Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖, Chūzenjiko) is a scenic lake in the mountains above the town of Nikko. It is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, Nikko's sacred volcano, whose eruption blocked the valley below, thereby creating Lake Chuzenji about 20,000 years ago.
Chuzenjiko's shores are mostly undeveloped and forested except at the lake's eastern end where the small hot spring town of Chuzenjiko Onsen was built. The town is also the site of Kegon Waterfall, the most famous of several waterfalls in Nikko National Park. Another popular waterfall, Ryuzu Waterfall, is located at the northern shores of Lake Chuzenji where Yukawa River discharges into the lake.
Chuzenjiko is especially beautiful in mid to late October, when the autumn colors reach their peak along the lake's shores and surrounding mountains. And during Japan's hot summers, the lake's high elevation (1269 meters above sea level) keeps the area cool and comfortable, which in the past has attracted foreign embassies to build recreation villas along its shores.
It is possible to hike around the entire 25 kilometer circumference of Lake Chuzenji via hilly lakeside walking trails. Alternatively, the lake can be enjoyed from sightseeing boats that depart from Chuzenjiko Onsen. Panoramic views from above are possible from along the Chuzenjiko Skyline, an eight kilometer long former toll road which can now be used free of charge.
This famous road connects Lake Chuzenji with the town of Nikko down in the valley. It ascends more than 400 meters and is named "Iroha Slope" because its 48 turns used to equal the number of characters in the Japanese syllabary, formerly referred to as "iroha". Autumn colors along the road can usually be enjoyed from mid October to early November, and are a cause of traffic jams.
Located at the top of the Irohazaka Winding Road, shortly before reaching Lake Chuzenji, the Akechidaira Plateau is a small parking lot with panoramic views over the winding road and the valley below. A ropeway lifts visitors in three minutes from the parking lot to an observation platform with views of Kegon Waterfall in combination with Lake Chuzenji.
Chuzenjiko Onsen is a touristy hot spring resort town at the eastern shores of Lake Chuzenji and at the foot of Mount Nantai. The small town consists mainly of souvenir shops, hotels and ryokan, but also offers some sightseeing spots, including Chuzenji Temple, a Futarasan Shrine, a nature museum and, most of all, Kegon Waterfall. It is also the departure point of sightseeing cruises of the lake.
Elevator Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (varies seasonally by +/- an hour) Elevator Fare: 570 yen
The almost 100 meter tall Kegon Waterfall (Kegon no taki) is the most famous of Nikko's many beautiful waterfalls. It can be viewed free of charge from an upper observation platform or from an observation platform at the waterfall's base, which is reached via a paid elevator ride.
Nikko Natural Science Museum
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (November to March: 10:00 to 16:00) Admission: 510 yen Closed: December 29 to January 3, Mondays in November to May
The Nikko Natural Science Museum, which stands just next to the Chuzenjiko Onsen bus terminal, explores the history and ecology of Nikko National Park. The displays are informative and well presented with multilingual explanations. A large, multi screen video display highlights Nikko's four seasons.
Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (November to March: 9:00 to 16:00) Admission: Free
The second of Nikko's three Futarasan Shrines stands at the shores of Lake Chuzenji, at the base of sacred Mount Nantai. The shrine marks the trailhead of the hiking course to the summit. Futarasan's main shrine stands down in central Nikko, while the third shrine stands on the summit of Mount Nantai.
Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (shorter hours in winter) Admission: 500 yen
Chuzenji Temple was built around a unique statue of Kannon. Many centuries ago the statue was carved out of a tree trunk that still stands today with its roots in the ground. The temple also affords nice views over the lake which was named after it.
Italian Embassy Villa
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 in April and November 11-30) Admission: 200 yen (300 yen together with the British Embassy Villa) Closed: December to March, Mondays in April, May and November
This elegant complex was the former summer residence of the Italian Ambassador to Japan. It is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Chuzenji and was donated to Tochigi Prefecture and opened to the public.
British Embassy Villa
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 in April and November 11-30) Admission: 200 yen (300 yen together with the Italian Embassy Villa) Closed: December to March, Mondays in April, May and November
Formerly a holiday home of Ernest Satow, an influential British diplomat during the Meiji Restoration, this villa later became a British Embassy villa before being opened to the public. The building was restored in 2016, and inside are exhibitions on Satow's life in Japan as well as on British culture. There is also a cafe where visitors can drink English tea overlooking Lake Chuzenji.
Hours: Always open Admission: Free viewing platform
Mount Hangetsuyama lies at the southeastern corner of Lake Chuzenji. The observation deck close to the top of the mountain offers great views onto the lake and Mount Nantai. During fall each year, autumn colors add to the scenery viewed from here, making this a popular autumn leaf spot.
Sightseeing Boat Cruise
Available from mid April through November
Sightseeing cruises are another way to view the area and get around. Hourly boats circle the lake counter-clockwise, stopping at Chuzenjiko Onsen, Shobugahama Pier near Ryuzu Waterfall, a pier near the Italian and British embassy villas and Chuzenji Temple. In June only, a line also serves Senjugahama at the lake's western end.
Hours: Always open Admission: Free viewing platform
Ryuzu Waterfall ("dragon head waterfall") is named for its resemblance to the head of a dragon. This waterfall is one of Nikko's most famous autumn color spots, usually at the peak of its autumnal beauty in early October.
Getting there and around
Chuzenjiko Onsen is connected with central Nikko by Tobu bus. The buses leave from JR and Tobu Nikko Station and are bound for Chuzenjiko Onsen or Yumoto Onsen. There are about three buses per hour. The one way trip from Tobu Nikko Station to Chuzenjiko Onsen takes about 50 minutes, costs 1150 yen and is covered by the Nikko All Area Pass.
A 2-day pass for unlimited bus rides between Nikko and Chuzenjiko Onsen is available for 2100 yen at Tobu Nikko Station.
Note that during the autumn leaf season in October, traffic between central Nikko and Lake Chuzenji can be very heavy, and buses can incur heavy delays, especially on weekends. The Irohazaka Winding Road becomes particularly congested. If possible, try to visit during the week and not on weekends.
Sightseeing boats can sometimes double as a way to get between destinations around Lake Chuzenji, although they would only make sense if the original intention is to tour the lake by them. The sightseeing boats making a loop around the lake (one hour, 1400 yen, hourly departures) operate only from the second week of April through November. From Chuzenjiko Onsen, these boats make stops at Shobugahama (20 minutes, 650 yen) and close to Chuzenji Temple (50 minutes, 1240 yen). Infrequent boats go between Chuzenjiko Onsen and Senjugahama from June through September (40 minutes, 1000 yen).
B&B Izumi Nikko features river views, free WiFi and free private parking, located in Nikko, 2.4 km from Nikko Toshogu Shrine. Fitted with a balcony, the units offer air conditioning and feature a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with bidet and a hairdryer. A fridge and kettle are also featured. Guests at the bed and breakfast can enjoy a ? la carte or an American breakfast. A terrace can be found at B&B Izumi Nikko, along with a garden. Kegon Falls is 18 km from the accommodation, while Rinno-ji Temple is 1.7 km away.
Featuring free WiFi, Stay Nikko Guesthouse offers accommodation in Nikko. Nikko Station on the Tobu and JR lines can be reached within a 13-minute walk. Free private parking is available on site. Every room at this guest house is air conditioned and comes with a flat-screen TV. Views of the mountains, river or garden are featured in certain rooms. Guests will find a microwave, toaster and kettle on site. Nikko Toshogu Shrine is a 20-minute stroll from Stay Nikko Guesthouse, while Kegon Falls is a 50-minute bus ride from the property.
Sumica apartmens offers accommodation in Nikko, 900 metres from Nikko Toshogu Shrine and 9.3 km from Kegon Falls. The property features views of the city and is 18 km from Nikko Yumoto Hot Spring. The accommodation is only a 2-minute stroll to Shinkyo Bridge, known as the entrance to the Shrines and Temples of Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The kitchenette is fitted with a microwave. Towels and bed linen are offered at sumica apartmens. Nikk?-kokuritsu-k?en is 22 km from sumica apartmens, while Rinnoji Temple is 600 metres from the property.
A 5-minute ride from Tobu Nikko Train Station on the hotel’s free shuttle, the family-run Rindou No Ie offers Japanese rooms with tatami (woven-straw) floors and futon beds. Free WiFi is available throughout. The air-conditioned rooms at Rindou No Ie Ryokan include a flat-screen TV and tea set. Bathrooms are shared. The Nikko Toshogu World Heritage Area is 2 km away. JR Nikko Train Station is 1.2 km from the hotel. Tobu Nikko Train Station is 900 metres away. On-site parking is free. A free-use internet terminal, microwave and fridge are provided in the common area. The hotel’s washer can be used free of charge, and a dryer is available for a fee.
Guest House Koundo offers a private accommodation in Nikko. Free WiFi is available throughout the property and free private parking is available on site. All rooms have air conditioning, a flat-screen TV and a shared bathroom. For your comfort, you will find a hairdryer, slippers and towels. Free toiletries including shampoo, conditioner and body soap are provided. You will find luggage storage space at the property. There are several restaurants, cafes and convenience stores within a 5-minute walk from Guest House Koundo. Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park is a 10-minute walk from the property, while Nikko Toshogu Shrine is a 15-minute walk away. Guests can reach Kanmangafuchi Abyss in 10 minutes on foot.
Featuring a garden, Midorian is located within Nikko National Park. The property is around 1.5 km from Nikko Toshogu Shrine, 8 km from Kegon Falls and a 16-minute walk from Futarasan Shrine. The guest house features mountain views, a terrace, and free WiFi is available throughout the property. On-site parking is available free of charge. Guest rooms in the guest house are fitted with a kettle. A shared kitchen comes with a microwave, a toaster and a fridge. At Midorian, every room comes with a shared bathroom with a hair dryer. Cycling and hiking are among the activities that guests of the accommodation can find nearby. Rinnoji Temple is 1.6 km from Midorian.
Located in Nikko, 2.1 km from Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Sanga Nikko provides a garden and rooms with free WiFi access. The property is set 10 km from Kegon Falls and 22 km from Nikk?-kokuritsu-k?en. Nikko Station and Tobu-Nikko Station are within a 5-minute walk from the property. On-site staff will assist guests in planning their trip. Each room is equipped with a shared bathroom. The kitchen is shared between guests. A range of activities are offered in the area, such as cycling and fishing. Rental bicycles are available for an additional fee. A supermarket is situated within a 5-minute walk from the property. This property is situated a short distance from attractions such as Rinnoji Temple and Shinkyo Bridge. Futarasan Shrine is 2.2 km from the guest house, while Chuzenji Lake is 12 km away.
Just a 3-minute walk from JR Nikko Train Station, Guesthouse Sumica offers beds in dormitory rooms, as well as Japanese-style private rooms. It features a shared kitchen and free tea and coffee. Free Wi-Fi is provided in the whole building. The Sumica Guesthouse is a 5-minute drive from the Nikko Tosho-gu shrine, and a 30-minute drive from both Lake Chuzenji-ko and historical theme park village Edo Wonderland (Nikko Edomura). JR Nikko Train Station is a 3-minute walk away. Nikko Guesthouse Sumica is a completely non-smoking hotel. It offers luggage storage, and it has a curfew at 23:00.
Homely rooms with mountain views, free Wi-Fi and a private bath await guests at Villa Revage, 350 metres from Nikko Botanical Garden. It is completely non-smoking, and free private parking is available on site. Rooms at Nikko Akarinoyado Villa Revage are heated and come with simple furnishings and art on the walls. An LCD satellite TV is included. Both a hairdryer and toiletries are provided. You can relax on the sun terrace, enjoy the garden or unwind in one of the private reservable baths. A Western breakfast is served at the dining room, which boasts a high ceiling and forest views. The hotel is 4 km from JR Nikko Train Station and Tobu Nikko Train Station. Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa is 800 metres away, and Nikko Toshogu Shrine is 2 km away.
Featuring free WiFi, Nikkorisou Backpackers offers accommodation in Nikko, 800 metres from Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine. Free private parking is available on site. Rooms are fitted with a shared bathroom. There is a shared kitchen at the property. Bike hire is available at this guest house and the area is popular for cycling. Kegon Falls is 9 km from the property.