Friday, March 30, 2012

Nikko : An Introduction

Had heard a lot about Nikko and we had wanted to visit the place since long. Finally we did visit Nikko a few days ago. 

There is a saying in Japanese which goes : Nikko wo minakereba “kekko” to iu na .
Translated this means, Don’t say magnificient until you’ve seen Nikko. As a friend told me, it implies, that person who hasn’t seen Nikko hasn’t seen enough .

Nikko city in Tochigi Prefecture was a renowned Buddhist Shinto religious centre for many centuries. The city was founded over 1200 years ago by a Buddhist priest, Shodo Shonin who crossed the Daiya river on his way to Mount Nantai. The place impressed him so much that he set up the first Buddhist temple in Nikko, Shihonryu-ji, (now known as Rinnoji Temple) in 766.

Nikko’s shrines and temples are all located within walking distance from each other. The shrines and temples are ornately carved and decorated, unlike most other Japanese shrines and temples. The shrines and temples form part of the Unesco World Heritage List.
I will write more about the shrines, temples and other sights iin separate posts, to follow soon.  

It takes less than 4 hours for tourists to see the shrines and temples, perhaps reason enough why most tourists visit Nikko for a day trip. Combination tickets priced at Yen 1300 are available for entrance to all the shrines and temples and this is cheaper than buying individual tickets for each attraction. The shrines and temples are connected to each other by a walking trail which goes around from one monument to the other. 
There is no designated start and end point but most visitors follow the trail like this : 
Rinno-ji temple --->Toshogu Shrine --->Futarasan Shrine--->Taiyuin Byo.   

Nikko city along with Oku Nikko, the mountainous interior, forms part of the Nikko National park. Nikko’s religious and cultural heritage combined with Okunikko’s natural beauty, makes the area an excellent tourist destination. Located less than 2 hours travel away from Tokyo, Nikko makes for the perfect place for a day trip for tourists. Tobu and JR lines connect Nikko by railways. Tobu Railways is said to be the fastest and most convenient way to access Nikko by railways. In addition Tobu offers various kinds of passes such as All Nikko pass which provides unlimited bus and train access in Nikko and Kinugawa area, but does not cover shrine and temple entrance. This pass comes at a price of Yen 4400 and is valid for 4 days.

The World Heritage Pass which is valid for 2 days is priced at Yen 3600. It covers roundtrip to Nikko and Kinugawa and includes Shrine and temple admission as well. Additionally it comes with discounts for Kinugawa Theme Park

The Kinugawa Themepark Pass includes round trip fare, bus pass and admission to one of the theme parks - Edo Wonderland or Tobu World Square. The rates vary according to the choice of theme park. Edo Wonderland (also known as Edo mura)  is a history theme park where Japanese town lifestyle of Edo period has been recreated. All the architecture is in Edo style and people wearing Edo period costumes make up its population. Tobu World Square is a Theme park which contains 1:25 scale miniatures of 101 of world’s famous monuments. 

Of Nikko’s 2 railway stations, Tobu railway station is the busier one. A few hundred metres down the road is the JR station building, which is the oldest station in eastern Japan. 
The JR station building is a classic wooden structure built in 1915 and was designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Most tourist buses run from outside the Tobu station and the area outside the station also has many souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels. A tourist information centre inside the Tobu station building has helpful staff, also English speaking. They guide tourists and are very helpful. They have area maps in English, which are informative and easy to understand.

Like most Japanese tourist places, Nikko has its share of souvenirs and specialities. Yuba, a kind of tofu preparation is the most famous of Nikko’s specialities. We had the Yuba ramen for lunch. 
Various kinds of cookies and sweets carrying images of some of Nikko’s popular attractions are popular “omiyage” – souvenirs. 

Autumn is supposed to be the best time to visit Nikko, when the colourful autumn leaves enhance Nikko’s beauty. Nikko is humid and has considerable rainfall during summers, making summer the least recommended season to visit Nikko. Winters are cold and it snows quite a bit. Even in early spring, when we visited, there was snowfall on the grounds of the shrines and even in Oku nikko. Spring is a pleasant time to visit too. 

We visited Nikko in late March 2012. It was still pretty cold and it also rained through a large part of the day. We drove down from Iwaki to Nikko by car. Parking was easy to find. The normal parking rates are 500 yen for a day’s parking, which is what we paid for parking at a place close to the road leading to the shrines. (The tourist information centre staff guided us the closest parking lot). Free parking lots are available closer to the river, near the Shinkyo Bridge.

We visited Nikko’s shrines and temples on the first day of our 3 day trip. We stayed 2 nights in a hotel in the nearby city of Utsunomiya and explored Nikko and Oku Nikko on day trips. On Day 2 we explored Oku Nikko , where we visited Kegon no Taki (waterfalls), Lake Chuzenji, Akechidaira and Ryuzu no Taki. We skipped the onsen town areas of Yumoto in upper Okunikko and Kinugawa and also the theme parks of Kinugawa. We spent the third day of our trip exploring Utsunomiya, which is a nice city but unfortunately does not have too much for tourists. More on Nikko, Oku Nikko and Utsunomiya in following posts.      

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