In the upper reaches of the sacred city, the mountainous region of Okunikko is stunning in every season. While the cedars planted in the late 17C serve as a backdrop for the temples and shrines down in the valley, at altitude the lakes, moors and rivers surrounding Lake Chuzenji complement the perfectly formed cone of the Nantai volcano to create a fabulous landscape.

Geological history

Together with the Nikko Shirane volcano, located above Lake Yunoko and the hot springs of Yumoto Onsen, the 2 486m high Nantai stratovolcano belongs to the Nikko Mountains National Park. Its emergence during a gigantic eruption about 20 000 years ago led to the formation of Lake Chuzenji, whose waters are contained by a natural dam of basalt rock at the southern base of the volcano, and the high plateau of the Senjogahara Moor to the west. The hilly landscape around the shores of the lake is dotted with impressive waterfalls: Yudaki Waterfall and Ryuzu Waterfall upstream, as well as the famous Kegon Waterfall, almost 100m high, downstream.

 

Unspoilt natural heritage

Behind the coves and headlands of Lake Chuzenji, dense forests grow on slopes that are steep in places, providing a canvas for autumn to paint its palette of colours, from ochre to vermilion. A hike on the north shore of the lake, from the Odashirogahara Observatory to Ryuzu Waterfall, or across the marshland of the Senjogahara Plateau allows you to appreciate the vastness and peacefulness of this region, and to detect the change in tree species at each altitude (larch, maple, birch, beech, cedar, mountain cherry, pine, Japanese elm and Mongolian oak). Amateur botanists will notice, as they follow the course of the Yugawa River, the variety of plants and bushes: goldthread, cotton, western pearly everlasting, Japanese meadowsweet, azaleas, bog-stars, bog bilberries and wood sorrel.

 

Protected and preserved wildlife

In the Okunikko area, roads, like infrastructure, are scarce and clustered together. Animal species have a gigantic space in which they can live out their freedom undisturbed. Protected within Nikko Nataural Park, many bird species can be observed from the Lake Chuzenji observation deck or the Akechi-daira Plateau, accessible by cable car. There are many passerines, cuckoos, flycatchers, green woodpeckers, nightingales, jays, finches, swifts, as well as larger birds, such as Steller's sea eagles or bearded vultures.
For hikers, it can be an uneasy cohabitation with some of the animals, such as Asian black bears, Japanese macaques or Sika deer. It is therefore recommended not to leave leftovers from your picnic lying around and to equip yourself with bells to forewarn these animals of your presence. Marten, tanuki (raccoon dogs) and Japanese serow (goat antelopes), however, do not present any danger.

 

Practical information

Arrival/departure
By train, daily departures from Tokyo with the Tobu Line from Tobu Asakusa Station (exit 4 from Asakusa Station), “Limited Express SPACIA” train (7 stops) or regular train (8/12 stops and one change at Shimo-Imaichi Station), hourly departures, reservation mandatory, 1hr 50min/2hr 30min, 2700/1400 JPY (2160 JPY/free if ticket purchased in conjunction with a City, Region, Park Pass). Tobu offers three Bus&Train Pass deals, City, Region and Park, including an Asakusa-Nikko return on the regular line, Dec-mid-Apr: 2670/4150/8010 JPY, mid-Apr-Nov: 2670/4520/8010 JPY. Purchase of Bus&Train Pass, tickets and information at the Tobu Sightseeing Service Center situated on the ground floor of Tobu Asakusa Station (daily 7.20am-7pm).
From the capital’s large JR stations and for Japan Rail Pass holders, numerous daily services connect the stations of Tokyo and Ueno to Nikko by JR lines, by Yamagata or Tohoku Shinkansen with a change of train at Utsunomiya Station, 1hr 45min/5570 JPY. From Shinjuku Station, three daily services with combined Tobu/JR trains with no changes (7 stops), 2hr 15min/4000 JPY.

On arrival
From Tobu Station, there are regular Tobu bus services to the temples and hotels dotted along the main road. It’s preferable to take the bus there (290 JPY; 500 JPY return) to get there as early as possible and come back on foot as far as Shin-kyo bridge, then walk along Route 119, which is lined with shops and restaurants. It is more economical to get the Buss Pass if you plan to make more than one or two visits. Purchase of Bus Passes and tickets, and information available at the Tourist Center in Tobu-Nikko Station (daily 8.30am-5pm) or the Nikko JR station ticket office.
The temples of Nikko can be visited on foot; they are located a 20min walk from Shin-kyo bridge, itself around 25mins’ walk from the Tobu and JR stations.

Tobu-Nikko Station
An information centre for tourists is located inside the train station, with staff on hand to give tourist information in English on request, as well as large interactive touchscreens with an English-language option. Left luggage service and luggage-free visit service available. Ticket machines with English-language option, train tickets, Tobu Bus Pass and tickets for tourist sites (Tosho-gu Shrine, Rinno-ji Temple, for example).

 

The author

Manuel Sanchez

Writer and photographer who seeks out contacts, other cultural identities, distinctive architectures. As a seasoned traveller, my approach has been honed little by little, from insider hacks to in-depth explorations. I especially love early travel writers, for their detail and their feeling for the sanctity and inviolability of the cultures they describe.

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The tourist attractions mentioned

Lake Yunoko Lake Yunoko
Lake Yunoko
Nikko
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Chuzenji Lake Observation Deck Chuzenji Lake Observation Deck
Chuzenji Lake Observation Deck
Nikko
0:30
Hike on the Senjogahara Marshland Hike on the Senjogahara Marshland
Hike on the Senjogahara Marshland
Nikko
Yudaki Waterfall Yudaki Waterfall
Yudaki Waterfall
Nikko
0:15
Ryuzu Waterfall Ryuzu Waterfall
Ryuzu Waterfall
Nikko
0:15
Kegon Waterfall Kegon Waterfall
Kegon Waterfall
Nikko
0:30
Hiking trail from the Odashirogahara observatory platform to Ryuzu Waterfall Hiking trail from the Odashirogahara observatory platform to Ryuzu Waterfall
Hiking trail from the Odashirogahara observatory platform to Ryuzu Waterfall
Nikko
Akechi-daira cable car Akechi-daira cable car
Akechi-daira cable car
Nikko
0:30
Shin-kyo Bridge Shin-kyo Bridge
Shin-kyo Bridge
Nikko
0:30
Tosho-gu Shrine Tosho-gu Shrine
Tosho-gu Shrine
Nikko
1:00
Nikko-zan Rinno-ji Temple Nikko-zan Rinno-ji Temple
Nikko-zan Rinno-ji Temple
Nikko
0:30