem like a bit of a hassle to coordinate, and I’ll be honest, some of them can be, but it is 100% worth it to figure out how to best get there for you, and experience Nikko. I would even suggest making this an overnight trip, or more, if you have time to explore the area for a few days. If not, you can still get a really good taste of Nikko in a long day trip.

Getting to Nikko from Tokyo

You can take the Limited Express Nikko-Kinugawa line from Asakusa station. It takes just under two hours and costs 2860 yen one way. You can buy the Tobu Nikko pass and the train is covered, you just have to pay the 1100 yen Limited Express train fee. It will also cover a lot of Nikko activities, so you might want to look into it to see if it will benefit you.
If you’re running on a JR Pass, then you can take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen at no cost to you. You’ll just want to make sure to transfer at Utsonomiya to the JR Nikko Line.
You can also take the JR Limited Express from Shinjuku, but it isn’t any faster than the Limited Express Nikko Kinugawa and costs 4080 yen one way. Definitely not your cheapest option.
You can take local trains for a much cheaper, and slower, way there. But note that you have to change trains a few times if you choose this method. Whichever method you choose, make sure you choose your departure and return time carefully, as some lines run limited trains each day. You’ll want to make sure you have a train back into Tokyo.
You can plug your route into Hyperdia, with date and approximate departure times and it will list your train options, with prices as well.

I recommend taking an early train so that you get there with a full day ahead of you. I would recommend a konbini breakfast (something easy you can grab at the convenience store) and if your route to Nikko is the shinkansen, you can eat your breakfast on the way. There are plenty of restaurants in Nikko, many specializing in the regional dish, Yuba. You’ll also find convenience stores. There are plenty of options for eating while there. As per my recommendation: Picnic. Pack a lunch and eat a nice picnic. If you work up an appetite, and want more food, definitely try to experience the regional foods.

There are so many things to see in Nikko that you’d need a whole month. Luckily, a bunch of the Unesco World Heritage sites are clustered together, so it’s easy to see several of them on a day trip. To be exact, there are 103 structures and the natural settings around them, that are Unesco sites. That’s a whole lotta things to see.

There are buses, both public and private, that can get you from the train station to the park where some of the main sights are. You can also walk, if you’re up for it. I feel like it was about a 30 minute walk and because this was a new area, I preferred to explore on foot.

There was a lot to see along the way! I love exploring on foot the most, whenever possible.

Futarasan Shrine

One of the first sights to meet you is Shinkyou, the wooden, red bridge. This bridge is grouped in with Futarasan Shrine. There are 23 structures total in this shrine.

It used to be only the Emperor could walk over this, from what I understand. But now I think you can pay a fee to walk over it. I am not 100% sure where you pay this fee to. Anyone know? Drop it in the comments! Though I, for one, prefer to photograph and admire it from a not so far distance.

Just across the street, you can enter the park. I say “park”, since that’s the best word I can think of for it. But it’s like… a park on steroids. Full of shrines of all kinds, mausoleums, museums, you name it. We entered just across from the bridge and it was an ever so inviting entrance.

Continuing with the Futarasan Shrine, you’re met with the large torii gate.

Then there’s the Honden and Sukibe, built in the early 1600’s. The Honden is the main hall which enshrines three deities, and the Sukibe is the roofed wall around it. These are just a few of the 23 structures listed under Futarasan Shrine.

Tosho-gu Shrine

One of the more popular shrines here is the Tosho-gu Shrine, which has 42 structures listed under it. 8 of these are considered National Treasures of Japan. The main hall and worship hall here enshrine Tokugawa Ieyasu, whom founded the Tokugawa Shogunate.

There’s a traditional torii here and a few gates. The second gate is very elaborately decorated. It’s quite a beautiful piece of architecture. The design on every little detail is incredible. They really know how to add the detail on even the smallest of pieces!

There are several storehouses here, and even a stable that was used for sacred horses. There’s a building that holds Tokugawa Ieyasu’s remains, and there’s a pagoda. There are 72 structures here, along with really pretty scenery.

Rinou-ji Temple

Switching things up now, let’s talk about the Rinou-ji Temple, built throughout the 1600’s. There are 38 structures here. The Taiyu-in Mausoleum is a gorgeous structure. It enshrines Tokugawa Iemitsu, the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. This guy was something else, in a lot of ways. You should read about him.

Even the temizuya cover is so beautiful. I love this area so much. (Is it actually a temizuya if it’s a temple? Questions I need to explore. Perhaps it’s better labeled a chouzubachi, or are they considered the same thing?)

Aside from all of these gorgeous structures and history, you’re also surrounded by such wonderful greenery. I couldn’t get enough of this place and that is why I will definitely go back.

Again, make sure that you’ve mapped your way back to Tokyo so you know when to leave the park, to get to the train station on time. This is such a fun day trip and again, if you have the time, I would recommend spending more than one day so you can see more of what Nikko has to offer.
Have you ever been to Nikko? What are some of your favorite spots? Planning to go? What are you most excited about seeing?

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