Explore Nikko, Japan
The first temple in Nikko was founded more than 1,200 years ago along the shores of the Daiya River. However, in 1616, the dying Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made it known that his final wish was for his successors to “Build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as the God. I will be the guardian of peace keeping in Japan.” As a result, Nikko became home of the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Unlike most Japanese temples and shrines, the buildings here are extremely gaudy and ornate, with multicolored carvings and plenty of gold leaf, and show heavy Chinese influence. Some sense of dignity is restored by a magnificent forest of over 13,000 cedar trees, covering the entire area.
However, for all of the grandeur the shoguns could muster, they’re now over-shadowed in the eyes of many visitors by a trio of small wooden carvings on a stable wall: the famous three wise monkeys.
A famous Japanese saying proclaims Nikko wo minakereba “kekkō” to iu na. Most tourist literature translates this as “Don’t say ‘magnificent’ until you’ve seen Nikko”, but there’s another dimension to this Japanese pun: it can also mean “You shouldn’t say ‘enough’ before you see Nikko”, since “kekkō” is used in Japanese as a very polite way of declining an offer.
There is a Sight-Seeing Inquiry Office in Tobu-Nikko station which may be able to provide some help. Both stations are about two kilometers to the west of the shrine area.
To reach the shrines, you can take a Tobu Bus, or you can get up close and personal with the neighborhood and use your own two feet, following the pedestrian signs along the main road. Getting off at bus stops 81-85 on the Tobu 2C bus line will get you to the shrine and temple area. Halfway between the stations and shrines, you can stop at the Tourist Information Center (591 Gokomachi area;) to get maps, ask questions (some English spoken), use the Internet, and quench your thirst with water from a small, ladle-drawn waterfall. Also if it is raining, they very happily lend out umbrellas and you are able to drop these off on the way back. Allow about a half-hour or so to walk from the train station to the shrine entrance.
Aside from the usual good luck charms at the shrines and souvenir shops selling phone straps of Hello Kitty in local dress there are several interesting secondhand shops along Hippari Dako selling used kimono, antiques and knick knacks. Many stores also sell yuba, the ‘skin’ that forms on top when making tofu, in packages that can be taken home to enjoy.
Must try Yuba, the ‘skin’ that forms on top when making tofu, seems to be everywhere in Nikko. Even if you’re not a fan of tofu, it tastes pretty good, especially with soba
(Buckwheat noodles in a soup broth). Yuba is also one of the most typical edible omiyage from Nikko.
The Nikko Brewery is on the outskirts of town. Go up the main street towards the river. Cross the river near the red bridge then take a right and keep going. It’ll be about 700m or so on the left side. Their Nikko Beer is a pleasing pilsner style lager, served in a glass or a large handle. Very nice, crisp and refreshing and definitely best on tap. They sometimes have some seasonal brews on hand, such as dark, amber, and special ales.
There is a small alcohol shop across from the station and has an interesting selection of world beers.