Enjoy a visit to the spectacular underground majesty of the Oya-ishi quarry ruins, then reward yourself with some famously delicious Utsunomiya gyoza.
Utsunomiya, the seat of the Tochigi prefectural government, is located in the center of the prefecture, and it can be reached in less than an hour via Shinkansen from Tokyo Station. During the Edo period (1603-1867), Utsunomiya served as an important hub in the northern Kanto area. Although once-magnificent Utsunomiya Castle is now a shadow of its former self, its grounds now serve as an oasis that is cherished by local citizens.
It is impossible to tell the story of Utsunomiya without mentioning Oya-ishi (Oya stone). The green-colored tuff was created by volcanic activity over 2,000 years ago, and it is valued for its warmth, lightness, and its durability. Because of these qualities, it is used in the construction of various structures. There are many sights to see which make use of Oya-ishi, like the towering stone wall in Oya Keikan Park or Japan’s oldest Buddha carving (magaibutsu), but the highlight is certainly the vast, cavernous underground of the Oya-ishi quarry ruins. Reaching a depth of 60 meters and resting at an average temperature of 6 degrees Celsius, this underground space has a fantasy-like atmosphere that can only be found in this “village of stone.” Utsunomiya is home to many religious structures constructed of Oya stone, ranging from traditional shrines to Buddhist temples to churches.
Lately, Utsunomiya’s reputation as Japan’s gyoza (Chinese dumpling) capital has been spreading. There is even a gyoza statue standing in front of Utsunomiya Station. There are some 200 specialty gyoza shops spread throughout the city, each competing to make the tastiest dumplings. Gyoza are a mainstay of Chinese cuisine, but they have enjoyed great popularity in Japan as well. The dumplings, which can be said to resemble Italian ravioli, consist of a thin flour shell which is filled with diced pork and other ingredients. They can be served grilled, fried or cooked in soup, and they are not to be missed when visiting Utsunomiya.