Profile photo rowing a boat on Lake Haruna in GUnma

Angus Miyaji

Things to do in Oku-Nikko - Nearby Tokyo Interview

Talking about 'things to do' in Oku-Nikko

We are back this month with our popular interviews series, featuring towns and cities near Tokyo and this month we are talking about Oku Nikko (奥日光) in Tochigi prefecture! Located only about 3h from Tokyo, this spot in the mountains is a great place for anyone who wants to enjoy the natural beauty that rural Japan has to offer. 

As always, I’ve been in touch with the people who know best and this month I chatted with Toshiki Akutsu from the Nikko Tourism Department and he shared some great information about what to see and do in Oku-Nikko.

Curious to find out more? Here is my interview below, which I’m sure after reading it, you will want to put Oku-Nikko on your list of places to visit.

Which is the best season to come to Oku-Nikko?

Nikko Tourism Staff

It’s really hard to choose the best time to visit Oku-Nikko (奥日光), primarily because each season offers unique, exclusive activities that can’t be experienced in any of the other seasons.

During the spring, it’s incredibly relaxing to go cycling or hiking while surrounded by the lush greenery of the area. And in the summer, you can enjoy canoeing or paddleboarding on waterbodies such as Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖), Lake Yunoko (湯ノ湖), and Yukawa (湯川).

As autumn approaches, the entirety of Oku-Nikko becomes enveloped in red and yellow autumn leaves. It is very much a stunning sight to behold!

Lastly, the arrival of winter and snowfall creates the perfect opportunity to partake in a treasure trove of winter sports activities such as skiing and snowshoeing.

No matter which season you choose, you’ll be able to experience the best that each provides.

Hiking through Senjogahara / Watersports activities / Frozen Waterfall

What are the top 3 attractions you cannot miss in Oku-Nikko?

The first, and I can’t emphasize how much you need to go see it, is Senjogahara (戦場ヶ原). This place is a sprawling wetland that has been registered under the Ramsar Convention as a crucial habitat for waterfowl. Walking through this natural area that is abundant with plants and waterfowl makes for a very pleasant hike.

The second is Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls (華厳の滝). It is believed that Lake Chuzenji, with a 25km perimeter and sitting 1296m above sea level, was formed in the aftermath of Mt. Nantaisan’s (男体山) eruption. 

It is from this lake where Kegon Falls flows. With a height of 97m, the overwhelming rush of water produces a captivating roar. I recommend visiting the waterfall in the winter, when you can observe it in its mystical, frozen form.

The third is Yumoto Onsen (湯元温泉). Its 1200 years of history began when it was first used by people to treat ailments. One of its unique traits being its high sulfur content, it is the fourth most sulfurous hot spring in all of Japan.

Nikko Tourism Staff

Senjogahara/ Kegon Falls / Yumoto Onsen Hot Springs Source

What local food do you Recommended - is there any special dish or drink?

Nikko Tourism Staff

When I think of Oku-Nikko, I think of trout!

Oku-Nikko is often considered a haven for fly fishing and it’s incredibly popular among fishermen.

As such, you can find a lot of restaurants that prepare trout dishes!

Nikko Trout dish

Trout entree

What do you recommend to buy us a souvenir?

Without a doubt, chocolate!

The city of Nikko launched a new town project centered around chocolate called “CHOCOTTO NIKKO”.

Nikko’s culinary fusion of Western and Japanese elements makes it stand out among Western-style sweets, and as a result, it goes hand-in-hand with the affinity and compatibility of chocolate. 

The area around Lake Chuzenji hosts a number of ambassadorial summer residences of various countries including Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. Thinking about all of the people who had spent time here in the long ago past, I can easily imagine they were eating chocolate while enjoying the lakefront.

There are currently 30 different types of Nikko-style chocolates being sold!

Nikko Tourism Staff

CHOKOTTO Nikko / Italian Ambassador’s summer residence / Lake Chuzenji in the autumn

Does Oku-Nikko have any special festivals?

Nikko Tourism Staff

Yes, there are!

Nantaisan Tohaikousya Taisai (男体山登拝講社大祭), the biggest festival of Futarasan Jinja Chugushi (二荒山神社中宮祠) whose history stretches back 1200 years, takes place every year from July 31st, to August 7th. Mt. During this festival, people celebrate Mt. Nantaisan as a god.

The highlight of the festival is Mt. Nantaisan tohai (登拝, the act of climbing a sacred mountain where the gods live).

Mt. Nantaisan tozan guchi (男体山登山口) entrance opens on August 1st at midnight, and revelers climb to the top of the mountain to see goraiko (ご来光), the sunrise that is seen from the mountain summit.

The view of the red rays of light shining through the thick sea of clouds is breathtakingly beautiful.

And in conjunction with the festival, the Hono Hanabi (奉納花火) fireworks display is held at Lake Chuzenji at the same time. Because the fireworks reflect across the entirety of Lake Chuzenji, it offers you a unique experience and view that differs from typical fireworks displays.

During the festival period, you also can see other sights such as Toro Nagashi/Lantern floating (灯籠流れ) lantern floats and Miyama Odori (深山踊り) dancing.

Ritual Climb/ Goraiko / Hono Fireworks

Do you have famous legends and myths in Oku-Nikko?

There exists a legend behind the name of Senjogahara(戦場ヶ原).

As I mentioned earlier, Senjogahara is a 400 hectare wetland formed out of layers of earth and sand in the aftermath of  Mt. Nantaisan’s eruption.

A long time ago, according to legend, the god of Mt. Nantaisan and the god of Mt. Akagi (赤城山) fought in a grand battle to gain control of the pristine Lake Chuzenji. They respectively adopted the physical forms of a giant snake and a giant centipede during the fight, and this ferocious battle is the namesake of Senjogahara.

Nikko Tourism Staff
Oku-Nikko Senjogahara in winter

Senjogahara Viewing Platform

Is there a special discount/pass for visitors?

When you visit Nikko, you can make your travel convenient by using NIKKO MaaS!

NIKKO MaaS is a website and app that allows you to easily look up Nikko tourist sites and make reservations for them when necessary.

In addition to using a great value digital bus/train ticket, you can access nature activity-related contents, display cultural facilities and entry tickets, and request environmentally friendly modes of transportation such as electric/hybrid cars and bicycle-sharing. All of this done through your smartphone!

It’s completely free to download and use, so please give it a try (Please do note, there is no English version)!

Nikko Tourism Staff


Final Thoughts

It was great to talk to Akutsu-san and learn more about Oku-Nikko and all it has to offer!

Once more, I learned so much and I must say, I was especially impressed by all the hidden gems and the beautiful natural landscapes around Lake Chuzenji that are available all through the year. I am really looking forward to visiting the area in the upcoming season!

I hope this interview gives you a few ideas of things to do if you are in Tokyo or planning to visit Japan. I am sure if you visit you will have a wonderful time in this place!

How to get to Oku-Nikko

If you are coming from Tokyo, taking the train is the easiest, but driving is also recommended as it is easy to get around town with a car.

From Tokyo to JR Nikko Station  (2h 40 minutes by train)

Take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to JR Utsunomiya and change to JR Nikko Line to JR Nikko Sta.

Further useful information

Read these articles to plan your trip!

–  Oku Nikko Travel Guide

Oku-Nikko Travel Guide

Did you find this article useful?

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.

Profile photo rowing a boat on Lake Haruna in GUnma
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.
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