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Nikko Itinerary | Popular Tochigi Activities at Lake Chuzenji & Utsunomiya

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When traveling to scenic Tochigi Prefecture, it’s easy to skip around to several cities and towns in one trip. One of the most popular places to visit is Nikko, which sits just a short drive north of the prefecture’s capital city of Utsunomiya. This Nikko itinerary includes enough activities to fill three or four days with sightseeing adventures and includes some of the best things to do in nearby Utsunomiya.

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Photo credit: uraomote_yamaneko /CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 

British Embassy & Italian Embassy Villa Memorial Parks

Lake Chuzenji in Nikko is more than just a stunning recreational spot. It’s also home to two popular side-by-side attractions, the British Embassy Villa Memorial Park and Italian Embassy Villa Memorial Park. Once visitors get a glimpse of the amazing views from each location, it will be no surprise as to why these historical structures were built on the banks of Lake Chuzenji.

  • The British Embassy Villa was once the summer home to British diplomat Ernest Satow, who contributed to the Meiji restoration in Japan. Constructed in the late 19th century, the building now houses exhibits on British culture and the history of the Oku-Nikko area. The villa was used as the British Embassy summer residence until 2008. In 2010, the structure was donated to Tochigi Prefecture and opened to the public as an attraction. After touring the facility, guests are invited upstairs to a tea room, where they can relax and soak up glorious views of Lake Chuzenji.
  • The Italian Embassy Villa was constructed in the 1920s and was used until the late 1990s as summer housing for Italian ambassadors. Today, the building is open to the public as a history museum and offers lovely views of Lake Chuzenji. The villa was designed by Czech architect and Frank Lloyd Wright understudy, Antonin Raymond, who incorporated natural elements from the area, including local cedar trees, into the construction of the building. Inside, visitors can appreciate the stunning woodwork and architecture that stands as a testament to the beauty of the construction.

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SUP (Stand up Paddleboarding) at Lake Chuzenji

Outdoor enthusiasts will love adventures with stand-up paddleboarding at Lake Chuzenji in Nikko. Visitors can rent a paddleboard and then glide across the pristine waters of Lake Chuzenji while taking in the sights of the area. Paddleboards are available at various locations around the lake, and this activity is available year-round. Wet suits also are available for rent during cooler months.

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Lake Chuzenji Pleasure Cruise

One of the best ways to see all the sites around Lake Chuzenji is on a boat cruise. Boat tours depart every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from the dock near the Chuzenji Onsen community. Passengers get a good look at several sites along the route, one of the most fascinating being Chuzen-ji Temple. This Buddhist temple dates to the 8th century and is a great destination for history lovers. One of the temple’s main features is its 6-meter-tall statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, which is carved into a rooted tree on the grounds. The beautiful tiered temple buildings make for a remarkable sight from the lake, and guests who decide to tour the temple on foot are treated to spectacular views of the lake from the second story of the complex.

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Oya History Museum – Subterranean Cave

Visitors who are looking for unique attractions should stop by Oya History Museum – Subterranean Cave in Utsunomiya. This underground museum is located inside of an Oya mine with origins dating to the 17th century. Oya is a stone that can be found only in the community of Oya, just north of Utsunomiya. The native stone is notable for its flexibility and warm texture and was the material of choice for Frank Lloyd Wright when he built the façade of Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Beautifully lit, the decommissioned quarry makes for quite the sight, and the museum covers the history of mining and geology in the area. The site also is famous as a filming location, wedding reception area, and concert hall.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April through November and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. December through March (closed Tuesday)
Admission fees: 800 JPY (7.50 USD) for adults and 400 JPY (3.75 USD) for children

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Utsunomiya Gyoza

The capital city of Tochigi Prefecture sits just 40 minutes by car and one hour by train south of Nikko, and getting to try some of the city’s most famous snacks is well worth the trip! Utsunomiya is famous for its amazing gyoza, or dumplings. These bite-sized treats are popular throughout Japan but are particularly delicious in Utsunomiya. The dumplings are fried or boiled and are characterized by their outer tasty shell, and delicious filling. A variety of gyoza is available in Utsunomiya, but the traditional pork with ginger and mixed vegetables is a can’t-miss treat.

2 popular gyoza restaurants in Utsunomiya

  • Gyoza Masashi Miyajima Shop, 4-3-1 Babadori – Simple and to the point, this restaurant offers boiled or fried gyoza and is perfect for visitors who are looking for a quick, no-fuss option.
  • Utsunomiya Minmin – Main Shop, 4-2-3 Babadori – This restaurant offers a more modern take on gyoza and offers three varieties – fried, boiled, and deep-fried. Beer and other drinks also are available at this popular location.

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Bar Hopping in Utsunomiya

No trip to the Nikko area is complete without an excursion to Utsunomiya for a bar-hopping adventure. In addition to its delicious gyoza, Utsunomiya also is famous for its trendy sake bars, jazz clubs, and izakaya, or informal bars that offer traditional Japanese snacks and small plates to eat.

Top bars & izakaya in Utsunomiya

  • Shousuke, 2-2-3 Hanawada – Visitors should stop by this location if they’re looking to experience a traditional izakaya and also want to sample the region’s delicious sake.
  • Jazz Spot, 1-10 Izumicho – Travelers can pop by this bar and sip on drinks while nibbling on snacks and sweets, all while enjoying live jazz music.
  • TEN’s BAR, 5−2−1 Seiwa Building 1F – For tasty cocktails mixed by a master bartender, an evening at this relaxed bar is a must.

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