General information about Nikko
Nikko is approximately 2h00 North from Tokyo. This is then possible to go there as a day trip from Tokyo but I would recommend to stay overnight to enjoy the atmosphere of this little city in the mountain without the crowd.
There are 2 major areas in Nikko
- UNESCO Temples and Shrines of Nikko
- Chuzenji Lake area (at 1,400m elevation high)
When to go?
The best period to go there is in Autumn during Momiji. But since it’s high elevation, the period is prior than in Tokyo.
Peak Momiji varies in function of the year, weather and altitude. Usually it is:
- Early November for temples and shrines area
- Mid to End of October in Chuzenji Lake area
How to go?
- With Japan Railway: Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Utsunomiya and then Nikko Line
- With Tobu Railway: direct train from Asakusa, Ikebukuro or Shinjuku to Nikko
Where to stay?
- Shrines and Temples area: Nikko Kanaya Hotel
- Lake area: Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel
There is also the Tobu Pass to enjoy the different sites including the transportation. All the info here
Shrines and Temples of Nikkō
Nikko has many shrines and temples and the site is UNESCO World Heritage. The main one is Tosho-gu. The best period to capture these temples and shrines with Momiji (colors of autumn) is early November.
This is the famous red bridge, symbol of Nikko and UNESCO World Heritage. We can pay to cross it but I don’t see any interest of doing it. I had the chance to witness a traditional Shinto wedding on this bridge. The brides and their families cross the bridge with the priests.
This is the most famous (and also the most crowdy) shrine to visit in Nikko. It was built in 1617 during Edo Period in tribute of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa shogunate, the last feudal Japanese military government.
I would strongly advise to visit this temple at open time otherwise the site will be too crowded to make good photos. Allow 2h to visit the entire site.
Interesting place to capture also and not very touristy (only the western tourists go there): the river with the eerie jizō (monk) statues. They are referred to as the bake (ghost) Jizō because it is said that if you count them as you are walking down, then again back up, you will have a different number.
Tamozawa Imperial Villa
One of the most beautiful place to see during Momiji. I came there a bit too late to capture the colors perfectly.
Lake Chūzenji area
Lake Chuzenji is about 30 minutes north of Nikko and 1,400m elevation. Momiji can start mid-october there.
This is the Nature side of Nikko! There are different interesting places to visit, especially falls. Here is the list of the main fall to visit:
- Kegon falls: one of the biggest falls in Japan
- Ryuzu falls: falls of the dragons!
- Yudaki Falls: probably my favorite
- Kirifuri falls
The best way to capture Chuzenji lake is from above. There are different look out accessible by road. The most impressive one is certainly from Chuzenji Lake Observation Deck on the south side.
This is one of the biggest falls in Japan (the 3rd biggest I think).
Kegon falls have light in the morning only (facing east). Therefore, if you want to have a nice photo, only morning is acceptable.
The best spots to make a nice photo are:
- From the observatory at the top of the Ropeway (about (700 yen): the best is to go at opening time in the morning otherwise the line to access the ropeway can be very long (especially during momiji peak) and the light condition will be bad
- From Kegon Falls observatory deck itself (about 500 yen): same advice, it’s important to go early in the morning.
View from the Ropeway observatory
View from the Kegon falls observatory deck
Ryuzu no Taki means Dragon head waterfall. These falls are particularly interesting during autumn leaves period (koyo) .
There are not easy to capture though for 2 reasons
- The light is not easy: too bright or too dark because the falls are in a hollow
- The color of the leaves are changing fast and also are falling quick just after changing colors. Then it is very challenging to manage to get all the colors
Yudaki falls means “hot water falls” is may be called because there are hot springs at the top of the falls.
There are very impressing to see during Yoko and momiji season (end of october usually). There is a trail I recommend to climb up to the top of the fall to reach a little lake.
Many other interesting things to capture in Nikko
There are many other falls in Nikko.
Also, if you go out at the dawn before sunrise, you will probably meet monkeys along the road in the woods!
At least, there are the 2 curves road (on the way uphill and downhill). They are very impressing to capture during koyo season. But you can only do it with a drone and very early morning at sunrise for the light and to get the place empty. During the day this road can be super crowdy.
Where to Stay in Nikko?
Nikko Kanaya Hotel
This hotel is just 1 minute walk from the bridge so very well located and it’s also oldest western style resort hotel currently in operation in Japan. There is a lot of history inside this hotel and the French cuisine is very nice and surprising even for a French!
Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel
This hotel by the lake in the mountains belongs to the same group as Kanaya and provides the same cuisine. There is a great onsen to enjoy in this one which is perfect before going for dinner!
During Koyo season and Momiji, the garden of the hotel is beautiful with the colors.