The first temple in Nikko was founded more than 1,200 years ago along the shores of the Daiya River. However, in 1616, the dying Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made it known that his final wish was for his successors to "Build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as the God. I will be the guardian of peace keeping in Japan." As a result, Nikko became home of the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Unlike most Japanese temples and shrines, the buildings here are extremely gaudy and ornate, with multicolored carvings and plenty of gold leaf, and show heavy Chinese influence. Some sense of dignity is restored by a magnificent forest of over 13,000 cedar trees, covering the entire area.
However, for all of the grandeur the shoguns could muster, they're now over-shadowed in the eyes of many visitors by a trio of small wooden carvings on a stable wall: the famous three wise monkeys.
Tōbu Railway runs all-reserved limited express services, known as Tokkyū (特急) trains, to the area. These trains, which use Tobu's "SPACIA" railroad equipment, have comfortable, reclining seats, with vending machines and KIOSK available on most trains. One service, called Kegon (けごん) runs directly from Asakusa to Nikko in the morning, and back to Asakusa in the afternoon. There is one daily departure from Asakusa at 7:30 am, and depending on the season, there may be an additional departure at 9:30 am. The other service, Kinu (きぬ), departs from Asakusa more frequently, but branches off to Kinugawa so you will need to transfer at Shimo-Imaichi station (下今市) to a local shuttle train for the final 10-minute run to Nikko. This train is timed to meet the Kinu arrival. Both the Kegon run, and the Kinu run with transfer, take about 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Regular direct trains, which depart from Asakusa about each hour, cost ¥1320 each way. Rapid, or Kaisoku (快速) trains, take two hours; the slower Section Rapid, or Kukan-Kaisoku (区間快速) takes 2 1/2 hours. You must board one of the first two cars, since the train divides en route.
In addition, Tōbu Railway offers three convenient passes for Nikko and Kinugawa hot spring area, which can be used only by visitors to Japan.
- All Nikko Pass  allows unlimited buses and train access in the Nikko and Kinugawa area and includes some discounts for nearby attractions, but does not include entry to the shrines. Valid for 4 days, cost ¥4400. Recommended for visitors coming to see Nikko's lakes and falls.
- World Heritage Pass  covers a round-trip to Nikko and Kinugawa and includes admission to the shrines. Valid for 2 days, cost ¥3600. Some discounts for Kinugawa Theme Park are also included.
- Kinugawa Themepark Pass This pass includes admission to theme parks where you can experience the history and culture of Japan - and the world - up close. The two theme parks are Tobu World Square, where World Heritage sites and other famous structures are re-created at 1:25 scale, and Edo Wonderland / Nikko Edo Village, where you travel back in time to the days of the samurai
ALL these three passes allows unlimited train rides from Shimo-Imaichi St.to Tobu-Nikko St.and Kinugawa hot spring St. NOTE: You can not use these pass for SPACIA(Tokkyu) departing from Shinjuku, Ikebukuro.These passes are only effective for SPACIA departing from Asakusa St.
These passes can be booked online. For ¥1000 extra, you can get reserved seats and travel on the limited express services.
You can get these passes at Tobu Sightseeing Service Center. Right next to the north exit of Tobu Railway's Asakusa Station. Staff who can speak English are available.
Travel by JR costs more and takes longer, and isn't really worth considering unless you have a Japan Rail Pass, in which case you can take the Tohoku Shinkansen (Yamabiko, Max Yamabiko, Tsubasa or Nasuno) from Tokyo Station or Ueno to Utsunomiya (50 minutes or 44 minutes, respectively), then connect to the JR Nikko line (43 minutes from Utsunomiya to Nikko). From Tokyo Station, the whole trip will take from about 1 hour 40 minutes to around 2 hours, depending mostly on the connection in Utsunomiya.
By JR and Tobu
In March of 2006, JR East and Tobu began joint limited-express service from Shinjuku station to the Nikko area.
This service offers one daily round-trip between Shinjuku and Tobu-Nikko station. The Nikko limited express departs Shinjuku at 7:12, and makes stops at Ikebukuro and Omiya, then continues via JR tracks to Kurihashi station, where control of the train is turned over to Tobu. Operating over the Tobu Nikko line, the train then makes three more stops before terminating at Tobu-Nikko. The one-way journey lasts about two hours.
Other limited express trains depart Shinjuku for Kinugawa, so you will have to transfer to a shuttle train at Shimo-Imaichi for the final run to Tobu-Nikko. This also takes about two hours. This service is all in addition to Tobu's regularly-scheduled Kegon and Kinu service into and out of Asakusa.
Seat reservations are mandatory, and the fare for this journey is ¥3900 each way. Japan Rail Pass holders can use this limited express trains depart Shinjuku for ¥1560 each way (covering the portion of the trip between Kurihashi and Tobu-Nikko).
Holders of the JR East Rail Pass, on the other hand, may use the service to Nikko at no additional charge; the trip is fully covered. Unlike the regular Japan Rail Pass, the JR East Pass also covers local Tobu trains between Shimo-Imachi and Tobu-Nikko, and Shimo-Imaichi and Kinugawa-Onsen. You will have to pay separate fares for any services that are not covered.
If you plan on taking this service in both directions, consider the JR Tobu Nikko Kinugawa Free Pass (¥7800), sold to Japanese and foreigners alike. Valid for three consecutive days, it includes one round-trip on the joint JR/Tobu limited express service and unlimited travel on local Tobu trains and buses within that area. It does not include admission to the Nikko temples.
There is a Sight-Seeing Inquiry Office in Tobu-Nikko station (Tel. 0288-53-4511) which may be able to provide some help. Both stations are about two kilometers to the west of the shrine area.
To reach the shrines, you can take a Tobu Bus, or you can get up close and personal with the neighborhood and use your own two feet, following the pedestrian signs along the main road (Route 119). Halfway between the stations and shrines, you can stop at the Tourist Information Center (591 Gokomachi area; Tel. 0288-53-3795) to get maps, ask questions (some English spoken), use the Internet (¥100/30 minutes), and quench your thirst with water from a small, ladle-drawn waterfall. Also if it is raining, they very happily lend out umbrellas and you are able to drop these off on the way back. Allow about a half-hour or so to walk from the train station to the shrine entrance.
For the sights in the temple area, it's best to buy a combination ticket (社寺共通拝観券, ¥1,000) that covers Toshogu, Rinnoji, and Futarasan, as separate admissions are ¥500-1000 each. You can buy this at any of the three sites. Guides can be arranged (Tel. 0288-54-0641) for the three sites at ¥5500 for 1-20 people.
- Tōshōgū (東照宮). (8:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar) The burial place of dynasty founder Tokugawa Ieyasu and the most extravagant of the lot. Ieyasu was buried here immediately after his death, but the present complex was only built in 1634 on the order of his grandson Iemitsu. The shrine took 2 years to complete with the efforts of 15,000 workers.
- After two flights of steps you will reach the Sacred Stable, housing a white horse. The most famous symbol here is the carving of the three wise monkeys, who "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil". They're part of a curious series of carvings about the life cycle of a monkey, from giddy childhood to fearful old age. Nearby, you can also find an interesting approximation of an elephant, carved by an artist who had clearly never seen one.
- Yakushi-dō Hall (薬師堂), the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, is known for a dragon painting on the ceiling. A monk is usually on hand to speak (Japanese only) and strike a special block whose sharp, piercing sound is said to be identical to the cry of a dragon — not quite the roar of English legend but an attention-getter all the same.
- Yomei-mon Gate (陽明門) is an incredibly ornate gate with over 400 carvings squeezed in.
- To the right of the main hall is the way to Ieyasu's tomb, entry to which costs an extra ¥520. Look out for another famous carving, this time of a sleeping cat (nemuri-neko). There are 200 stone steps, and steep ones at that; and then you finally reach the surprisingly simple gravesite itself.
- Taiyuin-byō (大猷院廟). (8:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar) After completing Toshogu, Iemitsu himself was buried here. Smaller in scale (but not by much), this is generally held to be artistically superior to its predecessor.
- Rinnō-ji Temple (輪王寺). (8:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar)  Known for its three large Buddha figures, the real reason to visit is the beautiful and peaceful Shōyō-en Garden (逍遥園). Note that the garden charges a separate ¥300 admission, which also gets you into the temple's treasure hall (宝物殿 Hōmotsuden). At this site only, the combination ticket costs ¥1,300, including the garden and treasure hall; the basic ¥1,000 ticket is not available.
- Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社 Futarasan-jinja). (9:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar)  Directly to the west of Toshogu and the oldest structure in Nikko (1617). The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Nikko's three holy mountains Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho and Mt. Taro.
There are a few other sites near the temple area:
- Shinkyō (神橋). This much-photographed red bridge separates the shrines from the town of Nikko. In feudal times, only the shogun was permitted to cross the bridge, and even today it's barred from pedestrian traffic — although there's a 4-lane highway rumbling right past. You can get a nice view from the sidewalk, but to set foot on the bridge and look down into the gorge below, you'll have to buy a ¥350 ticket from the booth nearby.
- Kanmangafuchi Abyss. A long series of jizo protector statues on the side of a hill, some adorned with hats and bibs, some crumbling with age, with a river, small waterfalls and rapids below. Legend says that the statues change places from time to time, and a visitor will never see them in the same order twice. It can be tricky to find - at Shinkyō, instead of heading up the steps to the temple area, follow the road around to the west (to the left, if you crossed over the bridge) and walk roughly half an hour following the river - look for signs along the way. You will be walking through a residential area. If you pass the Turtle Inn, you are heading in the correct direction.
- Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park (Tel. 0288-53-6767; open 9:00am-4:30pm, closed Tuesdays). Built for the Emperor Taisho in 1899, the former imperial villa also served as a hide-out for Hirohito during World War II. It's next to the Botanical Garden.
- Nikko Botanical Garden (Tel. 0288-54-0206; open 9:00am-4:30pm, closed Mondays and Dec.-mid-April).  Has plenty of the local flora and gardens that were said to be favorites of the Emperor Taisho. It's now an adjunct to Tokyo University.
- Nikko National Park offers plenty of hiking opportunities.
- National Route 120 heads from the center of town into the park, passing Mt. Nantai and Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖 Chuzenji-ko) on its way to the Senjogahara Plateau, where the gods of Mt. Nantai and Mt. Akagi are said to have battled for possession of Lake Chuzenji - with several animal and insect transformations and archery experts involved in Mt. Nantai's eventual victory. There's a 6.3km walking course of the plateau; allow a little over two and a half hours. Lake Chuzenji itself is surrounded by hiking trails ranging from 4.6km (an hour and a half) to 19.7km (six hours). The area is sometimes called Oku-Nikko (奥日光 Oku-Nikko), meaning "Inner Nikko".
- Route 120 then crosses over the Yukawa River and passing the Yudaki Falls, Lake Yunoko and the Yumoto spa and ski slopes to the northwest of the city, eventually reaching Mt. Shirane and Lakes Kirikomi and Karikomi, which have their own walking courses.
- Once inside the park, special "low-pollution hybrid" buses run from a depot at Akanuma, near the Yukawa River and the Ryuzu Falls, to the nature preserve at Senjugahama, on the western shores of Lake Chuzenji. Parking is free at Akanuma, but the road to Senjugahama is closed to all other vehicles.
- A short walk south from the center of town will get you on a strenuous but rewarding hiking trail to the summit of Mt. Nakimushi (鳴虫山 Nakimushiyama). Allow a few hours for a return trip.
- Adventurous hikers might want to take the city bus to Matō, down National Route 122 in the far southwestern corner of Nikko city territory, in order to hike to Akagane Shinsui Koen (Copper Hydro Park), billed as Japan's Grand Canyon, as pollution has killed all the trees and left the valley bare. The infamous Ashio copper mine was located nearby. (See Kiryu for details.)
Aside from the usual good luck charms at the shrines and souvenir shops selling phone straps of Hello Kitty in local dress there are several interesting secondhand shops along Hippari Dako selling used kimono, antiques and knick knacks.
Yuba, the 'skin' that forms on top when making tofu, seems to be everywhere in Nikko. Even if you're not a fan of tofu, it tastes pretty good, especially with soba (buckwheat noodles in a soup broth). Yuba is also one of the most typical edible omiyage from Nikko.
- Hippari Dako (on main street just before the shrines). Enshrined in Lonely Planet, every other foreign tourist to Nikko seems to stop here for yakitori (Japanese chicken kebabs) and noodles, so you might as well join the crowd. Every available space is plastered with business cards and scribbled recommendations from visitors. Their menu contains several vegetarian options as well. Dishes ¥500 and up.
The Nikko Brewery  is on the outskirts of town. Go up the main street towards the river. Cross the river near the red bridge then take a right and keep going. It'll be about 700m or so on the left side. Their Nikko Beer is a pleasing pilsner style lager, served in a glass or a large handle for around 800yen. Very nice, crisp and refreshing and definitely best on tap. They sometimes have some seasonal brews on hand, such as dark, amber, and special ales.
There is a small alcohol shop across from the station that is run by an old couple and has an interesting selection of world beers.
Nikko can be covered in a busy day trip from Tokyo, but it's also a good place to spend the night, especially in a traditional Japanese ryokan guesthouse. The shrines are quite atmospheric early in the morning and at dusk, when the tour buses are not around.
There are several campsites in Nikko, although only Narusawa (0288-54-3374) and Ogurayama (0288-54-2478) are open year-round; several others run from April to mid-November or July to August.
- NIKKO INN (日光イン), ☎ 0288-27-0008, . Traditional Japanese style accommodation located in a farm village, with a professed interest in helping "Japanese people rediscover Japan and foreigners experience Japanese culture." From Tobu Railways Nikko Line, alight at Shimogoshiro Sta. NIKKO INN is right in front of the station.
- Daiyagawa Youth Hostel (大谷川ユースホステル), ☎ 0288-54-1974, . A cosy and very friendly place which can be a bit narrow at times, but it's the obvious choice for budget travellers with ¥2730 for a bunk bed. The owner is very hearty and is happy to lend guide books and answer questions. Either walk about 10 minutes uphill on the main street or take the bus to the tourist information centre, from there take the first right and follow the road up the river for a few minutes. It's a bit tucked away and directly at the Daiyagawa river.
- Catnip Bed & Breakfast (キャット二ップ), ☎ 0288-54-3120, . This comfortable family-run B&B is a fair hike from the station but the 40 minute walk is beautiful and the owners promise you a free beer on arrival. Alternatively you can take the #6 bus or arrange to be picked up from the station. The rooms are spacious and charming, with shared bathrooms. A bargain at ¥5000 per adult or ¥4000 for children for the first night, there is a ¥1000 discount for each subsequent night and a hot breakfast is included in the price. The owners speak fantastic English.
- Forest Inn Nikko Teddy Bear House, 1543-507 Tokorono, Nikko, Tochigi Pref. 321-1433, ☎ 0288-54-0234(fax: 0288-54-0237), . A place to rest your head for the night, and a private collection of teddy bears to peruse. Surely a traveler can ask for no more than this.Japanese and Western-style rooms ¥5,250 for one person, ¥10,500 for two, ¥15,750 for three.
- Nikko Park Lodge, 2828-5 Tokorono, ☎ 0288-53-1201, . This laid-back, friendly lodge is located about twenty minutes' walk from the town center, although the owner is happy to provide rides to and from the train stations (and to the temple area in the morning). There are twin, double and four-person rooms at ¥3990 per person. English is spoken. The lounge has comfortable sofas and a warm stove for the winter. Although most of the rooms have showers, there are lovely Japanese-style hot baths on the first floor. Zen yoga classes are offered every morning at 7AM for ¥300. A simple breakfast is ¥395, but the vegan 'zen' dinner (¥1800, reservation required) is a culinary knockout. Parking is available.
- Turtle Inn Nikko, 216 Takumi-cho, Nikko, Tochigi Pref. 321-1433, ☎ 0288-53-3168(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 0288-53-3883), . About ten minutes to the temple area; includes a hot spa bath and internet access.Japanese and Western-style rooms ¥4,880 for one person, ¥9,000 for two, ¥12,600 for three.
- Narusawa Lodge, 1462-22 Tokorono, Nikko, Tochigi Pref. 321-1421, ☎ 0288-54-1630(email@example.com, fax: 0288-54-1630), . checkin: 15:00; checkout: 10:00. A Japanese traditional guest house. 3,675yen for one person.
- Annex Turtle Hotori-An, 8-28 Takumi-cho, Nikko, Tochigi Pref. 321-1433, ☎ 0288-53-3663(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 0288-53-3883), . About fifteen minutes on foot from the Shinkyō bridge, in a quiet area near the Kanmangafuchi Abyss; includes a hot spring bath and internet access.Japanese-style rooms ¥6,500 for one person, ¥12,400 for two, ¥17,700 for three.
- Senhime Monogatari, 6-48 Yasukawa-cho(5 minute taxi ride from JR Nikko train station), ☎ +81-288-54-1010(fax: +81-288-54-0557), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 10:00. Modern ryokan with both traditional Japanese and Western Japanese rooms. Indoor and outdoor hot springs available 24 hours/day. Impeccable traditional Japanese dinners utilizing a multitude of fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. Choice of Western or Japanese style breakfast. Very personal service, good English spoken. Every room has a beautiful view of the Otani River. Located ~1000 feet from Tōshōgū Shrine.From ¥15,000 per person.
- Tōkansō (東観荘). Tel. 02-8854-0611; . A well-located ryokan used to English-speaking guests, the flip side is the large size and consequently impersonal service. Rooms start at ¥9450 per person.
- Chuzenji — lakes, temples and waterfalls
- Kirifuri Highlands — waterfalls, hiking and skiing
- Kinugawa — hot springs and the offbeat Tobu World Square/Edo Wonderland theme parks
- Yumoto — more hot springs
- Those with an interest in pottery or steam locomotives may enjoy Mashiko on the way back to Tokyo.
This page was last edited at 00:01, on 21 March 2009 by Jose Ramos. Based on work by Marc Heiden, janelle p., D. Guillaume and Gavin, Wikitravel user(s) Tweisbach, Dox96 and Episteme, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.