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SPECIAL ASIA ISSUE / JAPAN

Serenity amid the shoguns

Spas, monks, mountains and military heroes. Nikko offers a soothing respite from the blare of nearby Tokyo -- except on weekends.

October 08, 2006|Ben Brazil | Special to The Times

From Tokyo's Asakusa Station, it's about a two-hour train ride to Nikko on Tobu Railways, which has almost hourly departures. Fares, $11.20 for "rapid" and $22.50 for "limited express," which is 40 minutes faster.

From Shinjuku Station, one of Tokyo's largest and most central transportation hubs, Japan Railways East and Tobu Railways offer four trains a day. One-way fares are $33.50, or about $14 for JR East train pass holders. If you plan to travel into the highlands or hot springs spas around Nikko, the $66.90 JR/Tobu Nikko/Kinugawa Excursion Ticket is also a good deal.

PHONES AND ADDRESSES:

To call the numbers below, dial 011 (the code for international calls), 81 (the country code for Japan), 288 (the region code) and then the local number.

Japan's addresses, a hierarchical system, moves from large divisions -- like Nikko City -- to progressively smaller areas. Numbers refer to buildings and/or block numbers, not street numbers, and then the neighborhood. The best option: Get directions and a good guidebook -- or at least a map from the local tourist office.

WHERE TO STAY:

Nikko Kanaya Hotel, 1300 Kami-Hatsuishi; 54-0001, www.kanayahotel.co.jp/nkh/index-e.html. Venerable, rambling hotel with traditional architecture, ornate wood carvings and grounds overlooking the beautiful Daiya River, very near the major shrines. Western-style rooms from $95.

Nikko Narusawa Lodge, 1462-22 Tokorono; 54-1630, www.nikko-narusawa.com. A friendly and inexpensive minshuku, or family-run lodge, a 30-minute walk to the shrines. Hostess Kiyoko Wada offers wonderful light breakfasts and comfortable, basic Japanese-style rooms (futons and tatami mat floors). $31.50 per person with shared bath.

Turtle Inn Nikko, 2-16 Takumi-cho, 53-3168, www.turtle-nikko.com. Both Western and Japanese-style rooms. It's well located on the Daiya River. Owner Kinya Fukuda speaks fluent English. Doubles with shared bath from $77.

WHERE TO EAT:

Asian Garden, 1-7 Matsubaracho, across from Tobu Nikko Station; 54-2801. Tasty Indian food, with fluffy nan and good curries. Set meals include a curry dish, salad, nan or rice, and a drink, $10.30- $21.50.

Hipparitako, 1011 Kami-Hatsuishi, between Tobu train station and the shrines; 53-6465. Tiny place with good noodles and yakitori, Japanese chicken skewers. $3-$7, but many items are snack-sized.

Ki Kou, 1007 Kami-Hatsuishi; 53-3320. Just next door, good Korean food, including piping hot rice dishes cooked and served in a stone bowl. $4.30-$8.60.

WHAT TO DO:

Seeing every inch of Nikko means buying a lot of tickets. Your best bet: Buy the $8.60 combo ticket (sold on site) and hit the highlights: Rinnoji Temple, Toshogu Shrine and Futarasan Shrine.

Hiking options abound, including the Kanman Path along the Daiya River and the lovely Takino-o Path past less-visited shrines. Other hikes cross the mountains near Yumoto and Lake Chuzenji, both accessible from Nikko via bus. Maps and trail guides are at the Nikko Tourist Information Center.

Onsens, or hot springs, are an essential part of the Nikko experience. Bring your own towel or you'll have to buy or rent one. The Yashio Spa (Yashionoyu), 1726-4 Kiyotakiwanoshiro-machi; 53-6611, is a municipal facility with lovely outdoor pools, or rotemburos, lined with rough river rocks. You can soak inside too. $4.30 admission.

Yumoto is a hot springs resort village in the mountains above Nikko. I soaked through a snowstorm at Okunikko Konishi Hotel, 2549-5 Yumoto; 62-2416, www.okunikkokonishihotel.com/en/ for $8.60. But the town is full of other hot spring facilities.

TO LEARN MORE:

The Nikko Tourist Information Center, 591 Gokomachi; 54-2496, www.nikko-jp.org/english/index.html. The center sits on the main road between the Tobu train station and the shrine complex.

Japan National Tourist Organization, (213) 623-1952, www.japantravelinfo.com.

-- Ben Brazil

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