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Utsunomiya

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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 the JR Utsunomiya station from Haneda airport(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.

There are also two free shuttle bus services available to two different parts of Utusnomiya for more shopping experiences.

The first shuttle bus station is in front of a famous gyoza shop just outside the JR Utsunomiya Station. Bus service starts every hour at 11am. The last bus leaves the station at 7pm. At many locations the bus stop is not obvious. The savvy traveler will notice a queue forming on the street corner. This is often an indication of an imminent bus arrival. There are several main bus stops: Baby R' US, Daiso, Jeans Shop, FUKUDAYA, Japan Meat, Honda and many other more second hand shops. The journey to many of these places takes approximately 20 to 25 minutes, depending on traffic conditions. When coming back to the station on weekends, the free bus can be so cluttered that you have to stand for the whole journey, which takes as long as 40 minutes.

The second shuttle bus station is just right opposite the back entrance of a shopping mall call LALA SQUARE. This bus stop is more prominent in the sense that it's a small pull up space that used to be a office or shop.And a man will normally stand outside or inside it distributing a ticket that is valid for that particular day to be given to the bus driver upon coming back. This bus will bring you to the OLD FUKUDAYA. Over there, there's only one shopping mall call FUKUDAYA which is considered still relatively big. And at the opp there's some small restaurants. The bus journey for this trip is much shorter and will take approximately 5 to 8 minutes.

Relatively, if you knows how to cycle. There's always a renting bicycle centre just nearby to the JR Utsunomiya Station. Once you exit from the station, walk towards LALA SQUARE SHOPPING MALL and from there walk all the way straight. You will see a sports shop, bypassing it. Will see Macdonalds. Then just the opposite will be the place for you to rent the bicycle. You can't missed it as you will see many many bicycles.

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. Just within the plaza below JR Utsunomiya Station, there's already a couple of restaurants. Check out the one in PASEO facing the supermarket. There's one gyoza restaurant that has queue almost throughout the whole day, due to it's cheap cheap price at only 350 yen to start off plus 100yen to pay for the rice. Just beside this long queue gyoza restaurant, is another one which is relatively good as well, slightly higher price but equally good.

There's one special restaurant which is hidden at a corner of the street of utsunomiya which sells a very wide varieties of KOME ( meaning porridge). The street is just inbetween LALA SQUARE and a Italian Restaurant, and if you pay attention you could see a yellow sighboard on the road that says: KOME KOME. and that's the shop. But the shop is closed on monday. The special thing about this porridge is that it's actually a rice patty costing from 120yen and above. And upon ordering and paying through a machine, you hand the ticket to the staff who will then process your order. The rice patty will first be pop into micro oven and then next presented to you in a tray together with a small pot of hot water. All you need to do is to pour the hot water into the bowl of rice patty and then one submerge, just have to "burst" it up with your spoon and you can be quite surprised at how much and what type of thing can hide inside the small rice patty. "Delicious" and "Unusual" is the word to describe this kome.

And at this shopping mall just opp PARCO, there's a supermarket. In this supermarket, there's always cheap daily special food which cost only 100 yen. Sometimes it could be a whole handroll of sushi ranges from kanpyō, crab meat, cucumber, tamago etc..... Or sometimes it could be tempura of seasonal vegetables, or even fresh delicious hot donuts. And prices for this supermarket are sometimes cheaper that what you could buy from FUKUDAYA, another big shopping mall that also has it's own supermarket.

If fast food is your choice, you could find MOS Burger or LOTTO Burger within the shopping mall just below JR Utsunomiya Station. Or like wise, walk towards LALA SQUARE and towards a sports shop. From the corner, you could find MACDONALDS which has a chicken burger that offer at only 100yen every day and any time of the day. And if you think that the drink is too expensive in Macdonald, take a walk to the third floor of LALA SQUARE. POP into DAISO, grab a 100 yen BIG SIZE COKE.....and total meals make only 200yen!

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.
  • The Lion’s Head (1800 – ?) (on Utsunomiya main street, several blocks from Utsunomiya Tobu Station and about 10-15 minutes walk from Utsunomiya JR, across from the Washington Hotel). Remodeled in July of 2007, this is the primary hangout for gaijins in the area. Atmosphere is your typical English pub, be it without a large screen TV for soccer games. Beers start at about 600 yen, Guinness, other hard to find brews, and wine are available. Fish and chips are worth ordering off of the menu, but most other food items are too small and unevenly priced. English spoken.
  • Nohkin’s (1800 – 0200 (S-Th), -0500 (F, Sat). (Directly above The Lion’s Head on Utsunomiya Main Street, 2nd floor. See above). The bar itself is dark and the music quality varies (live or recorded), but the drink menu is one of the more aptly available. A large assortment of cocktails, wines, champagnes, and brews from local and international areas are available. Drinks start at about 500 yen. Ask about their famous waiter who bares a strong resemblance to Ichiro of American Baseball fame. Some English spoken.

Sleep

The Utsunomiya city page contains a very extensive list of hotels with links to websites (if available) here ([[7]]) . The city, catering to mostly salarymen and limited tourists, has a decent selection of hotels and even a few "wedding" hotels (noted is usually you need to be part of a wedding party to make reservations at a wedding hotel). However, here are a few suggestions within reasonable walking distance.

  • Utsunomiya Washington Hotel ([[8]]). Part of a relatively famous Tokyo chain, the hotel is located between Tobu and Utsunomiya Stations.
  • Hotel Sunshine ([[9]]). This hotel is located on the east side of Utsunomiya Station, connected by a large pedestrian bridge. Take the east exit, cross the bridge while bearing right on the fork in the bridge. After going down the stairs, turn right and go one block. It is easy to reach by foot and the rates are reasonable, be it for smaller rooms. Most rates include a free breakfast buffet.
  • Chisan Hotel ([[10]]). Chisan is an extremely large, extremely affordable hotel group in Japan, with hotels spanning across the country. Rooms are small, but affordable, and it is easy to make a reservation on the English portion of their website. Located directly across and left from the Utsunomiya station main entrance, across the street.

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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