Nikko in Autumn: A Red and Yellow World Away from Tokyo
“I’m going to Nikko this weekend,” I told my Japanese friend. She nodded and said, “Every international student always goes to Nikko!” So I asked if she had been there, and she said no. When I asked other Japanese, people whom I asked replied no and just like what my friend said, many international students had been there! It means one thing; if you’re a foreigner visiting Tokyo, do consider paying a visit to Nikko as well.
It amused me that Japan has almost everything in terms of tourism, from historical shrines and temples to nature attractions. About two hours from Asakusa station in Tokyo to Shitaima station by Ginza Line train, you can have a getaway from the crowds and fast pace of the capital. Pay for a limited express train if you want to spend less time on the train and arrive more quickly. Buy the free pass sold at the Tobu tourist information center in Asakusa station as it will save you more money and make your trip easier, since you just have to show the pass to the train conductor and bus driver. A two-day pass costs 2670 yen and covers the round trip from Tokyo to Nikko as well as Tobu bus fares around the World Heritage area and Kinugawa Onsen. The four-day pass costs 4520 yen and additionally covers the "Inner Nikko" (Oku Nikko) area, which includes Lake Chuzenji, Senjogahara Marsh, and Yumoto Onsen Hot Springs.
The pass is multi-day for an obvious reason; Nikko has many beautiful places that can’t all be visited in a single day! We stayed in Nikko Park Lodge for one night, which was very convenient because it was located right in front of Tobu Nikko station and nearby shops. Nikko offers a variety of accomodation options, whether you just want to stay for a night on a bed or you want to have more luxury and the experience of staying in a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan (and enjoy the hot springs). But even if you just want to go for a day, consider buying the pass because it’s still cheaper than buying everything separately.
The famous and sacred Shinkyo bridge after rain in autumn.
There was a light rain in the afternoon when we arrived in Nikko. Too bad, you think? Not at all! The fog after the rain added a special touch to the whole scenery. From Tobu Nikko station, take a bus and stop at the Shinkyo Bridge. The trees that have changed there color seemed far and gradually lost its visibility inside the fog. You need to pay 300 yen to cross the famous Shinkyo sacred bridge, though. I stayed for a while to gaze at the beauty of the red bridge above the bluish-green river. The branches of the trees bend toward the river as if they wish to see their reflection on the water. The leaves in autumn were a beauty to behold; I wonder, did Japanese people favor autumn among the four seasons? Because many old constructions, such as shrines, torii gates, and the bridge are painted red, as if the builders were trying to blend those objects harmoniously with the color of the autumn leaves.
Central Nikko (the World Heritage area with many important shrines and temples) and Inner Nikko (the Lake Chuzenji area) are at different elevations and have different timing for the autumn foliage. When the leaves in central Nikko were transforming into sparkling autumn colors, the leaves in Inner Nikko had already fallen, leaving the tree branches exposed without a single leaf. But still, the natural beauty of Oku Nikko/Inner Nikko is something that should not be missed. It takes about one hour from Tobu Nikko station to Lake Chuzenji by bus. The cost of the bus is covered by the Nikko pass, but if you aren't using the pass, it costs 1150 yen one-way.
It was a sunny day when we visited Chuzenji Lake. The lake reflected the cloudless sky, Mount Nantai, and boats along the deck.
Lake Chuzenji looked impressive under the bright blue sky, which was reflected on the water surface. I spent my time in Chuzenji sitting on a bench with my friends. The water of the lake is connected to the nearby Kegon Waterfall, which is the only exit for the water of the lake. Kegon Falls has a free observation deck that is accessible by walking as well as a paid observation deck at the base of the fall. You can see the waterfall more clearly by paying 550 yen to go 100m lower in the elevator. As your elevator arrives at the observation level, you will pass through a white-painted tunnel where the sound of the waterfall can be heard vaguely inside. I felt the air become colder and more humid as I reached the end of the tunnel. Be careful when walking here, though, because the ground is a bit slippery. As I looked up at the famous waterfall from the deck, despite the distance I could feel small water sprinkles on my face.
Kegon Falls in mid-November.
If you take a bus from Lake Chuzenji to Yumoto Onsen, there are many stops that are worth visiting. One of our destinations was Senjogahara Marsh. There are hiking trails to enjoy the view of the marshland and mountains, which take about 3 hours to finish. We stopped at Sanbonmatsu which only has a small observation deck, but is not accessible to the hiking trail.
Senjogahara Marsh in Nikko National Park in mid-November.
View of the mountains and marshland from the hiking trail.
Take the bus further and stop at Yudaki Iriguchi, where you will meet another waterfall. This one was not as high as Kegon Falls, but definitely not any less impressive. While you can enjoy the beauty of Kegon Falls from afar, Yudaki Falls offers you an experience of enjoying a waterfall close up. I sat by the river with my friends, enjoying the warm sunlight on that cold day. The sound of water falling and flowing against the black rock was very soothing. I tend to have a slow pace while traveling, so if you’re also that kind of person, it’s a good idea to spend more time around here and enjoy the natural surroundings. There is even a track to let visitors wander into the woods, passing the waterfall and small river. Golden autumn light filtering through the branches, the sound of water splashing in the river, the noises of the outside world diminishing as I got deeper into the woods; for a moment I felt like I was being taken into a different world.
The journey was not yet over. Near Yudaki Waterfall, there are stairs for visitors to take to Lake Yunoko. While Lake Chuzenji has more visitors and looks a bit livelier with the deck and boats along the lake, as well as a row of shops along the road, Lake Yunoko is quieter. A road passes close to the lake and there are buses that go by periodically, but it doesn’t disturb the calmness of the area. I did not have much time here because I had to go catch the train back home soon, but I could imagine myself wandering around the lake, lost in thought and enjoyed the photogenic lake. There was a slight breeze that created ripples on the water surface; it was very quiet until my friend yelled to me that we needed to leave!
Track from Yudaki Falls into the woods.
Soon after that, I went back to reality, where you need to walk carefully in order not to bump into some stranger; where the sounds that you hear on a daily basis are people chattering and trains rumbling by.