Ever since rightfully achieving UNESCO recognition in 1999, the historical city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture has continued to attract a vast array of tourists from all over the world. With this number likely to increase with each passing year Nikko is now experiencing many of the problems facing other world attractions; chronic overcrowding.
Whist this may be something that is impossible to avoid, especially around the four main world heritage sites including Toshogu Shrine it is possible (just about), to find some relative peace and tranquility nearby thanks to the Takino'o Walking Course.
This interesting walk stretches for about 5 kilometers, starting at the iconic Shinkyo Bridge then passing by all four of Nikko's World Heritage sites before entering a secluded area of cedar forest along a stone path where you'll be able to see many interesting stone structures and religious artifacts. At this courses halfway point the path will form a loop eventually taking you back to Shinkyo Bridge via a secluded return route; allowing you to enjoy many great sites at your own leisure before being thrown back into the swarming crowds around Toshogu Shrine. A copy of this walking map and further information can be obtained from the super friendly tourist office inside Tobu Nikko Station.
From Tobu Nikko Station walk out onto the main road and turn right where it’s about a 15 minute walk to the distinctive red bridge known as Shinkyo Bashi which marks the starting point for this walk.
With an early start you might be lucky enough to arrive at this picturesque bridge before the endless hoards of tour buses do, giving you a few precious moments to enjoy this beautiful sight without having to share it with half the world! From here cross over the main road running parallel to this bridge where the unmissable entrance to the Nikko World Heritage site awaits you.
Once entering this site turn left and take a northwesterly direction. Continue walking for about twenty minutes where you'll pass Toshogu Shrine before arriving at the courtyard of Taiyuin Temple. Located towards the right of this temple is a narrow stone path ascending up a hill with a stone wall on the left whilst towards the right hand side is a colorful red wooden wall. As you walk along this path be sure to look back down at Taiyuin Temple which looks particularly impressive from this angle!
Towards Shiraito Falls
This narrow trail will soon pass several stone statues before reaching Shiraito Falls some twenty minutes later. Although these falls are quite small in themselves the real interesting sights are located above the rocky area towards the right. Upon ascending a steep hill you will soon reach the colorful Takino’o Shrine and its smaller but equally impressive cousin, Takino’o Inari Shrine along with many other interesting structures.
Despite this area's natural beauty you will notice a distinct lack of people, thus providing some precious moments of peace and tranquility; a stark contrast from the other major sights only a few meters away!
The Return Path
When returning back down to Shiraito Falls it's now possible to return back to Shinkyo Bridge via a different route located on the opposite path from which you previously came along.
With the sound of the Inari-Gawa River flowing by on your left, this peaceful route offers several interesting and picturesque sights including the colorful Kitano Shrine with its lush green moss covered stone walls in addition to the crown in jewel; Hotoe-Iwa. Located inside a small cliff behind Kaizen-do (sacred-hall), this interesting section contains six stone statues representing Buddha in different guises.
A few meters away from here you will see another similar looking red building known as Kannon-do, where the path leads back towards Toshogu Shrine. If you are doing this walk during the later part of the day, the dark shadows cast down by the evening sun will form a strong contrast over the landscape creating a more somber yet slightly eerie effective upon many of the structures.
As you return back to the main monuments you can follow the long line of people heading towards Toshogu Shrine or continue back to the main entrance where Shinkyo Bridge will appear on the other side of the road.
When returning back to the station, the busy streets and packed buses will quickly remind you of the fact that you are at one of Japan’s top tourist destinations. The sights of these flocking crowds provide the perfect opportunity to reminisce on precious moments of relative peace and tranquility that the Takino Walking Course has given you; a world away from the main tourist sites which despite their magnificence can sometimes become lost amongst the swarming the crowds!