Exploring Nikko

Today I traveled to Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture to visit some of the main attractions of this revered tourist destination. As well as being popular during autumn for its many vibrant koyo spots, the area draws visitors in the summer months to its various hiking trails and beautiful nature spots, not to mention the spectacular religious sites that make up the Shrines and Temples of Nikko World Heritage Site. With so much to see and do, I couldn't wait to explore.

I started my day early in Nikko town at one of the area's most well-known landmarks, Shinkyo Bridge. Although the origins of the bridge date back many centuries, its current manifestation was constructed in 1636 and today is considered one of Japan's three finest bridges along with the Kintaikyo and Saruhashi bridges in Yamaguchi and Yamanashi prefectures respectively. In addition, the bridge stands at the entrance to Nikko's shrines and temples, and so whetted my appetite for some of the breathtaking spectacles that lay ahead.

Shinkyo Bridge
The approach to Toshogu Shrine, early and not yet busy

Next up was the most famous of Nikko's sites, Toshogu Shrine. The shrine was built to honor Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period, and is widely regarded as the most lavishly decorated shrine in all of Japan. The spectacular grounds contain many colorful buildings with myriad ornate carvings, and, lucky for me, the complex's main gate Yomeimon had recently been uncovered following years of renovation. The gate, as with much of the rest of the complex, was dazzling in its opulence, and certainly left me eager to continue my exploration of the sites of Nikko.

The spectacular Yomeimon gate
Up close it is even easier to appreciate the gate's incredible detail
Toshogu's famous and recently renovated Three Monkeys carving

All the excitement left me hungry, and what better food to eat when in Nikko than the town's celebrated local delicacy, yuba. Yuba is tofu skin, made by boiling soy milk. It can be enjoyed either fresh or dried and is often accompanied by other foods. I found a quaint, traditional restaurant along the approach to the shrines and temples area and sat down to a bowl of yuba soba. Washed down with some Japanese tea, the meal was delectable and left me satiated without feeling overfull; which was a good thing considering my journey ahead!

A delicious bowl of yuba soba

From Nikko town I boarded a bus to Okunikko, the mountainous district to the west, home to many of the area's most beautiful nature spots. The Senjogahara Hiking Course is one of the area's popular attractions, and stretches from Ryuzu Waterfall to Yumoto Onsen, taking trekkers along an elevated boardwalk through marshlands and forest beside the Yukawa River. I hiked the course, which takes around three hours to complete from end to end, inspired by the stunning scenery along the way.

Hikers on the Senjogahara boardwalk with Mount Nantai looming in the background
Visitors to the area are afforded breathtaking views
The boardwalk follows the river through a serene forest landscape

Towards the trail's conclusion, I came to Yudaki Waterfall. The waterfall is one of the area's famous koyo spots but also impresses at other stages throughout the year with its strong flow and general majesty. The view of the falls provided a stark contrast with the still Lake Yunoko, which feeds the waterfall and made for a perfectly placid vista to end a wonderful day of exploration.

Yudaki Waterfall
Ending the day with stunning views over Lake Yunoko