Images credit Visit Tochigi
Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture offers an unforgettable travel experience from its gorgeous nature with sublime lakes and waterfalls to its rich culture and historical landmarks. Three of its most alluring destinations, Nikko, Oku-Nikko, and Utsunomiya, are connected by the water that flows from its mountains through rivers and underground to resurface again in hot springs or as a source for the region’s fertile soil and abundant agriculture. The region is located a short train ride from Tokyo and makes an ideal destination to visit for a two- or three-night stay. This is part two of our feature to further explore this less-traveled part of the world. See our Part One here.
The region’s pure water is also a key ingredient in Japan’s most popular libation, sake. The Tochigi Prefecture is renowned for producing some of the most highly regarded sake in Japan.
Nikko’s Sake Secrets
Watanabesahei Sake Brewery
Located just a short drive south of the UNESCO shrines and temples of Central Nikko, Watanabesahei Sake Brewery stands as a testament to tradition and excellence. For over 180 years, this family-owned establishment has harnessed the purity of underground water flowing from the Oku-Nikko mountains to craft exceptional sake. Visitors can embark on a 45-minute or 90-minute tour to experience the sake-making process followed by a sake tasting paired with specially selected Japanese snacks.
Katayama Sake Brewery
Nearby Watanabesahei, guests will want to visit the Katayama Sake Brewery which specializes in Genshu, an unfiltered, unpasteurized, and undiluted sake, that also relies on the pristine underground water that flows from Oku-Nikko’s mountains. The seventh-generation owner oversees the brewing process during the winter season, creating exceptional sake. This brewery also relies on the pristine underground water that flows from Oku-Nikko’s mountains, to produce this exceptional rice wine.
Following the waters downstream from the mountains of Oku-Nikko is Utsunomiya. Utsunomiya offers a blend of history, culture, and culinary excellence.
A Hidden Oasis: Wakayama Farm
Beyond its role as a key ingredient in sake, the region’s waters provide fertility to the earth. In Utsunomiya, travelers will want to visit the Wakayama Farm, a sprawling oasis spanning over fifty-six acres. Visitors will enjoy leisurely walks as they explore the vast bamboo groves while sipping on matcha tea served in bamboo cups. The Wakayama Farm offers a fascinating workshop on how to make those cups as well as plates from bamboo. Wandering through these ethereal forests of soaring stalks of bamboo is surreal and an unforgettable experience.
Culinary Harmony: Hachinojo’s Water-Inspired Cuisine
After a day of sake tasting and exploring the enchanting bamboo forest, travelers can also experience the exceptional cuisine for which Utsunomiya is renown. The Hachinojo Restaurant is a fine-dining establishment that offers a 10-course tasting menu that pays homage to the blessings of water from Oku-Nikko. The ingredients, from river-grown fish to locally sourced beef, celebrate the bounty of Tochigi. Every detail, down to the seasoning like soy sauce, is meticulously crafted within Tochigi Prefecture. Hachinojo has created a culinary masterpiece that has garnered acclaim for its innovative and authentic menu and gastronomic experience. You can even have your meal served on your plates and cups made from the Wakayama Farm as well.
Utsunomiya is also celebrated for its other culinary treasures and in particular, gyoza. Gyoza is a savory meat and vegetable dumplings served pan-fried, deep-fried, or boiled. Dining establishments such as Kirasse and Samurai Jugemu offer exceptional gyoza cuisine that must be sampled when visiting the Utsunomiya.
Nightlife in Utsunomiya
As the sun sets over Utsunomiya, the city’s vibrant nightlife comes alive. Utsunomiya’s nightlife offers sophisticated jazz bars, craft cocktail bars, and cozy izakayas which are informal bars serving tapas-type small dishes and drinks.
The Tochigi Prefecture and Nikko, Oku-Nikko, and Utsunomiya in particular, are destinations offering endless adventures for the discerning traveler. A two or three-day stay in the region will allow guests a range of experiences from Oku-Nikko’s mountain peaks to Utsunomiya’s cultural offerings. What connects it all is its magical waters in its lakes, waterfalls, rivers, and hot springs. Experiences include stand-up paddleboarding to the exquisite sake produced by the Watanabesahei and Katayama breweries, the ethereal bamboo forests of Wakayama Farm, or the culinary masterpiece at Hachinojo. A holiday in the Tochigi region is one that travelers are assured to cherish for years to come.
For more information to help your trip to Tochigi Prefecture