The Hidden Side of Nikko
The city of Nikko, in Tochigi Prefecture, lying around 120 kilometers north of Tokyo, is one of Japan's leading tourist destinations. Nikko includes many popular sites including the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, renowned for its remarkable sculptures. However, there is more to Nikko than these tourist highlights. Beyond its sacred spaces, Nikko extends deep into the mountains. Far from the crowds, you can find out-of-the-way villages where local people brave the winter.

The Bounty of the Winter Forest

One village in the Nikko mountains is Dorobu, where 32 people live. As the village sits in a mountain basin, it gets particularly cold in winter, once recording a temperature of minus 19.5 degrees Celsius. In winter, the road journey here from central Nikko can take up to 2 hours. The women of the village are meeting together to tap the forest's maple trees for sap to make maple syrup. Late winter is the best season for sap collection.

The Beauty of Nikko's Sculpted Floats

Nikko Toshogu Shrine, built 4 centuries ago, is a unique piece of architectural art. The Yomei Gate, the symbol of Toshogu, features stunning sculptures. Many of the craftspeople who came from far and wide to build Toshogu settled in nearby Kanuma, then a center of the timber industry. Their invaluable sculpting traditions still live on today, particularly in the floats that are paraded through the streets during the Kanuma Imamiya Shrine's float festival.

A Passion for Ice

One of Nikko's specialties is shaved ice, made with natural ice. The ice forms slowly over the winter from frozen spring water. The ice freezes hard and takes some time to melt. Locals began selling the ice to Tokyo residents a century ago, in the days before refrigerators. The hard work to produce the ice begins before the winter comes in earnest. After 1 month, the ice grows to a thickness of 15 centimeters. 4,000 ice blocks, weighing a total of 160 tons, are shipped nationwide each year.