Irohazaka (いろは坂) is a pair of winding roads that connect the lower elevations near central Nikko to the higher elevations of the mountainous Okunikko region. "Iroha" are the first three of 48 syllables of the formerly used Japanese alphabet (which is now known as "aiueo"), and "zaka" means "slope" - the Irohazaka Winding Roads were so named because together they consist of 48 hairpin turns.

The two roads were respectively built in 1954 and 1965 as some of Japan's first toll roads, but were later turned toll free. Today, the older road is only open to downward traffic and includes a pit stop from where you can see two waterfalls. The newer road, meanwhile, is only open to upward traffic as far as the Akechidaira Plateau near the top of the road. The plateau offers an observation deck with views over the Irohazaka and the valley below.

Spectacular autumn colors along Irohazaka can usually be enjoyed from late October to early November. Due to the autumnal popularity of Nikko, traffic can get very bad along the Irohazaka, causing delays to both cars and buses. Visitors are advised to avoid weekends and national holidays and to try to go as early as possible.

Getting there and around

From JR or Tobu Nikko Station, take a Tobu bus bound for Chuzenjiko Onsen or Yumoto Onsen and get off at the Akechidaira bus stop. The bus ride takes about 35 minutes and costs 1100 yen one way. Note that buses in the opposite direction do not stop at Akechidaira.

How to get to and around Nikko

Hotels around Nikko

Recommended Hotels
Chuzenjiko Kanaya Hotel
Upscale mountain lodge style hotel in rustic log cabin buildings set in the forest.
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Nikko Kanaya Hotel
This historic hotel was one of the first Western style hotels in Japan. It is conveniently located across the street from the temples and shrines of Nikko.
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Turtle Inn Nikko
Inexpensive inn popular among foreign tourists, conveniently located 15 minutes walk from Nikko's temples and shrines.
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