Nikko Japan: Tales from the Road by Asia Destination Expert Steve Perkins


Steve Perkins in Japan

One of the best parts of working for a travel company like Goway is that I get to experience the product first hand. We can’t call ourselves experts in Asia if we don’t fully immerse ourselves in the continent we love.

I use to live in Japan for six years, but the truth is, I was teaching English, and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to see the country. Isn’t that how life is sometimes? Yes, I consider myself an expert on Japan because I’ve been selling it for years but there are still so many places I’ve yet to see.

Often agents ask me what they recommend for a day trip out of Tokyo, and I’ve been suggesting Nikko based on what colleagues have told me, but I finally had to see it for myself.

The city of Nikko lies in the mountains north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture. Nearby, you’ll find Nikko National Park, home to the famous Toshogu Shrine, one of Japan’s most lavishly decorated mausoleums commemorating Tokugawa Ieyasu (the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate). It is also one of Japan’s 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The surrounding areas of Nikko offer scenic mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys, and a wealth of excellent hiking trails. It’s an ideal escape for the outdoor enthusiast tired of the hustle and bustle that the metropolis of Tokyo offers.


A traditional ryokan

Often people want to experience a stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse. Nikko is a great place to do so. To bath in an onsen with the magical backdrop of Japan’s foliage doubling as your bathroom walls—well, it doesn’t get much better than that. The trip I took was a day excursion though. I wasn’t afforded the luxury of time to spend a night, but I wish I had.

Our local office in Tokyo picked me up at my hotel, which isn’t usual in Japan. There are only a handful of hotels that are on the pick-up roster. Other travellers had to make their way to one of the pick-up points. It’s easy to get around Tokyo but for many of our clients, the last thing they want to do in the morning is stress themselves out by searching for the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, the alternate pick-up point. Keep that in mind when choosing a hotel in Tokyo. It’s also important to note that the people of Japan take time very seriously. If the tour says it will depart at 9 AM, it’s best to arrive either in the lobby of your hotel or at the bus terminal at least 15-30 minutes ahead of time. Sharp means sharp. We’ve had quite a few clients who think that timing is fluid who’ve ended up disappointed when they show up late.

We boarded our coach and were warmly greeted by our fabulous nationally licensed English-speaking Japanese guide, Shin-san. It’s important to note that guiding in Japan is a respected profession. I have yet to receive a complaint about any of our guides in Japan. I don’t think such a thing as a “bad” guide, or even a mediocre guide exists. Shin-san was no exception.

Nikko is approximately a three-hour journey from Tokyo, which may sound long, but Shin-san provided a witty commentary as we drove through the hilly countryside. And of course, we took a break halfway to stretch our legs and raid one of the countries 5.5 million vending machines. (The vending machines of Japan deserve a whole blog post on their own.)


Toshogu Shrine - One of Japan's most lavishly decorated temples

As soon as we arrived in Nikko, we headed straight for Toshogu Shrine. We were all given an audio headset to ensure we could all hear our guide, which was great since I hate getting stuck at the back of a group and catching only every third word. What makes this shrine worth the visit is the impressive cedar woodwork within the temples. It takes 90 minutes for the guided tour but then we were given extra time to explore on our own. Wandering the Toshugo complex, set inside a forest, allowed me the time to be reflective. You can’t help but feel the presence of a long and coloured history here. I’ve heard people say if you only see one temple in all of Japan, this should be it, and it did live up to the hype.

Later, we sampled some Yuba (aka bean curd, a local delicacy) and had an authentic Japanese-style lunch (included in the price). Following lunch, a winding drive up the mountains brought us to Lake Chuzenji, which was created over 20,000 years ago from the eruption of Mt. Nantai. The lake is peaceful, and while I travelled during April, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must look like during autumn, with all the brilliant red and gold leaves.

Kegon Waterfall

Next on the itinerary was a visit to Kegon Waterfall. Standing 100m tall, Kegon is ranked as one of the top three waterfalls in all of Japan. For an extra 550 yen (6.50 CAD / 5 USD), you can take the elevator to the bottom of the falls where there is a viewing platform offering stunning views.

At this stage, guests have the option to either return to Tokyo at the end of the tour or disband at Tobu Nikko Station if they wish to continue their travels in this area. Again, I highly recommend staying in the area if you enjoy hiking and a peaceful retreat.

Getting around Nikko on one’s own can be challenging. Navigating bus routes and timings requires patience and a calm demeanour, but it can be done and it’s ultimately worth the effort. For most people though, taking the full day excursion as I did offers value, convenience, and the opportunity to explore this incredible historical site.

Goway offers a day trip to Nikko from Tokyo. Alternatively, why not try the 13-day Japan: Land of the Rising Sun that visits Nikko on Day 2?

For more Japan vacation options, visit our Japan country pages on

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