Nikko: World Heritage Tourist Trap

On Sept. 25, 2011, I took a day-trip to Nikko, Japan. Although I lived in Tokyo for 10 months when I was on the study abroad program at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in 2005-06, I never visited Nikko.

Nikko is designated as a World Heritage Site so I thought it would be as interesting as Kyoto, unfortunately, not only was it nothing like Kyoto, but every attraction there was designed to suck money out of the tourist...(They were selling tourist maps at the Nikko railway station for 100 yen each!)

Because I was in Tokyo for 2 months for an internship this summer from August to October, I decided to take the opportunity to finally visit Nikko.

The location of Nikko relative to the location of Tokyo. After tracing the train line with Google Maps, the distance from the north of Tokyo (Kita-Senju) to Nikko was calculated to be 80 miles (130 kilometres).


View Tokyo to Nikko in a larger map



I bought the Nikko World Heritage Pass which includes a round-trip train ticket from Tokyo to Nikko plus free travel within the Nikko area to Kinugawa Onsen and admission fees to the temples and shrines of Nikko for 3,600 yen. This pass was an "exclusive deal" for foreign tourists.

This is the train that you can take with the pass. If you wanted to travel in a "limited express" train with individual seats, you have to pay an additional 1,050 yen charge, each way!

It took almost 2+ hours to get to Nikko from the north of Tokyo (Kita-Senju) and during that time I had to sit in these seats. These are the most uncomfortable seats I have ever sat on in a train in Japan!

Tobu Train

The front of the train.

Tobu Nikko Station

The train station in Nikko.

Tobu Nikko Station

Tobu Nikko Station

Tobu Nikko Station

The actual tourist attractions at located in a mountainous area 10 minutes away by bus. My pass actually covered the cost of the bus tickets, but since I wanted to see what the town looked like, I decided to walk the 30 minutes required to reach the area with all the attractions. I was massively disappointed with the town.

Near the station area. The town looks so good so far, maybe there are some interesting shops or something leading to the world heritage sites?

Town of Nikko

What caught my attention were the ads for the "Ice Bucks" and Ice Hockey?! I never knew that hockey is popular here?!

Ice Hockey Museum and Cafe

"Ice Bucks" Vending Machine

Unfortunately, the attractiveness of the town went downhill quite fast.

I was expecting the town of Nikko to be as attractive as say, Kyoto, but instead, it just looked like any declining small town in Japan...

Town of Nikko

Town of Nikko

Portable Shrine for Use in Festivals.

Portable Shrine for Use in Festivals

"Japanese Dragon Art"

"Japanese Dragon Art"

Entering the world heritage area. The Shinkyo Bridge. The Shinkyo Bridge ("sacred bridge") stands at the entrance to Nikko's shrines and temples, and technically belongs to Futarasan Shrine. The bridge is ranked as one of Japan's three finest bridges together with Iwakuni's Kintaikyo and Saruhashi in Yamanashi Prefecture.

If you want to cross the bridge, you have to pay an admission fee, and at the end of the bridge, you have to walk back across because the end of the bridge is cut off by a busy highway!

Shinkyō Bridge (神橋)

Shinkyō Bridge (神橋)

Shinkyō Bridge (神橋)

IMG_3004

Nikko National Park, the mountainous area that contains all of the world heritage shrines and temples of Nikko.

Nikko National Park

Nikko National Park

Entering the world heritage site area.

IMG_3007

Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺), unfortunately it was under renovation. However if you wanted to see the renovated exterior in advance, you could climb up the scaffolding for a fee of about 500 yen!

Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺)

Path to Toshogu Shrine, the main attraction of Nikko.

Path Leading to Toshogu Shrine

Path Leading to Toshogu Shrine

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮). The Toshogu is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Famous carving of the "Story of the Three Monkeys"

Sculptures of monkeys are put on the Shinyosha (Sacred Stable). It consists of 8 panels, which express way of life.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

The meaning of this panel is: "See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" in childhood.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Inside the grounds of to Toshogu Shrine.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

The extravagance of the shrine.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

The famous carving of the "Sleeping Cat". To enter this area, and to see the actual mausoleum, you needed to pay an additional 520 yen fee!

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

The long path to the mausoleum of the first shogun of Japan.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

The mausoleum of the first shogun.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Another shrine or temple which I don't remember. There are too many in Nikko.

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Nikko

Nikko

Nikko

Nikko

Taiyuin (大猷院). The Taiyuinbyo is the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu. The Taiyuinbyo resembles the Toshogu in its layout and lavish decorations, but it is intentionally kept more modest than the Toshogu.

Taiyuin (大猷院)

Taiyuin (大猷院)

Taiyuin (大猷院)

Taiyuin (大猷院)

Taiyuin (大猷院)

Taiyuin (大猷院)

The area surrounding the world heritage sites. Needless to say, it was disappointing.

Nikko

Nikko

Nikko

Nikko

Nikko

After seeing all the attractions by 2:00 pm, I decided to take the train to the Kinugawa Onsen area to see if there was anything interesting there since the train fare was covered in the pass. This would turn out to be a complete waste of time!

Apparently, this Kinugawa Onsen town was originally developed as a onsen (hot spring) resort town during the booming and economic bubble years of Japan in the 80s and 90s and after the economic bubble popped, the town has been in decline ever since.

Kinugawa Onsen Town

Kinugawa Onsen Town

The only convenience store close to town, a no-name store.

Kinugawa Onsen Town

Full of large hotels and deserted streets.

Kinugawa Onsen Town

This thing is like a relic from the 80s!

Kinugawa Onsen Town

More of the town.

Kinugawa Onsen Town

Abandoned Pachinko parlor.

Kinugawa Onsen Town

There were literally almost no cars on the road! Kind of creepy actually...

Kinugawa Onsen Town

Finally, arrival back to Tokyo at Asakusa. Whats interesting is how wide the gap between the train and the platform was!

Tobu Railway Asakusa Terminal

Conclusion: To me, Nikko is not worth the time or money. If you wanted to see some aspects of the "traditional Japan", its better just to go to Kyoto.

3 comments:

peachroad said...

Hi Ernest, this is Janice. I'm a friend of David. I'm planning to go to Nikko next week and I chanced upon your blog! Anyway, thanks!

peachroad said...

Hi Ernest, this is Janice. I'm a friend of David. I'm planning to go to Nikko next week and I chanced upon your blog! Anyway, thanks!

UTA said...

Thanks for looking around!