I’ve traveled to Japan multiple times, and each time was pretty great. This summer, I went back to Tokyo (first time since 2013) and visited Nikko for the first time. Here are some pictures, if you’d like to see.
Nikko is like Kyoto in that it is filled with old shrines and that the town itself is quite quaint. But what makes Nikko different is how Japanese it is. Nikko is built on tourism, but it’s tourism from within Japan. Most of the visitors were Japanese people, compared to Kyoto, where the tourists are from all over the world. The shrines at Nikko also look different than the shrines in Kyoto; they are more “wooden,” more subdued in fappearance.
The main shrines are Tosho-gu, Rinno-ji, Taiyu-in, and Futarasan Shrine. The shrines are actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shrines are all located very closely to one another, which makes it convenient to visit all the shrines in one day.
The shrines are each individually stunning to see. If you have the time, I highly recommend going inside the shrines and offering a quick prayer, in addition to admiring the beauty from the outside.
We also walked to the Shinkyo Bridge. Listening to the waterfalls while admiring the bridge was a nice rest.
While in Nikko, we stayed at the Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa.
The train from Tokyo to Nikko takes about two hours. We chose to take the Kegon train from Tobu Asakusa station to Tobu Nikko station. The ride is decently comfortable, and I enjoyed watching the changing scenery from my window — from city skylines and closely-packed apartments to mountain greenery and farm fields.
The hotel is offers free shuttle service to pick you up from the station, since the hotel is pretty far up the hill. (They also provide drop-off and pick-up at the sightseeing spots in Nikko). The locale, with the surrounding trees, is very calm and serene. The hotel also boasts its own garden (also very serene). Once you arrive, you’re greeted with a welcome snack and tea while you get checked in.
The Okunoin is just like Nikko: unbelievably quaint. We opted for a Japanese-style room with tatami mats (Western-style rooms are available), and I took full advantage of the yukata the hotel offered, as well as the private onsen on the back balcony.
Because the hotel is so far up a hill, daily breakfast and dinner are included. We feasted on traditional Japanese breakfast (lots of rice and fish) and dinner (also lots of rice and fish, along with tofu and beef). Conclusion: it was very good.
Overall: I highly recommend a trip to Nikko. I think a 3-day trip is enough; arrive on the first day, sightsee on the second day, leave on the third day. However, there is a picturesque hiking/nature trail in Nikko that I did not see, since that’s not really my thing. If it is, then add an extra day to your trip.
Back in Tokyo, I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental. I stayed here during my first visit in 2013, and I branded it as the best hotel I have ever experienced. My return stay did not disappoint.
The hotel itself is wonderful; the beds are comfortable, the bathroom is clean, the breakfast is quite good (I personally recommend the Japanese breakfast). (They also provide yukatas in the room, and I took advantage by changing into them immediately after coming back to the hotel.) But what really sets the MO-Tokyo apart is its service.
The front desk staff are incredibly helpful with all tasks, big (like clearing up a room mix-up) and small (like writing down the name of a destination, along with directions, in Japanese so that taxi drivers will know where I want to go). The staff at breakfast add personal touches to breakfast, ranging from remembering dining preferences (always hot milk with coffee) to giving me a gift of tea on the last day of my stay. The cleaning staff are meticulous and thorough — there is new water in the kettle every night, new toiletries along with the used ones (because why waste some good soap?). When I laid out my toiletries on the bathroom counter, I came back to find the toiletries arranged in a neat row, with a towel underneath. No detail is overlooked.
The views are also quite spectacular, since the hotel lobby is situated on the 38th floor and the room was on the 36th.
But apart from luxuriating in the hotel, I also…ate. A lot.
There was shabu shabu at Zakuro (conveniently located right across the street from the hotel). Their beef is spectacular, and definitely get the tomato salad if it’s available). We were so full by the end that we didn’t even need the udon.
There was unagi at Nodaiwa.
This one was a tad disappointing. Nodaiwa is much hyped as the best unagi in Japan and possibly the world. The location in Minato, where I went, was awarded the Michelin star (I should know from experience that a Michelin star does not automatically mean greatness, but I was so starry-eyed after my mind-blowing meals at Les Amis and Lei Garden that maybe I thought, “This time, the Michelin will mean something.”)
(The trek to the restaurant was also brutal, since Nodaiwa was a 10-minute walk from the metro station. A 10-minute walk isn’t normally a big deal, but it definitely is a big deal when the day is swelteringly hot. As in, big sun, no clouds, no wind, high heat, high humidity. That’s certainly not Nodaiwa’s fault, but that’s really my memory of that day.)
The eel was perfectly fine and tasty, but I’ve had better. Specifically, I’ve had better unagi during my 2013 trip to Tokyo where I ate at Uedo kappo unagi (picture below).
I also saw Fukutoku shrine (right by the MO, but a lovely little oasis of calm amidst the bustling city) and Senso-ji.
Japan was, as always, a lovely place to visit, and I know I’ll be going back.