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A guide to Nikko: Explore the heart of the Japanese countryside, just two hours from Tokyo

10 Jun 2019 by BusinessTraveller
Brought to you by TOBU RAILWAY
British Embassy Villa Memorial Park

After a trip to bustling Tokyo, there are few better ways to refresh than with a stay in nearby Nikko, a small city in the mountains north of the capital.

Nestled in the mountainous Tochigi Prefecture, the area boasts culinary delights, stunning scenery and cultural treasures, providing an insight into traditional life – not to mention a national park showing off Japan’s enchanting natural beauty and world-renowned architecture.

The view from Akechidaira in summer

Getting there

The journey becomes part of the experience on one of Tobu’s Revaty or SPACIA trains, which offer free wifi and comfortable seats as the view whips past you, with the metropolis giving way to suburban sprawl until you reach open plains and a mountain range.

It is just a two-hour train ride from Asakusa to Nikko on the Tobu-Nikko line. Tobu’s Revaty and SPACIA trains are ‘limited express’, meaning they make fewer stops and get you to your destination more quickly.

Trains leave from Asakusa, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations in Tokyo, arriving at Kinugawaonsen, Shimo-Imaichi and Tobu Nikko stations, all near the gorgeous national park. Find more details and a timetable here, and Tobu’s guide to the area here.

Senjohara Marshland

Buy a Nikko Pass ticket, starting at 4,520 yen ($41) as of July 2019, which gets you:

  • A return ticket between Asakusa and Nikko
  • Unlimited train and bus rides within designated areas in Nikko
  • 5 per cent discount at designated stores in Asakusa, and 10 per cent off purchases of 1,000 yen or more at designated stores in the Nikko and Kinugawa areas
  • 20 per cent discount on the usual price of Tobu’s SPACIA and Revaty trains, and 20 per cent off bookings of four-person compartments
NAOC cycling

Activities

Nikko is known for its national park, one of Japan’s most scenic areas (which is really saying something). The area is easily accessible for tourists, with maps and walking trails provided at the local tourist office, and buses to take you to key points.

The ‘Irohazaka Winding Road’ leads you up from Nikko town to the natural wonders, and is a popular place for stop-offs to admire the vibrant foliage.

New delights appear with each season, from the awesome oranges of autumn and the snowy peaks of winter to spring blossoms and lush green summers.

Takio Shrine

Activities in the Nikko area include canoeing, cycling, paddleboarding and hiking – see various options with Nikko Base here.

NAOC rafting

As well as waterfalls, mountains and wildlife, the park is home to Nikko Toshogu (pictured below), an ornate shrine and the final resting place of seventeenth century Japanese leader Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Toshogu Shrine

Venture to the centre of the park, where National Park area Oku-Nikko contains the beautiful Italian Embassy Villa Memorial Park (pictured below) and the British Embassy Villa Memorial Park. Both sit on the banks of Lake Chuzenji, the highest lake in Japan at more than 1,400 metres above sea level.

Diplomats and other tourists have holidayed here since the nineteenth century.

Italian Embassy Villa Memorial Park

It is possible to walk the 25-kilometre perimeter of the lake, which sits at the base of the sacred volcano Mount Nantai, whose eruption created it 20,000 years ago. It is also possible to cruise its surface by paddleboard, or take an actual cruise – ask at the TOBU Nikko Station Tourist Center for more details.

A cruise ship on Lake Chuzenji

On the way up to the lake, you will pass by Kegon Falls, one of the most famous spots in Nikko. The 97-metre waterfall is considered to be one of Japan’s most beautiful – admire it from an observation platform accessible from the base.

Kegon Falls

Alternatively, take the Akechidaira Ropeway – a hair-raising aerial lift line – from the top of Irohazaka Winding Road for panoramic views over one of Japan’s highest areas, taking in the lake, Kegon Falls, Mount Nantai, and the mountain range stretching into the east.

Akechidaira Ropeway

Add time to your trip to explore Senjogahara marshland, an excellent hiking spot on a 400-hectare plateau by Lake Chuzenji leading to Ryuzu Waterfall, and a must-see if you will catch the autumn leaves.

Also idyllic is nearby Odashirogahara marshland, where cars are banned but low-emission buses give rides to budding adventurers. Snowshoes are available during the winter season, while the Nikko Natural Science Museum provides nature guides.

Senjogahara hiking

An overnight stay in the area will make sure you have time for the unforgettable experience of Yumoto Onsen, a hot spring resort northwest of Lake Chuzenji.

Visit a traditional ‘ryokan’ (bathing house) and enjoy bubbling natural waters and their sulphuric smell. Also take in Yudaki, another spectacular waterfall in this area. Direct buses can take you from Yumoto Onsen directly back to Nikko town.

Yumoto Onsen Gensen

There is still so much more to do in this picture-perfect region – see Japan Guide’s detailed information here.

Food and drink

Head to Mishimaya near the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, famous for its sweet Ningyoyaki cakes in the shape of the ‘See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’ monkeys

Mishimaya Ningyoyaki

Traditional Nikko dishes also include Yokan (a sweet bean jelly), Yuba (tofu skin) and locally-produced Soba noodles.

Read a full guide to what to eat and drink here.

Yuba restaurant

Accommodation

Nikko Astraea Hotel

A beautiful resort hotel in the national park, with its own open-air bath which can be enjoyed under a starry sky, and a natural hot spring that changes colour depending on the day.

nikkoastraea.com/en/

Nikko Astraea Hotel hotspring

Nikko Kanaya Hotel

The original Kanaya Hotel opened in 1873, making it one of Japan’s oldest tourist resorts. Architecture and interiors blend Japanese and Western design, and it’s just 10 minutes by free shuttle bus from Tobu Nikko station.

kanayahotel.co.jp/eng/

Kanaya hotel

See more Michelin-recommended properties in the area here.

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