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Nikko (in Japanese you slightly 'pause' at the "k", Nik...ko; 日光) which literally means "Sunshine" is an extremely popular and famous historical and entertaining tourist destination for foreigner and Japanese tourists. It has history and "play" attractions that can make a great full vacation or "sub" vacation on your Japan tour. Nikko is about 2 hours away by comfortable train (140 kilometers) and very easy to get to.
In 766 a monk by the name of Shodo Shonin established a temple called Rinnoji (see map below) and people followed... monks and normal folk who established a village. Another Shrine was built by Shodo called Futarasan Shrine and even more people came. Then, Almost a thousand years later, another even more famous temple, Nikko Toshogu (the burial place of one of the most famous Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu), was built in 1617 and Nikko became a very popular destination for Japanese during the Edo period. During the Meiji Period Nikko became popular not only for it's temples and shrines but for just... fun. Nikko became the mountain resort playground of Edo'ites (or Tokyo'ites).
Below are a couple maps of the Nikko area. Note that the two main Nikko areas are split into two maps, Nikko Town and Oku Nikko. Below each map are attractions and things to do in those areas.
Toshogu Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. in 1603. Toshogu Shrine is (of course) a UNESCO World Heritage site. The shrine was built by Tokugawa's son and was enlarged even more by Iemitsu, the 3rd Shogun...see more details.
Rinnoji Temple Established in 766, the Rinnoji Temple complex is Nikko's most important temple as it was founded by the Shodo Shonin, a Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikko. The temple became popular with monks at the time because of its geographic isolation, far from civilization...see more details.
Iemitsu Mausoleum or Taiyuinbyo (大猷院廟) is the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu. Iemitsu had great respect for his grandfather Ieyasu and therefore purposely made his mausoleum not quite as lavish as the Toshogu Shrine...see more details.
Futarasan Shrine also known as "Nikko Futarasan Shrine" (because there is a Futarasan Shrine in a city called Utsunomiya too), is a Shinto Shrine close by the famous Toshogu Shrine in Nikko (Note: "san" in Futarasan means "Mount" or "Mt."). Founded in 782, Futarasan Shrine...see more details.
Shinkyo Bridge is a famous and distinctive Red Bridge which is actually part of Futarasan Shrine (but is actually some distance from the Futarasan Shrine) and is known as one of the three most beautiful bridges in Japan (the other two are Iwakuni's Kintaikyo and Saruhashi in Yamanashi Prefecture). Only Royalty was allowed to cross...see more details.
Tamozawa Imperial Villa is a beautiful relic of Japanese traditional architecture and style. The Villa blends traditional Edo and early modern Meiji Period architecture throughout its 106 rooms. The home, palace, villa... was originally built in Tokyo for the Tokugawa Imperial family and then moved here to Nikko to become an even larger summer residence and retreat for the family. After World War 2, it suffered sever neglect but in early 2000 the villa was reopened after extensive renovations. Tamozawa Imperial Villa...see more details.
Nikko Botanical Garden is owned and maintained by the Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo and is a "branch" garden (no pun intended:) of the Koshikawa Botanical Garden in Tokyo. This Botanical Garden is used to study alpine plants and was opened in 1902. There are tons of trails that run through the park, with many plants, bushes and trees labeled to as what they are. The garden contains over 2,000 species and is set up to specialize in "alpine plants"....see more details.
Irohazaka Winding Road is a road or rather a pair of roads (one up and one down) that connect the "lower" area of Nikko (Nikko Town area) and the "upper" area of Nikko (Lake Chuzenji). Originally the roads were toll roads but now the road(s) are free. The first road was built in 1954 (the "down" road) and the second road was built in 1965 (the "up" road). The "down" road has a little rest area from where you can see two waterfalls while the "up" road has an observation deck from where you can...see more details.
Akechidaira Plateau is a plateau at the top of the ascending Irohazaka Winding Road. There is a parking lot and free observation deck where you can get a nice view of the Irohazuka Road and the valley below (from where you just came). Next to the parking lot is a rest house / souvenir shop / cafeteria and the Akechidaira Ropway. For a small fee you can jump on the ropeway and...see more details.
Lake Chuzenji is a scenic lake in the mountains near the town of Nikko Japan. A nearbye volcano, Mount Nantai, erupted 20,000 years ago blocking the path of a nearby river thereby creating Chuzenji Lake. Chuzenji lake is quite large having a surface area of around twelve kilometers with a circumference of 25 kilometers and is up to 163 meters deep (over 500 feet). The lake drains through...see more details.
Kegon Waterfall is the Nikko areas most famous waterfall and always places high as a top "beautiful waterfall" in Japan (in various "rankings"). It is almost 100 meters tall (one of the top 3 highest waterfalls in Japan) and is the "exit" drainage for Lake Chuzenji which becomes the Oshiri River. You can view the waterfall in many places but the two easy locations are 1.) a "free" platform that is easily accessible by foot and 2.) a "paid" platform at the base of the falls (your ride an elevator for around...see more details.
Mt. Hangetsu is a mountain near Lake Chuzenji that is a nice "view spot" from the top. You can reach the top by hiking trail (a medium level hike which should be started in the morning wearing hiking boots) or by car, taxi or bus. Once you reach the top there is an "observation deck" from where you get a beautiful view of Lake Shuzenji and Mt. Nankai. Of course during Autumn, the colors a magnificent and the observation deck is a very popular spot for tourist and painters...see more details.
Chuzenji Temple was originally founded in 784 as a branch temple of the world heritage registered Rinnoji Temple by the Buddhist Monk Shodo Shonin at the foot of Mt. Nantai and later moved to its current location on the eastern bank of Lake Chuzenji. The principal image is six meter tall Kannon Statue "Juichimen-senju Kannon Boastsu" (Goddess of Mercy). It is a kannon image having eleven-faces and one thousand hands. This statue is designated as a national cultural property. It is said that the founding...see more details.
Ryuzu Waterfall is on the Yukawa River shortly before it enters into Lake Chuzenji. "Ryuzu" means "dragon head", the waterfall resembles the head of a dragon (well, the person who named it thought so). There are a couple parking lots (if you are driving) you can stop in to see the waterfall, all marked very clearly. Once you get to the waterfall there is...see more details.
Senjogahara Marshland is between Lake Chuzenji and Lake Yumoto. You can take a nice easy hike within this marshland and see some beautiful Japanese natural scenery. Every season offers some exceptional views but Autumn is a busy season here and many Japanese tourists flood the area. There is a trail, Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail, that runs...see more details.
Yumoto Onsen (town) is a small hot springs town within Nikko National Park that sits next to Lake Yunoko and is about 2 hours by car or bus from Nikko Station. The town is a "Hot Springs" destination with around 10 Hot Springs hotels and Ryokans (Japanese style Inn). There is a public bath open to the public (without having to stay at a hotel) on the north side of...see more details.
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