There is a saying in Japan that goes something along the lines of Never say you are satisfied until you’ve seen Nikko. Indeed! Nikko in the Kanto Region boasts some of the most magnificent religious structures I’ve ever seen. So, even though it is an easy day trip from Tokyo, why rush? Visiting only the popular sites is never an option for us, so we spent two nights in town and three more days in the somewhat forgotten Kinugawa Onsen area. The whole experience was incredible and the best way to end our 5 week trip to Japan. But let’s start from the beginning.
How to get to Nikko from Tokyo
Japan’s railroad network is extremely developed so you can reach the same destination using different companies and routes. To get to Nikko from Tokyo you can take the Japanese Railways Line from Tokyo’s Main Station and the Tobu Nikko Line (that continues all the way to the gorgeous Kinugawa Onsen) from the Asakusa Station. We went to Nikko by the former and came back to Tokyo by the later. In Japan there are several convenient JR Passes, such as the excellent 2 week pass, perfect if you travel fast. We don’t travel fast so we decided not to buy it. Additionally, the pass includes only the Japanese Railways trains that don’t reach every destination. To get to Nikko from Tokyo and back we took two different companies from two different stations. Both train lines were on time, fast and offered great views.
What to see and do
We don’t really go to places just to visit main sights. Of course, there is a reason why these places have become so popular, and are for sure worth your trouble. However, seeing a place is not enough. To experience the place, its best to spend at least the night, and take time to visit nearby off the beaten track locations. In Nikko we stayed at the charming Nikko Park Lodge Mountain Side in the middle of the forest, so we could walk everywhere through beautiful green paths. After visiting the historical sites we went for a walk along the Daiya River. The water is hot, so we could see vapor coming out of the river! In the evening we crossed the famous Shinkyo Bridge. Since most tourists come here only during the day, we had the place to ourselves. The smell of trees and the sound of the river relaxed us and prepared us for a deep night sleep in our hotel.
Shrines and Temples of Nikko
In 1999 Unesco declared as World Heritage Sites two Shinto Shrines, The Tôshôgû and The Futarasan-jinja, and one Buddhist Temple, The Rinnô-ji. The place comprises over 100 buildings and a beautiful 17th Century forest. The buildings are located on different slopes on the Sacred Nikko Mountains creating different visual effects. For centuries the whole complex and its natural setting have been considered sacred. The temple and shrines still serve their religious purpose, though it is difficult to submerge into this unique atmosphere surrounded by masses of tourists. That’s why it’s essential to spend at least one night in Nikko. You will have an experience much bigger than a place.
Kinugawa Onsen and Kinugawa Koen
When searching for a great onsen around Nikko we stumbled upon a town called Kinugawa Onsen. The town has a pretty center located just in front of the train station, with several shops and restaurants. For some reason the best Hotel with onsen was located in a suburb called Kinugawa Koen, so we booked it hesitantly. We were wondering why such a cool place was so affordable, until we realized the whole area was semi abandoned. As I mentioned in the text about Chubu Region, Japan has a problem with its aging population. So basically there is a shortage of workforce, and apparently this is not the only abandoned resort in the country.
Authenticity is all we ask for
We all have different tastes and interests. While some people would do anything to climb Mount Fiji, staying at an empty Japanese resort is my thing. Our Fukko Oyado Kaze hotel was probably one of the most authentic places we’ve ever stayed at. Its Ryokan stytle room matches any high category hotel, so you get to experience an authentic Japanese accommodation together with universal luxury. Of course, the star of the hotel is its open-air onsen. Amazing! We could see the moon while dipping in hot mineral waters and listening to the river. That’s all we did. We would walk around the beautiful canyon surrounded by abandoned hotels and forests full of funny monkeys, eat simple food in town and end our day at the Onsen.
Enjoying all this with no tourists on site is heaven or am I just weird?