Lake Chuzenji and Okunikko
last update: November 16, 2021
Okunikkō (奥日光) is a vast mountainous region west of the city of Nikko. It offers beautiful natural scenery, particularly in the area around Lake Chuzenji at the foot of Mount Nantai. Here you will have the opportunity to see numerous waterfalls, lakes, streams and thermal springs and to walk various nature trails with breathtaking views.
Things to do and things to see in Okunikko
The shores of Lake Chuzenji are mostly wooded and non-urbanized, except along the eastern shore of the lake, where the small spa town of Chuzenjiko Onsen
is located. Along this shore there is also the famous Kegon Waterfall
. Another famous waterfall, Ryuzu Waterfall
, is located on the northern shores of Lake Chuzenji, where the Yukawa River flows into the lake. Following the course of the river to the north, we finally reach another small but enchanting spa town, Yumoto Onsen
Chuzenjiko Onsen is a tourist town along the east coast of Lake Chuzenji, consisting mainly of hotels, ryokans, restaurants, souvenir shops, and some interesting places to visit. Among these, there is in particular the Kegon Waterfall
, a Shinto shrine, a Buddhist temple and a museum of natural sciences. The last sections of the two connecting roads (one in each direction) between Chuzenjiko Onsen and Nikko, which is approximately 25 km away, are known as Irohazaka
and are a popular scenic route, particularly in autumn, when the view is tinged with yellow and red.
Lake Chuzenji, Kegon Waterfall and the snow-capped spa town, viewed from Akechidaira Plateau
This waterfall is considered not only the most beautiful and fascinating in a region full of waterfalls such as Tochigi, but also one of the three most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. It is located a stone's throw from the town of Chuzenjiko Onsen. The waterfall reaches a height of 97 meters and is the only way out of the water from the nearby lake. You can admire the waterfall from above, from an observation platform accessible for free, or go down to the base of the waterfall via a paid lift (570¥) where the view of the waterfall is very close and spectacular. A sad story is connected with this waterfall. In 1903 a young Japanese poet, Misao Fujimura, chose this place to take his own life, and this suicidal action has over the years been emulated by other young Japanese people.
Kegon Falls in spring and winter
Nikko Natural Science Museum
(admission 510¥, opening hours 9-17, nov-mar 10-16)
A small museum about the history and nature of Nikko and the Okunikko nature park, is located next to the Chuzenjiko Onsen bus station.
Futarasan Shrine Chugushi
(admission gratuito, opening hours 8-17)
There are three distinct shrines bearing the name Futarasan (an alternate name for Mount Nantai) in the Nikko region. One of these is located right here, a short distance from Chuzenjiko Onsen, along the north shore of the lake and at the base of Mount Nantai. The sanctuary marks the beginning of the hiking trail to the top of the mountain, where another small Futarasan sanctuary is located, a destination for many ascetics over the centuries. The route is very hard, it is about 6 km steeply uphill and it takes about 3 hours to get to the top. The main Futarasan shrine is located in the center of Nikko.
Futarasan Chugushi Shrine covered with snow (credits)
View from the summit of Mount Nantai
(admission 500¥, opening hours 8-17)
A temple from which you can enjoy a spectacular view of Lake Chuzenji, inside which there is a precious statue depicting the deity of mercy Tachiki Kannon. This was carved, according to legend, by the founder of the temple (the monk Shoto) after having seen it emerge from the waters of the lake. The wood used to carve the statue comes from a tree that still stands in the temple ground today. You can reach the temple on foot by walking for ten minutes southwards along the lake shore or by bus or even by boat sailing on the lake and docking on a small pier right in front of the temple.
Lake Chuzenji seen from the temple of the same name
The Ryuzu Falls (竜頭ノ滝, Ryūzu no Taki)
are another famous waterfall in the area, about six kilometers from Chuzenjiko Onsen. The waterfall forms along the Yukawa River, just before it flows into nearby Chuzenjiko Lake. The name of this waterfall means "dragon head" in Japanese. This name derives from the particular shape of the waterfall, where a rock divides the water flow in two giving it a shape similar to a dragon's head.
Ryuzu waterfall in autumn
Ryuzu Waterfall is lined with many trees which turn yellow and red during the fall foliage season. You can observe the waterfall for free from an observation platform where there is also a souvenir shop, as well as along a pedestrian path that runs along the river for about 300 meters, observing the waters of the river that become more and more turbulent as they get closer to the lake.
the initial part of the waterfall
Mount Hangetsuyama (半月山)
is located on the southeastern corner of Lake Chuzenji, and is very popular with tourists for its relatively easy-to-reach scenic lookout point and great views of the surrounding area, especially Lake Chuzenji and Mount Nantai. The highest vantage point is at the top of the mountain, and it takes about 1.5 hours to reach it from the base of the mountain, or two and a half hours from Chuzenjiko Onsen, via a steep nature trail. The view from the top is breathtaking.
view from the top of Mount Hangetsuyama
Coloro che non se la sentono di scalare la montagna per intero, possono abbreviare notevolmente il percorso grazie alla Chuzenjiko Skyline
, una strada che si arrampica fino a tre quarti di montagna e che potrete percorree in bus o in auto. Questa strada porta fino ad un parcheggio a partire dal quale la cima si trova a soli 20-30 minuti di cammino. Inoltre, lungo questa strada si trova anche un altrettanto affascinante punto di osservazione, più basso ma direttamente raggiungibile in auto, che prende il nome di Chuzenjiko Observation Deck
vista dal punto panoramico lungo la strada Chuzenjiko Skyline
Yumoto onsen is a very small spa town at an altitude of 1478 meters, on the shores of a small lake, Lake Yunoko
. This area is characterized by a smell of sulfur, and the area is full of ryokans with thermal waters. In the winter months, Yumoto Onsen is often covered in snow, and there are also ski slopes nearby.
A sud del lago Yunoko, le calme acque del lago precipitano improvvisamente da un'altezza di circa 70 metri, formando la cascata Yudaki. Il termine yudaki significa in giapponese "acqua calda", ma né l'acqua del lago né la cascata sono effettivamente calde. Da queste cascate parte anche un lungo percorso escursionistico (Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail fino alla cascata Ryuzu e al lago Chuzenjiko.
The Yunodaira marsh is located right next to the Onsen-ji temple. It is a flat area under which the thermal springs flow. The ground is swampy and full of puddles that seem to boil due to the thermal water that pushes up, but you can explore the area thanks to the wooden walkways. From here, several pumps send thermal water throughout the town. Due to the high sulfur content of the hot springs, many of the puddles have a yellow-green tint and there is a strong sulphurous smell. Sometimes in the woods surrounding the swamp it is possible to glimpse some wild monkeys.
(opening hours 8-17)
This small Buddhist temple is located right next to the Yunodaira marsh, where the hot springs are located. As the name itself suggests, the peculiarity of this temple is that inside there is a small onsen (a maximum of two people can enter it) where a thermal water rich in minerals flows constantly. From the point of view of beneficial properties, these waters are considered among the best in the whole village, and are also the destination of devotees attracted by the rituality of bathing in the onsen of a temple. In fact, temples in Japan that have thermal baths inside are very rare. In order to use the onsen for one hour, you must pay 500¥. Before diving, tea and rice crackers are served. The water has a light emerald green color and reaches a temperature of over 70 degrees, so it must be diluted with cold water.
the onsen inside the temple
Where to stay in Okunikko
Along the shores of Lake Chuzenjiko you will find several hotels and ryokans where you can have unforgettable experiences of pure relaxation in Japanese style. Many hotels have both Western-style rooms and traditional-style rooms with tatami mats and futons. Many hotels also have beautiful thermal baths inside, and it is almost always possible to add breakfast and dinner to your stay.
This property is located in the small town of Chuzenjiko Onsen, right in front of the lake and about a 10-minute walk from Kegon Waterfall. It is a hotel without many luxuries, and also one of the least expensive in the area. Nonetheless it is still a very interesting experience, particularly for the thermal baths and for dinner. All rooms are western style and overlook the lake. Breakfast is typically buffet style, while dinner is kaiseki style and uses only local ingredients. Public thermal baths are small but still very fascinating for a foreigner. A relatively low-cost solution for sleeping with a lake view.
Price range: 12,000-25,000¥.
This property is located about 3 km from the center of Chuzenjiko Onsen, on the slopes of a hill facing the lake and completely surrounded by forest. All rooms are traditionally furnished and have a forest view. You can also choose particular rooms equipped with a kotatsu table (a heatable low table that, believe us, everyone will love in winter), or even rooms equipped with a small outdoor thermal bath on a private balcony. However, inside the structure there are large public thermal baths, also surrounded by the forest. Superb kaiseki-style breakfast and dinner in the elegant restaurant on site.
Price range: 18,000-40,000¥.
How to get to Okunikko
To reach the places mentioned on this page you must first reach the city center of Nikko
, easily accessible by train from Tokyo in about 2 hours. The ideal would be to explore the Okunikko region by car, but the public transport lines are also widespread and efficient.
Okunikko and Nikko are excellently connected by a bus service provided by the Tobu
company. Buses depart from near Nikko station, make two nearby stops near the main temples of the city and then continue to the Okunikko area. A one-way trip to Lake Chuzenji
takes around 50 minutes (1150¥), while for Yumoto Onsen
(not all buses get up to there) it takes around 80 minutes (1750¥). You can also purchase a 2-day unlimited pass at Tobu Nikko Station for unlimited rides between Nikko and Lake Chuzenji (2100¥), or between Nikko and Yumoto Onsen (3000¥). If you have planned to stay in the Okunikko area just one night, or to return to Nikko in the day, the pass is certainly convenient as it costs less than two tickets to go and return.
Between Chuzenjiko Onsen and Yumoto Onsen, the bus makes several other stops that may be useful, for example near some ryokans on the banks of the lake, and especially near the Ryuzu waterfall
(stop 37 "Ryuzu no taki", 1 hour, 1450¥ from Nikko), and also near the Yudaki waterfall
, the third last before arriving at Yumoto Onsen (stop 44 Yudaki-iriguchi). For details on timetables and fares, please refer to this page
of the bus company, only in japanese but you can help yourself with google translate.
To reach Mount Hangetsuyama
, you can take a bus at Chuzenjiko Onsen and get off at the terminus (20 minutes, 530¥). From there, as mentioned, it's another 20-30 minutes on foot to the top. Alternatively, the stop before the terminus ("Chuzenji Tenbodai"), is right in front of another lower viewpoint. However, the Chuzenjiko Skyline road is only open from about mid-May to mid-November
, the rest of the year it is closed and it will not be possible to reach this place by bus or by car.
Finally, keep in mind that during the autumn color season in October and November, the traffic between central Nikko and Okunikko can be very busy and buses can experience severe delays, especially on weekends, so we recommend avoiding weekends if possible.
Map of Okunikko, Tochigi
Guided tours, activities and other things to do
If you are planning a trip to Japan and you want to do something more than just visiting famous places and monuments, we suggest you to use Govoyagin
How to use Govoyagin
Govoyagin is a very useful website to enrich your travel experience
, especially if you are going solo or it's your first time in Japan.
Because of the language barrier (and more), in Japan it is very difficult to interact with the locals and to get off the tourist track.
Thanks to Govoyagin you can find a lot of interesting and sometimes unique guided tours and activities
all over Japan (and not only in Japan), that you would otherwise never be able to enjoy.
But there's more: on Govoyagin you can also buy tickets
for several famous attractions, events, transportation and other useful services for tourists. Last but not least, you can reserve a table
in hundreds of restaurants.
Take a look at Govoyagin
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