Gyoza Gorging: Utsunomiya

I recently learned about a place in Tochigi Prefecture, which is about two hours north of Tokyo on a local train or one hour north if you splurge for a Shinkansen. It is infamous in the local area for having an abundance of gyozas to gorge on. After hearing about the area I came home and told Dan, and 15 minutes later we had booked our hotel and planned a weekend jolly.

We arrived on a Friday evening and went off searching for a meal I could enjoy too (being the vegetarian…) We settled on a quirky looking Indian Restaurant. The food was not great if I’m honest, but the service more than made up for it. The man serving was unique – he gave us several free drinks and a dessert. However, the best bit was when he serenaded to us on the piano.  He was a big character, full of life and focus on giving customers a very memorable experience.

Day two dawned with a trip to Oya History Museum. The museum is underground, set in the remains of an old quarry mine. It was a very dramatic space with lots of moody lighting and contemporary art. We learned that before the machines took over, the stone was quarried by hand. Each worker would have to administer up to 40,000 swings per block and they were expected to extract at least 10 blocks per day. Add this to the consistent 7 degrees underground, it makes for a very challenging work environment.

After the museum we took a walk to the incredible Tenkaisan Oya Temple. It has been built into the rock and within it’s centre sits the oldest Buddha statue in Japan. The statue is thought to be over 1,200 years old. The cool quarry temperatures and surrounding structure have preserved the Buddha, which was carved majestically into the rock, complete with 36 arms. No pictures to prove it I’m afraid, as rightly so they are not allowed on the inside of this religious space.

After the calm of the temple, we took a walk into the peaceful garden and up a small mountain to enjoy the views across the valley. It was amazing to get back to nature so fully, even if only for a brief moment! We finished off our day in the Oya area by taking a trip to see the 27 metre high Buddha statue carved into the rock, which looks out across the valley and was build in the 1950’s as a symbol of peace and harmony. She was pretty spectacular and I hope she will remain for another 1000 years to become the next oldest Buddha in Japan…

Our first 24 hours in Utsunomiya were wonderful and relaxing. Next up came the attempt to find vegetarian gyoza…watch this space.

Oh, and yes, I did buy a rock with a painting of Mount Fuji on it which I then had to carry about for the rest of the day. Why? Because I am smart…perhaps not, but I appreciated the artistry and very old guy selling it!

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