There is a tranquility resonating from Lake Chuzenji, or Chuzenji-ko as it is called in Japanese, that persists long after leaving the refuge of its waters. Surrounded by mountains, including the famous and looming Nantai-san, Chuzenji is the ideal place to visit if looking to indulge in Japan’s exquisite nature. A bus ride from Nikko will bring you to the lake and from there you can enjoy a variety of activities.
If you are looking to actively explore the lake, you should consider renting a paddle boat. For a few hundred yen you can travel alone or with friends out into the middle of the lake for an alternate view of your surroundings. There is also the option of hiking around the perimeter of the lake. The roughly 26 kilometer hike will provide you with views of both the water and the dense forest surrounding Chuzenji-ko. While the distance is long, the hike can be done in a day if you are able to get an early enough start.
If relaxation is your goal then Chuzenji-ko has the perfect solution for your needs. Onsen is a unique aspect of Japanese culture and there is no better place to experience it then at Lake Chuzenji. The area is famous for its calming hot springs, and you can experience them at many of the hotels in the area. The Lakeside Hotel offers a public onsen at a reasonable price in a beautiful cabin-style building. It is a short walk from the bus stop, just before you reach the lake.
Photo: Ken Worker on Flickr
Where to Eat
The small town that runs along the eastern shore of Chunzenji-ko offers many restaurants with delicious and reasonably priced dishes. Some indoor restaurants have open dining areas with massive windows looking out at the lake, and a few places have terraces where you can enjoy a drink or a meal and take in views of the lake and the surrounding countryside. Udon is a great Japanese dish to warm yourself up in the fall, and the curry rice at each shop is always fantastic.
When to Visit
The most popular time to visit is during autumn. This is when koyo, the Japanese word for the changing leaves, is at its peak. Vibrant sprawls of yellow, orange, and red give an entirely different feel to the area and create vivid murals of fall foliage in the reflection of the water. Spring and summer are also lovely times to visit, but be aware that the road can sometimes close due to heavy snowfall in the winter.
No matter when you decide to visit, you’ll surely fall for Lake Chuzenji, the quaint, quiet town, and the mountains that seemingly stand guard over the vast lake. At the end of the day, after having enjoyed all the wonderful things there are to do in the area, simply sit by the shore and enjoy one of Japan’s most beautiful places. It is an experience you’ll keep with you wherever you go.
From Tokyo, you can take the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya, and then the JR Nikko Line to Nikko. Alternatively, the JR Takasaki Line can be taken to Omiya, where you are able to transfer to the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line to Utsunomiya, and then hop on the JR Nikko Line to Nikko.
From either the Nikko JR or Tobu station, you can catch a bus to Chuzenji-ko. The bus ride is just under an hour and costs 1150 yen one way. If you have a Suica pass, you can use it on the bus to save time when entering and exiting. There are usually three buses per hour.