Heavyweight cultural heritage with a breathtaking natural landscape
Hear Tochigi, see Tochigi, speak (about) Tochigi.
A rewarding destination at any time of the year, Tochigi encompasses everything you need for a complete “I’m in Japan” experience just two hours north of Tokyo. Beyond shrines and temples, there’s remote hot springs, gorgeous seasonal parks, traditional crafts, and a hardcore dedication to the production and consumption of gyoza. It’s an easy day trip from the capital but merits much more.
You shouldn’t and couldn’t ignore Nikko as a stop on your Tochigi travels. The grand Toshogu Shrine is just one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that make up the area, part of the Nikko National Park which extends into the surrounding Gunma, Niigata, and Fukushima prefectures. This is where the famous warrior Tokugawa Ieyasu is buried and the grand, gilded buildings provide a suitably stately setting.
You can also spot the famous Three Wise Monkeys carving depicting the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” proverb. You’ll likely have to elbow your way through the tourist route as Nikko is enormously popular, especially for autumn leaves viewing. In Nikko you can also watch painters mastering the art of hitofude ryu, using one single stroke to paint the body of a dragon.
For a bit of natural beauty, travel northwest to the Oku-Nikko region to see the Kegon-no-taki waterfall and Lake Chuzenji at the bottom of Mount Nantai. Escape the crowds by heading further to the Nasu highlands, sinking in (relative) silence in one of the hot springs that connect to form the Nasu-onsen-kyo at the foot of the Nasu volcano.
What other city in Japan is famous for gyoza?
In the southwest, mountainous Ashikaga is a beautiful place for witnessing the wisteria in spring. Ashikaga Flower Park has more than 350 wisteria, which are lit up in the evening, as well as the usual wisteria-themed food and drink to ramp up the botanic effect. Over a November weekend, the Coco Farm and Winery hosts a huge wine festival to celebrate the harvest and the last days of sunshine before the winter sets in.
Check out some of the best spots Tochigi has to offer, below.