Northern/Eastern Kanto Region
Definitely a highlight of anybody's trip to Japan, Nikko is a sacred site located in its own national park in Tochigi prefecture and has some of the world's most beautiful buildings. The area also boasts Lake Chuzenji, Kegon Falls (Japan's most famous) and numerous onsen. Nikko can be reached in about 1 hour 40 minutes from Tokyo's Asakusa on the Tobu Line. The town of Nikko is pretty non-descript but once you pass the multitude of souvenir shops and the striking red Shinkyo (Sacred Bridge) you enter another world.
The first temple you see is Rinnoji, established in 766 by the Buddhist monk, Shodo Shonin. Its isolated mountain location made it popular among Buddhist monks in search of solitude, and it is used to this day for ascetic training. The Sanbutsudo, or "3 Buddha Hall" is the largest wooden building in Nikko and home to three 5m-tall gilded statues of Buddha.
Toshogu's stunning Yomeimon Gate
Famous carving of the Three Monkeys at Toshogu
Next is the main attraction, the stunning Toshogu shrine. In a magnificent hillside setting, surrounded by huge cedar trees, the shrine attracts millions of visitors. It was built in 1636 in honor of the first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) by his grandson Iemitsu. Approaching the shrine, you pass through a 9m granite torii gate, a feature of all shrines. To the left is a 35m-high 5-story pagoda painted in brilliant red and gold. After buying a 1,500 yen ticket, you enter the shrine through the ornate Otemon (Main gate). The gate is also called the Niomon (Deva gate), after the statues of the two Deva guardian kings, on either side of the gate. Once inside, ther Shinkyusha (Sacred Stable) can be seen on the left. It houses a white stallion and is not lacquered but is decorated with wooden carvings. The most famous depicts three monkeys in the famous 'Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil' pose. On the ceiling of the Yakushido temple, there is a painting of a ryu (dragon). Clapping in the right spot below the dragon's head produces an echo which sounds like the dragon's roar, or naki-ryu.
A flight of steps leads up to Yomeimon (Gate of Sunlight), an incredibly ornate structure carved by some 130,000 craftsmen with an unlimited budget. In order to avoid angering the gods with the presumption of perfection, one of the gate's columns is deliberately placed upside down. Beyond is Karamon (Chinese gate), painted white and gold. passing under the famous carving of a sleeping cat, you climb 200 steps to Daiyuin, the (relatively) simple mausoleum dedicated to Iemitsu.
There are many other beautiful buildings and photo opportunities throughout the area and a day can easily be passed wandering the hills. There are samurai processions in May and October each year which attract even more visitors. The Nikko Kanaya is a classic hotel overlooking the Shinkyusha, and is where the Emperor and foreign VIP's stay. At the other end of the scale, there are a couple of good youth hostels. Local delicacies include yuba (dried bean curd) and manju (sweet bean dumplings) from the Yuzawaya shop.
Lake Chuzenji is about 20km west of Nikko. If the road is not too crowded, the bus trip along the infamous hairpin Irohazaka road takes about 50 minutes. The road is named after its 48 tight curves so car-sickness is not out of the question. Just before you reach the lake is the 100m Kegon Falls, beautiful but also famous as a favorite site for suicides. You can see the falls for free or pay a couple of hundred yen to take an elevator down the 100 meters to a viewing platform for that perfect shot.
Boats are available for cruising on the lake and provide a good viewing point to enjoy the spring cherry blossoms or autumn foliage on Mt. Nantai. The mountain is the subject of worship in the annual festival held at Chugushi shrine on July 31. As the Yukawa River heads toward the lake, it it drops 200m at the picturesque Ryuzu Falls. Further up the river is the quiet and relaxing Yumoto Onsen. Another famous onsen is located in Kinugawa, on the far side of Nikko.
The Boso Peninsula, to the southeast of Tokyo, makes up most of Chiba Prefecture. The city of Narita and the International Airport are located in the north of Chiba, while the main attractions on the main peninsula itself are the beaches and coastal scenery. The east coast of the peninsula is known as Sotobo (outer Boso) and the west coast as Uchibo (inner Boso). The most popular resorts in the south include Kamogawa, Tateyama and Shirahama. From Tokyo station, Kamogawa is about 2 hours 10 minutes on the Sotobo Line and Tateyama is about 2 hours on the Uchibo Line. From either, Shirahama is accessible by road.
Surfing off the Pacific Ocean coast of Boso Peninsula
The Aqualine, a tunnel and bridge connecting Kawasaki on the west of Tokyo Bay with Kisarazu in the east, is also a convenient access route to the area.
On the northeast coast, the 66km-long Kujukurihama beach is pounded by the Pacific Ocean and is a popular spot for surfers. Further south, Kamogawa is the main resort on the east coast. The main attraction is the Kamogawa Sea World marine park, which has shows featuring dolphins and killer whales. Tateyama is known for its beaches and is a convenient drive from the Boso end of the Aqualine. It has many hotels and minshuku (inns) and is a good base for seeing the Shirahama area. Shirahama is on the southern tip of the peninsula and is the center of the Minami-Boso Quasi-National Park. It is known for its beaches, wild flowers, the Nojimazaki lighthouse, built in 1869 and ama, ladies who dive for shellfish and seaweed (not for pearls).
- See our page on the official websites for each prefecture and major city: Guide to Japan's Regions and Cities