Near the end of our time in Japan, we decided we wanted to spend some time away from the major cities. After doing some research, Sean came across Nikko, Japan and it looked beautiful. So we decided to spend a week in Nikko… or be to more accurate, Kinugawa-Onsen.
We stayed at Kinugawa Pension Bamboo, which happened to be a small hotel/restaurant in easy walking distance from the train station. I believe we found the hotel through Agoda. It is a small hotel with only about 7 rooms. There is not much sound proofing so if you have noisy neighbors, be prepared to hear everything. The room is also small, but it worked for the two of us and we were fairly comfortable.
The hotel also has an amazing, affordable restaurant on the first floor. The food was some of the best we had in all of Japan. It’s a small menu but we would highly recommend it, even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
We decided to stay in Kinugawa-Onsen because the hotel was the cheapest option we found. It’s a small town in Japan but is amazingly beautiful and relaxing. If you’re interested in visiting an onsen, this area is a great place for it. They even have a free foot onsen at the train station. It’s an easy train ride to Nikko at about 45 minutes on the Tobu-Kinugawa Line.
What To Do in Kinugawa
You probably only need to spend a day or two in Kinugawa. We just ended up spending the whole time there – mostly relaxing. It was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and be surrounded by gorgeous lush mountains. Some things you can do while visiting Kinugawa are:
Relax at an onsen
Sean and I did not go to an onsen so I don’t have too much to say about this one. But this area had a ton of onsens. Part of the reason we did not go to an onsen was because many of them do not allow tattoos and we both have tattoos. So if you’re someone with tattoos, be sure to check out the policies before booking.
Then check out Kinu-tateiwaotsuri Bridge
This is a 140 meter long pedestrian suspension bridge. Below you get a wonderful view of the Kinugawa River. Walk across the bridge to get to Tateiwa Promenade. If you’re afraid of heights (like me) be aware that the bridge does sway when there are a lot of people on it.
Next hike up to the observation deck
Once you cross the suspension bridge, hike up to Tateiwa observation deck. It’s not a long hike, but it is a bit steep with lots of steps. Once at the top, you’ll get a great view of the valley below.
Go up the Kinugawa Ropeway
Take the 300 meter cable car up to the observation deck for panoramic views of the area. While up there, you can apparently feed some Japanese macaques that are at the observation deck. Sean and I did not go up as the weather was not great when we had planned on going. The cost of round trip tickets appear to be 1100 yen per adult (~$8 USD).
Eat delicious food
Finally, like most of Japan, the area of Nikko has some delicious food. In Kinugawa-Onsen, visit Tsuruya, across from the train station for delicious soba and yuba (tofu skin). Many of the restaurants were closed in the area when we visited so we did not get to eat out too often, but our favorite place was definitely our accommodation. Everything we ate was fresh, delicious, and cheap!
What To Do in Nikko
Nikko is a popular weekend getaway for those living in Tokyo. It takes about 3 hours by train. Getting around Nikko is pretty easy. You can take a bus or easily walk. Just keep track of the bus times as they may not run very late. Popular attractions in Nikko are:
So, if you’ve seen pictures of Nikko, you’ve probably seen Shinkyo Bridge. It is the sacred entrance to Nikko’s shrines. The current bridge was constructed in 1636, though a bridge of some kind has stood in that spot for much longer. Until 1973, the bridge was off-limits to visitors. But after the renovation work in the early 2000’s, visitors can now walk on the bridge for an entrance fee of 300 yen (~$2 USD).
The bridge is a beautiful site with the lush greenery surrounding it and turquoise waters flowing beneath. But I do not think it is worth paying to go on it. You get better pictures from around it. So, just do what everyone else is doing and take your pictures from in front of it.
This is one of the most elaborate and magnificent shrines. It is a memorial to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years. There are a dozen buildings on the property that are lavishly carved and decorated. The entrance cost is: 1300 yen (~$9 USD) for just the shrine, 1000 yen (~$7 USD) for the museum, 2100 yen (~$15 USD) for both.
The next two are places we did not get to but were on our list. The day we tried to go there was so much traffic we were on the bus for an hour to go one stop (from Nikko train station it’s normally a 45 minute ride to the area of the Kegon Falls). So, unfortunately, that was out and we did not end up returning. But Kegon waterfalls is a 100 meter waterfall that is Nikko’s most famous.
Again, we did not end up getting to the lake. But Chuzenji Lake looks like a beautiful lake at the base of the volcano, Mount Nantai. To get there from Nikko station you can easily grab a bus bound for Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen.
Since we missed out on going, instead we walked back to Shinkyo bridge and made our way to Jakko waterfall. It was a long walk through the town, but worth it as you’ll likely have the area to yourself. Sean and I were there by ourselves until we were leaving, when two other people arrived.
On the way to Jakko Waterfall, make sure to stop at Pizza Rinne for some delicious pizza. There is a lot of great food options in Nikko, most prominent are soba and yuba. Restaurants are small and get filled up quickly, so be prepared to go early or wait.
While in Nikko, make sure to you yuba manju. It’s a steamed bun with a sweet azuki bean paste filling wrapped in deep fried yuba. It’s a traditional sweet in Nikko and I was obsessed. I’m craving one just thinking about it!