Thursday, April 05, 2012

Spending Half a day in Utsunomiya

On our recent trip to Nikko and Oku Nikko, we stayed in Utsunomiya and travelled in the Nikko area on day trips. By Day 3 of our trip, we were done sightseeing Nikko and Oku-nikko and still had another half a day before returning home to Iwaki. We decided to explore Utsunomiya city. When we asked the hotel staff to recommend tourist spots, they were at a loss to come up with any suggestions. True to what they said, Utsunomiya is not a city with much on offer for tourists. Utsunomiya is the administrative capital of Tochigi prefecture and tends to be more of a commercial centre. Since we still had that half day on hand, we decided to explore Utsunomiya nevertheless.

Utsunomiya is associated with “Ohya-ishi”, (Ohya stone) which was created out of volcanic activity more than 2000 years ago. The stone is popular for carving and sculpting because it light and easy to process and is durable at the same time. It has greenish tinge and is easily distinguishable from other kinds of stones.
A short distance away from Utsunomiya’s city centre is Ohya Park, an Ohya stone quarry. The underground quarry ruins have an all year round temperature of 13 deg C and help visitors understand history of the stone and its quarrying. However when we visited, it was closed.

Nearby is the Oyaji temple, founded in 810. 
The temple sits beneath huge Ohya rocks.

The relics are called Oya Magai-butsu. A cave like passage next to the temple has carvings of Buddha on the rock wall. 
An exhibition hall and a small Japanese style garden are found adjacent to the Oyaji temple. 

The temple and the relics are designated Important Cultural Properties and Special historical site.

Across the road is a 27 meter high Heiwa Kannon statue carved on Ohya stone. 
The statue was created in 1948 as a memorial to those who died in the World War II. It took 6 years to complete the statue. 
A staircase next to the statue takes visitors upto the side of the statue. 

The catholic Matsugamine church built in 1932 is also made of Ohya stone and has been built in the style of Roman cathedrals. 

The church is a registered national cultural property.

Close to the Matsugamine church is the site of the the erstwhile Utsunomiya Castle. 
This castle was used by the emperor or members of royalty as a rest house before proceeding on their journey to Nikko. 

Nothing remains of the castle, but a part of the castle has been reconstructed and a park has been built around it, and serves as a recreation spot for local residents.

Futarayama Shrine is Utsunomiya’s most popular shrine. 
The shrine was erected 1600 years ago and the spirit of Utsunomiya’s founder is enshrined here.
 Sitting atop a hill, a massive stairway leads from a large open space to the shrine. 
The shrine is in central Utsunomiya and is close to Parco departmental store. The shrine is also illuminated from sunset to 10:00 pm every evening.

Bronze Statue of Buddha of three Soybeans is a 3.6 meters high Buddha statue which is installed on a small Buddhist temple’s ground in 1735. 
It has an interesting folk tale associated with which goes that when locals wanted to construct a Buddha statue, they were short of funds. A priest handed over three soy beans and predicted that when cultivated these beans would raise enough money to build the statue. 

The last place we visited in Utsunomiya was a place called “Romantic Mura”. 
The park sits over 48 hectares and has an onsen, a brewery, farmers market, food court, flower shop and most interestingly a Flower Dome.Flower dome is an indoor recreation of tropical climate has been created and tropical plants and herbs are grown.

Visitors can also walk around on the many walking trails in the park. 

Utsunomiya is most famous for its “Gyoza”, Japanese dumpling with a meat or sea food filling. It is similar to the Chinese Dimsum and Korean Mandu (the Korean version is a personal favourite). There are hundreds of restaurants and food joints selling their own “unique” Gyoza. Some joints proudly display pictures or autographs from celebrity clientele.I was told that people from Tokyo and surrounding areas sometimes visit Utsunomiya just for its Gyoza. Not sure if it is true or just an exaggeration of the popularity of Gyoza!

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