By Matt Leidy
Just about an hour’s drive from the northern edge of Tokyo is the city of Sano in Tochigi Prefecture, home of Sano Premium Outlets®. The Outlets are a popular shopper’s paradise in Japan, especially for those looking for high quality goods at low prices. A 25-65% discount sale runs everyday throughout the year. Home to 180 shops, you can find both international and domestic famous brands that run the gamut from bargain to luxury, such as Gap, Banana Republic, G-Shock, Nike, Beams, Ships, Michael Kors, and many more. Some stores sell products that are only sold in Japan!
Lots of parking awaits, but for those coming by public transportation, there’s a highway bus that takes 80 minutes from Tokyo and drops off only 3 minutes from the outlet. Those coming by train can debark at Sano station and take a city bus over.
The Outlets strive to cater to international clientele, with announcements and maps in English and Japanese, as well as signboards for foreigners. You can receive a tax exemption at some of the stores if you are a tourist, and all stores accept credit cards and China Union Pay.
Its proximity to the city yet separation from the city means there’s plenty of room to spread out yet it’s still convenient for a shopping day trip. The wide walkways with ample places to sit and pretty foliage make a pleasant environment for strolling, and it’s a popular spot for families with kids in tow and couples.
There are about 15 restaurants and cafes on site, meaning that weary shoppers can take a load off and get some refreshment before hitting the sales again. Restaurants include international chains such as Bagel & Bagel, Kua’aina, and California Pizza Kitchen, as well as Japanese cuisines including udon, soba, takoyaki and taiyaki.
Also enjoy some of the most popular attractions around the Outlets!
Those wanting a bit more from their jaunt to the area can try strawberry picking at Agri Town, just five minutes drive down the road, or twenty minutes walk. Strawberries are one of Tochigi’s most famous crops, and the berries, which are grown from December to May, are large and sweet. For a bit over a thousand yen (prices vary by month), you can stuff your face with as many berries as you can eat in thirty minutes, fresh off the vine. Agri Town also has other fruit picking experiences during the rest of the year (like peaches and blueberries) as well as a farmer’s market chock full of fresh local produce and a small cafe serving house made gelato using fruit grown onsite. Major sales happen at the end of January and August, with smaller sales throughout the year, so plan accordingly!
Slightly further afield is the renowned Ashikaga Flower Park. Just about twenty minutes' drive from the Outlets (also accessible by bus or train), the flower park offers a beautiful display of seasonal flowers and is especially famous all over Kanto and beyond for two things: its magnificent wisteria display in the spring, and its fabulous winter/Christmas illuminations in the winter. In fact, the illumination was named the best in the Kanto area by the Yakei Convention and Visitors Bureau. They are truly lovely strolling through the sprawling gardens with shimmering, twinkling lights all around makes for a romantic evening, whether you’re with a date or not. Date yourself!
All in all, Tochigi has plenty to offer and lots in this area to make it worth your while for a day trip or even longer. Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen are just over an hour away from this area and would make a great extension to this trip.
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