Say you want to see Utsunomiya, or like me, you live in Utsunomiya and you like to visit places that don’t cost much. Perhaps, in addition, like me, you may like the sense of space and freedom attainable from visiting high places with lots of windows. Well, Utsunomiya’s relatively new architectural wonder, Ken-cho (the Prefectural Office Building) is worth a visit, especially on a clear day. While the elevator ride is not as much fun as at nearby Utsunomiya Tower, the view from the top is comparable and the facilities much better. Utsunomiya Tower has seen its day.
Ken-cho is one of the tallest buildings in the city, at 15 floors. It houses many different offices, as well as a dentist, a store, a cafeteria, a gallery and a restaurant. Its spacious elevators and thoughtfully-designed washrooms showcase barrier-free design. In fact, both wheelchairs and strollers are available to loan from the reception desk, even on weekends. Parking is free for two hours, and a bus stops right at the main doors (Number 34). Many other buses stop at Ken-cho Mae, a bus stop five-minute walk south of the building.
Upon entrance through the main doors, to your immediate left step across a huge satellite image of the prefecture on the floor to find an exhibit of posters showing prefecture attractions and festivals. Pass Tochigi's mascot character in the main lobby on your way to the reception desk where you will need to have your parking ticket validated if you came by car. Next, find the elevators and ride to the top floor.
Once you are at the top, if you are hungry, you can dine at the small window-encased Japanese restaurant, Jyugoya, for as little as Y1,000. Lunch is 11 to 4, coffee time 2:30 to 4:30, and dinner is 5 to 9. This restaurant arguably the best view in the city. In the adjoining south lobby, check out the art and tourism exhibits. On the wall, two TV monitors detail the ecological design of the building such as the solar panels on the roof. Japanese-literate visitors may be all the more impressed by the information displayed on these monitors. I have also heard bee hives are kept on the roof, although not accessible to the public. Looking down from the south bank of windows, Futa-ara-san Shrine appears below like an treed island in a sea of buildings. Mt. Fuji on the clearest days is faintly visible to the southwest. To the northwest, you may be able to see the mountains, including the prefecture's tallest, Nantai-san.
Once you get your fill of the south and west view, walk to the north side of the building for yet another wall of windows running the breadth of the building. In the northwest corner, don’t miss the exhibit of Tochigi handicrafts. Down the hall halfway along the west side is a satellite map viewing room; alas, directions are all in Japanese so its value was lost on me.
The highlight of the 15th floor of Ken-cho for my son is the northeast corner, the children’s matted shoe-less romping area. Parents can relax at a table with some chairs and buy drinks from the adjacent vending machine room. Actually, benches are placed throughout this floor. Sliding doors next to the vending machine room lead to a private nursing and diaper changing area. What more do parents with toddlers and babies need? It’s a perfect, relaxing destination.
I recently found out that the original prefecture office, the beautiful old building to the right of the new one, Showakan, is always open for the public to explore, and is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, especially the ornate VIP room. I'm going to check that out next!