World Heritage Nikko’s shrines and temples
「TOCHIGI Visitors Guide」[*1] download [PDF 7,949KB]
Nikko, an international tourist city representing Tochigi Prefecture, has exquisite history and culture. The two shrines and one temple here, including Toshogu Shrine, have been designated a World Heritage Site. This area is also blessed with natural beauty; Lake Chuzenji, Senjogahara and other scenic sites show different aspects by season. Hot springs with an atmosphere unique to spas also lure many tourists.
The high moor extending over a plateau 1,400 meters above sea level is one of the most renowned wetlands in Japan. A variety of plants and animals live here, and the alpine plants are particularly beautiful in summer. In autumn, the entire grassland is colored red and yellow.
This marsh, approximately 650,000 m2 in area, is located to the west of Senjogahara. There is a well-kept promenade for hikers. Car traffic is banned here to protect the national environment, and hybrid (low-emission) buses are in operation from Akanuma along the national highway route to Senjugahama.
Since Priest Shodo successfully climbed this mountain in 782, Mt. Nantai has been the most important religious site for believers in Nikko Shugendo (ancient Japanese religion of mountain asceticism). The summit commands a panoramic view of the entire Kanto region. As can be seen by the fact its eruptions resulted in the formation of Lake Chuzenji, this mountain can be considered to be the origin of many topographical features of the present Oku Nikko.
This lake located high on a plateau with an altitude of 1,250 meters is one of the most famous lakes in Japan. Lava discharged from the crater of Mt. Nantai during its past eruptions dammed the Daiyagawa River, forming Lake Chuzenji. It boasts of being one of the most transparent lakes in Japan, with the seasonal changes of the surrounding area beautifully reflected on its tranquil surface. Kegon Falls is the outflow of this lake.
This waterfall, located upstream of the Yugawa River that flows from Lake Yunoko into Lake Chuzenji, falls 210 meters over the lava spewed from the crater of Mt. Nantai. A teahouse at its basin offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding area, which is particularly beautiful in spring when azaleas are in full bloom and in the autumnal foliage season.
Kegon Falls, Urami Falls and this Kirifuri Falls have been included in the three most renowned waterfalls in Nikko since long ago. The observation platform in front of the waterfall offers a spectacular view. This waterfall also shows different facets depending on the season, each of which blends in perfectly with the surrounding scenery. The view is particularly impressive in the foliage season from mid to late October.
Kegon Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in Nikko, has both dynamic and elegant aspects, with its falls plummeting some 97 meters, while retaining exquisite beauty created by nature. It is included in Japan’s three most renowned waterfalls together with Nachi Falls (Wakayama Prefecture) and Fukuroda Falls (Ibaraki Prefecture). Visitors can go to the bottom of the gorge by elevator. Although its view never fails to enchant visitors throughout the year, Kegon Falls is particularly dazzling when it puts on autumnal colors and when it forms huge icicles in winter.
Nikko Kisuge, the alpine flora bearing orange flowers, grows in clusters in the Kisuge Plain of Kirifuri Highland, where the entire slopes turn yellow from late June to early July, with tens of thousands of Nikko Kisuge blossoming all at once.
Constructed as the mausoleum of Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1617, this shrine was later rebuilt into the present impressive shrine under the reign of the Third Shogun Iemitsu. All the buildings here have been designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets. In December 1999, the Toshogu Shrine and other shrines and temples in Nikko were officially designated as a World Heritage Site.
One of its gates Yomeimon is also called Higurashimon (twilight gate), because viewers never get tired of admiring its beauty all day till twilight. Visitors are also overwhelmed by as many as 5,000 ornate woodcarvings, including Nemuri Neko (Sleeping Cat) and San Zaru (Three Monkeys), which are the culmination of the supreme craftsmanship in the Edo Period.
Rinnoji originated from the Shihonryuji Temple established by Priest Shodo, the founder of Nikko mountain worship. This temple prospered as a mecca of mountain worshippers coming in large numbers for religious training. Rinnoji became an important religious center following the death of Ieyasu Tokugawa and the construction of Toshogu Shrine. In December 1999, Rinnoji and other temples and shrines in Nikko, including the Toshogu and Futaarasan shrines, were registered as a World Heritage Site.
This temple has many must-sees, including the main hall called the Sambutsudo (Hall of Three Buddhas), the Shoyouen garden, the Houmotsuden which stores 30,000 treasures and the Taiyuin Mausoleum dedicated to the Third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu. It is almost impossible to see all of them in one day.
The origin of this shrine is believed to date back to 790, when Priest Shodo established its main shrine. Futaarasan Shrine was esteemed as the most important shrine in Shimotsuke (now called Tochigi) in ancient times. In the Kamakura Period, this shrine came to be considered to be the guardian god of the Kanto Region by the Shogunate and baronial families. The Haiden (oratory) and the Honden (sanctuary) are maintained as they were at the time of their construction in 1619. This shrine and other temples and shrines in Nikko, including the Toshogu Shrine and Rinnoji Temple, were registered as a World Heritage Site in December 1999. There are many must-sees, including the Bake-Doro (Goblin Lantern), the Futaara Reisen (Miraculous Spring) and the Daikokuden (Main Temple).
Memorial Park of the Italian Embassy Villa
The former site of a villa used by Italian ambassadors to Japan until 1997 was purchased and converted into a park by the Tochigi Prefectural Government. The attached International Summer Resort History Museum displays furniture and furnishing goods used in the villa, reminding visitors of days when this area prospered as a summer resort from the middle of the Meiji Period to the early Showa Period.
Memorial Park of the Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Residence
This residence was originally part of the Akasaka Detached Palace in Tokyo, and moved here in 1899 for Emperor Taisho (then prince) to stay there for his health. The building was refurbished and is now opened to public as a memorial park. This is one of the largest wooden imperial residences constructed in the Meiji and Taisho periods. Built in Japanese style, this residence uses carpets and chandeliers as part of its interior, indicating the semi-Western lifestyle back then.
This traditional Futaarasan Shrine festival is said to have originate around 770. It is now held annually from April 13 to 17, heralding the arrival of spring in the mountain city Nikko. Of a variety of religions events organized during the festival, the greatest attraction is the parade of 12 flowered festival floats from the different areas of Nikko assembling from the east and the west.
Nikko Yumoto Hot Springs
This hot spring resort is located deep in Senjogahara along the northern shore of Lake Yunoko. Priest Shodo, the founder of Nikko, is said to have found this place in 788 and named it Yakushinoyu (“medicine man’s hot bath”). Hot springs can be seen gushing out from the springhead located in the nearby marsh.
Great Spring Festivals of Toshogu Shrine
Of many annual events at the Toshogu Shrine, this festival is the greatest religious occasion. The 1,000 Samurais Parade (Hyakumonozoroe Sennin Gyoretsu) on May 18 is particularly impressive, by reproducing the huge procession formed when the remains of Ieyasu Tokugawa were moved to Nikko. Locals dressed in Nikko’s traditional warrior costume parade through the city. On the day before (May 17), Yabusame (the art of shooting arrows on horseback) is performed.