There’s a famous Japanese saying, “Never say great without seeing Nikko.” Nikko, being surrounded by beautiful mountainous natural scenes, is trapped by mysteries, treasures, and the unknown making it the most magical city you’ll ever visit in Japan.
Approximately 2 hours away from Tokyo via the JR Tobu-Nikko Line — the fastest route, the one way trip costs about JPY 4,000 plus 200 yen to reserve your seat and I bought a 3-Day Unlimited JR Kanto Pass which cost 8,300 yen. I’ll tell you more about how I maximized the use of my JR Kanto Pass in a separate post. Meanwhile, you can also go to Nikko by car, but avoid going there during peak season (autumn) – traffic is horrible!
Travelers can spend a day trip in Nikko for sightseeing, but I opted to stay there overnight. Booking a room was very easy because it was the low season. I stayed at Nikkorisou Backpackers Hostel which only costs about 2,800 yen per night for the female dorm. You can read my full review of this hostel on TripAdvisor.
When I arrived at Tobu-Nikko Station, I immediately went to the Tourist Information Center and looked for discounted bus tickets as suggested by my hostel host. Since I planned on going to Yumoto-Onsen, a popular small town known for its sulfur hot springs, I bought the 2-Day Unlimited Bus Ride Voucher for Nikko to Yumoto-Onsen and vice versa which costs 3,000 yen.
I was able to visit nearly every tourist spot in Nikko because of this voucher. It was absolutely worth it and saved me a lot of money. To use the voucher, you simply show it to the bus driver when boarding and exiting the bus. The Tourist Information Center staff were all very helpful too. Along with the voucher, they would also hand you a bus timetable with instructions on which stop to exit when visiting a tourist spot.
The Bus timetable is very important because it tells you how many minutes you should spend in that attraction for you to catch the next bus (buses leave at intervals of every 30 to 45 minutes).
The bus timetable is very accurate except during peak season, so make sure to be at the right bus stop on time.
The Sacred Bridge of Shinkyo
The Shinkyo Bridge was just a few seconds walk from my hostel making it an easy choice for my first stop. Originally built in 1636, The Sacred Shinkyo Bridge is one of Japan’s three finest bridges to date. The Sacred Bridge is actually part of Futarasan Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can walk the bridge for an entrance fee of 300 yen.
Shrines and Temples of Nikko: Futarasan Shrine, Tōshō-gū Shrine, and Rinnō-ji Temple, Nikko’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
From the Shinkyo Bridge I walked through the vast area of Nikko National Park which is the entrance to Nikko’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I paid the entrance fee of 1,300 yen to get inside. There’s also an English Audio Guide available, but you have to pay an extra 600 yen.
I spent an hour and a half wandering and appreciating the beauty and historical significance of the World Heritage Sites. When I left, I rode the bus to my next destination, Kegon Waterfalls. The air was thick and foggy when I arrived, making it nearly impossible to see the sight which was a big disappointment. Thankfully, it was only a 10 minute walk from there to a breathtaking view of Lake Chuzenji.
Lake Chuzenji, a Town Full of Quaintness
When Mt. Nantai erupted, Lake Chuzenji was formed. While visiting the lake you’ll see some interesting quaint restaurants. Actually the whole town is very quaint. It was here that I had the best mango ice cream ever.
Sulfur Hot Spring of Yumoto-Onsen
My next stop was Yumoto-Onsen, known for its milky white hot springs with a sulfur aroma. There’s really not much to see in this town unless you plan to stay here overnight and hop to each of the onsen facilities. Since I lacked time, I only experienced the free Foot Bath just few minutes away from the bus terminal. If you don’t have towel, you can buy one to the store next to it for only 200 yen.
The Majestic Ryuzu Falls
My next destination was Ryuzu Falls. It is open 24 hrs and there’s no entrance fee. The falls are right in the middle of the forest and it was already starting to get dark when I got there. I had to hurry. I was the only visitor at the time and scared shitless.
Bars and Restaurants in Nikko
It was already 7:30 p.m. when I got back to the hostel. I was surprised that all restaurants near the hostel were already closed! I was very hungry and I had no choice but to eat in a bar that was open late. The bar that my hostel recommended to me was full and so I had to eat at the bar next to it. I was the only customer when I went in and really enjoyed the conversation between me, the bartender, and the owner.
While talking to the bartender, she told me that restaurants and other food establishments in Nikko City weren’t like other cities in Japan. In Nikko, restaurants close as early as 7 p.m., but only during the low season. In peak season restaurants and other establishments usually close at 8:30 p.m., which is still early!
All of a sudden a group of people came in and from then on the owner and the bartender completely ignored me as their attention fully diverted to the newcomers as though I didn’t exist. I felt weird and unwelcome at that point. It started to get annoying and the atmosphere became very unwelcoming, but I had the chance to chat with one of the people who had just come in. He was from France and I found out that their group were from another hostel. They were brought in by their host who was friends with the bar owner.
Their host was trying very hard to entertain her guests while making sure that they were doing okay. She even forced me to join them in a dance and to write the country where I’m from with my butt! ‘Philippines’ is a long word to write, not to mention I was wearing a mini skirt. Some of the customers were old Japanese men so… hell no.
I asked for the bill. My dinner that night cost about 2,400 yen and I was still hungry. The bar was ridiculously expensive, especially considering their small portion sizes.
I even caught the owner cheating by putting lots of ice in the beer mug and then almost filling the mug with water before pouring the beer in! That was just obnoxious.
I paid my bill, bid goodbye to the Frenchman and left the bar quietly.
When I came back, my host was having a chit chat and drinking session with two other guests. They invited me to join them and I did because they had food and a few more drinks. It turned out that one was from England and the other was from Japan. We had a very nice conversation about each other’s countries and customs. Our host even shared the worst experience he had with a demanding guest when he was still new to the business. We laughed and joked around.
The Japanese guest tried to teach us Nihonggo. They also had me drink a Japanese gin mixed with ocha. The laughs became louder when they saw my sour facial expression. The taste was ugh, weird! It was a fun night otherwise. I slept very well that night. I loved the bed and the relaxing sound of the river near the hostel.
I pondered that traveling to Nikko was the best choice I’ve ever made since I came to Japan, the place is indeed very mesmerizing, mysterious, and magical.
I had already decided which places to go the next day. While I waited for sleep to come, I thought about how this was one of the things that I missed about traveling solo – new social connections and the joy of freedom.
Read the second part of my Nikko Adventure here.