See My Full Itinerary For 10 Days In Japan
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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25 thoughts on “Japan Day 7: A Day Trip To Nikko And Lake Chuzenji”
Great post. I’m enjoying following your Japanese adventures.
Thanks for following along!
Love the warming up picture from the coffee shop looking out to the mountains. Reminds me of my time in Bangor, Wales when I often used to visited the Pier Pavilion Tea Room at Bangor Pier near Garth.
Thanks for sharing, great post and so much to see.
So excited I just found your blog. We are going on a China/Japan cruise next April. While in Japan, I want to go to Nikko.
I’ve read that you should go to the lake and waterfall, but I’m just not sure…
The picture you took of the waterfall, it looks really far away. Did you see it up close?
Oh sorry, one more question. We will only have time for 1 day trip out of Tokyo. Which would you choose?
If you only have time for one day trip from Tokyo, Nikko would be a great choice. I loved Kamakura as well, but there was more to see in Nikko. The nice thing about Kamakura is that it can be done in a half day, so you could do it in the morning and have an afternoon at Mt. Takao. Nikko is a full day for sure as it takes a while to get there.
You can get really close once you’re at Lake Chuzenji, I just didn’t post a picture. If you take the bus from Nikko, the first stop is the cable car, after that is Lake Chuzenji, and the next stop after the lake is the waterfall. You can walk to the waterfall from the bus stop at Lake Chuzenji. It’s maybe a 5-10 minute walk to the falls at most.
Nikko it is!!
There is a lot more on your blog I think I’ll find helpful…We’ll be spending a bit more time in Tokyo then you would be interested in, but we’re also going to Mt Fuji (Shimizu), Hakone, Okinawa, Kobe (one of our days there we’re going to Kyoto), & Nagasaki.
Couldn’t have found your blog at a better time!!
Thank you so much!
Sounds like you’re in for a great trip, Chris. We wanted to visit Mt Fuji, but are hoping to return during the summer months at some point so we can actually hike it. Have a great time in Japan!
I know Julia’s name & Owen’s name but don’t see yours!
We are making our final preparations for our trip to China & Japan.
A couple more Nikko questions…
Some people have said to take a ropeway to the shrine..is that necessary? We were planning on taking a bus…is that correct?
I’ve read that there is an English audio guide. Do you recommend that?
One of your photos says “None shall enter” and another says “Blessings” what do they mean? I haven’t seen that anywhere else.
Do you need to go back to town to take the bus to the Lake & waterfall?
I’m figuring a couple of hours at the Shrine, is that about right?
Also, you mention using Google maps. Did you use them offline or get a plan?
PS I checked out your Utah Parks post! We tried to go to Zion and Arches last year but it was snowing…ended up going to Page and Lake Powell (Rainbow Bridge). It was wonderful but do hope to do our original plan soon. We have a daughter in Salt Lake & another near Vegas so it’s on the way!
Hello again! My name is Drew. Which shrine are you referring to in regards to the bus ropeway decision? While in Nikko, we only used a bus, and then walked around town and through the temples. We didn’t get the audio guide for Toshogu Shrine, but it was a budgeting decision, not a preference. With the high number of places we visited on our trip, we opted to do our research online and pass on the guides. (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3801.html)
The photo captions are just arbitrary. I sometimes name my photos on a whim while posting 🙂
You don’t need to go back into town to take the bus to Lake Chuzenji. The bus route runs on a numbered system. It starts in town at bus stop 1 and then runs in a clockwise loop if I remember correctly. There are bus stops with big numbers on the main street, so it’s impossible to miss. Just catch a bus heading towards Chuzenji from outside the temples (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3805.html). A few hours at the shrine should be perfect.
I have T-Mobile which offers free roaming. I’m able to use my standard plan with no extra costs while traveling abroad. I actually jumped from ATT just for this reason.
Hopefully you’ll make it out to Arches and Zion in better weather next year! It’s nice that you have family close!
Thanks again Drew!
It was online that I read about a ropeway to the shrine! But we’ll plan on the bus!
Verizon needs to just include international travel like TMobile!
I love your captions!
I think I’m set for Nikko!
Great post! I’ve been to Nikko and love it as well.
BTW were you wearing Uniqlo jackets?
Thanks, Alien! They were Patagonia jackets.
They’re awesome jackets X”D
hi, i just wondering how much the cost of bus that you take at niko. is there any free pass for the bus? did you explore the temple,plateu and the lake in one day trip?
Hello Hilda, it depends on how far your plan on riding and where you plan to stop. We purchased the unlimited travel passes for 2000 Yen. A one way trip from Tobu Station to Lake Chuzenji was more than 1000 Yen, so it was a better deal to get the unlimited travel pass. The bus stops are numbered starting at Tobu Nikko Station. We took the bus from Tobu to the temples first. Then we hopped back on the bus to explore Nikko a little more before heading out to see Lake Chuzenji. We did this as a day trip.
WOW! Those mountain views are stunning! How cold was it during this adventure for you? I had to look over the Toshogu Shrine pictures a few times. Something about that place is just so peaceful. Do you have any more pictures from your visit there? I would love to see them!!
It was right around freezing when we got there, but the wind made it feel colder. I’ll post a few more photos from Toshugu Shrine. It was a very special place.
This is great. There are so many things to see and explore here.
I’m intrigued to find out the why you captioned one of the pictures “None shall enter”. What was going through your mind while you were editing that particular picture.
There’s something about it that is…. ethereal, right?
haha, yeah. It just seemed like the guardian to an enchanted place.