Let’s go explore Tochigi’s capital and Gyoza town, Utsunomiya.
We were fortunate enough to be invited by the Yamada Family in Utsunomiya, who accommodated our stay there for one night. Giving us a taste of authentic Japanese hospitality in their lovely home.
We arrived in Utsunomiya during the O-Shogatsu, which is a nationwide festival where people visit shrines, marking the start of another year and praying for good fortune. As expected, some shops were still closed and all of the visitors are lining up in front of the few Gyoza restaurants that were open.
It was impossible to find a restaurant that was open without a long queue. Good thing the Yamada family brought us to “Gyoza Park” which is a Gyoza restaurant just across Utsunomiya JR station.
There we enjoyed all kinds of flavored Gyoza, brace yourselves for the Gyoza pictures below!
Utsunomiya Castle Ruins
This was the last site we visited before going home the next day and I also live streamed it on KUMU. If you wish to join my travel live streams, you can go sign up and follow me!
Anyway, according to their flyer, Utsunomiya castle was built during the Heian period (11th century) but today only a fraction of the castle wall stands.
Utsunomiya castle was often a battleground from the Nanbokucho period until Sengoku period, where the majority of the castle was burnt down and then eventually disappeared.
However, its historical significance has not been forgotten and so Japan dug out the ruins on 1989. From all the evidence/ruins they excavated, 2 out of 8 turrets were rebuilt and is now called the Utsunomiya Castle Ruins park. Seeing all the Sakura trees around the park, I’d recommend this place for Hanami.
Oya Underground Stone Quarry
I saved the best for last and that is Oya underground stone quarry. I had no idea the Yamada’s will take us there. I was super happy because I saw this site on TV.
This area is surrounded by hills of Oya stones, named after the Oya-Ji Temple next to the huge Oya-Kannon statue. It’s a rock formed out of lava and ash, famously used in the facing of Tokyo Imperial Hotel by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is heat resistant and can be easily carved out but contractors consider it weak for major constructions so they only use it in decorative areas.
The Oya stone museum had very interesting displays but most of them are described in Japanese.
The best part of our visit was going down the underground stone quarry. I think all year round the temperature is around 7 degrees so it’s best to wear your warm clothes.
The first thing that caught my attention, as we walked down the man-made cavern, was the white material stuck on the walls. I thought it was white mold but it’s actually efflorescence, a phenomenon where water evaporates during the dry season and leaves salt crystalline substance. In Japan, they call it Ishi no Hana or just Flower stone.
This place is HUGE, it took them 70 years to mine about 300,000 cubic meters of stone. So it’s really fun to go explore the site and watch for signs on the wall explaining the history of this monstrous underground mine.
Before ending the tour, we found out that they also use this site as a studio. In fact, the latest Rurouni Kenshin movie had scenes shot inside this site! Along with hundreds of other TV shows and Japanese movies.
We really enjoyed our visit to Oya’s underground stone quarry. Remember to pay a visit should you find yourself in Tochigi.