For day 7 of our visit to Japan, Julia and I decided to take another day trip from Tokyo, this time to see Nikko National Park. Getting to Nikko from Tokyo is pretty straightforward with a JR Pass. There is a shinkansen that heads north to Utsunomiya station. At Utsunomiya, we were able to catch the direct JR Nikko line to our destination.
The town of Nikko is at the entrance of the National Park and offers shrines and temples to see before venturing in towards the mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and hot springs. We decided to spend a little time visiting these shrines before taking the bus ride out to Lake Chuzenji. The most well known shrine in Nikko is the lavishly decorated Toshogu Shrine.
Toshogu Shrine is the burial site of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan until 1868. The Shrine is series of structures amongst a beautiful mountain forest backdrop. Some of the shrines buildings were under restoration while we visited, but that didn’t stop us from taking in the beautiful wood carvings and gold leaf work on display at nearly every building. The entrance of Toshogu is quite spectacular with a torii gate nestled in the woods followed by a five story pagoda.
Upon entering Toshogu shrine, the path leads through a series of storehouses. The storehouses had many intricate and high detail carvings with animals like monkeys and elephants. The gold leaf and bright paint was simply stunning, especially given the lean towards simplicity in so many other shrines.
After the storehouses, we passed through Yomeimon Gate and made our way towards the Sakashitamon Gate. This is where some of the sites were under construction.
Sakashitamon Gate is one of the most photographed areas in Nikko due to the sleeping cat carving Nemurineko. Right after passing under Nemurineko, we began climbing up a huge flight of stairs through the wooded forest. Once our climbing was finished, we stood on the grounds of Ieyasu’s tomb.
After descending the steps from Ieyasu’s tomb, we made our last stop at Honjido Hall. Honjido Hall features the famous crying dragon painted on the ceiling. The main shrine building of this hall is very ornately designed. Some of this was under reconstruction, but we were still able to see quite a bit. Photography was prohibited from the inside, but the outside was quite spectacular.
After visiting Toshogo Shrine, Julia and I walked back to the main street in Nikko for lunch after passing by a few other shrines and temples. Our next destination would be Lake Chuzenjji, a scenic lake located at the base of Mt. Nantai. Mt. Nantai is a volcano that erupted some 20,000 years ago to help create the area we know now as Nikko National Park.
From Nikko, a bus runs to Chuzenjiko Onsen, a resort style town located on the banks of Lake Chuzenji. The bus ride is on a long winding road and gains quite a bit of elevation. On the bus ride up, there is a place called Akechidaira Plateau that offers great views of the valley below. You can skip this and go straight to Lake Chuzenji, or get off like we did to take the ropeway to the Kegon Waterfall observation deck.
After taking the ropeway on the Akechidaira Plateau, we caught the next bus to Lake Chuzenji. It was pretty cold in Nikko, but the wind sweeping over Lake Chuzeji put a chill right through our bones when we arrived. It was well below freezing and the windchill made it feel even more frigid. It was hard to complain though, as there was nothing but beautiful views in every direction. I’m sure Lake Chuzenji is crawling with people in the warmer summer months, on this day though, we were two of about 20 people. We wanted to take in view of the lake, and decided to walk the paved hiking trail around it’s outer banks.
After about an hour of walking, Julia and I decided we had endured enough of the cold wind and opted to walk back towards one of the few open coffee shops on the Lake. Visiting a resort town like Lake Chuzenji in the off season can be tough in times like these. I’d love to return in the summer months to see this town in all it’s alpine glory. After warming up with some tea, we caught a bus back to Nikko and began our journey home. It was nice to get the legs moving, as we planned on hiking Mt. Takao the following day.
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