Our Japan Rail Trip – Part 2: Nikko

Our journey to Nikko meant the first day of using our Japan Rail passes! We headed to Tokyo Station to quickly book a seat reservation then jumped on the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsunomiya Station before transferring to the JR Nikko Line. The whole trip took less than 2 hours and dropped us off at JR Nikko Station, just a short walk from our accommodation at Guesthouse Sumica.

We knew there was lots to see in Nikko because it’s in such picturesque surroundings, so we purposefully got there fairly early on our first day and dropped our bags off at our hostel. After some research, we discovered that Nikko’s famous dish is Maitake Mushroom Ramen (delicious, highly recommended!) so we hunted that down to line our stomachs before a tour of all the temples and shrines!

The temples and shrines in Nikko are some of the most stunning in the whole of Japan, as they are so lavishly decorated, heavily influenced by Chinese architecture. The Toshogu Shrine is decorated with the Three Wise Monkeys, who respectively “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil”. There are a series of more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings to explore in woodland surroundings, with huge cedar trees!

We then headed back towards central Nikko, checking out the famous Shinkyo Bridge (ranked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges!) on the way. Thirsty after all the walking, we discovered Nikko’s very first craft beer bar and microbrewery, Murmur Biiru Stand. A great discovery indeed! The owner is very friendly and tries his best to converse in English.

Feeling hungry again, we went back to our hostel for some meal recommendations. That night, there happened to be a food festival in neighbouring town Imaichi, and the staff recommended we go there. So, we hopped on a train and tracked down some tickets for the food festival, quite confused how it all worked. Eventually, we worked it out and made some Japanese friends in the very first location we went to. One of them took us under his wing and invited us to the location he was next heading, which turned out to be one of the best experiences of the whole trip! In the restaurant he took us to, we sampled local dishes and tried the most amazing Chicken Karaage, which were dyed black to represent the first Japanese steam train originating in Imaichi!

The next day we wanted to explore Tochigi Prefecture a bit further so we got up nice and early, taking in some artisan coffee and a breakfast assembled out of purchases from Family Mart, mainly rice balls (onigiri)! We jumped on a bus to take us to Kegon Falls (where we made some more friends who really wanted a picture, below) then hitchhiked our way to Ryuzu Falls, both impressive places! We then hiked to Yudaki Falls and around Lake Yumoto while watching our backs for bears, later learning that we were hiking in bear season!

We caught a bus back into Nikko and stopped off at Kanaya Hotel for a drink, after being recommended it by fellow travellers in the craft beer bar! It’s famous for having Albert Einstein stay there in 1922 and has a very classy cocktail lounge. On the way back to Guesthouse Sumica, we searched for some food but it’s a very early place so there wasn’t much choice and we had to settle for some Indian food!

The next day, we were supposed to head back to Tokyo and on to Hakone. However, the strongest typhoon of the year was heading straight for Hakone and our travel plans had to change. Find out what we did in the next blog post!