This small offshoot of Rinnoji Temple in Nikko, literally named “Hot Spring Temple,” was founded in 788 by priest Shodo. It sits at one end of Lake Yunoko — at an altitude of 1,475m on Mt. Nantai — in the Yumoto hot spring resort, opposite the Yutaki Falls.
The temple was destroyed in a landslide in 1966. Fortunately, the central Buddha statue was found unharmed, and the temple was rebuilt in its current location in 1973.
Visitors may enjoy a bath in the milky, sulfur-enriched spring water between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for a charge of ¥500.
When to visit
The temple is open from mid-April to late November.
Futarasan Jinja, founded in the 8th Century by the priest Shodo, sits adjacent to the more showy Nikko Toshogu. It can be reached from the beautiful Sacred Bridge, which legend has it was created from two snakes by the deity Jinja-Daiou to allow Shodo to cross the Daiya River. Futarasan is part of the Nikko Unesco World Heritage Site.
Futarasan enshrines the deities Okuninushi, Tagorihime, and Ajisukitakahikone. It also contains many National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets, including two swords.
Futarasan’s Shinto roots are apparent in the many shrines to nature found within its grounds, as well as ancient trees up to 1,000 years old.
Nikko Toshogu is a visually stunning shrine complex in Tochigi Prefecture, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu — who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate — and the centerpiece of the Nikko Unesco Heritage Site. Indeed, it is what people mean when they refer to “Nikko Shrine.”
Toshogu includes an array of impressive gates, decorated walls, shrines and temples, and many national treasures and important cultural artifacts. One of these treasures is Nemuri Neko, the sleeping cat. By passing underneath this 17th Century wooden statue attributed to Hidari Jingoro, visitors can begin climbing the hundreds of stone steps to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
According to Wikipedia, “Five structures at Nikkō Tōshō-gū are categorized as National Treasures of Japan, and three more as Important Cultural Properties.” Among the national treasures is the elaborately decorated Gohonsha, or Main Hall. Visitors must remove their shoes to enter the central area of worship, whether to pray or enjoy the splendor. (Photography is not permitted inside the hall.)
In addition to Nemuri Neko, Toshogu hosts a regular mythical bestiary of statues and bas-reliefs, from peacocks and phoenixes to the famous Three Wise Monkeys and elephants rampant.
Among all the impressive sights at Toshugo, one temple stands out for its sound: Yakushi-do, to the left of the Youmeimon gate, features the Roaring Dragon. Monks clap woodblocks under the enormous dragon mural on the ceiling of the temple to produce a ringing echo. The acoustics of the temple room are such that the woodblocks only echo when they are clapped directly in front of the dragon’s face, as the monks demonstrate. (Photography and recording are not permitted here.)
The temple also features statues of Buddhas representing the 12 years of the Chinese calendar.
When to visit
Toshogu nests in a forest of impressive old Japanese cedar trees (杉). As these are evergreens, there’s no autumn color season for visiting. On the other hand, those who suffer from cedar pollen allergy may wish to take precautions and avoid the active season.
As with all popular tourist attractions in Japan, Toshogu becomes very crowded on weekends and holidays. Even on a cold, snowy December day, the bus to the shrine was jam-packed. (Of course, in better weather many visitors may elect to walk from the station.)
Direct trains run several times per day to Tobu Nikko Station from Shinjuku or Asakusa. Visitors can purchase a day pass for the World Heritage Bus at Tobu Nikko Station for ¥500. The bus leaves every 15 minutes on a loop that includes Toshogu — disembark at the Omotesando (表参道) stop (No. 83).
The bus ticket office at Tobu Nikko Station also sells entrance tickets for Toshogu: ¥1,300 for admission to all shrine attractions including the roaring dragon at Yakushi-do. Tickets are also available at the entrance to the shrine.
Ashikaga Flower Park is a flower theme park established in 1997 in Ashikaga, Tochigi. The park is renowned for its hundreds of wisteria, with the most famous being the 150-year-old “Hazama no Fuji (迫間のフジ),” which spreads over more than 1,000 square meters. Other wisteria are formed into tunnels up to 80 meters long which guests can pass through, a half dome resembling an orchestra shell, and walls which serve as backdrops for floral tableaux.
The highlight of the year comes from mid-April through May with the blooming of the wisteria. The park remains open until 9 p.m. during the season and illuminates the wisteria in the evening to create a colorful fantasy in the dusk. The park can be very crowded at this season, particularly during the Golden Week holidays, and visitors should expect some waiting in line for parking spaces and admission.
To provide a beautiful and interesting experience throughout the year, Ashikaga Flower Park marks “Eight Floral Seasons” such as “Spring Flower Festival” and “Water Nymphs (Water Lilies)”. The basic details of the seasons are available at the park’s English page, but the full details are given in Japanese only.
Other types of flowers at the park include Christmas rose, tulips, crocus, azaleas, hydrangea, sage and pansies.
Admission and access
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with longer hours for some events such as the wisteria illumination. The admission price varies with the season and the condition of the flowers. At the peak it is ¥1,700 for adults and ¥800 for children. Check the website for details. Ashikaga Flower Park is about a 13-minute walk from the Tomita station (100 minutes from Tokyo via the Keihin Tohoku and JR Ryomo lines). Additional access information is available on the park’s website.