Nikko is known for its legendary landscapes— sweeping mountains and lush valleys, pristine lakes, and rushing falls can all be found in Nikko National Park. These same landscapes are considered divine by practitioners of an ancient faith known as Shugendo. Through Shugendo, visitors can more deeply connect with nature in Nikko.
What is Shugendo?
Shugendo is a syncretic faith often referred to as “mountain worship.” It blends elements of Shintoism and Buddhism with ascetic practices in nature, like waterfall meditation and mountain training, emphasizing a reverence for the mountains and surrounding nature. Nikko’s history of Shugendo begins with the legendary monk Shodo Shonin (735–817), who was guided to Mt. Nantai by a message from the deity Myojo Tenshi. Records show that he was the first to summit Mt. Nantai, and that he discovered areas like Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls. He also laid the foundation for many of Nikko’s historic temples and shrines, including Nikkosan Rinnoji Temple, Chuzenji Temple, and Nikko Futarasan-jinja Shrine. To this day, Shugendo practitioners dressed in traditional vestments, are sometimes seen climbing the holy mountains of Okunikko, as a practice of worship.