The Top 10 Most Photogenic Sights In Nikko, Japan

The Top 10 Most Photogenic Sights In Nikko, Japan

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Nikko is filled with nature and temples that allow tourists to dive deep into the roots of Japan’s history. In the mountains north of Tokyo lies historical and renowned temples which boast unique architectural styles that is rare in Japan. These historical venues are accompanied by breath-taking lakes and greenery which are a sight not to be missed. While Nikko is most famous for its shades of red and orange colours in fall, it is also a town that stays beautiful in other seasons of the year along with many festivals, including one of Japan’s largest samurai festival. Without a doubt, Nikko is an ideal destination for a serene and laid-back holiday.

1. The bridge to the past: Shinkyo Bridge

Source: Photo by user Hardo Müller used under CC BY-SA 2.0

You may have heard of the phrase “stairway to heaven” at one time or another, but here we have the sacred bridge to history. Marking the start of a historical journey, the Shinkyo Bridge can be considered the main entrance to Nikko’s array of temples and shrines. Ranked as one of Japan’s finest bridge, it is definitely a good place to start your journey.

Legend states that the river current below the bridge was too strong for the travelling Saint Shodo to cross. However, with his prayers, God sent him two snakes that turned into a bridge, allowing him to continue his journey. This legend marks the significance of the Shinkyo Bridge as a “shintai” which, in Shinto religion, is an object that a divine being may reside, providing a physical form that believers can access. Hence, even at the start you can already be immersed in the religious atmosphere of Nikko, as this bridge brings you to more greatness beyond.

Shinkyo Bridge

Area: Nikko City

Price: 300 JPY (2.80 USD)

Opening Hours: 8 am to 5 pm. Closed on public holidays.

Access: Short bus ride from JR or Tobu Nikko Station

Contact: +81 288-54-2496


2. UNESCO Heritage Site: Rinnoji Temple

A proud historical complex of Japan, the Rinnoji temple currently houses 15 Buddhist Temples and at one time had 500 sub-temples under their purview. As a popular retreat for monks to meditate in the mountains, the shrine boasts a variety of astonishing statues as well as peaceful scenery.

One of their best known temples is the Three-Buddha Hall which features three large gold-leafed Buddha statues. They are namely Amida Buddha, Senju-Kannon, and Bato-Kannon and are considered as the Buddhist manifestation of the three mountains gods in Nikko. Aside from the majestic sight of these gold statues, there is also the breath-taking meditation garden that surrounds the complex. The garden is filled with well-tended flowers and trees along with carps in the pond. You can also see a three-storied pagoda and have a break at the various benches around the garden. The Rinnoji temple is certainly worth a visit as you explore the different temples around and escape from the hectic urban world in the peaceful garden.

Rinnoji Temple

Address: 2300, Sannnai, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Price: 300 ~ 400 JPY (2.80 to 3.70 USD) (Varies for different temples)

Opening Hours: 9 am - 6 pm. Closed on public holidays.

Access: Short bus ride from Tobu and JR Nikko Stations

Contact: +81 288-54-0531

3. Go "animal hunting" at Toshogu Shrine

Dedicated to the spirit of Ieyasu who founded the powerful dynasty of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it is a temple that can be regarded as Nikko’s main attraction. To be a shrine worthy of such a prominent figure, it was constructed by 15,000 craftsmen over two years and used 2.5 million sheets of gold leaves. This grand and majestic temple is kept in prime condition and the Procession of the Thousand Warriors is done twice every year to enshrine Ieyasu’s spirit, giving him his due recognition.

Considering the amount of gold leaves used, this shrine is different from the minimalist approach of other shrines. The brilliant colour of gold is brought out with carvings of birds, flowers, dancing maidens and wise sages. These carvings are believed to be symbols of peace and among them, you can find the famous “Three Wise Monkeys” which represent the popular phrase, “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”. There are also many other significant carvings like the sleeping cat or the odd elephant that will leave you fully immersed in the richness of the temple. Coupled with a five-storied pagoda and an extensive Buddhism library, the Toshogu Shrine is a sight not to be missed!

Toshogu Shrine

Address: 2301 Sannai, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Price: 1,300 JPY (12.13 USD)

Opening Hours: 8 am to 5 pm

Access: 10 minutes’ bus ride from Tobu and JR Nikko Station

Contact: +81 288-54-0560


4. Trek the world’s longest avenue of trees at Nikko Cedar Avenue

20100727 Nikko 6038
Source: Photo by user Jakub Hałun used under CC BY-SA 4.0

In an effort to pay compliments to the majestic Toshogu Shrine for Ieyasu, his general Masatsuna Matsudaira begin planting Japanese cedar trees along the main roads that lead to the Toshogu shrine. His efforts was an example of his loyalty to his late lord and he planned to donate this grand avenue to the shrine. He continued planting for more than 20 years, resulting in over 200 thousand trees planted in the vicinity of the shrine that has been carefully taken care of since the Edo period.

With a total length of 37km (23 miles), it is designated as a Special Natural Monument that is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the “longest avenue of trees” in the world. While it is not advisable to spend the entire day trekking the entire 37km, you can enjoy the full experience of this avenue in the selected paths. You can choose to hike from the Imaichi Station to the grand Toshogu shrine which is about 8km (5 miles), or other shorter routes and they will take you to a different world of nature. The avenue is also decorated with various plaques along the way, providing historical insight to the path you are trekking. You can never have too much green in your life, so be sure to not miss this great sight!

Nikko Cedar Avenue

Area: Segawa, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Access: JR Imaichi Station or Tobu Line Shimo Imaichi Station

Contact: +81 288-21-5611

5. Solve the mystery of Jizo Statues at Kanmangafuchi Abyss

Just a little off the Daiya River, you will find yourself in the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. Formed by an eruption of the neighboring Mount Nantai, this gorge is a short pleasant walk by the riverside. Aside from the beautiful flowers you can easily enjoy from the river banks, this place is known for a bigger mystery.

You can find along the trail a row of Jizo statues called “Bakejizo” (ghost jizo). The row of statues got their name for their inconsistent number. It is said that their number changes every time you count due to the ghost jizo. This is a mystery that you definitely have to figure out for yourself! Furthermore, Jizo was a Bodhisattva that cares for the deceased, hence he created these statues that serve as a way for him to care for those in the afterlife. While this mystery and eerie legend may seem scary, this place remains a popular attraction due to its uniqueness. And to put your mind at ease, there is some inscriptions on the wall upstream that legends say was engraved by the famous Kukai or also known as “Kobo Daishi”. He is popularly known as The Grand Master who propagated the Buddhist Teaching. So with this reassurance, go on the adventure to test this mystery for yourself!

Kanmangafuchi Abyss

Area: Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Access: Bus ride from JR or Tobu Nikko Station

6. Count the Japanese alphabet with the Iroha Slope

Irohazaka (26902361245)
Source: Photo by user Gin The Wanderer used under CC BY 2.0

A pair of winding roads that connect the lower elevations near Nikko and the higher elevations of the mountainous region is the Iroha Slope which has also been featured in the popular anime, Initial D. Made up of 48 hairpin turns throughout the different upslope and downslope roads, it is known as the best place to view the autumn leaves. “Iroha” is the first three of the 48 syllables in the previous Japanese alphabet. Hence, with the corresponding number of turns, each turn is named after one of the Japanese alphabet syllables, giving the name Iroha Slope.

While there is no historical origins of the slope, it still remains a popular attraction especially during autumn. The beautiful shades of red enjoyed from late October to early November brings in a large number of visitors that causes heavy traffic. It is advisable to avoid it during weekends and national holidays during this period. During other seasons, the slope will also not disappoint with its beauty and also serves as a reliable way to get to the Inner Nikko region.

Iroha Slope

Area: Route 120 between central Nikko city and Lake Chuzenji.

Access: Bus ride from Tobu or JR Nikko Stations

7. Cruise along Japan’s most beautiful lake, the Lake Chuzenji

Retreat into the wilderness and natural beauty of Japan as you venture into the inner regions of Nikko. Surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, Lake Chuzenji stands on top as one of the most scenic spots in Nikko. You can easily admire the grand Mount Nantai which is a 2,486 metre (8,156 feet) high volcano. While you can stay at the shore and admire the beauty, you can also hop into one of their sightseeing cruise boats which will bring you to even prettier spots you cannot see from land.

Its beauty is complemented by the various summer residences owned by the Italian, French and Belgian ambassadors. Due to the massive lake, the area remains cool during summer in Japan which makes it the perfect spot for a summer holiday as visitors escape Tokyo’s summer heat. The mix of nature and carefully structured residences along with the combination of cool climate and beautiful nature, you will definitely treat your eyes to a feast worth having.

Lake Chuzenji

Area: Chugushi, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Access: Bus ride from Tobu and JR Nikko stations

8. Immerse in the beauty of Japan’s top waterfall, Kegon Falls

There is no shortage of waterfalls in Nikko but Kegon Falls has got itself a reputation as being the most famous waterfall, ranking in the top 3 nationwide. Standing almost 100 metres (328 feet) tall, there are two observatory platforms for visitors to enjoy. There is a free observation platform that is easily accessible by foot and another paid platform at the base of the waterfall, allowing you to witness the entire glory of the Kegon Falls.

The waterfall’s beauty differs during the different seasons, highlighting a different colour and atmosphere based on the season. Ranging from the hot bright red in fall to the icy cool solid white in winter, Kegon Falls will always leave you astonished. This unique feature is one of the reasons it can stand on top as one of the best waterfalls as it encourages repeat visits to see the waterfall in a different light.

Kegon Falls

Address: Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Price: 550 JPY (5.13 USD)

Opening Hours: 8 am to 5 pm

Access: Short walk from Chusenjiko Onsen bus terminal

Contact: +81 288-54-2496


9. Witness the serenity of the mighty dragon at Ryuzu Waterfall

Ryuzu waterfall (10375267036)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Takashi Hososhima used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Just a stone’s throw away from Kegon Falls, the Ryuzu Waterfall holds its own in terms of beauty and charm. A majestic 210 metre (688 feet) waterfall cascades down on the stone stairs, bearing a strong resemblance to a dragon’s head, giving it its name. The scenery around the waterfall is filled with leaves and trees that come across as the scales of the dragon. It could be said that one is stepping into the dragon’s den as he visits the waterfall.

Ryuzu Waterfall has a small free observation deck near a rest house, allowing you to slowly take in the beauty while having a short rest from exploring the vicinity. You can also try venturing further and trek the river upstream to enjoy even more impressive views of the waterfall. Do take extra caution as the stairs and trail may be slippery but do not let it stop you from exploring further as the sights will be worth it!

Ryuzu Waterfall

Area: Chugushi, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Access: Bus ride from Tobu or JR Nikko Stations

Contact: +81 288-22-1525

10. The beauty of nature at Senjogahara Marshlands - The Japanese Lord of the Rings

Source: Photo by user Felix Filnkoessl used under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Senjogara” translates to battlefield and here it refers to a mythical battlefield where legends say that the gods of Mount Nantai and Mount Akagi fought once to claim the neighboring lakes as their own. Taking on the incarnation of a serpent and centipede respectively, they fought and intertwined repeatedly, creating this marshland. The battlefield has now changed to a battle of charms as various plants and fauna reside in the vast field, competing to charm the many visitors.

With a wooden trail that spreads across the field, it completes the serene atmosphere of the place and complements the colourful scene. Take a hike along the trail for a personal experience with the plants and birds that visit the place. Or head over to the observation deck for a stunning panoramic view of the marshlands. Either way, be ready for a breath-taking sight that you will not regret!

Senjogahara Marshlands

Area: Chugushi, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Access: Bus ride from Tobu and JR Nikko Stations

And there you have it, Nikko’s top 10 photogenic spots! These places of beauty are all nicely lined up conveniently for the adventurous tourist to tackle them all. It is definitely worth your time to spend a whole day exploring the scenic sights and immerse yourself in nature and religion. Of course, there is more to Nikko than just these 10 spots. So make sure to set aside ample time for all the treasures you can find here and be prepared for a good time!

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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A student that dreams about being The Breaker of Chains, Father of Dragons or maybe just the Protector of the Realm. While he is not living his Game of Thrones dreams, he is mostly pursuing other...Read more

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