Central Nikko is one of the main tourist areas in Nikko city, which is around 2 hours from Tokyo by train.
Nikko as a city is very large and includes other areas such as Oku-Nikko, Kinugawa Onsen, Yunishigawa as well as Ashio. Each of these areas have their charm and different historical/cultural heritages that overseas visitors find fascinating.
The central area is the south-end of Nikko city where the main train stations are located. Starting from Imaichi, which is a hub for trains (including steam engine trains!) to the area where the UNESCO world heritage shrines and temples are located. It is very easy to reach from Tokyo and is one of the most popular day trip destinations from Tokyo.
As this is a hugely popular destination, I wanted to find out more and get a local perspective. So I contacted ‘Nikko Kamen’ the mascot of Nikko who taught me a few things I previously didn’t know about central Nikko!
Below, please find my interview with ‘Nikko Kamen’, which I hope will be useful to those planning a trip to Japan in the near future.
Photo: Path towards Futaarasan Shrine
This is an easy question to answer!
Central Nikko includes many interesting attractions and is very easy to reach from Tokyo.
Most visitors spend a whole day here visiting places like the UESCO World Heritage registered temples and shrines. Furthermore, there are also beautiful gorges, the main street with many restaurants, cafes and shops as well the town of Imaichi which has two historical sake breweries. Here you can also walk down the Nikko Cedar Tree Road. This is the only road in Japan designated as both a special historic site and a special natural site. Central Nikko is full of things to do. Moreover there is also the Nikko-bori which is a traditional Nikko wood carving craft unique to Nikko.
This is just the start of many things overseas visitors might be interested in!
Photo: Kanmangafuchi / Nikko Cedar Tree Road / Watanabesahei Sake Brewery
Another great question! This one is tough to answer!
In Nikko, there are cultural, traditional, and culinary experiences that can only be experienced in each of the four seasons.
For example, the Yayoi Festival, Sennin Busha Gyoretsu (1,000-man warrior parade), and Yabusame (horseback archery) happen in spring. You can eat natural shaved ice dessert in summer only, and the illuminated Nikko events happen in autumn. If you want to visit a sake brewery, winter would be a great time. Any time of the year you plan to visit Japan, there are different seasonal activities for you to enjoy in Central Nikko.
Photo: Nikko Yayoi Festival in spring
Nikko has a variety of tourist attractions and popular areas. However, if you are visiting for the first time (and haven’t seen Nikko before), you should make sure to visit these three things!
1. Nikko Toshogu Yomeimon Gate
Nikko Toshogu Yomeimon Gate “日光東照宮陽明門” is one of the main structures of Nikko Toshogu shrine. The gate is known for its intricate and elaborate carvings, which depict a range of subjects including animals, people, and nature. The carvings are made using a combination of gold leaf and lacquer. This creates a glittering and eye-catching effect that visitors are sure to admire.
2. Nikko-zan Rinnoji Temple Taiyuin
Nikko-zan Rinnoji Temple Taiyuin “日光山輪王寺大猷院” was built in the 17th century as a mausoleum for the third shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Iemitsu Tokugawa. It is considered a masterpiece of traditional Japanese architecture and is known for its beautiful and intricate carvings.
3. Nikko Futaarasan Shrine Shinkyo Bridge
Nikko Futaarasan Shrine Shinkyo Bridge “日光二荒山神社神橋” is considered one of the most beautiful and iconic bridges in Japan. It is made of red lacquer and has a traditional Japanese curved shape. The bridge is considered a symbol of Nikko and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. It’s on the main road just before the shrines and temples of Nikko so it is hard to miss. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or simply want to take a beautiful photo make sure to visit Shinkyo Bridge.
You can visit all three any time of the year, but I personally love the solemnity of the shrines and temples when the cold winter air is crisp and tense.
Photo: Nikko Futaarasan Shrine Shinkyo Bridge
Food in Nikko is really delicious!
Yuba is probably the most famous, but there are also other foods that can only be enjoyed in Nikko, such as local Nikko sake, 100-year curry, and shaved ice dessert made from natural ice in the mountains.
So please come to Nikko and enjoy them all!
Photo: 100-year curry / shaved ice dessert (natural ice) / Yuba
Yes you’re right! Well researched Angus!
Nikko has a pass called the NIKKO PASS, which is a very convenient pass for sightseeing when traveling from Tokyo on the Tobu line.
For more information, have a look at their website here.
Thank you ‘Nikko Kamen’ for helping me discover new things about Central Nikko I didn’t know about. Although I’ve visited Nikko many times, I always seem to discover a new shop or a new attraction every time I visit! Myself and my team are always visiting Nikko and we will continue to update our website with fresh in-depth content about Nikko.
If you are coming from Tokyo, taking the train is the easiest and quickest, but driving is n’t bad either.
By Train (via JR line if you have a Japan Rail Pass)
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) to Utsunomiya (50min from Tokyo) and change to the JR Nikko Line and get off at Imaichi Station for the breweries or Nikko station for the Shrines and Temples. (another 50 min)
By Train (via Tobu line if you have a Nikko Pass)
Take the Limited Express from that runs direct trains from Asakusa station towards Tobu Nikko (2 hours). Get off at Shimo-Imaichi Station for the breweries or Tobu-Nikko station for the Shrines and Temples. (There is also a train a day that leaves from Shinjyuku station)
It’s about 3 hours drive from Tokyo. Drive to Utsunomiya IC on the Tohoku Expressway then change to the Nikko-Utsunomiya Road (expressway) and get off at Nikko IC.
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: Angus Miyaji
Founder of Nearby Tokyo and Japan World Link, Angus helps visitors discover off the beaten track destinations in the North Kanto regions (Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki & Saitama north of Tokyo). He regularly travels between Japan and the UK promoting tourism and Japanese sake.