A full lake, waterfall and town 1,200 meters in the mountains11 July, 2011 by Chad
Lake Chuzenji is a large 20,000 year old crater lake located along the side of the impressive 2,486 meter tall Mount Nantei, the Tochigi Prefecture equivalent of Mount Fuji. In ancient times, mountain streams such as Chuzenji were respected and worshiped as sources of water and thus life. These days, the area is a popular retreat (particularly to local tourists) who come to marvel at the natural sights and enjoy the surrounding hot springs.
Mount Nantei and Chuzenji are part of the city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, 125 kilometers north from Tokyo city. For those holding onto a Japan Rail pass of some kind, there are bullet trains to the Tochigi capital city of Utsunomiya from Tokyo. From Utsunomiya, you can then transfer to a local train on the JR Nikko line. The total trip should take a couple of hours.
Note though that the JR Pass doesn’t cover travel within Nikko. That’s because all of the local buses in Nikko are run by the Tobu Railway Company. So you’re traveling up the mountain, you’ll want to get a local bus pass from the Tobu-Nikko station. The 2 day pass costs 2,000 yen. But is immediately cheaper than a trip up and down the mountain.
Alternatively, the Tobu Railway Company runs a train service between Tokyo’s Asakusa and the Tobu-Nikko station. Fortunately, the company does provide two different bundle passes that covers a return trip between Tokyo and Nikko.
The first pass, The World Heritage Pass (3,600 yen) covers a return train trip to Nikko, basic entry to two shrines and unlimited bus rides between the shrines over a 2 day period.
Unlimited bus rides may seem like a pretty good deal until you realize the bus services here end at 4 PM. Also, what they don’t tell you is that most of the important sights in Nikko are within walking distance from the station.
But a single trip between Asakusa and Nikko would usually already cost 2,600 yen so, you’re always better off purchasing one of the passes anyways just for the train ride.
To visit Chuzenji though, you’re going to have to get the All Nikko Pass. It costs 1,200 yen more than the World Heritage Pass but expands the use of buses to cover trips up the mountain. A single trip would usually cost 1,100 yen one way. Better yet, the buses take you all the way up to the Yumoto Onsen hot springs resort so the pass will be especially valuable for those staying overnight. The All Nikko Pass costs 4,400 yen and lasts up to 4 days.
Lake Chuzenji is less than 100 meters by foot from the bus terminus at Chuzenji. Despite being more than a thousand meters above ground, it is surrounded by a small community of shop houses that survive off visitors, onsen resorts and peaceful homes.
Restaurants here serve vegetarian cuisines that owe their roots to the many Buddhist temples that used to call Nikko home. The local specialty being Yuba (bean curd skin) and freshly picked ingredients from the mountain. Gift shops sell pickled versions of the mountain vegetables and Tochigi Lemon Milk, the more commercialized prefecture omiyage.
The main road forks at the lake, with one road ending at the nearby Mount Hangetsu and the other bringing you all the way to Yumoto Onsen. The route to Yumoto is overlooked by the towering Mount Nantei, while holiday homes litter the two kilometer road to Hangetsu.
The lake itself is a grand sight, supplemented by the fact that you’re looking at it up in the mountains much like Lake Ashi at Hakone or the Fuji Five Lakes. During good months, the lake is open for activity but we ended up visiting in Winter this time round. The lake is closed during this time of the year due to the sub-zero temperatures and harsh winds.
Not far from the lake, back in the direction of the bus terminus you’ll find another famous landmark related to Chuzenji, one of Japan’s three greatest waterfalls, Kegon Falls.
Kegon Falls is the principal exit of Lake Chuzenji’s water. You can clearly see the water seeping through the cracks in the volcanic rocks only to fall 97 meters into the underlying Kegon Valley. It’s a pretty amazing sight and is especially popular sight in Autumn for its red foliage or in Winter when the rest of its surroundings freezes up.
If you can afford the cash, there’s a special elevator that will take you to the base of the waterfall for 530 yen for a more picture perfect shot but for the more thrifty, it costs nothing to appreciate it from above.
You can check out this past photo post for a more detailed looked at Lake Chuzenji and Nikko.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.