For my work trip to Japan we stayed about 75 miles north of Tokyo in Utsunomiya. Utsunomiya is the capital of the Tochigi prefecture and served as my home for two weeks. While Utsunomiya was a perfect home base for day trips to Tokyo and Nikko, here are the main things I found to do and see in Utsunomiya!
1. Hachimanyama Park– The large park located a 30 minute walk from the JR train station, includes a large play area, Utsunomiya Tower, a suspension bridge and more! I had no idea that it was more than just a park when I set out to find it, read about my adventure here.
2. Utsunomiya Futaarayama Shrine– The shrine just off the main road was founded about 1,600 years ago and the city of Utsunomiya was built around it. By the steps up to the main shrine area there are many smaller shrines. One funny thing pointed out to us was the shrine dedicated to liquor was larger than the shrine for medicine!
3. Lalasquare – This is the Mall near the train station with many stores including a giant toy store on the top floor. It was fun to go through the mall noting the differences from our malls back home. There are also quite a few restaurants on the ground floor.
4. Orion Dori – There are lots of little shops, restaurants and bars along this street to find souvenirs and night life. There was one store in the strip our Japanese friend called a mini Akihabara (the anime filled district from our Tokyo trip) for any anime souvenirs.
5. Eat Gyoza– Gyoza is a Japanese dumpling usually made with wonton wrappers and stuffed tith pork and cabbage. Utsunomiya is the gyoza capital of Japan with over 200 different gyoza themed restaurants.
6. Attend a Festival! – Ok, this one is completely based on what time of year you visit but we happened to be in town for Miya Matsuri. The streets, lined with food carts, filled with traditional Japanese clothing watching and participating in a parade like celebration!
7. Hot Springs/Onsen in Bell Mall– Just a 10 minute bus ride away, we visited an onsen, or Japanese bath house, located in Bell Mall. This nude hot spring was quite the experience, read all about my Naked and Afraid experience!
8. Visit a cat café! – If you are a cat lover like me, there is a cat cafe in Orion Dori. You pay a small amount for the amount of time you stay and play with the cats, plus they have food and drinks available. The best part is that all the cats are up for adoption!
9. Castle Ruins Park – Now a small city park, this was once the site of Utsunomiya Castle before it burned down in the Boshin War. Some of the torrents and walls have been restored and are free to explore. When we went, the entire park was filled with Pokemon Go players!
While these 9 things in no way encompass all that Utsunomiya has to offer, they were my favorite aspects of the town. Let me know if you have any other recommendations!