Being just under two hours away from Tokyo in regular traffic, Utsunomiya is definitely a candidate for a great day trip out of the Japanese capital. Famous for its castle, park with stunning cherry blossom and gyoza (Utsunomiya on a day trip without eating fried dumplings would be silly), the town can be quickly accessed on either highway or country road, depending on whether or not you would like to save money and drive away from the tolls.
Driving from Tokyo to Utsunomiya will take you on the Tohoku Expressway if you decide to take tolls, and on the way into the town you will pass some famous places such as Saitama and Hanyu. Once you’re at the town, it is worth visiting Hachimanyama Park which is just a short trek from the main JR station. The castle in the town was famous for hosting the Japanese royalty before they travelled on to Nikko. Whilst visiting, see if the park is hosting any events and if of course you are lucky enough to visit in between March or April, see if you are able to catch some cherry blossom on your visit.
What’s really famous about Utsunomiya, is of course the dumplings. The best place to visit for this could well be PASEO, which has a basement full of several restaurants all at different prices. The multiple gyoza vendors will let you take a variety of gyoza and eat them at other vendors, such is the excellent collaboration between all of the restaurants.
If PASEO is not your thing, the Utsunomiya Station also has a variety of places to grab these little bites of joy. There are generally queues outside, so make sure if you decide to eat here you are well prepared. Expect to wait up to 30 minutes to get in to these restaurants.
Utsunomiya is a great place if you’re heading on to Nikko or Fukushima and decide to head on the Tohoku Expressway to anywhere to the North. One of the best things about Utsunomiya is its relative ease to get off of the expressway into the town. Turning off on the Kanuma IC will take you just five minutes to reach the main central area of the town and the area is surprisingly well signposted once there.
Whilst this certainly isn’t a particularly good idea for tourists to visit Utsunomiya unless they are really interested in gyoza, for anybody living in Japan or lucky enough to be staying for a few weeks, the town certainly offers a few extra options.