A rewarding destination at any time of the year, Tochigi Prefecture encompasses everything you need for a complete “I’m in Japan” experience just two hours north of Tokyo. Beyond shrines and temples, there’s remote hot springs, gorgeous seasonal parks, traditional crafts, and a hardcore dedication to the production and consumption of gyoza. It’s an easy day trip from the capital but merits much more.
You shouldn’t and couldn’t ignore Nikko as a stop on your Tochigi travels. The grand Toshogu Shrine is just one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that make up the area, part of the Nikko National Park which extends into the surrounding Gunma, Niigata, and Fukushima prefectures. This is where the famous warrior Tokugawa Ieyasu is buried and the grand, gilded buildings provide a suitably stately setting.
You can also spot the famous Three Wise Monkeys carving depicting the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” proverb. You’ll likely have to elbow your way through the tourist route as Nikko is enormously popular, especially for autumn leaves viewing. In Nikko you can also watch painters mastering the art of hitofude ryu, using one single stroke to paint the body of a dragon.
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