Nikko – Temples, Forests, Waterfalls… and Monkeys!


This year for our vacation, we decided to head somewhere I’d never been before. I don’t think most foreign residents of Japan have checked it out, actually. It’s a tourist spot called Nikko, famous for lush scenery and giant shrines. And monkeys!

I had never really heard of Nikko before, but my family brought up going there. I’ve had an itch recently to see some of the countryside. With all I’ve got going on, I rarely get out of Chiba. I never get out past Tokyo, and I never see anything. So, this year I was determined to hit the road.

Nikko is up north of Tokyo, in Tochigi prefecture. It’s a couple hours by car or train. We drove, but there are convenient train routes that will take you there, and it is cheaper than driving.

As soon as we got out of Tokyo a little ways, the mountains were all around. Japan’s mountains are green and lush, and the air is cool and clean.

Lavish Shrines

The biggest draw (other than the monkeys… see below) of Nikko is the shrines. I don’t know much about Japanese history, but basically there is a famous Japanese shogun buried there in a mausoleum, named Tokugawa Ieyasu. The oldest shrine at Nikko dates from before 800 AD, which is pretty mind blowing to an American, whose whole country dates back 400 years!

I don’t know if you’re into looking at temples or not. Like most people say, they start to look the same after a while. But the temples at Nikko really are different. Unlike other Japanese temples that I’ve seen, they are gaudy and colorful. There are carvings of dragons and elephants everywhere, which give them a Chinese look. I guess that temple experts in Japan consider Nikko’s to be some of the best.

Lush Mountains

Like I said, the area around Nikko is beautiful. Actually, Nikko sits at the edge of Nikko National Park, which is on UNESCO’s list of cultural heritage sites. Nikko National Park is a paradise of giant cedars, shining lakes, waterfalls, and pristine mountains. If you like hiking, Nikko is a great trip. I’m not a big hiker myself, but I got pretty into it. There are lots of trails everywhere, even short ones if you’re not a mountain man.

Nikko also has onsen, or hot springs. This time around, we didn’t hit those. We only had two days and we wanted to see more of the sights. Including the monkeys!… Okay, I’ll get to those.

Intoducing… The Monkeys Of Nikko!

At Nikko there are stone monkeys and living monkeys. First, the stone ones.

There is a famous statue at Nikko that practically everybody knows about. It shows three monkeys, one covering his eyes, one covering his ears, and the other covering his mouth. Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil! And, they all have goofy looks on their faces.

But even better, there are REAL monkeys at Nikko. I don’t know this for sure, but I think they’re the only wild monkeys in Japan. These little guys are running all over the place, and if you’re not careful they’ll snatch a sandwich right out of your hand. They’re kind of cute, and kind of scary at the same time. I wouldn’t get too friendly with them, just snap a few pictures.

Nikko is a great out of the way place to visit for a few days. It’s close and convenient for those of us who live in Tokyo. Like I said, we only had two days, but we’ll probably head up there again!

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