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The population of Nikko is only about 84,000 people, but the town covers a large 1,450 square km area.
Back in 766, the temple of Rinnō-ji was established in what is now Nikko and then the temple of Chūzen-ji in 784. The village of Nikko developed around these temples.
One of the major tourist attractions, the Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine, was completed in 1617 and is the burial place of the famous shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
It took until 1889 until Nikko was incorporated as a town and until 1954 to receive “city” status.
Our first destination was Shinkyo Bridge ("sacred bridge"), which is a 25min walk from the JR station or a 5min bus ride. The current bridge over the Daiya River, which marks the entrance to Nikko's shrines and temples, is from 1636. It underwent extensive renovation work in the early 2000s and you can walk over it for a small admission fee.
Nikko is a popular tourist destination which lies in the mountains about 140km north of Tokyo.
Due to its location in the mountains, it is colder than in Tokyo.
The climate that you can expect when you visit Nikko is shown here:
Upon popular request, pinterest users, please repin these images:
We arrived at the Nikko JR Station after another 50min train ride. It was a rainy day and we were starved. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants on Nikko-Kaido, the main street just outside of the train station.
Nikko Tosho-gu shrine is a 5 min walk from bus stop 81, 82 or 83. If you go there in summer, you may want to bring mosquito repellant with you.
This shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for more than 250 years until 1868.
The shrine consists of more than a dozen buildings; many of them with gold plated patterns and beautifully decorated gates which are probably the best known features of the shrine. Nikko Tosho-gu shrine is probably the most beautiful shrine that we have seen during our Japan vacation and I consider it an absolute must-see. This shrine has the famous three monkey carvings in several places.
The main attraction, the Yomeimon gate, was under restoration when we were there, but this should not deter you from visiting. The shrine has many other beautiful gates and buildings that will totally make your visit worthwhile.
Long story short: This is one of the most beautiful shrines that I have seen in Japan. It is definitely worth visiting.
Our Shinkansen train left from Tokyo Station and arrived about 50min later at Utsunomiya Station where we had a 45min layover. As trains in Japan always seem to be punctual, we decided to explore Tonarie Utsunomiya (formerly: Lala Square Shopping Mall), which is right across the street. Unfortunately, we were there before the mall opened at 10am and, even though most stores were open, they were typically unattended.
This 109 room mansion is an impressive piece of traditional Japanese architecture as it blends traditional Edo and early modern Meiji era and Taisho era architecture. It is also one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan.
Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa is a 15min walk from bus stops 83 or 84. It is a former imperial summer residence which was constructed for Emperor Taishō in 1899 and used by emperor Hirohito as a hide-out during World War II.
On your visit, you will not see all 109 rooms, but that is not necessary as most rooms are not furnished and thus many look alike. Everyone taller than 6ft, be aware that there are many (!) wooden beams at approx. 6ft height where you need to duck or face hurtful consequences.
Outside the imperial villa is a nice Japanese garden with some World War II air raid shelters that you cannot go into.
When you first enter the building, you will see a video playing with English subtitles that I strongly suggest you watch as it will give you tons of information about what you are about to see.
Long story short: If you want to go into an imperial villa, this is the place.
It was still raining after our visit of the Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa. So, we went back to the next bus station and took the bus back to the JR Station and then took a train back to Tokyo.
Please click on the images below to kearn more about the other destinations we visited in Japan.