Enchanting Nikko Bus Stop (Mt. Futara in the background)
The name Nikko is derived from Mt. Futara (nowadays called Mt. Nantai). The name for Mt. Futara is also pronounded as Mt. Nikou (probably the Kanji name), from which the name Nikko is derived. The famous quote about Nikko is "Never say great (Kakko) without seeking Nikko". Visit Nikko, you will know exactly what this expression means. Nikko city and the surrounding areas are collectively known as "Nikko National Park".
Nikko National Park is a famous vacation spot and is known for it's UNESCO World Cultural Heritage temples and shrines. Nikko area is located just north of Tokyo city.
Located in the Tochigi prefecture and about hundred and fifty kilometers from the center of Tokyo city, it is the most accessible spiritual and vacation spot for most Tokyo citizens. It is also a spot not well known for foreign visitors but once you read about Nikko here, you would be rearing to go there.
Nikko city itself is small with a population of about thirty thousand people. The central Nikko where most of the transportation facilities are located for Nikko is at an altitude of 530 meters above sea level. Like most locations around the Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko National Park is surrounded by tall mountains, notable of them are the Mt. Nantai (2486 meters high) and Mt. Shrine (2578 meters high). The structure of these mountains have created enormous lakes at a very high altitudes. Two most visited lakes and lake resorts around these mountains are Lake Chuzenji at 1269 meters and Lake Yunoko is at 1478 meters. This setup with mountains and water at these heights has created a confluence of lake resorts, mountain trails and natural hot springs. Being at this altitude, the weather at Nikko closely resembles that of Hokkaido. Long story short, it is the most desirable vacation and nature spot close to Tokyo.
There are more than fifty listed waterfalls around the Nikko area, most notable of them are the Kegon waterfall, Urami waterfall and Kirifuri waterfall. Kegon waterfall is probably the most accessible and touristy but other waterfalls can be explored with a little bit of walking and trekking.
Japanese people are fond of hot spas and Nikko area has some of the most famous hot spas in Japan. Two most notable spas are the Kinugawa Onsen and Yumato Onsen. Both located about thirty minute bus ride from the central Nikko.
Aside from the holidaying aspects of Nikko National Park, it also provides the spiritual aspects to people who are into visiting temples and shrines in Japan. Nikko has a cluster of temples and shrines. All of them are recognized as UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites. The following map shows these temples and shrines. They are all located at about twenty minute walk from the central Nikko city.
Nikko World Heritage Temples and Shrines
Monk Shodo-Shonin is the founder of these temples of Nikko. The founded the Rinnoji Temple (formerly called as Shihonryuji Temple) in the eight century. Then he climbed the Mt. Nantai (Mt. Futara), which is the highest of peaks around Nikko and founded Chuzenji Temple, right next to the Lake Chuzenji.
The Toshogu Shrine in Nikko are world famous. The main Toshogu shrine is built as a memorium for Ieyasu Tokugawa, one of the great rulers of Japan.
The following video shows the Nikko Temples and Shrines.
Nikko National Park is the most accessible of vacation spots in Japan. There are dedicated bus lines operated by Tobu Railways within Nikko area, connecting various tourist spots.
If you area a JR Pass holder then you can take the bullet train from Tokyo to JR Utsunomiya Station, then switch to the JR Nikko line to get to Nikko (JR Nikko Station). Alternatively Tobu Railways operates trains from Asakusa (in Tokyo Metropolis, from Tobu Asakusa Station) to Nikko (Tobu Nikko Station). Tobu Railways provides a combo ticket, which covers the round trip ticket, bus pass while in Nikko, tickets to the temples and a ticket to Tobu World Square close by. Either way, you will get your monies worth visiting Nikko.