On a quest to fully maximize our JR pass, we decided to visit Nikko. Nikko is a city two hours by train north of Tokyo. It is where the famous Toshogu Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage, can be found. It is also the best place to see some fall foliage in early October.
Our expectations for this place were simple. We just wanted to see some fall foliage. What we didn’t expect was to freeze to death. Being tropical people, Mike and I were wearing normal clothes for early fall weather – jeans, shirt, and a reversible parka. By the time we got to Nikko Station, we were greeted by a 7C weather. We got worried about the cold because a part of our itinerary was going up to Okunikko (the mountainous area of Nikko). We winged it and hopped on the bus thinking we could handle it. Guess what, we couldn’t! By the time we hopped off the bus, it was an ass-whooping 4C. I could feel my insides shivering! We sought shelter in a homestyle restaurant and warmed ourselves up with some ramen.
Thinking we were warm enough, we braved the cold and instantly regretted it! We bought scarves from a shop and went to our first stop, the Kegon Falls.
The almost 100 meter tall Kegon Waterfall (華厳の滝, Kegon no taki) is the most famous of Nikko‘s many beautiful waterfalls. In fact, it is even ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful falls. –Japan Guide
When we got at the free viewing deck, it was too foggy to see anything. We stayed wishing the fog would clear up but it didn’t. It was such a fail! We weren’t able to see the beauty of the waterfalls or some fall foliage.
By the time we were frozen to the bones, we decided to go to the next stop, Lake Chuzenji.
The lake is supposed to have a wonderful view of the fall foliage we’ve been dying to see. But clearly, the fog was not on our side. We couldn’t really see the mountains or anything beyond the waters. It was too foggy and there was no way we could wait for the fog to clear up because we were almost frozen.
Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖, Chūzenjiko) is a scenic lake in the mountains above the town of Nikko. It is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, Nikko’s sacred volcano, whose eruption blocked the valley below, thereby creating Lake Chuzenji about 20,000 years ago. –Japan Guide
We decided to regroup at the bus terminal (they had heater!!!) while waiting for the bus going back down to town. We looked at our itinerary and crossed off a lot of sights because clearly we weren’t dressed for the weather. To be honest, I was disappointed because I wanted to see what Nikko had to offer but I was getting worried we’d get hypothermia or something.
By the time we were nearing the bus stop near Toshogu Shrine, we wanted to go back to Tokyo. It was raining non-stop the whole day and it was getting too cold! I honestly don’t know until now how we ever found the courage to get down that bus. We were freezing but we still managed to get down, buy souvenirs, and walk to the shrine.
The Toshogu Shrine has to be the fanciest shrine I’ve ever seen on this Japan trip. It was lavishly and intricately decorated. We were drenched but Toshogu was definitely worth it.
Toshogu Shrine (東照宮, Tōshōgū) is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. Ieyasu is enshrined at Toshogu as the deity Tosho Daigongen, “Great Deity of the East Shining Light”. Initially a relatively simple mausoleum, Toshogu was enlarged into the spectacular complex seen today by Ieyasu’s grandson Iemitsu during the first half of the 1600s.
The lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a beautiful forest. Countless wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings in a way not seen elsewhere in Japan, where simplicity has been traditionally stressed in shrine architecture. – Japan Guide
The Shinkyo Bridge (神橋, Shinkyō, “sacred bridge”) stands at the entrance to Nikko‘s shrines and temples, and technically belongs to Futarasan Shrine. The bridge is ranked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges. –Japan Guide
After seeing the Shinkyo Bridge, we checked Google Maps and found that the Nikko Station wasn’t too far away. It was about a 20-minute walk and instead of waiting for a bus, we decided to walk (again, clearly another mistake). We thought the rain has subsided but midway through our walk, it started to rain again. We ended up at Nikko Station thirty minutes later with our parkas and bags all wet.
Here are some photos of the JR Station at Nikko. Even the train station was so beautiful, it was a sight to see in itself.