Lines of moss-covered Jizo bodhisattvas sporting knitted crimson caps and bibs; stone lanterns backed by towering Japanese cedars; a red-lacquer bridge framed by snowy white mountains – Nikko is like a Japanese ink painting brought to life. The oldest monuments in this atmospheric mountain town date from 766 AD, but the place really blossomed in the 1600s after the great Tokugawa shogun who first unified Japan (and later provided the subject for James Clavell’s hit novel, Shogun) was enshrined here.

The great warlord is buried in a richly ornate, red-and-green painted mausoleum, known as the Toshogu Shrine, whose sumptuous decorations include the much photographed ‘three wise monkeys’ and some of the country’s finest temple carvings. For walkers, the network of trails winding around Chuzenji Lake and through the forests of the surrounding national parks offer numerous possibilities of day hikes.

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