Tochigi is well known as a day trip destination to Nikko, but Tokyo’s northern neighbor has so much more to offer. In the village of Tochigi Ohtawara, visitors experience history and Japanese traditional culture first hand. Viewing beautiful thatched roof temples and experiencing zazen are just a few of the things you can do. If you are searching for a mix of tradition and a lush outdoor escape, Tochigi Ohtawara is the place for you.
Kurashi no yakata
The first place to stop in Tochigi Ohtawara is Kurashi no Yakata which includes both market and a traditional house that has been transformed in a museum called Shirashinokan. In the market everyone is very friendly, often joking and laughing with customers as they sell their wares. The owner was so happy to see me that he gave me a gigantic senbei, a Japanese rice cake, with the Tochigi Ohtawara mascot drawn on it. I was really moved by the kind gesture! The signage in the museum is in Japanese, but just seeing the inside of a traditional Japanese building is always interesting.
Unganji is one of the largest temples in Tochigi Ohtawara. Known for being left almost entirely untouched, visitors truly feel the authenticity and history of the area. You can see truly authentic Japanese history through the buildings at Unganji and the scenic forest location makes it all the more enchanting.
Autumn is the perfect season to visit Tochigi Ohtawara because the leaves are very beautiful, especially around Unganji, though spring and summer are recommended as well. To get to the temple, you first cross a traditional Japanese bridge over a river surrounded by trees. If you do go in the autumn or winter, make sure you dress warmly as it is a bit colder than Tokyo.
Explore the area
Walking around Tochigi Ohtawara is very enjoyable with some wonderful natural scenery to admire. If you visit during the height of the autumn leaves season, the land will be covered in red, yellow and orange. Walking around the town, you can also see rocks with Matsuo Basho’s haikus written on them.
Daiyuji and zazen
The most famous temple in Tochigi Ohtawara is Daiyuji. Here you can see the traditional Japanese thatched roofs against the forest scenery. I really loved being in this temple because you can really feel the history and traditions of Japan there. This temple is one of the only places around Tochigi where you can try the famous zazen, the Zen bouddhism meditation practice. With the help of the temple’s monk you will be able to relax and try to empty your mind.
My zazen teacher was very kind and easy to understand. We had a great time talking and I discovered that he had been an exchange student in Canada, where I am from! He taught me how to sit, act and liberate my mind of any thoughts. He also told me that zazen might be infamous for the practice of hitting practitioners who fall asleep or make mistakes but he says that they probably won’t hit you if you are not Japanese. Nevertheless, they do not hit to punish but simply to help you get your energy back. It is not intended to bring a bad feeling to the person.
If you want to get a meal around the temple, I highly recommend the restaurant Shiroyama which offers very good onigiri and oyaki meal sets for ¥550. The onigiri had umeboshi in it and the eggplant oyaki was delicious. Shiroyama is conveniently situated right beside the Daiyuji. They don’t have an English menu but the system isn’t so complicated so you shouldn’t have any problem.
The bus system is pretty useful and there are bus stops at each temple and main site in the city so you can easily travel between those sites and Nasushiobara station. Renting a car might be the best solution because Tochigi Ohtawara has a lot of farms so everything can be far.
To get there, you can get the Nasuno 278 shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno station and it will bring you to Nasushiobara station in less than 1 hour and 30 minutes.