Nikko carving is a traditional handicraft in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. In 1634, the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu declared that he was going to give a large-scale improvement to Toshogu Shrine, by which it was rebuilt into the present magnificent forms. Then he assembled as many as 1,680,000 workmen including miya-daiku (carpenters specialized in building temples and shrines), horimono-daiku (specialist carpenters engaged in transom sculpture), lacquerers, metal workers, and painters from all over the country. Among them, 400,000 were horimono-daiku and what they made at their leisure was the origin of the present Nikko carving.
After the construction of Toshogu Shrine, some of the horimono-daiku settled in the town of Nikko and were engaged in repair work or improvement work of Toshogu, while kept on making wooden trays or furniture, which were sold to sightseers as souvenirs. Since the Meiji period (1868-1912), a large number of Nikko carved products have been exported.
Most of the products are made of chestnut wood. Nikko carving products have a warm feeling of wood and a nice taste that is created by careful handiwork. There are also expensive products made with Tsuishu technique, in which thick layers of solid lacquer is engraved with designs.
Oze Marsh spreads across the 3 prefectures of Fukushima, Niigata and Gunma in central Japan, and is a high marsh and part of Nikko National Park.
Entry to Oze is strictly limited, making the marsh a symbol of the natural and environmental conservation movement in the country. Oze has been designated a National Park Special Protection Area and is under strict protection by the government.
Additionally, Oze has been designated a Special Natural Monument under the Cultural Treasure Conservation Law, and changes to the current environmental conditions are strictly prohibited. The double and triple protectional laws put on Oze describes the utmost importance of the natural environment there.
Lava from the eruption of Mt Hiuchigadake more than 10,000 years ago dammed up the Tadami River and formed Oze. Because it is a basin completely surrounded by mountains, a greatly diversified ecosystem exists here.
Ozegahara at 1400m is the largest high marsh in the country. Many distinct species of plants have formed here because the marsh's only source of water is rainwater.
The landscape of Mount Nantai and Lake Chuzenji is one of the most popular scenic sites in Nikko, Tochigi pref.. The circumference of Lake Chuzenji is about 25km and the water can reach depths of 163m. Standing 1,269m above sea level, Lake Chuuzenji is the highest elevation naturally occurring lake in Japan over four square kilometers. The lake’s characteristic shape was formed around 20,000 years ago when Mount Nantai erupted and the surrounding valleys were blocked by magma. A popular tale says Lake Chuzenji was discovered in 782 by Shoudo-shounin, the founder of the Nikko Temple, who upon successfully ascending Nantai Mountain saw the lake from the summit. Mount Nantai, one of the 100 Most Famous Mountains in Japan and the symbol of Tochigi Mountain, is said to be the origin of the name “Nikko”. The mountain was once a favored site for mountain worshippers and ascetics and flourished as a place of worship that was closed to women. Futara-san Shrine, a very popular tourist destination, stands atop the mountain. During the Mount Nantai Tohai Festival, many people make the sacred annual summer pilgrimage to experience the sunrise from the top of the mountain.
It is a magnificent sight to look up at Mount Nantai soaring above beautiful Lake Chuzenji. The lake can also be experienced aboard a sight seeing ferry.
Cedar Avenue of Nikko is a road lined with 13,000 cedar trees on both sides stretching in total 36km along the three roads of Nikko, Reiheishi, and Aizunishi. Cedar Avenue is the only cultural property designated as both a Special Historic Site and a Special Natural Monument by the Japanese Government.
The cedars were planted by Masatsune Matsudaira, a feudal lord serving Ieyasu Tokugawa, as an offering to Nikko Toshogu Shrine and it took more than twenty years to finish. It is listed in “The Guinness Book of World Records” as the longest avenue in the world.
Recently though, more than one hundred cedar trees a year have been dying due to deterioration of the environment caused by such pollutants as car fumes and some are simply dying of old age. Cedar Avenue of Nikko is in danger of losing its magnificent looks. One of the measures recently started to tackle this crisis is the “Ownership System of Cedar Avenue”.
Cedar Avenue of Nikko, with its tall majestic cedar trees, some of which date back over 370 years, soaring up as if they are touching the sky and invoking solemn awe, is a magnificent site that needs to be kept intact for future generations.
Hyakumonozoroe Sennin Musha Gyoretsu (the 1,000 Samurais Procession Festival) is the revival of the ceremony held when the divine spirit of Ieyasu Tokugawa was moved from Mt. Kuno, Shizuoka Pref. to Nikko. This is the highlight of the annual celebrations at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Tochigi Pref.. The festival is held twice a year on May 18th and Oct 17th. The authorized name is Shinyo-togyo (moving of divine portable shrines). The grand procession leaves Nikko Futara Shrine on the morning of May 17, marching along are promenades, bow carriers and over one thousand warriors in armor who guard the three divine portable shrines respectively enshrining the spirit of Ieyasu, Minamoto no Yoritomo and Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The next day on 18th, the shrines move to Otabisho Shrine through the 1km long road of Omotesando (front approach). Every year tens of thousands of tourists come to see this highlight event.
The Ryuzu Fall is one of the finest three waterfalls of Oku-Nikko, parallel to this are the Yutaki Fall from Lake Yuno-ko and the Kegon Fall from Lake Chuzenji. The Yukawa River, which flows out of Lake Yuno-ko into Lake Chuzenji, rapidly runs down through the surface of melted rocks produced by the eruption of Mt. Nantai and forms this beautiful waterfall. As the flow is divided in two near the foot of the fall and it looks like a dragon’s head, the waterfall is called “Ryuzu (the head of a dragon).” The water dynamically flows on the long step-like lava and gracefully dives into the bottom. You can enjoy azalea in spring and autumnal leaves in fall. In winter, when everything is covered with snow, you will also experience the mystery of nature, the frozen waterfall, before which you may feel as if time has stopped.
Iroha-zaka winding road is a slope with 48 hairpin curves connecting Umagaeshi, Nikko City and Lake Chuzenji. It was nominated as one of “the 100 Best Roads of Japan”. This road is the main access to Oku-Nikko, where Lake Chuzenji and Nikko Yumoto Hotspring are located. It takes the one-way traffic system that the Second Iroha-zaka is used to go up and the First to come down. Each corner has a signboard with a letter of old Japanese alphabet in alphabetical order that stars from i-ro-ha. This road used to be for worshippers of Mt. Nantai and Lake Chuzenji in the past days. Women and horses had not been allowed to go up the slope until the early Meiji period, so the entrance of the slope was called Umagaeshi, which meant returning horse, and Nyonin-do (women’s hall) is located on the place where women returned after they worshipped Mt. Nantai. You can enjoy continuous exquisite views along Iroha-zaka, yashiotsutsuji (mountain azalea) in spring and autumnal leaves in fall. You can also command a panoramic view of Mt. Nantai, the Kegon Fall, and Lake Chuzenji from Akechi-daira on the second Iroha-zaka.