150km (93 miles) N of Tokyo
After the publication of James Clavell's novel Shogun, many people became familiar with Tokugawa Ieyasu, the powerful real-life shogun of the 1600s on whom Clavell's fictional shogun was based. Quashing all rebellions and unifying Japan under his leadership, Tokugawa established such a military stronghold that his heirs continued to rule Japan for the next 250 years without serious challenge.
Millions of Japanese through the centuries have paid homage to Tokugawa, heading north to Nikko, where Toshogu Shrine was constructed in his honor in the 17th century, and where his remains were laid to rest in a mausoleum. Nikko means "sunlight" -- an apt description of the way the sun's rays play upon this sumptuous shrine of wood and gold leaf. In fact, nothing else in Japan matches Toshogu Shrine for its opulence. Nearby is another mausoleum containing Tokugawa's grandson, as well as a temple, a shrine, and a garden. Surrounding the sacred grounds, known collectively as Nikko Sannai and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, are thousands of majestic cedar trees in the 200,000-acre Nikko National Park. Another worthwhile sight is Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa, built in 1899.
I've included a few recommendations for an overnight stay. Otherwise, you can see Nikko in a very full day. Plan on 4 to 5 hours for round-trip transportation, 2 1/2 hours for Toshogu Shrine and vicinity, and 1 hour for the Imperial villa.