A Samurai-era living history museum and theme park, the beautiful Nikko National Park filled with temples, and UNESCO's World Heritage Sites are part of the charm of this central Japanese city.
The Edo Mura Village outside Nikko was described to us alluringly as “Japan’s answer to Colonial Williamsburg,” and perhaps for the Japanese-speaker it is. Unfortunately, the foreignness of the culture and lack of English language labels left us in total confusion. This rural ‘Samurai theme park’ was especially disappointing in comparison with Nikko’s more traditional tourist attraction, the Nikko National Park.
If you’re going to spend a long and tiring day from Tokyo to see the best of Nikko, head straight to the vermilion painted Shinkyo bridge (once only open to the Shogun) and visit UNESCO’s World Heritage recognized temples and historical shrines.
Families spending a weekend away from bustling Kyoto, Osaka or Tokyo should first go to the park, where even young children can recognize the vast power and material wealth of the Shogun Tokugawa (popularized in James Clavell’s “Shogun”) at the Toshugu Shrine. This enormous carved wood and gilt mausoleum, set in a grove of 13,000 cedar trees, is the central attraction within Nikko’s Rinnoji Temple complex.
Our 9-year-old son loved the Samurai ‘fight’ that took place in the village green (we never could figure out who were the good guys and the bad guys), and his parents liked the wooden architecture and reenactors. Stay alert and you may catch some of the live music and theatre performances, which probably transcend the culture gap more easily.
Weekenders should consider the hotels recommended by the excellent Frommer’s Japan: Nikko Kanaya Hotel (0288/54-0001) is a large, rustic country lodge built by the Kanaya family as a ‘hill resort’ for foreigners in 1873; Turtle Inn (0288/53-3168) is a small pension with Western and tatami style rooms and a highly recommended restaurant. Both are within a short bus ride or long walk from the Nikko Tobu Rail Station.
I must add that we stayed late into the evening to try yuba, a local specialty made of soybeans, and a dish once prepared only for high priests and the imperial family. We dined at Masudaya on the main street, about 5 minutes’ walk from the station, and found yuba to be a singularly odd and unpleasant dish. At least my husband could tell his friends he’d tried it!
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.