Last month, I produced a series of travel stories around my trip to Utsunomiya for The AU Review. They are very comprehensive and I will link to them below. But I wanted to carve out a bit of space on my blog to talk about the trip from a different perspective and for posterity I guess.
Japan is so much more than the big name cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Since moving here, I’ve been to quite a few inaka locations and each of them really do have their own character, charm and story. Utsunomiya and Oya by extension were definitely not places I would have originally visited. But I’m glad I did get to go to learn a bit more about the history and to just feel the vibe of a different part of Japan.
Japan is also a country of true juxtaposition. Case in point, discovering The Standard Bakers, a restaurant-bakery that really would not have looked amiss down a trendy Omotesando side alley. Yet here they are, not 200m away from an almost 30-metre statue of Oya Heiwa Kanon. I really admire the businesses that try to set up shop in the most unsuspecting of places in attempt to also draw tourism there.
Having spent close to 4 years in the travel and hospitality industry for work, I have a set expectation for what I think hotels and accommodation should be. Travelling to lesser known places in Japan has completely reset what I’ve always understood about this. From ryokan to business hotels and their varying price points, I’ve come across some good, some less good, but they have always been interesting. JR-East Hotel Mets was probably more on the low-mid range of business hotels but they had some truly great facilities like a spacious gym and as many freebie toiletries (including a selection of bath salts) as you can take.
Would I come specifically to Utsunomiya if I was a traveller with limited time and budget? Perhaps not, unless you’re a gyoza fanatic and have a keen interest in geology. However it does make a pretty good day trip from Tokyo and depending on the seasons, you could be in for some awesome cherry blossoms to frame a peaceful and low-key journey. Travelling to Utsunomiya also means I can now officially tick Tochigi prefecture off my Japan travel list. Be sure to check it out for a geographically categorised list of everywhere I’ve been in Japan.