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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers



The Shrines and Temples of Nikko are a traditional Japanese religious centre with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The surroundings of Nikko have been known for ages as a holy place. The temples and other shrines in this area originate from the 17th century and attract attention because of their rich decorations.

The well known carvings of the three see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil monkeys can be seen on the Sacred Stable. A few steps from that, the Youmeimon gate boasts over 300 carvings of mythical beasts, such as dragons, giraffes, and lions, and Chinese sages.

Another reason for rewarding Nikko is that it is associated with the Shinto perception of the relationship of man with nature, in which mountains and forests have a sacred meaning and are objects of veneration. The mountaneous landscape, the trees, the rocks: they all form part of the site Nikko.

Map of Nikko


  • Cultural

Visit May 2000

There are a lot of temples in Japan, but the ones at Nikko I liked most. Nikko at its own disproves the common remark that Japan does not have world class sights.

May 2000

The Toshogu-shrine is the best example of this. The main gate inside the complex is 11 metres high and painted with animals, flowers and human figures. Especially the smallest details (which you can only see with binoculars or the zoom lens of your camera) are magnificent. What at first just looks like a coloured border later turns out to be a whole scene.

May 2000

Community Reviews

Gary Arndt USA - 01-Jul-17

Nikko by Gary Arndt

I visited Nikko in the fall of 2007.

Nikko is a small town and the temple area is located in a wooded area about a 30-minute walk from the train station. I managed to visit Nikko on a day trip from Tokyo. About half of the trip is via the fast Shinkansen, and the other half is a much slower local train.

The most famous thing in Nikko is probably the wood carving of the "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" monkies. That trope has its origins here.

I highly recommend visiting Nikkor for anyone with a few days in Tokyo.

Read more about the Shrines and Temples of Nikko on my website.

Michael Turtle Australia - 14-Dec-16

Nikko by Michael Turtle

The town itself feels like a ski resort in summer… which it kind of is. But what I mean is that the visitors come for the day to walk in the hills or visit the religious sites but they don’t set up base for longer than eight hours or so. The few hotels near the train station all have vacancies and in the evenings most restaurants are either closed or empty. It’s during the day that there are queues out the doors for the popular lunch joints.

The first shrine was built in 776 and more were built right up until the 16th century when the area was abandoned. It means there’s a mix of architectural styles that show the evolution of Shinto against the backdrop of Buddhism in Japan. The Japanese have a saying that roughly translates to “you haven’t seen beauty until you’ve seen Nikko” and it’s true. These magnificent buildings nestled in the lush green forests are truly stunning

Read more from Michael Turtle here.

Jay T USA - 03-Apr-16 -

Nikko by Jay T

Nikko is an enchanting complex of temples, shrines, and gardens idyllically located in mountains north of Tokyo. The site is located within Nikko National Park, which is an easy day trip from Tokyo. I traveled to Nikko in November 2010 and enjoyed great autumn weather during my visit. I was not alone at the park, as many local visitors were also appreciating the pleasant weekend; I even encountered a wedding at one of the shrines. Of the shrines and temples I visited, I was most impressed with Toshu-gu Shrine, which had a brilliant, intricately carved and painted gate, as well as a photogenic five story pagoda. Within the shrine was the famous wood-carving of the Three Wise Monkeys (see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil). Also of note at Nikko were Futara-san Shrine, which included a copper torii and a sacred bridge, and Rinno-ji Temple, which included a shogun's mausoleum as well as a treasure house and a garden. After the non-stop busy-ness of Tokyo, Nikko was a welcome retreat to nature in Japan.

Logistics: Nikko can be reached by train from Tokyo. A local bus system provides access to the park.

Clyde Malta - 07-Sep-12 -

Nikko by Clyde

I visited this WHS in November 2009. The shrines and temples of Nikko, together with their natural surroundings, have for centuries been a sacred site known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces. They are closely associated with the history of the Tokugawa Shoguns. You could easily spend 3-4 days here to try to cover all the sights there are to see.

Kasileigh USA - 20-Jul-09

Nikko is a beautiful area. The World Heritage sites are all within easy walking distance from each other. There is a bus specific for the sites as well. I took the train from Asakusa, Tokyo and used the World Heritage Pass. It covers the roundtrip train ticket on the Tobu line and entrance to the sites. It doesn't however pay for special exhibits within the sites. The buildings were beautiful and very peaceful. Toshogu had construction and renovations going on but the main gate and buildings were visible. I would recommend going as early as possible to the sites. Since Nikko is a very popular destination there are many tour groups as well as school trips there. After around 9:30a.m., the temples and shrines lost a little of their tranquility and became more of a circus. But overall I would go back here again and recommend it to others. There is more to the area than just the World Heritage sites. Nikko is also in a national park with hot springs, waterfalls, hiking, and a large lake. To do both the sites and the park will require a stay overnight as the natural areas are at least an hour away by bus. Also Nikko is famous for yuba (tofu skin) so try some of the great yuba cuisine while you are there.

C H Ho Hong Kong, China -

To visit the heritage in Japan, my first choice is Nikko. The constructor showed his power and treasury to build the most beautiful and colorful temples in Japan.

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Site Info

Full name: Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Unesco ID: 913

Inscribed: 1999

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 1   4   6  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 1999 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Nikko


The site has 20 connections.


  • Wooden architecture
  • Gold Surfaces: Toshogu Shrine
  • Japanese garden: Garden of Rinnoji Temple, Shōyō-en Garden
  • Feng Shui: Nikko was chosen by Tokugawa himself as a final resting place. It wasn't that he had any particular liking for the place but in the Chinese tradition of feng shui, Nikko served as the perfect place for Tokugawa's spirit to act as a guardian spirit over the city of Edo and the Tokugawa Shogunate


  • Notable Bridges: Sacred Shinkyo or Shogun's Bridge (1638), the oldest known cantilever.  Link
  • Mausolea: Toshogu Shrine - Mausoleum of Tokugawa Iayasu, First Shogun of Edo period
  • Horse Stables: Nikko's sacred stable at Toshogu Shrine
  • Freestanding Bell Tower: Toshogu's Belfry
  • Famous Bells: Korean Bell in Nikko A large bell hangs in a pavilion near a pagoda in Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The bell was a gift from the Joseon Dynasty of Korea.

Human Activity

Individual People

  • Gertrude Bell: Photo taken May / June 1903
  • Isabella Bird: Visited Japan in 1878 and published her travels in "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. An account of Travels in the interior including visits to the Aborigenes of Yez and the Shrine of Nikko". The visit to Nikko commences in Letter VI (see link) Link

Religion and Belief


  • Built in the 17th century: The temples were rehabilitated at the beginning of the 17th century (AB ev), original cult originated in the 8th century


  • Undergoing Restoration or Repair: The main hall at Rinnoji remains enclosed by scaffolding, but remains open through its restoration, which is expected to be complete in March 2019. Also, the prominent Yomeimon Gate at the Toshugo Shrine is also undergoing restoration and covered by scaffolding; this restoration is also expected to be complete in March 2019. Link

WHS Hotspots

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154 community members have visited Nikko.