World Heritage sites that can be reached in two hours from Tokyo.
The shrines and temples that are designated World Heritage sites can be reached from central Tokyo in just two hours by the Tohoku Shinkansen and limited express trains on the Tobu Railway lines. These trains can take you to sacred places with magnificent scenery such as Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Nikkozan Rinno-ji Temple, and Nikko Futarasan-jinja Shrine.
Nikko Toshogu Shrine is dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa, the man who ended the war-torn era at the beginning of the seventeenth century and founded the Edo Shogunate, which lasted for two hundred and sixty years. It is said that Ieyasu chose this area as his grave site so that he could protect Edo after his death because Nikko has long been a sacred place in Shugendo Buddhism and has strong power spots. The North Star is located in the sky between the shrine gate and the famous Yomeimon gate. The shrine’s main buildings are built to form the seven stars of the Big Dipper when connected together by a line.
Other attractions at Nikko Toshogu Shrine that should not be missed are the colorful structures made with extravagant materials such as indigo and gold and the over five thousand carvings. Although the cat is a natural enemy of the sparrow, the Sleeping Cat has a carving of a sparrow on its back. It is said that this signifies the coming of a peaceful era. The Sleeping Cat is also introduced in the Michelin Guide and Lonely Planet.
Shinkyo Bridge, which is the entrance to Nikko Futarasan-jinja Shrine and other World Heritage shrines and temples, is an excellent photo spot. It is visited by photographers from all around the world. Because Nikko Futarasan-jinja Shrine, which has a history of 1,200 years, is known as a place for praying for romance, the wooden pictorial offerings that worshippers write their prayers on have adorable patterns with hearts on them.
The shrines and temples of Nikko are beautiful in every season with cherry blossoms in spring and snow in winter, but they are their most beautiful in the autumn. The bright red colors of the structures and the red of the autumnal leaves complement each other. Autumn is also the season when the structures are lit up at night. In 2014, Nikko Toshogu Shrine is scheduled to be lit up from October 31st to November 2nd and Nikko Futarasan-jinja Shrine, which is known for its beautiful Japanese garden, is scheduled to be lit up from October 25th to November 15th. The view of autumnal leaves glowing at night is sure to be a pleasant memory from your trip to Tochigi.
The grass fields, valleys, and roads gradually turn red with autumnal leaves – from the sides of the mountains down to the bottom.
The autumnal leaves of Japan start to show their colors in Hokkaido and slowly make their way south to reach the mountains of Tochigi between late September and early October. Autumnal leaves of distinct colors can be enjoyed all throughout Tochigi Prefecture, which is 55% covered with forests and trees and has an undulating natural landscape.
At Oku-Nikko’s Senjogahara, which has been registered in the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, you can see grass with autumn colors. There is an exploration trail that lets you enjoy a roughly two-hour hike around the swamp.
The shores of Lake Chuzenji-ko, which is the highest lake in Japan at an altitude of 1,200 meters, begin to show color in mid-October each year. The walking paths along the lakeside in the beechwood forest turn orange and are perfect for autumn strolls.
The trip to Lake Chuzenji-ko is forty minutes by bus from the Nikko Eki-mae bus stop. The Irohazaka Slope, which is on the way, is also a popular spot for viewing autumnal leaves. The slope descends eight hundred-meters to the ground and has seemingly endless sharp curves, letting you enjoy autumnal leaves and thrills all at the same time.
The festivals of Tochigi, a collection of unique events.
Another autumn attraction in Tochigi is the autumn festivals that are held throughout the prefecture.
The first one is the Shiobara Onsen Festival (September 7 – 9, 2014) held in Nasu Shiobara City, which is located in the northern-most part of Tochigi Prefecture. It is a cheerful festival with floats decorated with flowers and dolls depicting characters from folk tales and anime characters. The floats head toward a hot spring town accompanied by energetic music.
Shiobara Onsen Festival
Contact: Shiobara Hot Springs Hotel Association
The Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival (October 11 – 12, 2014), which is held in Kanuma City in central Tochigi Prefecture, has decorated stalls and marching bands with portable mikoshi shrines that parade through the city. A featured attraction is the “Buttsuke” face off, where two or more stands confront each other and play music.
Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival
Contact: Kanuma City Tourism Exchange Division
The autumn festival at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, which is held on October 16 – 17 every year, is recommended for those who would like to see a festival with tradition and prestige. The Shinto horseback archery ritual, where archers shoot at targets with arrows from atop running horses, and the parade of a hundred articles and thousand warriors, where people march down the streets wearing outfits from four hundred years ago, are very exciting to watch. An international horseback archery competition is scheduled to be held in 2015, which marks the four-hundred-year anniversary of Ieyasu Tokugawa’s death.
The main attraction of the Tochigi Autumn Festival, which is held in Tochigi City in the southern part of the prefecture, is the music played by the extravagant floats. Floats decorated with gold- and silver-thread carvings carry dolls depicting gods and historic heroes as they gallantly travel through the streets. The intense sounds of the drums also fill the spectators with excitement. The Tochigi Autumn Festival is held once every two years. This year is your chance to see it, and it will be held for two days starting on November 9.
Tochigi Autumn Festival
Contact: Tochigi City Tourist Association
The Japan Cup Cycle Road Race, which will be held on October 19, 2014 at Utsunomiya, the central city of the prefecture, is in event that attracts bicycle lovers and regular spectators alike. This is the only competition in Japan where you can get up close to see the cyclists who race in the world’s most prominent races, such as the Tour de France, racing to win. It is the only one-day bicycle race in Asia and is ranked in the top of its category.
Japan Cup Cycle Road Race
Contact: JAPAN CUP CYCLE ROAD RACE Management Office
Tochigi is also pleasant in the winter.
Tochigi prefecture becomes an entirely different place in the winter. A thousand small igloos are lit up for the Yunishikawa Igloo Festival. The festival is held from late January to early March and is one of the winter traditions of Tochigi.
Yunishikawa Igloo Festival
Contact: Nikko Tourist Association
Famous spots for viewing autumnal leaves, such as Senjogahara and the Irohazaka Slope, also have beautiful winter landscapes. The snowfields and soft rime set off against the blue sky have a magnificent beauty of their own.
Tochigi is the largest producers of strawberries in Japan. The strawberry picking here, which starts in January, is another way to enjoy Tochigi in the winter.
Hot springs are abundant in Tochigi and visitors can enjoy dishes with seasonal ingredients from the mountains in the prefecture. Take part in your favorite festivals while visiting World Heritage sites and seeing autumnal leaves or enjoying snow activities. A visit to Tochigi is sure to please any traveler who is looking for a fulfilling trip.