Situated in the Kantō region of Japan around 100 kilometres to the north of Tokyo, Utsunomiya is the capital of Tochigi Prefecture and its most populous city. Aside from its historic sights and religious temples, the city is a popular foodie destination, particularly renowned for its gyōza dumplings.
The underground caverns of the Oya-ishi quarry ruins offer a glimpse at Utsunomiya’s famed Oya stone, a green-coloured tuff created by volcanic activity that is revered in building for its durability and lightness. It was used in the construction of many of the city’s buildings and religious shrines, including the towering stone wall of OyaKeikan Park. Utsunomiya’s most popular shrine is Futurayama, whose spectacular stairway leads to a large hilltop temple, while the sacred Futaarasan Shrine dominates a small hill within the city centre. Utsunomiya Castle lies at the heart of the city, dating to the early 11th century Heian period, and provided the setting for the 1868 Boshin War Battle of Utsunomiya Castle between pro-imperial and Tokugawa shogunate forces. Today it has been meticulously reconstructed and is a popular spot to picnic for locals and visitors alike. Aside from Utsunomiya’s sights, one of the main reasons people come to visit is to sample its famed gyōza dumplings, with more than 200 restaurants serving up these pan-fried, steamed or boiled traditional snacks, and a gyōza statue located outside the main Utsunomiya Station.
Utsunomiya is connected to Tokyo along the high-speed Tohoku Shinkansen line, together with more frequent and slower suburban lines. There are also overnight bus services which connect further south to Kyoto and Osaka, while the city itself can be explored on foot or by bicycle.
While there is evidence of human occupation in the area that is now Utsunomiya dating back to the Japanese Palaeolithic period, the town itself developed around the 4th century under the control of the Utsunomiya clan. It became an important garrison town for the Imperial Japanese Army during the late 19th century, but large areas were destroyed during the American bombing of World War II.