A few hour trip from Yokota Air Base is one of Japan’s most famous shrines – National Park Nikko. The park is home to the tomb of Tokogawa Ieyasu, the man who brought all of Japan’s famous samurai warriors under one ruler. But Nikko is much more than just another shrine. National Park Nikko is a collection of temples, pagodas, gates and shrines, full of beautiful gilded statues, altars and painted ceilings. When you enter the park, you should go to the ticket window at the entrance. Your first stop will be Sanbutsu-do, the largest temple in the Nikko mountains. Inside the temple you will see the statues of the Thousand handed Kwannon, the Amida Buddha and the Horseheaded Kwannon. Enjoy the craftsmanship and sheer beauty of the statutes, but don’t expect to take a picture…photos inside the temples are not allowed. As you exit the temple, you can buy a book full of pictures.
There are more than 10 temples at National Park Nikko, so plan to spend a lot of time if you want to see them all. After seeing a few of the temples, head up the mountain where you will see a giant torii – or gate. As you go through the gate, you will see the gorgeous Five-Storied Pagoda. The pagoda was originally built in 1650, but was destroyed by fire in 1815. It was rebuilt four years later. Just past the pagoda, you will see the sacred stables. Inside is a beautiful white stallion, thought to be good luck to the Japanese. Above the stable doors, you’ll see a series of wooden carvings. If you look closely, you’ll see the famous “See no, Hear no, Speak no Evil” monkeys. After climbing another couple of flights of stairs, you’ll go through the Yomeimon Gate, a giant structure covered in gold awnings and guard dogs. The gate is also known as the “Sunset Gate” because it is said visitors do not grow tired of viewing the gate until dusk. Inside this gate, turn to the right and you’ll see the entrance to Tokogawa’s tomb. You can’t go in without paying a small fee. But once inside, you will get to see the famous “Sleeping Cat,” and climb the 100 steps to the famous tomb.
But don’t spend all of your time at the National Park, because Nikko has so much more to offer. If you drive, which I recommend, take the car past the park, and head up to what is known as the “Zig-Zag Highway.” Before heading up the series of twists and turns, we saw a couple of wild monkeys standing on the side of the road. Note of caution: tourists are warned not to stop their cars to feed the monkeys, because they have been known to be violent. The climb to the top of the mountain is sheer driving pleasure. The road is a series of 25 or so switchbacks, with some curves being more than 180 degrees. Before you get to the top, watch for the ropeway where you can get a beautiful view of the lake and falls from above. After navigating the roadway, you will find Lake Chuzenji, a
crystal-clear lake located at the top of the mountain. There are a series of quaint shops and restaurants alongside the lake. Before heading down the mountain keep an eye out for the signs to Kegon Falls. The falls are on the Ojiri River, which flows from Chuzenji. More than 300 feet high, the falls are breathtaking…and loud. – Sam Amrhein, October 2001, photos by Brooke Smith, July 2013.
PLACES TO STAY
If you are going to stay the night, a lot of military people prefer to stay at the Turtle Inn Annex/HotoriAn (0288-53-3663, GPS I think… 36.750434, 139.592344 but can someone confirm? – Sarah), which comes complete with meals and an onsen. If you go during the off-peak season, you may have the hotel to yourself! We chose to stay just outside Nikko at the Woodsman’s Village, a collection of log cabins located on the other side of the mountain from the National Park. The cabins are completely made of logs, but contain all the modern conveniences from a full kitchen and full bath. No beds though, they provide futons. The cabins vary in size, meaning it would be perfect for a couple, or an entire group. The people who run the cabins speak English, so making reservations is easy. (I think that Woodsman Village GPS cooridnates are 36.669314,139.61393, but can someone confirm? – Sarah) – Sam Amrhein, October 2001; Cabin photo by Meg Martin, 2012.
We recommend you see the Yujo Center for directions & maps. Take the Tohoku Expressway to the Utsunomiya Interchange, then follow the signs to the Nikko Toll Road, which will lead you to Nikko. The tolls will cost about 5,000 yen each way. You can get to the Tohoku either by going into Tokyo, or by turning right out the terminal gate and following Route 16 for about 30 km. Be warned, Route 16 winds through several towns along the way, and the traffic can be heavy at times. It took us about two hours to get to the Tohoku by traveling Route 16, and another hour or so to get to Nikko. You can take a super-express train to Nikko as well. The line runs from Asakusa Station, and seats can be reserved in advance. GPS Coordinates for Shrines inside Nikko National Park: 36.757659,139.59893. – Sam Amrhein, October 2001
We stayed at Woodsman’s Village. In addition to what is written about it above I would add that it was a little difficult to find at night and the roads were narrow, but we thought it was well worth the effort. Our cabin was beautiful and great for 3 kids and 3 adults. Would stay there again. – Christina Bowman, October 2012