Our last day in Tokyo was filled with lots of cherry blossom goodness, but it was time to trade in those Tokyo skyscrapers and travel up north into the Tochigi Prefecture for a one night stay in Nikko. Known for its scenic views, nicely decorated temples and hot spring resorts, Nikko was our last hurrah in Japan before heading back home to the states.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part 8 – Tokyo Tales Day 5 – Nikko, Nikko, and more Nikko
Getting to Nikko
The town of Nikko is about 2-3 hours away from Tokyo, depending on where you start and how you plan to get there. For this trip, we picked to use Tobu Railways to journey up north. The railway offers various passes that include roundtrip travel to and from Asakusa and a wide timetable of departures for us to utilize.
We chose to use the railway’s 2 Day Nikko pass and pay extra each way to ride the Limited Express Spacia trains! For a total of $50 a person, we got roundtrip train rides and unlimited rides on public transportation once we got to Nikko.
Tobu operates out of Asakusa Station as a starting point for those leaving from Tokyo. Riding on the limited express trains, it only takes 110 minutes from Tokyo to Nikko! And if there’s one thing you should know about Japanese trains/public transportation, it’s on-time all the time. The normal trains tack on another 40-50 minutes, which isn’t too bad at all but we valued our time in Nikko so off we went on Spacia!
We had arrived early to Asakusa Station for our 11:30AM departure so we walked over to the department store connected with the station to find lunch. The food court in the basement of the store had tons of options to choose from. (Too many options) After grabbing lunch to-go, it was time to board the train!
For lunch I grabbed a sushi bento and croquettes from two different food stands. Decent for what it was, but made even more fun because I got to eat it on a train!
After a quick and enjoyable train ride and a fast transfer onto another train, we arrived in Nikko!
Exploring the World Heritage Sites
The temples located in Nikko are actually all UNESCO World Heritage Sites meaning they are considered to be of great cultural significance. By the time we had checked into the ryokan and dropped off our bags, it was a little past two. The temples closed at 3pm! We hightailed it out of the room and off we went!
Lucky for us, the walk/trail that leads to all of the major shrines and temples were a quick walk from our ryokan. All of the temples in Nikko have an entrance fee that ranges from 1000-1300 Yen! Because of this and time not being on our side today, we opted just to explore and walk around the temples, not necessarily go inside each of them.
The walk/path to the temples were very scenic and beautifully framed within the natural setting of Nikko. Because it was almost the end of the day, crowds were dwindling down pretty quickly which made for a nicer experience. (Boooo, crowds)
Our first stop was Rinnoji temple, a Buddhist temple that dates back to year 766. Unfortunately, restoration and construction began on main hall (pictured above) back in 2011 and will continue into 2019. Until then, this scaffold is all you can see from the outside. However, the temple is still open for visitors to go inside.
The walk to our next shrine, Futarasan, was a nice and brisk stroll filled with towering trees and stone paths lined with statues like the one above. There was a lot more to do at Futarasan than Rinnoji. Well more things to do besides going inside the actual temple.
One of the things I enjoyed doing at Futarasan was getting my annual omikuji, a Japanese fortune that you usually get from a Shinto or Buddhist shrine. The fortunes have your outlook on various aspects of your life such as travel, love, school and work. It was chosen at random from a large box after a small offering of yen.
If you don’t agree with what it says, or if it is unfavorable, you normally tie it to a tree to prevent it from happening. I’ve kept the last two years omikuji that I’ve received but ended up tying the one I got from Futarasan. (Here’s to hoping for good fortune the rest of 2016!)
As the crowds thinned out even more, it was time to head back to our ryokan and settle in for the evening! There was still lots to do for our day in Nikko!
Ryokan-ing it up in Nikko
For our one night stay, we decided on staying in a ryokan (Japanese B&B or inn) that came with meals and had an onsen (hot spring)! It would be the perfect way to wind down and relax to end our Japan trip.
After some extensive research on Japanican, Kozuchi no Yado Tsurukame Daikichi was booked. Our reservation also included shuttling to and from the ryokan to the train station and dinner and breakfast. But most importantly, it was a great location and had a nice onsen facility!
The room was quite large with a wide living area. It was a welcomed change to the smaller space we had been staying in in Tokyo. Our room looked right into the Daiya River. One of the staff showed us to our rooms and sat down with us to explain the rules of the ryokan. (Dining times, onsen use, yukata sizes, etc.)
After settling in, it was time to relax and soak in our experience, literally. It was onsen (hot spring) time! Like most ryokan onsen, this had separate ones for male and female. I managed to snap a few pics while I was in there because it was empty.
If you’ve never been to an onsen in Japan, it’s pretty ritualistic if you ask me. Etiquette in an onsen is everything. Doing just one tiny thing wrong can be taken as rude. From cleansing yourself before stepping into the bath to the way you use your towel, there are many little details to the art of onsen-ing.
It felt amazing to soak in the onsen after a long trip. The outdoor, open-air bath was especially fun at night. The piping hot waters mixed in with the brisk cool March air was perfect. I ended up going to the onsen three times during our one night stay! (Sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation.)
Next up was a wonderful ryokan kaiseki dinner! Ryokan dinners are famous for being very elaborate, beautifully presented multi-course meals that love to showcase local products and offerings. To my surprise, when we arrived for our dinner, we were led to a private room for our meal!
It was a little intimidating and overwhelming at first at all of the options in front of us. Our waiter for the evening was great at explaining each course which included sake starter, sashimi, grilled Tochigi beef, sukiyaki, and so much more.
Everything was presented very nicely with good attention to detail, something you should expect when you have dinners at ryokans. I was thoroughly stuffed after our meal. It is truly an experience being able to sample what local chefs believe represent their home and having it prepared with such attention to detail is something everyone just has to experience themselves.
There was also breakfast the new morning before we checked out, but it wasn’t as extravagant as dinner was. Overall, I had a great time in Nikko. Getting out of the busy city of Tokyo and having a drastic change of scenery was a great way to end the trip. I would highly recommend visiting Nikko, even if just for a day trip, to see the temples and walk around the town.
Next up is the journey back to the states but a little shopping and lounge hopping detour at Narita International Airport first!