Central Nikko has so much to offer. Just walking from the train station to the famous Toshogu Shrine, it would be easy to spend a full day! However, most people when they visit Nikko, head straight to the UNESCO heritage Toshogu Shrine and miss the many hidden gems along the way.
So I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite places that I recommend visiting between the main stations (Nikko and Tobu-Nikko stations) and Toshogu Shrine. Most of these locations (except for the last one) are unknown to most visitors and you won’t be able to find them in any of the major travel guide books.
From local craft places to great restaurants to eat, and what to watch out for, there is a little bit for everyone…
Here are some of the great things you can find in central Nikko on the way from Nikko station to Toshogu Shrine!
Jizo statues in Nikko | Photo Cindy Bissig
The first place I wanted to highlight is a small hanko shop. If you don’t know what a hanko is, it is a small seal with your name on it that is still used in Japan to stamp official documents and contracts instead of a signature. However, it is also a really unique souvenir and in some places, you can get them made.
At Yuin-Shino they use branches from apple trees and first decorate them. You can pick your favorite design and ask for your name to be carved on it by a local craftsperson to create your very own hanko. It does take a little time, so many people continue exploring central Nikko and then come back to the shop on the way home to pick it up.
Handmade Hanko stamps in Nikko | Photo Cindy Bissig
Photo Angus Miyaji
The Nikko Kyodo Center also referred to as “Mekke” is located about halfway on the way to Toshogu Shrine. It is a community space and acts as a visitor’s center. Here you can find local information, rent bicycles or join some local experiences.
For example, they have a small gallery that shows you more about the traditional woodcraft called “Nikko-bori”, which are beautiful wooden carvings. But it’s not just for looking at them, you can even try it for yourself, as they have a small workshop, where you can participate in carving your own item. You even get to use one of the traditional carving knives “Hikaki-ba”(scratch blade), which is unique to Nikko.
The experience takes about 60min and costs 2,000 Yen, but you will leave with your very own handmade item and again what a great souvenir to take home.
Wooden carving at Mekke in Nikkoy | Photo Angus Miyaji, Cindy Bissig
If you are coming to central Nikko then you should try one of the local dishes: Yuba. It is made from soy milk and produced by heating soy milk until a skin forms on the surface. This skin is called Yuba.
There are many dishes that use Yuba, but as it is one of Nikko’s speciality, it is often served in Nikko as a main dish with soy sauce like. However, one restaurant has gone one step further by making Yuba and Wagyu beef sushi. It is so delicious!
This restaurant is called “Nikko Yuba ZEN”. It is very popular so sure to make a reservation as it can get busy and sometimes have a waiting line outside.
I did not know what to expect the first time I went, but basically, it is like sushi but instead of the Nori (seaweed) they use Yuba to wrap the Wagyu beef and rice. It is very soft to eat and goes so well with the wagyu meat that is inside. I really recommend you try it out if you are in Nikko!
Yuba Wagyu Sushi | Photo Cindy Bissig
Nikko Yuba Zen from outside | Photo Angus Miyaji
Just a short walk before reaching Toshogu Shrine there is a tiny beer place called Murmur Biiru Stand. And it is exactly that, a small beer-standing bar.
It is always busy with locals and visitors alike and a great place to rest and have a drink if you are in the mood for it. The staff is extremely friendly and they have a few very interesting ales and stouts on their menu.
I was especially intrigued by their hot brown ale that came inside a coffee mug and it was so tasty! So if you do like craft beer then this is definitely a great place to check out.
Try some local beers in Nikko | Photo Cindy Bissig
A little bit hidden, but well worth checking out is the historic Nikko Kanaya Hotel. It was established in 1873 and is considered one of the oldest western-style hotels in Japan. It is beautifully kept and it feels like traveling back in time by walking through its halls. Some famous people who stayed here included President Theodore Roosevelt and Albert Einstein.
The hotel even offers a tour, although only in Japanese. However, the tour is still worth joining even if you do not speak Japanese as you get to see many parts of the hotel even if you are not staying for the night.
If you do visit, also make sure to check out the Kanaya Bakery, famous for its bread and just on the way to Shinkyo Bridge.
The restaurant at the historic Nikko Kanaya Hotel | Photo Cindy Bissig
Nikko Kanaya Hotel | Photo Angus Miyaji
The last stop I recommend visiting before entering the forest landscape in which Toshogu Shrine is located, is the famous Shinkyo Bridge. In Japanese “神橋” (Shinkyō) means the “sacred bridge” and it is a bright red wooden suspension bridge, which many consider one of the most iconic and recognizable landmarks in Nikko.
It is considered a National Treasure of Japan and probably one of the most taken photographs by visitors. It becomes especially beautiful to look at in autumn when the leaves start to change their colors.
Just be aware that if you would like to cross the bridge, there is a small fee of 300 yen (for adults), but it gives you amazing views of the river below.
Shinkyo Bridge | Photos Cindy Bissig
I love Nikko and every time I visit I find more places I want to go back to!
I hope these 6 stops on the way to Toshogu Shrine will help you have a better experience because there are so many things to see and do. Nikko is such a special place and I cannot wait to go back and discover more!
You can find out more about the area from our central Nikko town guide here
I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.
To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.
Contributor: Cindy Bissig
Cindy is a writer and photographer living and documenting her Japan experience. As a Digital Nomad, she travels all around Japan to discover its beauty and share what she finds on her YouTube channel, as well as through her articles and photographs. She is particularly passionate about local culture, food and sake. Tune into her Podcast “Sake Unplugged” to learn more about it. Her goal is to show you an authentic Japan to make sure you have the best possible experience when you visit!
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