Day trips from Tokyo have become a norm for travellers feeling overwhelmed by Japan’s bustling metropolis. It also doesn’t hurt that there are so many places in the Kantō region accessible via an easy shinkansen (bullet train) ride to enjoy at Japan’s gorgeous countryside, fascinating history, and regional food specialities. One of them is the Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県 Tochigi-ken); its capital city Utsunomiya, is only 50 mins away from Tokyo or Ueno station via the JR Tohoku line. The trip is also covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Whether you’re looking for a fulfilling day trip or an entire weekend away from Tokyo, there’s plenty to see, do, and eat across this prefecture. Here are five places that we’re definitely making pit stops at on our next trip to the Land of the Rising Sun:
Known for its gyoza, the capital city of the Tochigi prefecture hosts more than 50 different eateries boasting a colossal variety of these delicious dumplings – from the traditionally pan-fried to uncommon versions including cheese and mochi gyozas. For the best experience, have them with a local craft beer designed to pair with gyoza, aptly named the Gyoza Romance.
After you’ve filled your belly, waddle over to the Oya History Museum, a mining museum built inside a stone quarry. Prospect the rich history of the quarry itself and also enjoy art installations frequently featured in the museum. Don’t forget to stop by the Romantic Village to stock up on fresh local produce.
Nikko (日光, Nikkō)
Nikko is home to many temples and shrines, but if you only have time for one, make its the Toshogu Shrine. Intricate wood carvings and ornate architecture is the name of the game at this UNESCO World Heritage site. One can easily spend an afternoon gawking at the majesty of Yomeimon Gate.
For breathtaking mountainscapes and lake views, check out Nikko National Park, which is home to one of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls, Kegon Waterfall. The waterfall is also connected to the scenic Lake Chuzenji. Visit in mid to late October to watch autumn’s descent upon all these beautiful sights. Afterwards, kick back and relax in the hot springs of Yumoto Onsen.
Getting here: From Utsunomiya, the journey to Nikko is 45 minutes on the JR Nikko Line.
Ashikaga (足利市, Ashikaga-shi)
To many, the Ashikaga Flower Park has become synonymous with imagery of blankets of white, yellow and purple wisteria flowers. Stroll through an 80-metre tunnel of white wisteria and wander about the 150-year-old, 1000 square metre flower trellis. Plan your trip in the first two weeks of May to witness the wisteria in full bloom, but visiting in winter means you’ll get to enjoy the brilliant light displays in the park at night. Other attractions worth visiting in Ashikaga include the annual harvest festival in November, and the oldest school in Japan, Ashikaga Gakko.
Getting here: from Utsunomiya, it’s a 30-minute ride to Oyama Station on JR Utsunomiya Line. Transfer to the JR Ryomo Line and get off at Ashikaga Flower Park Station.
Nasu (那須町, Nasu-machi)
One of Nasu’s biggest highlights is the Nasu Animal Kingdom. Home to over 600 animals – from rabbits and alpacas to flamingoes and seals – those who find the petting zoo experience too clichéd can watch the capybara chill out in their private onsen while soaking their feet. The Nasu Highlands have plenty of human-friendly onsens, most notably Nasu Onsen, a hot spring resort on Mount Nasudake, which comes with awesome views of the region.
Famous for its succulent Tochiotome strawberries, no trip to Tochigi would be complete without going on your very own strawberry harvest. The best times to go strawberry-picking are between May and June, and we recommend the Nasu Kogen Strawberry Forest Farm. You can reach Nasu via the JR Tohoku Line from Tokyo.
Getting here: from Tokyo, the direct train to Nasu-Shiobara on the JR Tohoku Shinkansen takes an hour and 10 minutes. From Utsunomiya, it’s a 45 minute journey on the JR Utsunomiya Line.
Mashiko (益子町, Mashiko-machi)
Known for its own distinct pottery style of Mashiko-yagi, the village of Mashiko is easy enough to explore with a rented bicycle. Wander through the maze of pottery shops and watch craftsmen work in local kilns; April and October will see pottery fairs (perfect for souvenir shopping). Don’t leave without sampling local sake and strawberry wine at the 80-year old Tonoike Sake Brewery to sample local sake and even strawberry wine.
Getting there: from Tokyo, the most convenient way is via the Kanto Yakimono Liner bus, which takes two and the half hours. From Utsuminoya, take the JR Utsuminoya Line to Oyama, transfer to the JR Mito Line for Shimodate, then transfer again to the Moka Railway for Mashiko.
Bonus: JAPAN RAIL CAFE in Singapore
Located in Tanjong Pagar, JAPAN RAIL CAFE is highlighting Tochigi this month so they’ve decked out the outdoor area with wisteria and alpacas, and the menu is featuring seasonal delights from the Japanese prefecture such as their famed strawberries. They’re also conducting two DIY strawberry parfait making classes on Saturdays, 19 and 26 January 2019, from 3.30pm to 4.30pm!
What’s more, consumers stand a chance to win prizes – all you need to do is to like JAPAN RAIL CAFE’s Facebook Page and show it to a staff member to be eligible. In the meantime, bring a little bit of Tochigi home in the form of strawberries via Honestbee, whilst stocks last.
JAPAN RAIL CAFE is located at #01-20, Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street, Singapore 078883, p. +65 6385 5422. Open Mon-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri 11am-9.30pm, Sat-Sun 11am-9pm.
Cover image courtesy of Tochigi Prefecture Tourist Association.