To those who have visited Japan it is hardly necessary to describe Nikkō, and who has not done so who has ever come to these shores? To those who have not seen Nikkō, it is impossible to convey a good idea of what it is like. Nikkō is often made to rhyme with "kekkō" (splendid), which is no mere poet's trick. It is a mere commonplace to say of Nikkō that the glories of nature blend harmoniously with those of art. So many features of Nikkō deserve superlative adjectives that one fears the charge of hyperbole, and is somewhat consoled to think that he is not reputed an artist of the pen or the brush, so impossible it is to paint Nikkō with either.
The secret of Nikkō's greatness as a scenic resort is that in it reposes the spirit of the greatest warrior-statesman Japan has yet produced, Tokugawa Ieyasu ( 1542-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa régime ( 1603-1868), and of his no less illustrious grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu ( 1604-1651). Nikkō was chosen because of its solemn stillness and majestic scenery. To honor the memory of the first Shōgun no amount of money or human effort was deemed too much; Iemitsu was said to have spent ¥ 20,000, 000. The daimyōs of the 300 fiefs had of course contributed their mite towards the expense, and Nikkō--the name of the locality in which the temples and mausolea are situated--has become a synonym for all the splendors of its sacred edifices, gates, art treasures, etc. It is an epitome of Japanese art and craft as it flourished in the days of the two Shōguns. It is, moreover, a monument of the universal adoration paid to Ieyasu and of the filial piety of Iemitsu the third Shōgun. Of Iemitsu it is told that whenever any of his elder retainers began to tell an anecdote about Ieyasu, he would ask the narrator to pause a moment. Iemitsu would then retire, put on a ceremonial robe, and returning would place both his hands on his knees, and with head bowed in reverence, would beg the narrator to proceed.
Ieyasu's mausoleum itself is of impressive simplicity, consisting of a bronze mound with no bright ornamentation, though it is said to contain much gold, as accounted for by the peculiar beautiful lustre emitted. The Tōshōgū shrine is one of dazzling splendor and artistic fineness. But the best of all is the Yōmeimon, perhaps one of the world's most beautiful gates, on which it is said the eye never tires of gazing. The three monkeys of Hidari Jingorō, Japan's greatest wood-curver, embodying the precept "See not, hear not and say not," are as celebrated as the sleeping cat seen on the lintel of one of the gates, and the Karamon (Chinese Gate). These are but a few out of the scores of priceless national treasures to be seen at Nikkō.
All these 'triumphs' of art, however, form but one portion of Nikkō's many-sided attractions. Now comes the long list of beauty-spots in scenery--of lake, mountain, hot spring and waterfall. From the townlet of Nikkō to Lake Chūzenji it is an hour's drive up the mountainous road running in a spiral fashion through exquisite scenery. The Lake is as beautiful as the best in England's Lake District. Within a few minutes away is the Kegon-no-taki, the most famous waterfall in Japan. It forms the chief outlet of the lake. Nikkō used to be a sort of very exclusive summer resort for wealthy and upper class people, but since winter sports came into vogue, it has come to be regarded as one of the popular winter resorts, as there are abundant opportunities for skating, skiing, hunting, shooting, etc.
The great Nikkō Park includes not only Nikkō proper and the lake district but an extensive tract of the picturesque countryside, containing the hot spring of Nikkō Onsen (8 miles from Chūzenji), Mt. Nantai or Futarasan with the crater of an extinct volcano 1000 ft. in diameter, Mt. Shirane, the highest peak in the district, and Lake Ozenuma and Ozegahara with its many wild flowers. Not the least of Nikkō's charms is its as yet untrodden tracts lying wild in the depths of the Nikkō range of mountains. These teem in wild animals, game, and in flowers unique in Japan. All make a happy hunting-ground for students of botany and zoology. One of the first enterprises to be carried out, now that Nikkō is "nationalized," is to open up new roads and improve the communications between one famous district and another, which are in close proximity but lie across deep gorges and rugged mountains.