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Utsunomiya

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Asia : East Asia : Japan : Kanto : Tochigi : Utsunomiya
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Utsunomiya (宇都宮) [1] is the capital of Tochigi prefecture, Japan.

Understand

Utsunomiya has more streets lined with horse chestnut trees (栃の木 tochi-no-ki), and more places and products labeled Marronnier (French [2] for Aesculus hippocastanum) than any other city in Japan's Tochigi ("Buckeye") Prefecture.

Utsunomiya is also the hometown of jazz great Sadao Watanabe [3] and bills itself as a Jazz Town [4] that is also famous for its cocktail bars [5].

Get in

By plane

From Narita Airport, take the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station and transfer to the Tohoku Shinkansen (about 2-1/4 hours, ¥7510).

From Haneda Airport, take the Keikyu Line train to Shinagawa, then the Yamanote or Keihin-Tohoku line train to Tokyo Station. From there, take the Tohoku Shinkansen (about 1-3/4 hours, ¥5200).

Infrequent buses (eight per day) run directly to JR Utsunomiya station from Haneda (2.5 to 3 hours, ¥3500).

The Marronnier Bus makes 10 runs from Narita Airport to Utsunomiya between 8:10 am and 8:50 pm. The price is about ¥4000 for adults and ¥2000 for children.

By train

Utsunomiya is a major train hub served by the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, JR Tohoku Main Line, JR Nikko Line and Tobu Utsunomiya Line.

Tohoku Shinkansen Yamabiko, Max Yamabiko, Nasuno and Tsubasa trains depart from Tokyo station about three times per hour, with more trains during the evening. The ride costs ¥4800 and lasts just 50-55 minutes.

Direct runs on the regular Tohoku Main Line depart from Ueno station 3-4 times per hour. The trip takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes at a cost of ¥1890.

There are also hourly departures on the Shonan-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku station, reaching Utsunomiya in roughly the same time it takes from Ueno, and at the same price.

JR Nikko Line trains, appropriately bound for Nikko, depart from Utsunomiya.

Tobu line trains run to Tobu-Utsunomiya station from Tochigi every 30 minutes or so. From Asakusa, you can reach Utsunomiya by Tobu rapid train, changing in Tochigi, in about 2 hours, but for only ¥1160.

With the exception of the Tobu line, all of these trains can be used at no charge with the Japan Rail Pass.

By bus

Kintetsu operates the Tochinoki overnight highway bus service from Osaka and Kyoto to Utsunomiya Station. It takes 10 hours from Osaka and 8 1/2 hours from Kyoto and costs ¥11000 and ¥10400 one way, respectively.

Get around

The city does not have a subway system, but the bus system is very thorough. Most buses converge on JR Utsunomiya station's West Exit. The city information desk near the Shinkansen gates will help point you at the right bus and platform. There also is a bus named "Kibuna" which you can ride and see around the city. You can get off at any bus stop and it costs only 100yen.

See

Hachimanyama park is about 1km northwest of JR station and a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing (hanami). Futa-ara-san (二荒山 "Two Storm Mountain") is Utsunomiya's main shrine, located on a small hill in the city center, about 600m west of JR station. The Art Museum in the northern part of the city also has a park nearby.

Do

  • Romantic Mura, Nissato-machi 254, tel. 028-665-8800, [6]. Park open daily 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (4:00 pm Nov-Mar). The No. 51 bus for Romantic Mura leaves from platform no. 8 outside JR Utsunomiya's West Exit and takes about 40 minutes to reach the park, which features a huge onsen; a brewpub and food court; and a FlowerDome containing tropical plants, hydroponically grown herbs, and a wide variety of orchids. The bus runs only once or twice per hour and there is very little English signage. Admission to the 48-hectare park is free. Admission to the FlowerDome costs ¥410 for adults. The local brews cost ¥500 each.

Buy

Utsunomiya's main pedestrian shopping street (Orion-dōri) runs east from Tōbu station towards JR station, just south of main street (大通り, Ō-dori) and parallel to it. West of Tōbu station is Union-dōri, a pedestrian street lined by fashion stores. PARCO and 109 are also on the street. They are big department stores for buying clothes and cosmetics. Another big shopping mall, BellMall Utsunomiya, is about 2km southeast of JR station. In front of PARCO, there is a shop famous for green tea called Sekiguchien. In summer, it sells refreshing green tea ice cream to passers-by on the street.

Eat

Utsunomiya is most famous for its gyōza (餃子) dumplings, available sauteed, deep-fried, boiled, or and steamed with all sorts of stuffings all around the city. But the area also produces 90% of Japan's kanpyō (干瓢) dried gourd strips, and Tochigi Prefecture is Japan's largest producer of strawberries (ichigo), so many local foods feature these products. The strawberries produced in Tochigi is called "Tochiotome", and it is a bit sweeter than strawberries that are produced in other prefectures. In spring, many people in and out of the prefecture visit strawberry fields to enjoy picking strawberries.

  • C'est La Vie restaurant bar, Mageshi-cho 1-chome (near the Hotel New Asahi between Ō-dōri and Orion-dōri; opens onto the alley that meanders alongside the tiny Kamagawa), tel. 028-632-0402. Open W-M (closed Tu) 11:30 am to 3:30 pm, 5:00 to 10:30 pm. Offers a variety of interesting hors d'oeuvres, including carpaccio of ham, bonito (katsuo), or horsemeat (馬肉 baniku). The early bird (5-7 pm) set menu, with choice of either pasta or paella, costs ¥1890. House wines cost ¥350 per glass, wines of the month ¥600 per glass, bottles ¥2500 and up. Start with a shot of bittermelon elixir at ¥250.

Drink

  • Akai Tori, Baba-dori 2-3-10 (on the corner opposite Parco Department Store and Futaarasan Shrine), tel. 028-635-5377. A coffee shop decorated with collectible Hawaiian and Polynesian kitsch mostly from the 1940s and 1950s. The friendly owner will do his best to accommodate your musical taste from his huge collection of CDs.

Sleep

Get out

  • Nikko, the grandiose burial site of the Tokugawa Shoguns
  • Mashiko, a town of pottery and steam trains
  • Oya, a small town with a giant stone Kannon and underground quarry that provided much of the greenish stone that distinguishes Utsunomiya's architecture



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