What’s In Tochigi?

Whenever I tell people I’m living in Tochigi prefecture I always get the same question, “Why did you choose to stay there?” Well, I didn’t get to choose my placement through the JET program. Although I’m sure JET tried to be accommodating to everyone, I assume most JETs were placed at random all around Japan. As excited as I was to come here, I had no idea where Tochigi-prefecture was and had to google it just to get an idea of where it was at.

Tochigi Prefecture

Tochigi is a landlocked prefecture in the Kanto region, surrounded by Gunma, Ibaraki, and Fukushima. For people who might not know Japanese geography it’s only about 2 hour train ride away from Tokyo.

It’s pretty rural compared to Tokyo. The trains come once an hour, there’s rice paddies everywhere, and everything closes around 5pm. When I first came, I wrote off Tochigi as boring. Assuming that there isn’t much to do and spent most of my weekends going to Tokyo. Now that I’m more concerned about where my money is going (Tokyo is expensive) I’ve settled down and started exploring inside of my prefecture a little bit more.

The likeability of Tochigi isn’t all flashy lights and weird niche cafes. It’s more about appreciating nature.

  1. The Sano Outlet


Starting off with my little town of Sano, there’s the popular Sano Outlet right  next to the Aeon Mall. It’s not the most exciting place to visit in all of Tochigi but if you’re in Sano with nothing better to do, I highly recommend going there. It’s a 20 minute ride from Sano station and features I think over 120 different stores and restaurants.There are some familiar brands such Nike, Addidas, Levi’s, etc. And although the restaurants are a little bit pricey, the food is great. People from all over the Kanto area come to the outlet, and there’s a bus that comes here straight from Shinjuku station.


2. The Ashikaga Flower Park


Ashikaga has two claims to fame; 1. the oldest school in Japan, 2. The Ashikaga flower park. The flower park is home to some of the oldest wysteria trees in Japan. When they start blooming, people from all over Asia come and travel to Ashikaga specifically to see the wysteria. It’s about a 15 minute walk from Tomita station and depending on the season ticket prices range from about 600 yen to 1500yen. Inside the venue, it’s exactly as you would expect, a giant park filled with a variety of flowers.Then during the winter season the park has Christmas illuminations in place of the flowers.


3. Nikko City


I couldn’t choose one specific thing in Nikko because I think the whole city of Nikko is interesting. It’s most famous attraction is the Toshogu shrine. The most lavishly decorated shrine for Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nikko has been the center of Buddhist and Shinto mountain worshiping and a lot of that same spirituality can still be felt through the current architecture. Walking through Nikko feels as if you took a step back through time a little bit. And if you’re a fan of hotspring bathing, Nikko has several of the most famous onsens in Japan.

4. Nasu


Not too far away from Nikko is Nasu. It’s a very small town that’s famous for Mt. Nasu. Mt. Nasu is actually an active volcano that is located on the boarder between Tochigi, and Fukushima. Getting there is a little bit difficult, especially since the area is very rural. But if you’re a fan of climbing mountains, Mt. Nasu is a good place to go to.



5. Utsunomiya City

Finally, there is the capital of Tochigi prefecture, Utstunomiya city. The city is most famous for its gyoza (chinese dumplings) so understandably there are plenty of gyoza pop up shops to choose from. Near Tobu Nikko you can walk through Orion Dori which is basically an outdoor mall with plenty of stores and bars. The most popular shrine is the Futarayama shrine which is lined by a massive stairway that’s several stories high.


Tochigi isn’t as exciting as Tokyo or Osaka but there’s still plenty of things to do around here. If you’re looking for a quiet place to be at while being one with nature, I would highly recommend visiting Tochigi prefecture.

What about you fellow readers? Have you been to Tochigi before? If you have, what was your favorite place?


The Foreigner Trap

China Town in Yokohama 

These past few weeks have been overwhelming in terms of making new friends. It’s always funny how a quiet evening drinking at a cafe can quickly turn into an adventurous night on the town and an invite to the family BBQ (true story). While I was trying to pretend like I can keep up in conversation, I was vaguely aware that the conversation switched over to foreigners living in Japan and interacting with foreigners. They expressed how they want to interact with more foreigners (I’m assuming they mean more Americans and Europeans), but find that communicating with the one’s here to be a little daunting.

The most common issue was of course the language barrier, which I can understand. You can’t really communicate with someone if there isn’t a common language. The second problem was just stereotypes trying to avoid the otakus (anime nerds) and all the ones with yellow fever. Which I can understand I wouldn’t want to talk with anyone who thought rap and hip hop was the only aspect of black culture. However there was a third issue they brought up that seemed to be kind of ridiculous; foreigners that aren’t interested in talking to Japanese people or at least not in Japanese.

I was at a lost for words. I mean why would you travel thousands of miles away from home to not speak a word of Japanese to an actual Japanese person? But then it hit me, I think the foreigners they’re talking about are stuck in a trap. Something I call the “Gaijin Trap”.


Enoshima Island Temple




This happens when you live in another country for a while but you don’t really make I think a connection with the host culture. This disconnect could happen for a number of reasons maybe you didn’t really want to live abroad and you’re only here because of work. Maybe you don’t find the culture as interesting as you thought you would. I think everybody has fallen victim to it or at least has the potential to. I know I have when I first studied abroad in Osaka. My main group of friends from that time were other English speakers and I felt comfortable that way. I had fun of course but not experiencing things the way I should’ve been. Which didn’t really make me feel the most confident in my skills when I returned home.

So what can someone do to prevent this from happening? How can you break loose from the perpetual cycle? This isn’t a step by step guide on how to make authentic Japanese friends but simply just a little bit of food for thought. Maybe the problem is just simply being to self-involved. Self-involved meaning always waiting for someone else to make a move or assuming that you inherently don’t fit into whatever image you’re currently looking at. Looking back on my experience from before and my experience now. Some of the best times I’ve had come from me simply making the first moves and letting go of that initial fear of not being good enough.

I have to remind myself just because I look different on the outside, doesn’t entitle me to any sort of special treatment. Especially in a place like Japan where being different isn’t necessarily a good thing (personal experience). I’ll be the first to admit that I fell victim to this way of thinking before. Always thinking of myself as the “other” when in reality that really wasn’t the case. As much as I’m intimidated about starting conversations with Japanese people I’ve come to find out they’re just as intimidated by me. And even if they don’t plan to visit the U.S. anytime soon, most people find the casual culture exchange to be just as interesting.

BBQ’s during Golden Week


What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you think the “Gaijin Trap” exists? I’d love to hear outside opinions.


Nakimushisan and Uncountable Monks: A Hidden trail of Nikko

I was so tired here…

A well known area of Tochigi prefecture is Nikko (日光). Nikko, a city to the north of Tochigi prefecture, has been the center of Buddhist and Shinto mountain worshipping. Every year thousands of visitors come to this realively rural city to enjoy the reminicents of ancient Japan. Nikko, being home to three big mountains in Japan is also a popular spot for hiking.

Some views of the mountain hike


Trail map starting from the station

Meet Nakimushisan (鳴虫山), a small mountain in Nikko located just a ten minute walk away from the Tobu Nikko Station. I never hiked before so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the excursion. I fooled myself into thinking that it would be a light stroll. Maybe there would be some hills, and a few rough spots, nothing could’ve prepared me for this hike.

It was rough from the beginning, the path started out narrow and never widened at any point. Due to erosion and earthquakes, many of the man-made paths were torn apart. Despite how hard the trail was, this is still considered a 2-4 hour hike. After the treacherous climb the view from the top of the mountain was really nice. Up top, on a clear day you can see just about all of Nikko city and the point of Nantaisan.

Views from the top

The hike down was the hardest. The other end of the path was just rocks, so unstable in fact most of the path you had to use the ropes to get down safely. At the end of the path was the real beauty, the Kanmanga-fuchi Abyss.


It’s a gorge in central Nikko that is easily accessible by bus or off the mountain trail. In the gorge is a long row of Buddhist monks that watch over travelers and the Nikko Botanical Garden. The monks lined up are called Bake-jizo which loosely means uncountable. It’s said it’s impossible to know how many monks are in the garden, each time you count them you’ll supposedly get a different number.

Very beautiful scenery


Even though my legs still hurt from the weekend, overall I would rate this as a positive experience. The hike was treacherous but the view at the end was well worth it.