Tokyo, Japan’s bustling capital, is well known for it’s crowds, it’s neon lights, it’s modern gadgets, and it’s quirkiness. There’s (overpriced in my opinion) maid cafes, manga cafes, and anime shops and video stores galore in Akihabara. While Tokyo is also well known for it’s more traditional areas, such as Sensoji temple and the Meiji Shrine, it generally feels quite modern, and really does not have the historical feel of traditional cities such as Kyoto and Nara. I had visited Japan twice before this recent trip to Tokyo. The first trip was a tour of the Kyushu island area, and the second was a trip with friends to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. Kyoto and Nara are amazing places and one could probably spend weeks exploring them and never get bored (I only had a few days, unfortunately).
Tokyo, on the other hand, was a bit underwhelming compared to Kyoto and Nara. I was looking forward to finally visiting Japan’s famous metropolis, but to me it was basically another big city, with anime and manga thrown in. It’s a fun place to explore for a couple of days, but after two days there I was ready to escape the city and explore more of Japan’s world heritage.
Nikko, a small town located about two and a half hours north of Tokyo, is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle. Nikko is home to two shrines and one temple listed as Unesco world heritage sites. Unfortunately, the large and beautiful main gate of Toshugu shrine is being renovated, as is the main hall of Rinnoji temple. However, there are several buildings that can still be enjoyed at Toshugu, so it is still very much worth the visit. The entrance fee is a bit steep, at 1300 yen, but I thought it was worth the price. It’s considered to be the mostly lavishly decorated shrine in Japan, as it boasts amazing detailed carvings in the wood and several buildings are covered in gold leaf. It was built as a resting place for a ruler during the Edo period, but originally the mausoleum lacked the grandeur it has now. It was in the 1600s when the ruler’s grandson expanded the shrine that it became as ornate as it is today.
The location of the shrine, a beautiful cryptomeria tree forest, is just as impressive as the shrine itself. In addition to Toshugu, Nikko is home to beautiful mountains, forests, and rivers. I wish I had more time to explore Nikko’s national park, but unfortunately I was only able to manage a day trip with the time I had. I visited Tokyo and Nikko during a 5 day break from labor day until Children’s day, so I only had three full days in Tokyo. Even for a short excursion, Nikko is very much worthy of the two hour train ride. It’s very easy and relatively inexpensive to get there. The train from Tokyo’s Asakusa station on the Tobu railway costs 1700 yen.