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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 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. This service has been spotty with suspensions; it is usually cheaper and more reliable to take a train to Tokyo Station or Shinjuku station, then to ride a bus to your destination from there.


Get around

There are no subways or additional trains in Utsunomiya; there is a light-rail system under development, but it will not be completed for several more years. For most tourist staying for one night or wishing to simply shop, most stores, hotels, and restaurants are within convenient walking distance from the east and west exits of Utsunomiya Station.


By Foot

Much of Utsunomiya can easily be reach by foot from Utsunomiya Station. Some major shopping, hotels, grocery stores, and other shops can be walked to in five minutes or less. For other areas, such as Orion-Dori or the jazz clubs/restaurants, you can expect about 10 to 15 minutes.

The crime rate is low and incidents are rare. However, do take care at night. Always carry ID with you at all times, as police often perform "Gaijin Checks" (Foreigner Checks) for valid visiting or working visas.


By Taxi

Taxis are readily available from the west side of Utsunomiya station, first floor. Take the west exit, and immediately bear right. Taxis can be found immediately to the right of the bus section. Fares start at about 1,000 Yen and climb fast.


By Bus

Bus services are also available primarily from the west exit. For assistance on finding your bus route, there is a help desk station directly next to the Shinkansen entrance (2nd Floor), as well as a computerized system located just outside of the 2nd floor entrance. Fares start at about 200 yen per adult.

Routes specific to the east side of Utsunomiya (IE, Bell Mall, Utsunomiya University) are available from the east exit of Utsunomiya JR. Follow the walkway until you see the semi-famous “Gyoza-Statue,” approximately where boarding occurs.

A number of free or reduced bus services are available to retail stores such as Fukudaya or Joyful Honda. These bus services usually run by the hour, but are not typically useful to the average tourist.

By Bicycle

Relatively, if you know 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. You will see a bicycle shop across from LaLa Square and the McDonalds next door.

Bicycle parking is restricted in some areas. While theft is unlikely, remember to lock your bike and take your valuables with you. Be careful of traffic, and observe traffic laws and signals especially at night.

See

Futaarayama Shrine

This is probably the most popular shrine in Utsunomiya. The front is lined by a massive stairway several stories in height before ending at a large temple. Excellent for pictures and very convenient. > From JR Utsunomiya, get on Kanto bus bound for Sakushin Gakuin, get off Bara-cho : illumination : sunset to 22:00. 10 minute walk from Utsunomiya JR (West Exit), across from Pargo.> 1-1-1 Baba-dori Utsunomiya : (phone) 028-622-5271

Hachimanyama Park

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.

Utsunomiya Castle (Utsunomiya-Jo)

The castle is Utsunomiya's claim to Japanese Royalty, where the emperor or other royal members would rest and/or change horses before their last leg to Nikko. The castle is reconstructed from previous excavations and is an excellent place to picnic, but little else. Historical significance and exhibits are limited. Located within two blocks of Utsunomiya City Hall. Can be reached by walking, but first-time visitors may prefer to take a taxi.


Matugamine Church

The church, built in 1932, is full-dress Romanesque cathedral. Almost all the building is composed of Ohya Stone including exterior and interior walls. > From JR Utsunomiya, get on the Kanto Bus bound for Sakushin Gakuin (8 min), get off at Tobu Utsunomiya Station, walk 3 min.> 1-1-5 Matugamine, Utsunomiya : (phone) 028-635-0405'

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.
  • Hachimanyama Park. 5-2-70 Hanawada, Utsunomiya ([[7]]) : (phone) 028-622-6002. (From JR Utsunomiya, get on Kanto bus bound for Sakushingakuin, get off Kencho-mae : 15 min walk.) The Park is quiet, relaxed, and usually pretty empty except for certain summer celebrations. It contains a tower-viewing area, a large foot-bridge, and a play areas for families. It is a worth a picnic if you have extra time.
  • Utsunomiya Zoo. 552-2 Kami Kanai Utsunomiya : (phone) 028-665-3257 ([[8]]). (From JR Utsunomiya, get on Kanto bus bound for Ishinada, get off Shimokanai : 5 min walk.). Less than average zoo, but you can feed the animals.

Buy

In comparison to Tokyo, Utsunomiya is not much of a place to shop. It does, however, have some variety of stores to keep individuals busy for an afternoon. The vast majority of malls are easily located on or near main street (starting from Utsunomiya JR East Exit). You can walk to most worthwhile areas in 15 minutes, or take a five-minute bus ride.


  • La La Square, directly across from Utsunomiya JR, East Exit. The building contains several clothing and shoe stores, a 100 yen store, a bookstore, an electronic store, a pharmacy, a coffee shop, and a grocery store in the basement. There’s also an excellent set of ramen and gyoza restaurants in the basement.


  • Utsunomiya Station Stores, within Utsunomiya Station. Several shops, a grocery store on the bottom floor, gyoza eateries, ramen, omiyage shops, etc.


  • Parco, located down Utsunomiya Main Street, exactly opposite of Utsunomiya’s main shine, Futa-ara-san (二荒山 "Two Storm Mountain"). 10 minutes walk, five-minute bus ride from Utsunomiya Station. 10 floors containing mostly clothing. Starbucks on the first floor, a good bookstore on the 8th, a Wired Café on the 2nd, and the Dragon Fish Café on the 10th. A new shopping mall has just opened across the street, but much of it is still under construction and development.


  • Tobu Department Store, located within the Tobu Station, about 15 minutes walk from Utsunomiya JR. Finer shopping for the area.


  • Orion Dori. runs east from Tōbu station towards JR station, just south of main street (大通り, Ō-dori) and parallel to it. A pedestrian mall, this is the main site for the yearly festivals Utsunomiya holds during the start of August. Connects with many of the above mentioned locations, such as Pargo and Tobu Department Store. Mostly clothing stores with bars opening at nighttime.


  • Bell Mall, 10 minutes via bus. Ask the information counter for the exact bus number. The bus departs on the opposite side of the station’s main entrance and not from the usual bus arrival point. Biggest mall in the area. Contains several floors of stores, a large grocery, movie theatre, and a large gym.


  • Fukudaya, two locations (Utsunomiya and Interpark), both served by bus free bus, ask the information counter in Utsunomiya station. Not particularly large, but contains more eateries and shopping possibilities.

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. You can find gyoza just about anywhere, but here are some key areas.

  • PASEO, Utsunomiya main street, between Utsunomiya JR (10 min) and Tobu (5 min), across from Pargo department store). B1 several restaurants, reasonably priced.
  • Utsunomiya Station Stores, level one. Look next to the grocery store for long queues.
  • Orion Dori, various. There are several gyoza specialty restaurants throughout the stretch.

In addition, there are plenty of other restaurants elsewhere.

  • La La Square Ramen Town (La La Square, B1, directly across the street from Utsunomiya JR Station). Several “kippu” ramen shops specializing in several types of ramen and gyoza. The atmosphere is actually rather nice for “kippu” ramen. Purchase your meal by buying a ticket from the automated machine, then presenting it to the staff. Bowls start at about 700 yen.
  • Dragon Fish Café (10F, Pargo Department Store, 10 minute walk straight down Utsunomiya main street from Utsunomiya JR Station). Due to the location in a department store, the café closes at 11PM, much to the disappointment of it’s customers. It serves a very good selection of pastas and varied Japanese-Fusion entries. Best tacos in Utsunomiya. The drink menu is also quite good; there is a fully functioning bar that will not make a “sitting charge,” that many Japanese bars partake in. There is also an 8-course, all-you-can-drink dinner option for 3500 yen (great for drinks, but the courses vary in quality). Manager is an R&B fan.
  • Wired Café (Pargo 2nd Floor, 10 minute walk straight down Utsunomiya main street from Utsunomiya JR Station). A popular Tokyo chain restaurant. The main attraction of this café are several computers set up for customer use while waiting for food, as well as the Wi-Fi in the restaurant. Food is a mix of Western entries, dishes are moderately to high prices for a cafe.
  • 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.

For Starbucks fiends, there are Starbucks coffee shops located in Utsunomiya Station (with Wi-Fi), Pargo Department Store, and Bell Mall. There are also plently of fast food chains, such as a Mr. Donut located directly across from Utsunomiya Station ( outside the main entrance, left side), Mos Burger (inside Utsunomiya Station, first floor), and a McDonalds (outside the main entrance, right side). For those wishing to stay on a budget, the grocery stores located in La La Square (B1) and Utsunomiya Station (1) are your best bet.

Drink

Utsunomiya bills itself as a jazz town and a cocktail area. The quality varies however, in both departments of jazz and cocktails. You can find a map with all the popular spots listed here; ([[9]]) ; cover charges as high as 4000 yen can be expected, with "cocktails" starting at 1000 yen per drink.

For regular bar experiences, see below.

  • 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 ([[10]]) . 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 ([[11]]). Part of a relatively famous Tokyo chain, the hotel is located between Tobu and Utsunomiya Stations.
  • Hotel Sunshine ([[12]]). 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 ([[13]]). 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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