Experience a Nikkō 36-hour adventure. The other weekend I took the two youngest children (11 & 3) on a two day, one night adventure to Nikkō. It was a great place to see foliage, waterfalls, beautiful shrines and temples, and also play at Edo Wonderland! Easy to get to from Tokyo. Venture out and learn, laugh and live!
Nikkō 36-Hour Adventure
Drove up early on Saturday a.m. and returned around dinner time on Sunday night. It is an easy 2.5-hour drive with no traffic or you can take the train to Nikkō and then rent a car. A car is highly recommended to see the area. The JNTO association also has a handy free Nikko and Kinugawa document to help you plan your trip.
10:00 – 13:00 Saturday
We arrived in Nikkō in the late morning and headed straight for Tōshō-gū Shrine (Shrine’s English website). The shrine is stunning and a great mini hike for little ones. Do not take your strollers there are too many stairs and people on the weekend. Plan to spend about 2-3.5 hours in the Shrine and also visit the small museum. The shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Built in 1617, during the Edo period, Ieyasu remains are enshrined in the large urn at the top of the shrine complex. I recommend you visit the museum that is at the base of the shrine to learn about Ieyasu and put more context around your visit. There is a very nice English subtitled 15 min animation movie in the museum that explains his life and accomplishments.
Many of the Nikkō Tōshō-gū are categorized as National Treasures of Japan and Important Cultural Properties. These are the key sights you should note.
- The richly decorated Yōmeimon, a gate that is also known as “higurashi-no-mon.” The latter name means that one could look at it until sundown, and not tire of seeing it. Carvings in deep relief, painted in rich colors, decorate the surface of the structure.
- The next gate is the karamon decorated with white ornaments (this structure is presently undergoing conservation work and draped in white plastic sheets until 2017!).
- Nearby, a carving of the sleepy cat, “Nemuri-neko” is a popular carving where you will see many people taking photos. Look on the other side of the sleepy cat carving and you will see a bird carving. These two carvings back to back symbolizes peace.
- The stable of the shrine’s sacred horses which has the three wise monkeys on it was very popular with my kids. The monkeys who hear, speak and see no evil are a traditional symbol in Chinese and Japanese culture.
- The original five-story pagoda was donated by a daimyo in 1650, but it was burned down during a fire, and was rebuilt in 1818. Each story represents an element – earth, water, fire, wind and aether or void – in ascending order. Inside the pagoda, a central shinbashira pillar hangs from chains to minimize damage from earthquakes.
- You are not done until you have climbed the hundreds of stone steps lead through the cryptomeria forest up to the grave of Ieyasu. A torii at the top bears calligraphy attributed to Emperor Go-Mizunoo. A bronze urn contains the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
You could spend the entire day in the vicinity Nikkō Tōshō-gū and visit one of the many other shrines and temples, as well as the Nikko National Park, but I did not have time nor energy to visit after carrying a 3-year old up so many stairs at Nikkō Tōshō-gū.
13:00 – 14:00 Saturday – Lunch at Soba Shop on the main shopping street that leads from Nikkō station to Nikkō Tōshō-gū.
14:00 – 17:00 Saturday – Drove to Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) & The Kegon Falls (華厳滝). The drive up to Chuzenji is up a mountain road called the Irohazaka. The Irohazaka has 20 hairpin curves on the way up, and 28 on the way down; the up and down roads are separated. The Irohazaka climbs about 400m in a few kilometres. The climb via car takes about 30 mins spending on traffic; the descent takes longer because many people are riding their brakes the whole time down. Each curve is marked with a number and a Japanese hiragana letter totalling 48 hiragana the total number. My two slept the entire drive to the mountain and up which was a nice 45 min nap for them. We arrived and walked out to see the Kegon Falls first. Beautiful falls and accessible for children. Then we drove around part of the lake to see the sunset. The kids enjoyed the curves down the Irohazaka more than I did.
Lake Chūzenji (中禅寺湖 Chūzenji-ko) is a scenic lake in Nikkō National Park in the city of Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. It was created 20,000 years ago when Mount Nantai (2484 m) erupted and blocked the river.The lake has a surface area of 11.62 km² and a circumference of 25 km. Its elevation at the surface is 1,269 m (4,124 ft), and the water reaches a depth of 163 m (508 ft). The Yukawa is the principal source of water. It drains through the Kegon Falls. Chuzenji Lake was discovered in 782 by a priest named Shōdō when his group succeeded in climbing Mt. Nantai. Considered sacred, the mountain was closed to women, horses, and cows until 1872. In the middle of the Meiji period and early Showa period, many European embassies built vacation houses around the lake. The former Italian villa has been renewed and is now open to visitors.
17:00 – 18:00 Saturday – Drove down mountain and went to Hotel Asaya. This hotel was located about 20km away from the Toshogu shrine but very close to Edo Wonderland which was our main destination the next day. The area of the hotel is Kinugawa Onsen which has a very large community of hotels and ryokans with natural springs and spa accommodations. Our room was lovely and the roof top onsen facilities quite fun and relaxing. The view from our room was quite dramatic down to the river gorge.
10:00 – 15:00 Sunday – Visited Edo Wonderland, which will thrill your kids with Edo era sites, people playing period roles and ninja shows. If you have ever been to Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, USA, it seems pretty similar but with more theoretical shows. Tickets are for an all day entry, assume you will be there about 3-4 hours although my kids could have stayed all day. Adult tickets at the door are 4,700 yen for adults and 2,400 yen for kids. We bought tickets at our hotel and saved a few hundred yen. My two children wanted to dress in period outfits so their big treat was to rent kimono’s for the day for about 3,500 yen more. The rental centre is very close to the entry of the park (inside the entry). It was a good photo opportunity and they still are talking about their dress-up. The entire park is well down, and the people role-play are very friendly. If you have a toddler or elementary age kids, this is a great place to visit.
15:00 – 17:00 Sunday – Quick walk around the cute two of Kinugawa and a slow paced river boat ride. The town is located along the main river gorge where there are very creative statues or Orges (An ogre (feminine ogress) is a being usually depicted as a large, hideous, manlike monster that eats human beings.) that supposedly used to live in the area. My kids had a blast searching for more Orges statues. How many can you find? We also signed-up for a Kinugawa river ride which was fun but slow due to the low water levels. Good last activity for the weekend.
17:00 – 19:30 Sunday Drive home to Tokyo was a bit backed up as we neared Tokyo, but kids were exhausted and slept the entire way!
Nikkō 36-Hour Adventure
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