Nikko: Akechidaira Plateau to Chuzenji-ko
For a bit of solitude and fresh air there is a pleasant 2 1/2 hours hike which can be made taking thus gaining some great views over the Kegon Falls. After taking the Tobu Yumoto bus from outside of the Nikko Shrines ask to be set down at the Akechidaira Plateau cable car. This tiny 8 person standing room only red gondola will wisk you up to the beginning of the walking trail. Firstly it is from here where the best views of the distant water falls and Chuzenji-ko behind are visible. Although not clearly signposted, nor in English, the walking trail takes one further up into the hills where it noticably becomes cooler. At 1617m you will eventually get up to the Chanokidaira Plateau and there it is a stroll to the other side where one starts the easy zig-zag down towards the resort township which strides Chuzenji Lake. You suddenly come out onto a road and the left hand turn will take you to the lake, while the right hand turn will eventually get you to the Kegon Falls elevator. Buses return to Nikko from the main road.
Irohazaka, Nikko, Tochigi, Kanto, Japan
The weekend trip to Nikko took us a whole day, well actually from 8am to around 4pm, which by then we were pretty tired out and the sky was darkening anyway. The sky darkens pretty fast around here, unlike my home in sunny Singapore, guess it's the latitude factor. My friend accompanied me since he was free that weekend.
It took around an hour's car ride to Nikko from Takanezawa, even though they're both in the Tochigi prefecture. Nothing on the map could have prepared me for the main streets of Nikko, it looked so cramped, with doubled storied buildings packed closely side by side, looming over the narrow street. The buildings were rather drab, and I almost miseed the sight of the Tobu Nikko train station because it looked so similiar to the other buildings, but for its signage.
From the main street, we went on to the area where the shrines are, including the Toshogu shrine. We did not stop there, since we decided to check out the sights at the peak rather than the town. One thing I realized was that maps can be deceiving, very deceiving. The way from the Nikko main street to the shrines is not a short distance at all. You really have to do some serious walking if you want to get there. So much for the place being a tourist spot. I would have thought getting around would be easy, but it was not so.
Up the mountain pass of Irohazaka we went, and stopped at a cable car station (they call it a ropeway though) halfway, went on the cable car to the viewing platform. Beautiful sight, as you'll see the waterfall and Lake Chuzenji in the distance.
We did go to the waterfall at close quarters as well, and also took a ferry cruise on the waters of Chuzenji-ko. Nantaisan framed the background to the lake, together with the other mountains. It was autumn, and koyo (autumn foliage) was really beautiful. When we went to Ryuzu-no-taki (Ryuzu waterfall) further up the mountain, the view was simply georgeous! There were many amateur photographers too, trying to take pictures.
We reached Yumoto onsen, nearly the top of the mountain, and since I wasn't one for hiking, we stopped there. There's another lake there, and what I saw surprised me. Ducks? I didn't expect there to be ducks, on this lake high up in the mountains of more than 3000 feet (or maybe more) and a lake with a sandy shore.
TIP: There's this onsen (free!) that we went to. It's only for the feet. Make sure you bring your own towel to wipe your feet with. It's a little off to the right side of the T-junction street when you reach the tablet signage saying yumuto onsen (in Japanese, of course) I don't think any guide book had this gem.
We went to Toshogu shrine as we came back down the mountain, and to be frank, once you've been to one shrine, the rest all looks alike. What I remember of the place was that it was located among the woods, and there were so many stairs to climb. Especially if you want to see the tomb area, you have to climb so many flights of stairs, admist all these ancient tall cedar trees around you.
The best part of Nikko? Definitely the Irohazaka road. I guess only if you're an Initial D fan, you would understand how I feel travelling on this mountain pass, the thrill of passing each hairpin curve. And also seeing all these other architecture that you see in the anime or movie - the local gas stations, the lake etc.
You can spend nearly one whole day as I did, and still not finish seeing everything. Best to allocate 1-2 full days if you want to see the whole place.
There are several sections to Nikko
1) The main street, where the shops are. Slightly further up are the shrines.
2) Halfway up the Irohazaka 2, there's a stop where you can take the cable car (or ropeway as they call it) to this isolated viewing platform. You can see the famed "sea of clouds" (you can't even see the mountains below, just the clouds hovering over them!) as well as the waterfalls and lake chuzenji in the distance
3) Then you travel up to the waterfall/lake Chuzenji area. Take the lift down to view the waterfall at close quarters (Seems it's a favourite place for suicide, my fren told me)
4) After that, go further up to Lake Chuzenji and take the sightseeing boat. The crater lake is huge, and surrounded by the mountains, the largest one being Mt. Nantai. There's even a tiny island on the lake itself.
5) As you travel up the mountain road, you'll stop by Ryuzu-no-taki (Ryuzu waterfall) Walk down the steps to see the waterfall at close quarters. This waterfall is less spectacular than the other one, but so much more beautiful with the autumn leaves framing it. A lot of photographers setting up their equipment and taking pics here.
6) Then it's up to Senjohara Moor. Apparently, this area was once a lake, 3000 years ago. Good for bird viewing. Alot of photographers too. Nearby is a row of stores. You can buy some local foodstuff there.
7) Then you reach the Yumoto onsen area. See the lake and feed the ducks as you stand on the gravel/pebbly beach.
8) From there, you can take a hike along the hiking trail to the top of Mt Nantai.