Nikko is one of the most well-known day trip destinations in Tochigi, but Tokyo’s northern neighbor has so much more to offer. In the village of Ohtawara, visitors can have firsthand experience of Japanese history and traditional culture. Viewing the beautiful thatched roof temples and experiencing zazen are just one of the many things you can do. If you are searching for a good mix of traditional culture and nature, Ohtawara is the place for you.
The first place to stop by in Ohtawara is Kurashi no Yakata, which is a market and a traditional house that
has been transformed into a museum called Shirashinokan. At the market, everyone is very friendly, often joking and laughing with the customers as they sell their goods. The owner was so happy to see me that he gave me a gigantic senbei, which is a Japanese rice cracker, with the local mascot drawn on it. I was really touched by the people’s kindness! The signs in the museum are in Japanese, but just seeing the inside of a traditional Japanese building is always interesting.
Unganji is one of the largest temples in Ohtawara, Tochigi. Known for being almost entirely untouched, visitors can feel the authenticity and history of the area. You can experience the Japanese history through the buildings at Unganji. The scenic forest in the area makes it even more enchanting. Autumn is the perfect season to visit Ohtawara because the leaves are very beautiful, especially around Unganji, though spring and summer are recommended as well. To get to the temple, you first cross a traditional Japanese bridge surrounded by trees. If you do go in autumn or winter, make sure to dress warmly as it is colder than Tokyo. Taking some time to walk or cycle around Ohtawara is quite enjoyable as there are endless varieties of scenery to admire. Each season has its own beauty, but if you visit during the height of autumn, the land will be covered in red, yellow and orange. When you walk around the town, you can also see rocks with Matsuo Basho’s haikus carved into them.
The most famous temple in Ohtawara, Tochigi is Daiouji. Here, you can see the traditional Japanese thatched roofs against the forest scenery. I loved being in this temple because you can really experience the history. This temple is one of the few places in Japan where you can experience the the famous Zazen, the Buddhist meditation practice. With the help of the monk, you will be able to relax and try to empty your mind. My Zazen teacher was very kind and easy to understand. We had a great time talking and I discovered that he learned to speak English when he was an exchange student in Canada, which is where I am from. He taught me how to sit, act and liberate my mind off of any thoughts. He also told me that though Zazen is famous for hitting practitioners who fall asleep or make mistakes, they probably will not hit you if you are not Japanese! Nevertheless, they do not hit to punish, but simply to help you get your energy back. It is not intended to bring a bad feeling to the person.
If you want to get a meal around the temple, I highly recommend Shiroyama, which offers very good Onigiri and Oyaki meal sets for ¥550. The Onigiri had Umeboshi in it and the eggplant Oyaki was delicious. Shiroyama is located right beside Daiouji.
To get to Ohtawara, take the Nasuno 278 Shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno station to the Nasushiobara station. You will arrive in less than an hour and a half. To get around the city, the bus system is useful. There are bus stops at each temple, but the main stop is at the Nasushiobara station. Renting a car is also a great option because Ohtawara has a lot of farms and fields. This area is perfect for a country drive.
For your information:
For booking https://asoview.com/en/act/117/
Access: http://www.ohtawara.info/access.html (Japanese only)
A Mix of Tradition and a Lush Outdoor Escape
Kurashi no Yakata and Unganji Temple
Daiouji and Zazen