I took this trip from 26 to 27 February and did it in a live blog format entirely on my phone to try it as an experiment. I was able to update every 30 minutes as I went, and I found it a useful way to help capture the sights for my audience.

My first destination is Utsunomiya. It is just north of Tochigi city and is the famous place for gyoza. It is also the jumping off point for the Oya mines.

If you have not tried it, the Jorudan app is the best for train travel. You can choose multiple options from fast to cheap. Using Google maps almost always defaults to fast – Shinkansen – and often misses the more economical options.

Timing is all-important. Even though it’s rush hour, because I’m going against the commute, there is no problem to find a seat.

From Utsunomiya station to the Oya mines it’s a 30-minute bus ride.

Uchinomiya station area

Gyoza references everywhere

Reached the Oya Mine Museum

Going inside was very impressive

This place is really huge. I don’t think the pictures quite capture how awesome it appears.

Back to city and a gyoza lunch

I chose the Kenta set for ¥500

Gyoza is a simple food, so I don’t think you can improve so much, but these were excellent. Lots of garlic and chives, not overstuffed with a nice crispness of the wrapper. A great value for ¥500.

Next is my city walkabout in Utsunomiya city.

Orion street is a long, covered shopping street

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You can see many uses of Oya stone. This is a public restroom.

Utsunomiya is really a beautiful city and great for walking. I would like to spend more time, but I achieved my two goals and there is a lot to see in Tochigi city. Between the center of Utsunomiya and Tochigi is a dedicated local line.

Tochigi city is a very peaceful place

What constantly amazes me about Japan is how clean the local rivers are.

You can see Oya stone used for many buildings. This was once a bank.

Check into my guest house for a quick rest before resuming my exploration. Very charming place run by a young couple. I have a private room.

You can walk down this side street and see many famous old buildings.

The local architecture is really an amazing collection of different eras. If you go, I recommend following a guide like the one above.

There are very few international chains, but there was a local Starbucks that perfectly captured the local feel. I think I will have a cup there tomorrow.

There was only one other guest there that night, but she still laid out the self-service spread. The lobby is very nice and good place to relax.

A very nice American breakfast was included with my room at the Kuranomachi guest house. I really recommend it. Very clean and nice, with good a good shower.

Say goodbye to the proprietor.

Before going to Mt. Ohira, I just had to stop at the Starbucks because it looked so nice. It does not get so crowded like the ones in the big cities. A great place to relax and watch the world go by.

When you cross a bridge, the carp come asking for food.

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It was about a 5km walk from the city to the path up to the top of Mt. Ohira. It was a very pleasant walk through local neighborhoods. I think most locals would drive this route but walking is still a very good option.

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Although I don’t normally make it a point to visit religious sites when I travel, in Japan when you visit a mountaintop, the best destination is always a shrine – they typically occupy the best spot on a mountain peak.

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I saw a good sized solar panel farm in the mountains.. After losing a lot of power generation capacity because of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, there have been various renewable energy efforts.

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While the mountaintop is totally accessible by car, the, in my opinion, the best way to get there is to walk.

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I don’t think these pictures capture it well, but the walk up was though one of the densest forests I have seen. It was serene and the air was delicious.

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Near the peak is Ohira shrine, but there is still a way to go to get to the top.

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Once at the peak, the hike was totally worth it. I took some time for reflection and to thank for the blessings of the day.

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After coming down the mountain, I continued my walkabout in the city.

Japan is truly a country with authenticity. This old hospital is a historic site, but still continues to be run as a hospital. It is actually quite large, with adjacent buildings having been annexed.

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I like this nice original Citroen 2CV

It seems that every city has a mascot (character). Tochigi has “Tochikai”.  I don’t think he is going to be as famous as Kumamon, but at least he is cute! Finally, one of the famous local products is lemon milk, so I brought back these lemon milk candies.

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I took a different route to get back. Jorudan will give you the best option depending on departure time. This one went through Kuribashi. It was only a 4 minute connect but there we no trouble to make it.

Had some good exercise too. My Fitbit says 29,000 steps and 22km walked today. I burned off some carbos.

Tochigi was a great trip. Another pretty economical excursion from Tokyo.