THE TOWN OF NIKKO
Nikko lies to the North of Tokyo, in the high country of Tochigi Prefecture. Here, saddled between Mt Nakimushi and the dominant Mt Nyoho, which forms an immense natural water catchment, lies the small town of Nikko and the Nikko Tosho-gu shrines.
The town of Nikko is an interesting enough place to spend a day or so. There is one main street on which you can find the train station, information centre, the famous Shinkyo bridge, and entrance to the world heritage listed Toshi-gu. The buildings along here vary from eclectic antique sellers, antiquated produce stores, and weatherboard houses. If you choose to walk down the back streets you’ll see much older, dilapidated dwellings as well as concrete unit blocks in varying stages of disarray.
Of course, most visitors to the area will not see much outside of the historical Toshu-gu. However, for those staying the night in Nikko, as I did, walking the backstreets can really give you a sense of this little town in the mountains.
Iced barley tea is very popular in this region and can be purchased at any store. Its smoky aroma can be quite delicious, however the strength can vary between brands and I did have to discard a bottle that was too much for my unaccustomed palate.
DELICIOUS WHEAT BEER
The hostel owner was kind enough to drive me to the supermarket (all restaurants around here shut at 5pm). I took this opportunity to ask about local beers. The owner suggested a wheat beer that he said is very popular with the locals. This beer is Yona Yona ale, and, unlike the “big 4″ who make most of Japan’s beers, Yona Yona is a Japanese craft beer. “Yona yona” means “night after night”, which is interesting as it would be exactly the frequency with which I would drink this beer if it were available to me. You can pick the can by its distinctive depiction of five golden ears of wheat under a three-quarter moon. It is very delicious.
Up Next: Toshu-gu
How to get to Nikko?
The cheapest way that I found to get to Nikko from Tokyo (without a JR rail pass) was to catch a train. The train was owned and operated by a private company called Tobu Spacia. Just a word of warning: ensure when you get on the train that the carriage is going to Nikko. I didn’t realise this and was a bit surprised when the train split in half! I was lucky enough to be in the first carriage going to Nikko, and so watched in amazement as the carriage in front left without me! The front half of the train continues beyond the turn-off for Nikko.
I stayed in a local backpackers, which is a house run by a very friendly young man named Hiro. I would highly recommend staying here, as Hiro makes everyone feel at home and there is a great sense of community between visitors as you live together in the house. Apart from being in a beautiful location on the river bank, it is also the closest you can stay to Toshu-gu. I booked through Hostel World, and at the time of writing there was only two backpackers in Nikko.
As stated above, if you’re planning on eating dinner out, keep in mind that all the restaurants close at 5pm. As i did not realise this, I did not get a chance to try any of the local cuisine.
Up Next: Toshu-gu