The Beautiful Japanese Countryside – Camping in Nikko, Japan

Credit: who took this photo?
When I think of Nikko, Japan, the first thing that comes to mind is nature. Nikko is a town in Tochigi, Japan, famous for its picturesque autumn colors, waterfalls, and mischievous monkeys. Just a short 2 hour ride from Asakusa, Tokyo, Nikko makes an excellent weekend getaway from the bustling city.
This fall, my friends and I were all feeling a bit sick of the daily grind. Desperately in need of some nature, we decided to take a quick trip up to Nikko to spend some time with Mother Nature. We made a reservation at a cabin that I had stayed at before, and were on our way!

Getting to Nikko, Japan…

From Asakusa Station, there are several ways to get to Nikko by train.
  • The Tobu Nikko Kinugawa Line direct to Tobu-Nikko Station (1360 yen one way).
  • The Tobu Skytree Line, which changes to the Tobu-Nikko Line in name (1360 yen one way).
  • One of the express trains (~2700 yen one way).
If you carry a foreign passport, you can invest in a discount pass at the Tobu Information Center in Asakusa. It’s super conveniently located, right next to the train that you need to take. The office is open from 7:20 – 19:00, with friendly English-speaking staff that will help you decide which pass is best for you.
We decided to take the Nikko 2-day pass (2670 yen), which allows for:
  1.  One round-trip ride between Asakusa and Tobu-Nikko.
  2. Unlimited train rides in the Nikko area (between Shimoimaichi and Tobu Nikko/Shin-Fujiwara Station).
  3. Free passage on some bus lines.
  4. Discounts in some restaurants and shops.
The train ride is peaceful and scenic. The seats on the local train face each other, so you can hold a conversation with your friends, and there is a small table that pops up to hold your eki-ben (a special train lunchbox) or, if you’re like me, copious amounts of coffee.
Usually on Japanese trains, eating and drinking is frowned upon, but certain trains allow you to bring a lunch and snacks.

Around Nikko Station…

Once we arrived at Nikko Station, we decided to leave our luggage in a locker to maximize our daylight hours. There are lockers of various sizes on the first and second floors of the station. On the first floor, we bought our bus tickets, and headed outside…
nikko shopping area
Credit: Loretta
Directly outside of the station is a line of souvenir shops and food stands. We headed directly to our favorite food stand, where we bought age yuba manju, a deep-fried local specialty.

The Food

Nikko is famous for its yuba, a byproduct of soymilk and tofu. When boiling soy milk, a thin skin forms on the top, which can be gently peeled off and eaten fresh or dried. In Nikko, these thin sheets of yuba are often layered on top of one another, then rolled into neat little wheels. The yuba is then stewed, cooked with soba, eaten cold, deep fried… the possibilities are basically endless!
age yuba manju fried manju
Credit: Loretta
 Returning to our favorite snack: age yuba manju. Manju is a traditional Japanese sweet, and although there are many varieties, it is typically filled with red bean paste. Nikko’s age yuba manju is characterized by a crispy and salty outer layer, and a soft and warm center. A thin layer of yuba is wrapped around sweet bean paste, which is then encased in manju dough and deep fried. The result is basically the best thing you will ever eat in your life. Salty, sweet, and warm, it will haunt your dreams until you die.
Credit: Hiro (2014)

Directly next to the manju stand, there is a shop selling non-dairy soy milk ice cream (yuba flavored, of course!!), and a whole assortment of dairy soft serve ice creams. Hiro, Emma and myself all decided to double-fist it; manju in one hand, and yuba ice cream in the other, we were ready to face the day.

What is there to see in Nikko?

To get to our first sightseeing location, we took a bus from the bus stop right in front of the station. If you get motion sick easily (like me!!!!) make sure you take your medicine before you get on this bus. The route is long and winding, and if you aren’t prepared, you will DEFINITELY get sick.
The bus ride offers a great opportunity to see some beautiful scenery. It goes directly up the mountain, and when the leaves are changing, it is an incredible sight.

Akechidaira Plateau

Our first stop of the day was Akechidaira Plateau. You can find a small building there, which serves as a souvenir shop, snack bar, and also the entrance to a ropeway that will take you to the top of the viewing point. The ropeway costs about 730 yen roundtrip, but there is also a small hiking trail that you can use to hike up to the viewing point for free.
Akechidaira Plateau and ropeway
Credit: Loretta
The ropeway’s car gets pretty packed. The ride itself is only about five minutes, suspended over a ravine. During fall, the view is pretty impressive.
At the end of the ride is the main viewing point. When we went, it wasn’t terribly crowded, but during peak season you would probably have to jostle a bit to get a view. One side offers a clear view of the impressive Kegon Waterfall and Lake Chuzenji, which I’ll talk about in more detail in a little bit. The other side of the deck has a beautiful view of the forest, and a bit of Nikko.
After enjoying the view and taking way more photos than I’m willing to admit, we headed back down the ropeway to the souvenir shop. If you’re into day drinking, there’s a vending machine stocking beers (just be careful when you open it!). We got a beer and a snack at the snack stand, and refueled to go to our next location…

Lake Chuzenji

Lake Chuzenji is, in a word, breathtaking. Surrounded by hills and mountains, and framed by a giant red tori gate, it is an amazing sight to see. There are a bunch of cafes and restaurants near the lake, so it’s a great place to get lunch and recharge.
Lake Chuzenji
I spent a few minutes sitting by the lake while my friends took some time-lapse videos, trying to spot fish and feeling a rare moment of peace, when something very unexpected happened! Suddenly, I heard the familiar voice of a friend from Tokyo! Our friend Maaike and her fiance Takeru happened to be biking in the area. Apparently Nikko (and the steep and winding mountain we had taken a bus up) is a popular place for cyclists. Be sure to check it out if you’re the active type.

Kegon Falls

The next stop on our list was the impressive Kegon Falls. The main waterfall is powerful and massive. Nature is amazing!
kegon falls
According to the internet, the main falls are about 97 meters (that’s 318 ft, or about 54 Taylors tall!!), which is basically MASSIVELY HUGE. You can hear the water pounding for miles, and according to a sign on site, it dumps out two tons of water per second. For the mathematically challenged, that’s 4,000 pounds of water. If you take the average weight of a sumo wrestler, that is 12 sumo wrestlers per second.
source: Hiro
In sum, this waterfall is 54 Taylors tall, and pumps out 12 sumo wrestlers of water per second!!!! That is just crazy.
You can view the waterfall for free at the viewing platform near the bus stop, or pay to take an elevator down 100 floors for a better view.
At the top, you will find a bunch of souvenir stands (do you see a trend here?) as well as snack bars. At the bottom, much of the same.

Where Did We Sleep?

After a long day of sightseeing, we decided to call it a day and head in to our cabin as the sun began to set. We picked up our luggage at the station, stopped at a supermarket in Nikko to stock up on drinks and food, and headed in.
woodsmans village nikko
To get to Woodsmans Village, we took a local train a few stops to Imaichi Station, and then hopped on a taxi. The taxi ride is about 20 minutes up a mountain, and costs roughly 3,000 yen one way.
At Woodsmans Village, you can rent a BBQ space for 5,000 yen, but there is a full kitchen with all utensils provided in the cabin. There is no supermarket nearby, so it’s recommended that you buy your food before going to the cabin.
source: Hiro
Our cabin had a wood burning oven, which we struggled to light before Emma stepped in to save the day. It warmed up the entire space, so we were happy to pay a few hundred yen to buy wood from the check-in area.
IMG_5173.JPGThe cabin provides futon sets, blankets and pillows, but the pillows are filled with buckwheat. If you have an allergy, please take care to bring your own pillows!
Emma and I settled in with our ukuleles while Sam and Loretta cooked a delicious nabe, or hot pot, for us to share. There was one spider incident, but that’s kind of to be expected when you’re sleeping out in the wilderness.

The End of Our First Day

Overall, our first day in Nikko was a complete success! We saw so many beautiful things, and engaged in general bro-radery (that’s comradery with your bros, in case you’re wondering).
What are your thoughts? Do you think Nikko is worth seeing? Have you been there before? Let me know what you love about the countryside, and please tune in for part two of this blog next week!