Tochigi Prefecture Overview
Found in the central region of Kanto, Tochigi Prefecture is an easy weekend trip from Tokyo inviting in nature lovers and gyoza addicts. For the most part thanks to the national parks of Nikko and Oku-Nikko, the prefecture has garnered a reputation as a hiker’s paradise where trails lead you up mountains, round lakes, and past waterfalls.
The prefectural capital of Tochigi is Utsunomiya, which is not only a convenient 50 minutes on the shinkansen from Tokyo but also holds the competitive title of Japan’s best gyoza, the delicious fried dumplings that form an important part of Japanese fast food culture. The most popular of the prefecture’s regions is indisputably Nikko, known for its nature and impressive temples and shrines. However, this is no reason to overlook the rest of the prefecture including the Ashikaga Flower Park where ceilings of celestial wisteria blossoms line winding paths and the plentiful hot spring towns, such as Shiobara Onsen and Kinugawa Onsen, puff out steam across the valleys.
The centrepiece of Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko entices visitors in from every corner from Nikko National Park, home to ever-transforming scenes of colorful leaves, lakes, and marshland, to Cedar Avenue, a 35-kilometer stretch of thousands of centuries-old Cedar trees. Tosho-gu Shrine put Nikko on the map back in the 17th century when it was built in homage to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun that helped to unify the country after centuries of separate prefectural rule. Tosho-gu is one of just many religious buildings worth a visit in the area on top of Chuzenji Temple, Futarasan Shrine, and Taiyuinbyo, many of which bedazzle visitors with their intricate designs and vibrant colors.
When winter comes, hiking sticks and sun hats are replaced with skis and thick gloves as locals and visitors head to the ski slopes, including Nikko Kirifuri Kogen Ski Resort and the popular Nikko Yumoto which is also home to one of the region’s many natural hot springs.
Hand in hand with chilling winter sports comes the warming tastes of sake; it’s only in recent years that Tochigi has attracted attention for its rice wine with sake breweries and local bars making the most of the region’s pure waters to conjure up their own brands of sake. Blessed with the climate and space to produce a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, Tochigi is celebrated for its huge production of strawberries, which have earned it the title of Strawberry Kingdom, as well as vegetable-packed dishes including the citrus-flavored Motegi Yuzu Salt Ramen.