Japanese and foreign tourists alike flock to Nikko for its unique collection of historic World Heritage shrines and temples tucked within the beautiful Japanese forests and mountains. While the World Heritage sites themselves are packed with people nearly year-round, take some time on your trip to visit the Nikko Botanical Gardens to experience more of the beautiful natural surroundings of the region.
The gardens are in a peaceful location slightly off the beaten path in Nikko, but easily accessible by bus. They cover a beautiful area of 104,490 square meters spread across hills, the Daiya River, and some smaller streams and ponds. While botany enthusiasts may be disappointed to find that the identification tag for each plant is written only in Japanese, the visually beautiful area has a peaceful atmosphere perfect for taking in the sights, smells and sounds. A total of 2,200 species are planted in the Nikko Botanical Gardens, most indigenous to Japan.
The gardens are big enough and have enough paths to give visitors a relative sense of solitude. A few of the paths are somewhat steep and could be treacherous for those who have trouble walking, but most of the area is easily walkable.
The gardens were opened near the Tosho-gu Shrine in 1902 by the University of Tokyo's Faculty of Science for the purpose of studying alpine plants. They were then moved down the road in 1911 to their present location, where the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Science maintains it as a center for research and education.
Perhaps the educational background of the Nikko Botanical Gardens plays somewhat to its detriment because many areas seem to be more for academics than audiences. While spectacular arrangements of plants and flowers should not be expected, that isn't to say that there is a lack of beauty here. The mountains in the backdrop make for terrific photo opportunities, and a visit during the autumn will reveal a canvas of brilliant and beautiful colors, a famous draw of Nikko. The areas near and across the river are also particularly pretty.
The Nikko Botanical Gardens should not be on top of your list of places to visit in Nikko, but are certainly worth a few hours if you're not rushed. The gardens are only open between April 15 and November 30, and on every day of the week except Mondays (unless Monday is a National Holiday, in which case they will remain open and close on the next day instead).