Nikko | 5 days in Tokyo part 4
Nikko is a bit further afield from Tokyo than Kamakura, so it’s best to get an early start to make the most of your time there and beat the crowds. It takes between two and two and a half hours by train depending on which rail company you use. Those of you travelling with a JR rail pass can take the longer journey for free, so a decision has to be made between saving time or money.
From the stations, it’s a twenty-minute walk to the first interesting sights. When you want to skip the walking through Nikko’s modern part, take the bus but be sure to get off at the Shinkyo bridge. The beautiful bridge dates back to 1636 and provides an excellent photo opportunity, especially in autumn when the surrounding hills take on the wide range of autumn colours. A legend tells us that the bridge was made by the prayers of a priest named Shōdō. When he wanted to pray, but could not cross the river, a god appeared with two snakes that transformed into a bridge. That is why this bridge is also called Yamasugeno-jabashi, which means the “Snake Bridge of Sedge”.
Shinkyo bridge is opposite the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temple complexes. When you go up the hill, the first temple you come upon is Rinnoji. This Buddhist temple complex is huge. Rinnoji dates back to the 8th century and is the most important temple in Nikko. The main hall was recently renovated and is in once again in perfect condition.
The whole area is covered with enormous ancient pine trees. Some of them may already have been there when Iemitsu Tokugawa decided to enlarge and embellish the shrine in honour of his grandfather, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Who was the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan from 1600 until the Meiji restoration in 1868. This period is known as the Edo period since the seat of power moved from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), where it remains until this day.
The shrine was used to solidify the shogunate and project its power and wealth. It clearly succeeded in this task as it is one of the most beautiful shrines in Japan. The attention to detail and the lavish decoration is of a level rarely seen in Japan. Pay extra attention to the wood carvings and the famous “see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil” monkeys.
As you exit Toshogu shrine and go right a lane lined with trees and stone lanterns lead the way towards Futarasan Jinja. This shrine is dedicated to the deities of Nikko’s mountains and was founded in 782 by Shodo Shonin who also founded Rinnoji and the Shinkyo bridge.
At the far end of the shrine and temple complex lies Taiyuinbyo, the mausoleum to Iemitsu Tokugawa. Officially this shrine is part of the Rinnoji temple complex and therefor technically a temple instead of a shrine.
Taiyuinbyo is a bit more restrained than Toshogu. Mainly because Iemitsu embellished Ieyasu’s shrine to make a political point, so it wouldn’t make sense to outdo himself with his own shrine. But it still is a beautiful shrine which is definitely worth the effort to visit. Some would even argue that this is the more beautiful and more Japanese shrine because it’s more restrained.
This concludes our day in Nikko. If you have the time, pay a visit to the beautiful Kegon waterfall which is nearby. Otherwise return to Tokyo by train. Read our other articles about Tokyo for more inspiration!