Top winter activities in and around Nikko

05 Feb 2020 in Have Fun

Enjoy frozen waterfalls, clear skies and snow festivals galore with a winter visit to Nikko.

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Just two hours from Tokyo by train or car, the city of Nikko and its surrounding area offer a memorable winter experience. You’ll visit world-famous sites veiled in a photo-friendly sprinkling of snow.

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You’ll explore the frozen wonderland of the National Park on snowshoes. And you’ll soak up the atmosphere of one of Japan’s most unusual ice-sculpting festivals.

At 600 metres above sea level, the city of Nikko boasts plenty of clear skies and a fair dose of snowfall during the winter months.

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The Okunikko area, based around Lake Chuzenji, is another 600 metres further uphill – and it’s here, off the beaten track, that you can sample some of Japan’s most spectacular snowy scenery.

Ryokan with a view

Set on the banks of Lake Chuzenji, just below the mighty volcano Mt. Nantai, Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko offers a commanding view in any season.

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In winter, the snow-strew panorama from the ryokan makes for particularly hypnotic viewing, with white-powdered mountain peaks reflected in the surface of the water.

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Outside the ryokan, the vast domain of Nikko National Park invites you out to explore its sublime landscapes. And a short bus ride away, the city of Nikko beckons you down to visit its famed historical sites and laid-back coffee shops.

What’s more, Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko has its own hot spring baths. After a day in the snow, what better reward than soaking your body in the naturally warm waters? Steam rising from the surface, you can lie back, contemplating the wintry landscape of this remote part of Japan.

City snowscape

Nikko City is best-known for Toshogu, one of the most opulent temple complexes in Japan. Set just outside town among 17th-century cedar trees, the vibrantly coloured buildings look particularly spectacular contrasted against white snow and blue skies. The sprawling site is a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period.

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You can easily spend a day in Nikko, exploring other grandiose sights such as the gold-glazed buildings of Taiyuuin temple, housed within the expansive Rinnoji complex.

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In between visits, make sure you warm yourself up at one of Nikko’s welcoming coffee houses.

Snowshoeing under frozen falls

A few minutes’ walk from Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko, the Kegon Falls runs from Lake Chuzenji, dropping 318 feet down a steep cliff. When the air temperature falls below zero for successive days, the waterfall freezes over, forming extraordinary jagged columns of ice. You can take an elevator down to appreciate this natural phenomenon at close range.

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For a truly off-the-beaten-track experience, strap on some snowshoes. You can rent equipment at the Nikko Yumoto Visitor Center and follow a variety of courses ranging from 2 to 5 hours. The area is known for its powder snow and blue skies – and guides are available if you want to venture into the backcountry. Roam the vast plains of Senjogahara, climb into the hills, and make your way to the secluded Iori Falls. If conditions are right, you can walk directly under its imposing columns of frozen ice.

At Yumoto Onsen, 30 minutes by bus from Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko, you can sample one of Japan’s classic wintertime traditions: ice sculpture. Artists from all over the country come here to create sculptures over 6ft tall from enormous blocks of ice.

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The originality of Yumoto is that the sculptures are enclosed in snow domes called kamakura. Step inside to admire fantastical creations such as mermaids, dragons, and unicorns. The best time to visit? After sunset, when the huts are lit up, and the mood turns magical.

Hundreds of igloos

Kamakura igloos are also the centrepiece of another major festival in the Nikko area. From late January to early March, the remote mountain village of Yunishigawa Onsen is filled with hundreds of kamakura. Most famously, endless rows of miniature ice huts line the river. At night, each igloo is illuminated by an individual candle inside, making an evening stroll one of the highlights.

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During the day, why not cook your own lunch in one of the large kamakura equipped with a barbecue?

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And then await the evening by taking in the imaginative array of sculpted snowmen and participating in activities such as snow rafting and snow slides. The festival is 90-minutes by car from Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko.

It’s well worth the drive to complete your wintertime experience in Okunikko!

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