It is no surprise that the trains to Nikko are packed full of excited travellers of all ages! An easy day trip from Tokyo, exploring the shrines and temples of Nikko is like stepping back in time. Actually, its more like entering a magical kingdom- one that is swarming with tourist! The shrines and temples of Nikko make up a complex of 103 religious buildings set amongst the natural beauty of the Nikko National Park. The first buildings were constructed in the 8th century by a Buddhist monk on the slopes of the sacred Nikko mountains.
Toshogu Shrine is a Shinto shrine that is the final resting place of Tokugawa leyasu who was first shogun of the Edo Shogunate and ruled from 1603-1605. More than 127,000 craftsmen were involved in the construction this spectacular shrine that consists of a dozen buildings. The craftsmanship is truly unique featuring many intricate sculptures. The Yomei-mon Gate alone has over 500 sculptures- you can spend all day standing under the gate admiring its incredible beauty!
One of the most famous carvings found at this shrine is the ‘see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil’ monkeys- they are so cute!
The five story pagoda (or gojunoto) was one of my favourite buildings.
Rinnoji Temple is one of two temples founded by Shodo Shonin, the man who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century. The temple’s main building is home to some incredible statues. Unfortunately, the temple is currently under construction so I was unable to properly see all the beauty of this important temple.
Futarasan Shrine is one of the oldest buildings in Nikko, dating back to 782 and was also founded by Shodo Shonin. It is dedicated to the dieties of Nikko’s sacred mountains Mount Nantai, Mount Nyoho and Mount Taro.
The gateway to the shrines and temples of Nikko is the Shinkyo Bridge. According to legend two snakes formed the bridge to allow a saint to cross the Daiyagawa River. The bridge that stands today was built in 1636 and you can walk across the bridge for a small entrance fee. I can imagine the bridge being particularly beautiful in autumn, surrounded by the reds and golds of autumn foliage. However, on a cloudy and stormy day, with mist floating down from the mountains, the bridge was beautifully dark and mysterious!
Tamozawa Imperial Villa was the summer residence and retreat for the imperial family. A combination of traditional Edo and modern Meiji period architecture the villa fell into disrepair after World War II. After years of restoration, part of the villa is now open to the public as a museum. After having visited many lavish palaces and royal homes in Europe, the tranquil simplicity of the Tamozawa Imperial Villa was really special. I particularly loved being able to walk around a museum without shoes on! The villa is surrounded by a Japanese style garden, which you won’t want to miss- even in the rain.