Yesterday I wrote about the popular mountainous hotspring getaway Hakone, so today I’m writing about Tokyo’s other most popular day trip: Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Like Hakone, Nikko is also a famous hotsprings area located in the mountains that has stunning nature, temples, and a lot of parks as well. Between the two of them, Hakone is my favorite because the hotsprings and museums are easier to reach by bus. Nikko is more spaced-out than Hakone and some of the hot springs take over two hours via bus to reach. That is a lot of traveling to do if you’re just coming for the day, but if you really like hiking you may find Nikko more interesting. Both are worth seeing at least once.
I’ve been to Nikko twice (once in the summer and once in the winter for the snow festival) so I will be detailing my favorite discoveries in this article. All of these places can be reached via bus from Nikko Station:
Kegon Falls & Toshogu Shrine
Kegon Falls is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Tochigi Prefecture. It was formed by lava that rerouted a river into Lake Chuzenji. We came here in the dead of winter when the surrounding area was covered by snow and slightly frozen, but the waterfall was still freely falling from the mountains. I will never forget how beautiful this scenery was. No matter what time of year you visit you will have an unforgettable view!
In the summer I visited Nikko’s most famous shrine: Toshogu. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a good reason. This shrine serves as remembrance for Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled the Tokugawa Shogunate for over 200 years. This shrine complex consists of several buildings with the main one being adorned in golden architecture that gleams in the sunlight. The shrines are located in a forested area so visiting each of them is quite a nice hike. I’m glad that I’ve traveled here during both the summer and winter so I can see the lovely change of scenery.
Kegon Falls has no admission fees, but it costs 550 yen to go to the observation deck (which is worth it in my opinion).
Toshogu Shrine Entrance Fee: 1300 yen
Nikko is famous for yuba which is literally tofu skin. That might not sound very appealing by itself, but it’s quite delicious when paired with or added to other dishes. I tried Yuba udon with my friend and it tasted amazing! The soft texture of the yuba paired with the noodles and broth gave the dish a unique texture. I also tried some yuba slices on the side just so I could fully analyze the taste. They are not as solid as tofu and are easier to eat. My favorite tofu of all time is fried tofu or spicy tofu since they have the most flavor. Yuba is rather flavorless, but it’s good for your health if eaten in small amounts. We went to the restaurant across from the station called ゆば料理, but you can try it almost anywhere in Nikko.
Yumoto Onsen Snow Festival
Each year in February, Yumoto Onsen has a snow festival in which igloos with ice sculptures are illuminated similar to the Sapporo Snow Festival. However, since this hotsprings resort is secluded, there are not as many people here and you can fully enjoy the illuminations to your heart’s content. It was quite a long journey from Tokyo, but my friend and I managed to arrive here and back within a day. The journey took 3.5 hours one way, but Yumoto Onsen is one of the best hotsprings in Nikko. After doing some photography here, we used the hotsprings for under 1000 yen. Similar to Gero Onsen and Kusatsu, you can choose from a large variety of onsen. Many were available for day trippers like us. The snow festival is free to see.
Here is a video I took in early 2018 of the igloos. I hope to take higher quality footage of another illuminated snow festival in the future:
Tobu World Square
Because I’m a fan of museums and architecture, I had to check out Tobu World Square. This is a theme park at Kinugawa Onsen (another famous hotspring) that has over 100 scales models of iconic places from around the world. My personal favorite was the pyramids from Egypt. If you stand in front of them and take a picture of yourself, it looks like you’re actually in the desert! The coliseum from Rome is also aestheically pleasing to see. I loved the mini recreation of the Dragon and Taiwan Pagoda as well. Now that I’ve been there, it hold much more meaning to me. The more you walk through the park, the more you want to travel! Summer is the ideal time to come here in my opinion.
Entrance Fee: 2500 yen (a bit expensive, but this is one of the most interesting museums in Nikko).
Walking in an Edo Wonderland
Since I was already near Kinugawa Onsen where many museums are located, I figured I’d go walking in an Edo Wonderland. As the name implies, this is an amusement park dedicated to the Edo period of Japan. If you’ve studied Japanese history, then you’ll know that this was a revolutionary time for the country. There were samurais, economic growth, and a lot of development across Japan. Many anime and novels are based off this time period. Edo Wonderland plays homage to that and gives visitors the chance to step back into that world. You can visit ninja houses and temples here, dress up in formal Edo clothing, take a boat cruise down the river, and see all sorts of performances.
Since I’ve been living in Japan for while, the most interesting part was simply exploring the Edo town for me. However, there’s a lot more you can do here! There is an archery dojo, countless restaurants, and museums where you can get even further lost in time.
Entrance Fee: 4800 yen before 2pm, 4100 after 2pm (it’s best to come in the afternoon as this is quite expensive)
The best way to access Nikko is from Tokyo’s Ueno Station. At the tourism office, they have often have discounts and deals as Nikko is a popular destination. From Ueno, you can take the Hibiya Line to Kita-senju Station, then the Tobu Limited Express to reach Tobu-Nikko Station. This takes approximately 2 hours and costs 3500 yen.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never stayed overnight at Nikko before but it’s something I’d like to try in the future. Kinugawa Onsen is one of the centrally located and seems like a good option because you can reach the other areas of Tochigi Prefecture quite easily from it.