Are you interested in seeing Japanese festivals? If so, Utsunomiya, the capital of Tochigi Prefecture is your spot!
The city hosts a festival just about every month of the year celebrating everything from the blooming of the cherry blossoms to gyoza (pot stickers as they are known in the West). Utsunomiya in fact is renowned for being the city of festivals.
Certainly there are other attractions aside from the festivals that draw tourists to the city. Perhaps the most visited is the Utsunomiya Castle Ruins Park located near City Hall. The castle’s walls, turrets and moat were reconstructed and the park opened to the public in 2007. The park is most beautiful when the plum and early blooming cherry trees are in season. Hachimanyama is the largest park located in downtown Utsunomiya and hosts a cherry blossom festival in April. In May, visitors can enjoy the beauty of the azaleas and if you visit in November, the park is ablaze in autumn colors. Chuo Koen (Central Park) is spectacular in June with the roses and irises in full bloom at opposite ends of the park. A cobblestone walkway known as Kamugawa Promenade with its cherry trees in full bloom is a very romantic spot for strolling. It crosses over a covered shopping arcade called Orion Dori, where you will find countless clothing stores and bars, which open in the evening hours.
As you explore further you will see a number of warehouses known as kura, some of which have been converted into restaurants. The stones used to build them and the garden walls throughout the city come from Ohya, where visitors can explore the underground quarry that was used to manufacture planes during WWII. There is also a temple set into a cave known as Ohya-ji. Here you will find ancient Buddhist figures carved on the walls. Another great tourist spot is the towering Heiwa Kannon statue (the Peaceful Goddess of Mercy). The statue completed in 1954 is equivalent in height to a nine-story building. There is a set of stairs just behind the statue enabling visitors to view the statue from a different vantage point.
Another beautiful building constructed using the Ohya stone is the Matsugamine Church. Built in 1932 by Swiss architect Max Hinder, it is a complete Romanesque cathedral, something which you may have thought you would never see in Japan.
If you work up an appetite from all the exploring, try the gyoza the city is famous for. There are dozens of shops which serve this delicious dish but you may want to try Kirasse located near PARCO. The restaurant offers twenty-six varieties of gyoza to choose from!
After your meal you may want to visit the Shinohara Family Residence. The former home of a wealthy merchant is just three minutes on foot from the JR Utsunomiya Station.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to see and do in Utsunomiya. The city is a major train hub served by the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, the JR Tohoku Main Line, the Tobu Nikko Line and the JR Utsunomiya Line. From Narita Airport, the fastest way to reach Utsunomiya is to take the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station and transfer to the Tohoku Shinkansen.