Tochigi Prefecture Points of Interest - Our Guide to Traveling around Southern Tochigi Part 2
Earlier we introduced our trip to southern Tochigi experiencing all sorts of things special specifically to Tochigi. From special silk kimonos, wine vineyards, to Bandai museums, this trip to Tochigi really did surprise us. Continuing our story on a more hands-on experience, we introduce things lessons on handmade Japanese sweets, using a Japanese weaving technique to make a bracelet, and learning about a sake in Tochigi that has been around for more than 145 years.
In the city, there is the Uzuma River (巴波川). In the Edo period, the Tochigi City area used to be an important port for water transportation. On land, it was also a passage for lords from Western Japan traveling to Nikko, so it has been prosperous as a commercial city with the name of "Little Edo". Many Kura Street (蔵の街) houses and businesses from the Edo period to the Meiji period have been preserved in the city and was awarded the "Beautiful Town Street Award" among 100 other stuffing Japanese cityscapes.
A Place to Stay That's Roughly 200 Years Old
Located in the middle of Kura Street (蔵の街) in Tochigi City, is an old hotel (a Japanese ryokan) with a history of more than 200 years. As soon as you go through the doors, you can the decor still remaining from long ago along with the hotel lady will have a friendly smile, which makes people feel like they are coming home. Depending on the type of room, some have separate toilets and bathrooms, some have only toilets, and some have only sinks. Of course, there are public baths and washrooms in the hotel, but because they are more family-style, there is no distinction between men and women. Breakfast is a lavish Japanese-style meal.
Kura Street (蔵の街)
Walking around an Old Edo Street
Here you will find lots of Edo period buildings and warehouses. The atmosphere is somewhat similar to Kawagoe, but it isn't just a street with old buildings there are plenty of traditional Japanese stores that you can pop into like making traditional Japanese confections "wagashi" (和菓子). It has also been in many movies and TV shows, including the popular movie Gin Tama (銀魂). Kura Street allows people to experience Japanese culture more deeply.
Yamamoto Kashi (山本総本店 和菓子作り体験)
Learning to Make Japanese Confections Wagashi
Located in the middle of the street, the old-fashioned shop "Yamamoto Honten" (山本総本店) was founded in the 25th year of Meiji. It is located in the workshop opposite the sales outlets and has opened a wagashi hand-made classroom, which is guided by a staff of decades of experience. Depending on the season, the type of wagashi you make is different. The cost is 1500yen, which allows you to make two different sweets for about a 50min course. Learning about professional production props, exquisite kneading techniques, and professional demonstrations by the masters is really a rare experience. If you are interested, remember to make an appointment at least two days in advance.
Tamagawa no Yu (Goldfish-yu) (玉川の湯 (金魚湯))
Ultra-tidal old money soup
Also along Kura Street (蔵の街), there is a building with large goldfish painted on the wooden sliding doors that we were sure wasn't open to the public. First opening in the 22nd year of the Meiji era (1889), this building is a public bath named Tamagawa no Yu (玉川の湯), but due to the goldfish painting in the front people also call it "Goldfish-yu". After the reconstruction in 28th year of the Showa era (1953), the bathhouse hasn't changed a bit. Even the water in the bath is still heated by firewood. You can rent a towel for free, along with shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush, razor, etc are also on sale so coming empty handed isn't a problem. What threw us back was the skateboard/bike ramp upstairs! For 500yen you can take a bath and use the ramp upstairs, otherwise, you just need 300yen for the bath.
10min walk from Tochigi Station
💴Adults 350yen, Children (age 6～12) 150yen, Age 6 and below 80yen
Kuranomachi Pleasure Boat Agency (蔵の街遊覧船)
Taking a Boat Ride along Little Edo's Uzuma River
As a distribution center for materials in the Edo period, the Uzuma River along Kura Street was always filled with boats like the "bekabune" (部賀舟). At that time, there were many shipyards and wealthy merchants on both sides of the river. The Kuranomachi Pleasure Boat Agency introduces an entertaining and educational way of going down the river. On the way back, the oarsman sang a song about the Tochigi river bank. The river water is so clear you can even see many koi and other fish swimming along with some cute ducks. The cruise costs 700yen for adults, and for those who brought their doggy friend(s) they can even come on board too!
Kitakura cafe Higano (北蔵カフェ ひがの)
Afternoon Tea in a Building Built during Meiji Era
Checking out the northern area Kura Street (北蔵), we came across a cafe that specializes in all hand-made pastries that have their own unique taste. The most popular items are Kitakura Roll (北蔵ロール) (350yen) and their thick pancakes (厚焼きホットケーキ) (350 yen), and if you order a drink they take off 100yen.
The area of Shimotsuke City has rich historical and cultural traits. During the Asuka and Heian period (from 538 to 1185), the area played a central role in eastern Japan as the cultural core, leaving ancient heritages such as haniwa (埴輪) (clay figurines buried with the dead) of the Kabutozuka Kofun (甲塚古墳), Shimotsuke Yakushi-ji Temple (下野薬師寺跡), and more. Shimotsuke City is still the third largest city in Tochigi Prefecture and one of the most beautiful places to see cherry blossoms.
Ko Minka Cafe 10 picnic table (古民家カフェ 10 picnic table)
A Cafe in a Park Filled with Folk Takes
Inside Tenpyo no Oka Park is an old private house cafe "10 picnic tables" that you can relax while being surrounded by nature. You can choose to eat at one of their seating arrangements outdoors or at the old house next door to eat indoors, or take some of the food to go and have a picnic! This park is also famous for being one of Tochigi Prefecture's best cherry blossom spots, so if you come during April you will have a beautiful sight.
Grimm Forest (グリムの森)
A Hidden Fairy Tale Forest
Shimotsuke City isn't only a place of beautiful trees and trails but also filled with European-style houses and gardens. From Showa era, Ishibashi-cho (石橋町) in Shimono City became a sister city with the village of Steinbrucken in Germany. It was there Steinbrucken Village met with Hessen, which is where the Grimm brothers are from resulting in the creation of the Grimm Forrest "Grimm no Mori" there are mysterious Grimm brotheresque trees, a golden goose fountain, and more. The Grim no Kan building, which houses a multipurpose hall, is based on the Röttingen government building. Inside are collections related to the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales from all around the world.
There are many rivers flowing through the east and west sides of Oyama City, which makes the city rich in water resources, and achieving good development of agriculture, industry, and residential businesses. Then in the northern part of the city has been a silkworm producing area since ancient times. The silk produced in the area is similar to that in Yuki City, Ibaraki Prefecture called "yuki tsumugi". Developing from earlier silk techniques yuki tsumugi was adopted in 1602. It has been designated as one of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan, and has also been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Nishibori Shuzo Sake (西堀酒造)
Tochigi Original Sake
As mentioned above, due to Oyama having such good water resources, it only makes sense that there would be some distilleries. For example, the old sake distillery Nishibori Shuzo Sake (西堀酒造), which has been established since the Meiji era. It uses the local soft and hard water to make a series of unique Japanese sake. The classic series "Mongai Fushutsu" (門外不出) is loyal to its name and insists on local manufacturing which makes it not available in other parts of Japan. You can visit the sake distillery for only 300yen and you will get to see the process and get to drink the freshly made sake. You need to make an appointment beforehand so be aware of that!
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