Ōya is one of the most scenic villages I have visited during a decade of living in Japan. The town is surrounded by man-made cliffs created from an old limestone industry. When the weather is fine, Ōya is a wonderful place to cycle around albeit the streets are more like narrow country lanes.
Visit a beautifully illuminated underground limestone quarry at Ōya Ishi Quarry Ruins. In the land of small, it is a nice change to visit something that is immense. The quarry was used as a place to manufacture airplanes during WWII. Even if you visit the quarry when it’s a sultry 35 degrees centigrade outside, you will need a cardigan or jacket inside the depths of the quarry. Beer and sake are stored down there, mushrooms grown, movies have been filmed there and on occasion, concerts and weddings are held down there. Entry costs Y600 for adults and it’s open 9-4:30 every day but Thursday-and in July and August Thursdays are also OK. Next to the quarry, check out the charming folk art/stoneware gift and coffee shop, Kaneiru.
Ōyaji Temple, a 15 minute walk from the quarry, is set into a cave. Pay a small fee to enter the cave and see Japan’s oldest Buddhist figure. The temple grounds house a tiny museum where you can see the skeleton of a prehistoric man. At the back of the temple garden, find trails leading up the mountain. Across from the temple, find stoneware shops and the small Ōya Keikan-koen Park where you can climb stone stairs to the head of a towering Buddhist statue, the Heiya Kannon. Ōya town hosts a lantern festival in this park at which time you can see the statue illuminated at night, along with hundreds of stone lanterns.
Ōya is also home to a Thai Temple (1068 Ōya Machi, 028-652-8703). Feel free to drop by and make a day of it, by eating out at the neighboring Thai restaurant, Zou No Ie, which naturally is in an Ōya stone building (open 11:30 – 2 PM, 5:30 – 9:30 PM, closed Mondays, phone 028-652-1422).
Another temple in Ōya worth visiting is Tagefudousan http://tagesan.com/. They hold a fire walking ceremony in mid-May. Just before reaching the temple, find a windowed tea house surrounded by lush greenery, just across from a castle ruins park. At the temple too, find tatami rooms with windows opening up to the green lush vegetation where you can relax with a cup of tea and Japanese sweets (dango). Feeling energetic? Hike up Mount Take, starting at the trail next to this tea house, or from the temple.
Ōya is within an hour and a half’s journey from Tokyo. Take the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya (50 minutes) then catch a local bus to Ōya or ask about rental bicycles and be sure to pick up a map and directions at Utsunomiya Station. It’s about a 20 minute drive from downtown Utsunomiya, so may take about 45 minutes by bicycle. Go straight on the main street from the west exit of Utsunomiya Station and you will eventually get there. If you go by car, Kenko no mori, the prefecture gym/indoor pool/ forested walking trails is on the way. Shinrinkoen, were the Japan Cup Cycling races are held each October is also nearby. New Sunpia Tochigi, a hot spring/summer water slides/pool, and kid's play area is just 5 km from Ōya and offers a great to stay if you want to make a weekend out of exploring the area.