Located in the northwest corner of Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is a short jaunt from Tokyo, making it a year-round hotspot for travelers. What really draws the crowds, though, are Nikko's iconic shrines and temples, honored with World Heritage status. Come fall, the Light-up Nikko 2023 event unveils a whole new nocturnal landscape. So, what astonishing sights can we expect at these ancient spiritual havens after sundown?
For just one enchanting weekend in November, Nikko’s World Heritage sites burst into radiant life. Bathed in artful lighting, these revered places take on an ethereal quality, heightened by the surrounding autumn foliage. It's an otherworldly experience, offering a night atmosphere far from what you'll see during daylight hours. Let’s look at some of the fantastical nighttime sights we can expect to see at these historic temples and shrines!
Nikko’s shrines and temples: a World Heritage site and delight throughout the year
About 1250 years ago, the Buddhist monk Shodo Shonin began the construction of temples and shrines amongst the mountains of Nikko. Even before his age, people had gathered to worship these mountains. However, the designated historical landmarks of Nikko begin with three big names: Rinnoji Temple, Futarasan Shrine, and Tōshō-gū Shrine, one Buddhist temple and two Shinto shrines that share the same land. They were designated as a World Heritage site in 1999 and have continued to attract countless tourists.
Each season turns the landscapes of these iconic sites into a living canvas. Come spring, cherry blossoms and fresh green leaves herald new beginnings. The summer rain leaves behind shimmering surfaces that glisten in the sun. In autumn, the trees put on a spectacular display of colorful foliage. And when winter rolls around, a delicate layer of snow adds a touch of magic to the scene. With ever-changing vistas that captivate the eye, it's no surprise that Nikko enjoys a steady influx of awe-struck visitors year-round.
Light-up Nikko 2023: Experience Nikko’s magic after dark
Perhaps you’ve been to Nikko before? If you have, you’re more than likely to have visited Nikko’s temple and shrines in the daytime. After all, the grounds are closed to visitors by sundown.
But not during Light-up Nikko 2023, Nikko’s biggest fall season event. During the longer nights of autumn, the temple and shrines are illuminated, creating a world unlike anything you can see in the day.
The Light-up Nikko event began in 1995, even before Nikko’s registration as a World Heritage site, and in the 25 years since then, it has been an annual attraction. Starting with this year’s Light-up Nikko 2023, the spotlights used for illumination have been switched to power-efficient LEDs to contribute to sustainable development goals and a more eco-friendly image.
During the event, visitors to Rinnoji Temple, Futarasan Shrine, and Tōshō-gū Shrine will get to see a new side of the historic sites. The grandeur of Tōshō-gū’s five-tiered pagoda, Futarasan Shrine rising high and quiet like a mountain at daybreak, and still-present crowds at Rinnoji... Below them, talk shows are filmed on location, music performances are given, and other stage events take place, more than enough entertainment to be worth your while.
Rinnoji’s Sanbutsu-do and Goma-do halls, a statue of Shodo Shonin, and Shōyō-en Garden (which has an entrance fee) are part of the light-up event, and the area in front of Sanbutsu-do has a food court with Nikko’s representative cuisines. The Taiyūin front gate and Jogyo-do hall are also lit up. The illumination for the statue of Shodo Shonin has the distinction of being powered by an electric vehicle, symbolizing the event’s respect for the environment.
Over at Futarasan Shrine, there are special light-up setups for the main and worship halls, and three days of stage events in which artists with connections to Nikko will participate. As a shrine celebrated for romantic fortune, “night weddings” will also be held for newlyweds.
The illumination setups at Tōshō-gū Shrine bathe their most impressive architecture in dazzling light: the five-tiered pagoda, the front gate, and the stone torii gate.
Another service available during the event will be nighttime guided tours, normally only available during the day. These “dōja-biki” tours have been going on for hundreds of years, potentially since the 17th century, and the guides have taught everyone from common folk to daimyo lords about the significance of Nikko’s shrines and temples. Some of these tours are conducted in English, so visitors to Japan can also get the full experience.
The wonders of Nikko don't stop at shrines and temples
By now, you’re aware that Light-up Nikko 2023 takes place within a World Heritage site, but it’s also within a national park. In and around the shrine and temple grounds are massive old-growth trees, the pure waters of the Inari and Daiya rivers, and other glimpses of natural wonder. Speaking of the Inari River, don't miss the Shinkyo Bridge, which gets its own evening spotlight. The illuminated red-lacquered bridge set against the crystal-clear waters creates a striking contrast you won’t want to miss.
Along the path leading to the World Heritage site area from Azuma-cho in Nikko (part of the historic Nikko Kaido road), you’ll find street lanterns marked with the emblems of each district, which greet visitors to Monzen-cho, Nikko’s “temple town.” Some areas also have stone lanterns, and together with the street lanterns, they make for a dazzling sight. The Tobu Railway steam locomotive “Taiju” will also be running with a commemorative nose plate, and the Nikko City Tourism Association will hold a stamp rally. Nikko’s really pulling out all the stops for the light-up event.
Light-up Nikko 2023 is a great opportunity to see a rare new side of Nikko’s shrines and temples, plus experience a wide variety of attractions prepared around the area to go with the event. We invite you to visit Nikko this fall and search out new delights.
- Light-up Nikko 2023
- ・When: Nov 3 - 5, 2023
・Time: 5 PM - 9 PM
・Location: Nikko’s shrines and temples, a World Heritage site; Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi 321-1431
・Inquiries: Weekdays: 0288-50-1171 (Nikko Chamber of Commerce and Industry); Weekends: 0288-22-1525 (Nikko City Tourism Association)
For more details on Nikko tourism, see Nikko City Tourism Association’s website (visitnikko.jp).
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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