Time Travel to Ancient Japan through Nikko City

The Basics of Nikko, Japan: Its Map and Weather

The city of Nikko is one of Japan's cultural gems. The reason for this is because many aspects of ancient Japan have been preserved well within the confines of this large rural city, located in Tochigi Prefecture.

While Nikko is a rather large town (to be exact, it is the third largest city in Japan), it is not the capital of Tochigi Prefecture. Instead, the capital is Utsunomiya, located more than thirty kilometers of Nikko.  The city of Nikko itself is located in the northwestern part of the prefecture.

The rich history of Nikko stems back to the first century, with records of ancient shrines and temples being erected around the year 700 A.D. The rise of religious structures also streamlined the development of the residential villages, causing the population of Nikko to grow through the time.

Those who are accustomed to colder weather will find Nikko particularly enjoyable since it is generally cold all year long. Its climate type has been classified as a humid continental climate, which just means the weather there is colder than in other parts of Honshu Island where it is located.

In order to understand how cold it is in Nikko, it is important to know that the average temperature there falls below zero degrees Celsius during the months of January, February, March, November and December. In retrospect, its hottest months have a mean temperature of only fifteen degrees Celsius, with the occasional high temperature of twenty-two degrees Celsius during the months of July and August.

Given its climate classification, winter season in Nikko is expected to be very cold. During this time, the city is fully covered in snow. On the other hand, the summer season of Nikko is far from hot and sweltering. Instead, its summer season is filled with little rain showers, while the weather remains cool.

The reason why Nikko is colder even compared to the cities that are located in close proximity is not because of its geographical location, but rather because of its topographic profile. Located more than 1,200 meters above sea level, it is no surprise that the high altitude would cause a cooler climate.

Tourists who are traveling to Tochigi Prefecture's Nikko may want to prepare for the trip by stocking up on weather appropriate clothes such as outerwear, gloves, and other pieces of clothing that could help battle the cold. Obviously, summer clothes like thin dresses, shorts and skirts may be less than ideal to wear in Nikko.

Exploring the Many Shrines and Temples of Nikko, Japan

Nikko's economy relies so much on its tourism. Every year, thousands of tourists visit the city to bask in its otherworldly beauty. In fact, in 1999, the international regulating body UNESCO has awarded it as a World Heritage Site. Collectively, the term "Shrines and Temples of Nikko" is used to describe more than a hundred religious structures scattered around the city.

The rich cultural significance of Nikko, with all of its shrines and temples, is highly regarded by Japan as important remnants of their culture and history. The most notable nine structures have been considered part of Japan's National Treasures, while the remaining ninety plus structures are all awarded as "Important Cultural Properties" of Japan. This comes to no surprise, as the Japanese people are known for being nationalistic, and having high respect for culture and tradition.

Having a hundred and three structures, it may be overwhelming for anyone planning a visit to Nikko to comprehend how a single visit would suffice. However, that is highly possible to do since the structures can be classified into three major shrines and temples. The more notable ones will be mentioned later on in order to provide a guide to future visitors.

The first among the three shrines is Futarasan shrine, containing twenty-three structures. This shrine is dedicated to three Shinto goddesses who are believed to be housed inside Honden; the main building of the Futarasan shrine. Not all structures inside Futarasan are buildings; instead, the headcount also includes several bridges, arcs, gates and entryways within the shrine. Most of these structures were built during the seventeenth to the eighteenth century, with predominantly Shinto Buddhism elements incorporated within its design.

Another Shinto shrine that is worth noting for its beauty is Tosho-gu. Compared to Futarasan, the structures within Tosho-gu are much more grandiose, with intricate details preserved carefully for over four hundred years. Among nine of the National Treasures of Japan, eight are housed within the Tosho-gu shrine, which is a testament to just how beautiful and significant these structures are.

Aside from its religious significance as a Shinto shrine, Tosho-gu is also highly regarded because it is the burial place of the famous shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. His image is enshrined within the first building of the shrine, similarly named as Honden. Located in the area same area containing Honden is Ishinoma, which is a connecting chamber that leads to Haiden, a hall that is dedicated to worship and service.

Aside from the three significant structures (Honden, Ishinoma, and Haiden), there are other structures that are worth visiting as well. Kamijinko, Nakajinko, and Shimojinko are three old storage places built during the Edo period. These three structures are far from looking like old dilapidated buildings; instead, they are adorned with Buddhist designs all over. Another example is the Gojunoto stands tall and proud within the shrine. Meanwhile, a less grandiosely designed structure keeps the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, called Okusha Hoto.

The last temple in Nikko City is the Buddhist temple Rinno-ji. Its main building comprises of Honden, Ainoma, and Haiden to form a large mausoleum called the Taiyuin Mausoleum. The Taiyuin Mausoleum is the last National Treasure of Japan, among the nine in Nikko City. All of the structures surrounding the building where the mausoleum is located show a similar level of detail as the other temples.

Anyone who's on a trip to Nikko must make sure that he or she will pay a quick visit to these shrines and temples. Aside from gaining a deeper knowledge and appreciation of Japanese heritage, the location is also a perfect spot for shutterbugs to practice their photography skills due to the picturesque shrines and temples.

Visiting Nikko, Japan During The Winter

During the winter time, the city of Nikko becomes a winter wonderland. Unlike other cities wherein the ideal time to visit is during the spring or summer season, the experience of visiting Nikko in the winter is a one of a kind experience. During this time, the town transforms into an ethereal city, with its old world charm completely covered in snow.

Tourists may opt to ride the Akechidaira ropeway during the winter, so they can witness the surrounding mountains capped with thin layers of snow. A few kilometers away from the Akechidaira Ropeway is Chuzenji Lake and Kegon Falls, where tourists can take an elevator for 500 Yen to see the surroundings from an even higher elevation. Even though the altitude of the village is already quite high, seeing the beauty of the lake completely frozen by snow is still worth experiencing.

Aside from Kegon Falls, Nikko also boasts of several other bodies of water where one can visit during the winter. From Chuzenji, Yudaki waterfalls is another popular tourist attraction that is only one bus away is Lake Yunoko, though it is located in the furthest areas of Nikko.

Within the perimeter of Lake Yunoko, there are several notable locations worth visiting. Both the Yudaki waterfalls and the Yumoto onsen are close to each other, so it is easy to add both tourists' spots within the itinerary.

A piece of advice for tourists who wish to visit Nikko during the winter, however, is that the transportation available to explore the inner parts of the city is much less accessible in the winter. Other than that, the shrines and temples, which are the cities main attractions remain part of the normal bus routes all year long.

Ryokans in Nikko, Japan: Relax and Unwind at a Hot Spring or Onsen

Tourists who are visiting Nikko may choose to stay in a "ryokan". These are basically hotels in an old-school format that contain a public bathing facility in the form of a hot spring or onsen. Luckily, tourists have several options, should they be willing to spend money during their stay.

One of the most popular Ryokans in Nikko is Hotel Kosho. For around 15,000 Yen, guests can enjoy one of the best offerings of Nikko. It has several facilities that can make any stay more enjoyable, such as an outdoor hot spring and two separate onsens for men and women.

Another option, albeit slightly more expensive, as the price ceiling can go as high as 20,000 Yen, is Nikko Hoshino Yado. Compared to Hotel Kosho, it is a bit more modern. However, the price provides the added luxury of bathing in the hotel's glass-enclosed bath houses, and a hot spring located inside a lovely Japanese garden.

Those who are looking for cheaper alternatives may opt for Tokinoyu, which is another modern style Ryokan. The price of staying there per night does not exceed 10,000 Yen, so it is easier on the pockets. This contains simpler facilities, and the in-house restaurant does not offer dinner; however, these can be easily overlooked by anyone who is on a budget. Tokinoyu is also a great option for anyone who is keen on immersing in Nikko's cultural sites since it is a good ten-minute away from the temples and shrines by foot.

Befriending the Snow Monkeys at Nikko Japan

For those who are not convinced yet that Nikko, Japan is worth visiting, perhaps this last bit of information can make anyone change their mind: Nikko, Japan happens to be the home to friendly snow monkeys.

Nikko is actually a perfect habitat for snow monkeys since the town contains two essential things that are ideal for their living conditions. One, the monkeys are adept to the cold climate, especially snow. Given the climate of Nikko, it is surely a heaven for these monkeys. Another fact about these monkeys is that they enjoy visiting hot springs to lower their body temperatures. Lucky for them, hot springs are quite abundant within the confines of Nikko.

For those who want to see Nikko's snow monkeys, the best way to spot them is by traveling to the further parts of Nikko where nature is more abundant. Usually, they are out and about in the forests. However, their disposition is not similar to wild animals, since they are rather friendly towards humans.

A simple advice for tourists who are looking into spotting these monkeys is to avoid making physical contact with the monkeys since they can get startled.  Even though they are warm towards strangers, unexpected actions may cause them to act unruly and wild.

A Traveler's Guide to Choosing a Hotel in Nikko, Japan

Choosing a hotel in Nikko can get quite tricky. Unlike Tokyo, which is a medium sized metropolis, Nikko is a large rural town that has only several options. Thankfully, Tobu railway is available to service the commuting needs of the people who want to travel to and from Nikko. The Tobu railway passes through Asakusa, Tokyo Sky Tree, and into Kinugawa Onsen.

It is important to note that one may have a harder time choosing a hotel near the train stations. Since the city is large and rural, the hotel options are not as abundant compared to busier towns like Tokyo, which is flowing with options for tourists.

The key tip to successfully choosing a place to stay in Tokyo is to work around an itinerary. It is best to choose a location that is easily accessible to and from the other tourist spots in Nikko such as its temples, shrines, and natural wonders.

As mentioned earlier, Ryokans are popular within Nikko, so these are also great options for tourists. They may not be as modern compared to big hotel chains offering luxurious rooms, and breakfast buffets, but they are a perfect way to enrich the whole cultural experience.