The Day in Tochigi City

In September, I found myself in Tochigi City for the first time.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know there was a city called Tochigi. More often than not, cities like Nasu and Nikko come to mind when you mention Tochigi prefecture. Even more interesting, although the city is the namesake of the prefecture, it is actually not the capital (it’s Utsunomiya City!).

That being said, Tochigi City is a far cry from a dead beat town, often referred to as “Kanto’s Kurashiki.” (If you don’t know, Kurashiki is a city in Okayama prefecture with a famous historical district) This pretty much means that Tochigi City has many old traditional Japanese buildings, which I can appreciate. I love cities that work to preserve their history.

In early September, several typhoons passed by (or close by) Japan, which resulted in unprecedented rain and lead to heavy flooding in certain areas. Most of the largely affected areas where along Kinu River, which the media focused on. But there were many other areas that were affected by flooding, Tochigi City being one of them.

I have to say, I really appreciate the network of friends I gained when I had an opportunity to volunteer in Miyagi. We all lead very different lives, but one thing is the same…once you start it’s hard to stop. So when my contact at the local social welfare council (they are usually in charge of volunteers for disaster relief) mentioned a lack of volunteers in certain areas, I asked to join in and to my surprise, there were very many familiar faces!

My team was given an assignment to clear out everything from inside a large storage garage, which was filled with old family memorabilia. If you know anything about the older generation in Japan, it’s that they don’t throw anything away. The garage had been sitting in flood water for awhile before it drained away so most boxes were soggy and starting to mold. Our job was to bring everything out and divide the items according to the city’s trash disposal rules.

The older owners were working along side us, too. It’s always so difficult to know what to say or do to not make the experience even more hard than it is for them. I can’t imagine what it’s like for them to have to throw so many things with memories away, so suddenly.

They had already stripped everything from their house and so it was just the garage that was left. We worked on it from 10am to 3pm, with a lunch break in the middle. It was just enough time to call the city to come pick everything up to dispose.

This was my first time seeing a garbage truck come to do private pick-ups. We all helped throw everything in, which was an experience on its own.

By the end of the day, we were pretty filthy but it felt good to be of some help to the owners, who jokingly said they’d see us all next week. I took that to mean they were satisfied with our work 🙂

We drove back to Tokyo after checking out at the local volunteer center. Tochigi City was so close that I was back at home by 8pm, which was much much shorter than our days driving back from Miyagi. Now that I know how lovely the city is, I think I’ll try going back as a visitor one of these days.

And I hope by then, the city will have bounced back from the flooding. x

A spot of fall.
Things at the volunteer center.
Energy drink before the manual labor.

It was raining that morning, too.
 You can see how high the flood water was.

We took a break for lunch and explored a bit of the city.
We ate lunch here!

The ramen was delicious 🙂

Rubber boots and work gloves are a must.
The amazingly efficient city workers.

Our day ended at the city hall.
Took a break at Hanyu parking area. 

Tochigi is famous for lemon milk, which I love.

Until next time, Tochigi. x


10-14 Yamato-cho, Tochigi-shi, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県栃木市倭町10-14
TEL: 0282 25 7556
HOURS: weekdays  11:30am-3:00pm, 5:30pm-9:30pm
               weekend and holidays  11:30am-9:00pm

The Alpaca Farm in Nasu (and How to Get There)

Prepare to be charmed!

During our weekend in Nasu, we hopped on a bus from Nasu-yumoto to go say hi to alpacas! 

Nasu Alpaca Farm is the largest of its kind in Japan, with over 400 alpacas. In 1999, they started off with 200 alpacas that were chartered by air to Japan from the Andes. Although they struggled with taking care of the alpacas at first due to various reasons such as lack of medicine and medical knowledge regarding alpacas, after visitations from American veterinarians and importing medicine, the birthrate has stabilized in the recent years. 

The farm itself was fairly large and my friend and I started out just taking a stroll through the designated path, looking in on the alpacas roaming around inside the fenced areas. With their big fluffy body, perky ears, and eyes with the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen, it was pretty darn hard not to fall for these shy but charming animals.


I’d actually never heard of alpacas until the Japanese fiber company Kuraray made a series of commercials featuring a fluffy white alpaca. I wasn’t too sure what this commercial was actually promoting (…and still don’t really) but it made a pretty big impression in Japan and alpacas became well known around 2009.

Obviously it’s been a while since then but when my friend mentioned that there was an alpaca farm in Nasu, I had to go and see what these alpacas were all about! And lucky for us, we bumped into a Peruvian alpaca expert while we were there, who was kind enough to show us around and answer all our questions.

He explained that at this farm the alpacas get a haircut every two years. We were there a week ahead of their shearing season so they were at their peak fluffiness! We also learned that alpacas are native to the Andes region. When I asked about the alpacas in the wild, he surprised me by mentioning that currently all the alpacas are domesticated and have been that way for a while now. Who knew?


Alpacas are famous for their fleece, which is soft and water resistant. For that reason, very fine alpaca fiber is extremely valuable. One of the quirky things I noticed is that alpacas don’t have any upper front teeth. They apparently don’t need it as they feed on grass. Oh, and when they pee? They do it for a really really long time. At least a couple of minutes. (Too much information?)


I’m so glad we bumped into our “guide” because we had an amazing time learning about alpacas. He introduced us to the famous alpaca from the Kuraray commercials with the same amount of enthusiasm as when he introduced us to a blind alpaca. He said that sometimes they are born blind and/or deaf but receive the same amount of care and friendship from both the staff and the other alpacas. And I believe him because the minute he started talking, the blind alpaca perked up its ear and moseyed on over to be pet by him. It completely warmed my heart.

Have you ever spent time with alpacas? They are the sweetest animals ever. If you’re ever in Nasu, you may enjoy an afternoon with an alpaca or two! x

Here are some photos:

Entrance was 800 yen for adults, 600 yen for jr high/high schoolers, and 400 yen for kids.
A brown alpaca enjoying the sunny day out in the field.
See? No front upper teeth!
When alpacas sit down, their hind legs look like they’re kneeling.
Dainty legs!
This is my favorite picture of all time! Look at that expression!
This is the white alpaca from the commercial!
This was the baby corner, they were born this spring!
How can you resist this charming look?
This dark chocolate alpaca was prancing around for us to see.
Isn’t this the fluffiest alpaca ever?
Our amazing guide taking an alpaca out for a walk.
This was his if-you-have-clean-hands-you-may-pat-me look (in my head).
So soft and warm!
We had a great day with our new furry friends!
1083 Oshima Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町大字大島1083
TEL: 0287-77-1197
OPEN: 10:00am-4:00pm (closed Thursdays)
Entrance Fee: 800 yen


TRANSPORTATION TO THE NASU ALPACA FARM


I’ve gotten quite a few inquiries regarding how to get to the Alpaca Farm so I thought I’d add a little bit more information on that here.

So the bad news is, there is no public transportation from the nearest station to the Alpaca Farm on a daily basis.

The closest train station is Shin-Shirakawa Station on the JR Line. Both the Tohoku Shinkansen and local trains stop here and the station is approximately 15km away from the Alpaca Farm. Your choice is to rent a car (6,000-12,000yen for 12 hours, depending on the car) or to take a taxi (approximately 8,000yen one way).

Obviously this is quite a hassle for many, not to mention expensive. For those who do not have a drivers license or deep pockets to hire a taxi (like me!), you have two other choices.

1. TAKE THE BUS
I previously mentioned that there is no public transportation to the Alpaca Farm. But there IS a bus that operates for a limited time during certain times of the year, which is what we used as transportation in my post above. The bus operation varies from year to year, but I believe they operate both in the spring and fall. We were luckily traveling during the spring period and this bus is what we took to get to the Alpaca Farm.

Tsutsuji-go: The bus that operates during the spring season is called Tsutsuji-go (i.e. Azalea bus), probably because it coincides with the azalea season in the Nasu highlands. From the past couple of years, it seems that Tsutsuji-go operates from end of April/early May to mid to late June, depending on the year.

Momiji-go: The other bus that operates in the fall is called Momiji-go (i.e. Japanese Maple bus), again probably because it coincides with the fall foliage season when trees change color. This period seems to vary by year but basically Momiji-go runs from mid to late September to late October/early November.

The operating season for both of these buses seem to be announced within a month prior so it can be nerve-wrecking for people who want to plan ahead. But if you are lucky to be traveling during that season, you can get on the bus at Nasu Yumoto (in front of the Nasu-cho Kanko Kyokai-mae, i.e. Nasu Tourism Assosication) and they will drop you off at Nasu Alpaca Farm.

You may have already noticed that Nasu Yumoto is quite far from the nearest train station. So what we did is, took the local bus (Toya Transportation Bus) from Nasu Shiobara JR Station (you can also get on at the neighboring Kuro-iso JR Station) to Nasu Yumoto (approx. 50-60min), then changed onto the Tsutsuji-go bus all the way to the Alpaca Farm (approx. 30min).

Both the Tsutsuji-go and Momiji-go operate three round trips, meaning 3 buses to go and 3 buses to get back, so make sure you check the time schedule so you don’t miss the last bus. When we went, we took the 11:40am bus and got there a little past noon. Then we took the 3pm bus back to Nasu Yumoto and got there around 3:30pm.

For your reference, here is when the bus was operating from previous years:
2017  Spring: Apr 29 – Jun 4  /  Fall: TBD
2016  Spring: Apr 29 – Jun 5  /  Fall: Sep 17 – Oct 23
2015  Spring: May 2 – Jun 14  /  Fall: Sep 19 – Oct 25
2014  Spring: Apr 26 – Jun 29  /  Fall: Oct 11 – Nov 3
*For up-to-date details on Tsutsuji-go/Momiji-go bus schedules, please contact Nasu Tourism Association at +81 (0)287 76 2619.

2. TAKE A BUS TOUR FROM TOKYO
There are bus tours from Tokyo that will take you to and from the Alpaca Farm. You can book through travel agencies such as H.I.S. or Hato Bus, and you won’t have to worry about any of the transportation logistics in between. The price is also quite reasonable, somewhere in the range of 7,000 to 9,000yen.

Of course, there is always a down-side to tours, such as not being able to spend as much time as you would like at the Alpaca Farm, due to the tour schedule, which will most likely include other stops along the way. But on the other hand, you’ll get to see other places in the Nasu area, which are likely difficult to access without a car, so depending on the itinerary it could end up being a win-win situation.

For your reference, here are some bus tours:
H.I.S. Tour: Alpaca Farm – Nasu Beer Garden – Strawberry Picking from Shinjuku
Hato Bus Tour: Strawberry Picking – Nasu Beer Garden – Alpaca Farm from Ikebukuro
*These tours are as of April 2017 and may not be current.

I hope this helps! x

The Day Exploring Nasu

I really had no idea Nasu-kogen (那須高原) was so close to Tokyo.
This was over two months ago, but I was in Nasu (那須) for the weekend to attend a friend’s wedding! I was really excited about this weekend because I hadn’t been to a wedding in a while (love feeling the love!) and technically this was my first time stepping into Tochigi prefecture, which is where Nasu is located.
Nasu, along with Karuizawa (軽井沢), are the top two summer resorts for people in the Kanto area because of the cooler weather, due to their location in the highlands. We call these places hishochi (避暑地) in Japanese, which translates to “land evading heat.” And I can definitely vouch for that. The weekend we were in Nasu, Tokyo was apparently hit with the first heatwave of the season but we didn’t feel any of it, especially up in the mountains.
I would recommend a rental car if you’re ever in Nasu. Everything is located pretty far from the main shinkansen/train station and it makes exploring much easier. But since the main reason my friend and I were there was for the wedding, we stuck with trains and buses to explore a bit of Nasu.
We took the bus from Nasu Shiobara station to Nasu Yumoto (那須湯本), a place that has been famous for their onsen (hot springs) since they discovered the very first one, Shika-no-yu (鹿の湯), over 1,380 years ago in year 630 (read more about the history in Japanese here). They also established the Nasu Onsen Shrine (那須温泉神社) close by around the same time. 
We took a short walk through the Nasu Onsen Shrine premises and then down below to take in the amazing sight of hundreds of jizo standing along the mountain side. They are called Sentai Jizo (千体地蔵), which means one thousand jizos, but in reality they still have a bit to go to reach that number. A local craftsman started handcrafting these jizos in 1978 and continues to do so today with prayers for peace.
I noticed that this whole valley was mostly rock and sand, even though the surrounding mountains were lush with greenery. You could say the fault lies on a large rock that sits there called Sessho-seki (殺生石), which translates to “rock that kills the living.” People in the olden days believed the rock had a spirit within it and named it Sessho-seki because they saw many plants and even animals that came near it suddenly die. There’s even a famous legendary story regarding Sessho-seki (read here).
We now know that the real reason this happened is due to toxic gas, such as hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, which sprouted from the ground surrounding Sessho-seki. You can still smell the odor quite distinctively and even to this day, certain areas around Sessho-seki are blocked off due to the harmful fumes. Isn’t that scary? Although if you got a whiff of the smell like I did, you’d know right away that it can’t be that great for you. It smelled worse than the onsen mud pack in Kagoshima!
Speaking of onsen, my friend and I didn’t have time for that but we did manage to relax in an ashi-yu (足湯), which is an onsen for your feet. It’s the perfect way to rest your feet after walking around for awhile. We also ate soba before heading off to visit Nasu Alpaca Farm, because who doesn’t want to hang with Alpacas? (Blog post to come soon!) We really had a great time getting to know Nasu. It’s on my list of places to revisit…I bet late fall in Nasu is gorgeous!
Here are some photos:
It’s been awhile since my last Shinkansen ride…they really are fast.
Nasu-shiobara Station is where most people get off to go to Nasu Yumoto.
I forgot what they are called but they were handing out these fish in front of the soba shop!
We had lunch at Nasu Yumoto…nothing like cold soba in the summer!
This was the entrance to the Nasu Onsen Shrine (那須温泉神社).
This was the path leading up to it…and silly me, I forgot to take a photo of the main shrine!
Apparently even the famous poet Basho Matsuo (松尾芭蕉) passed through Nasu.
Steep stairs leading up to the Atago Shrine (愛宕神社) located by the Onsen Shrine.
The view of the valley below…we could already smell the sulfur odor from here.
The creepy Sessho-seki that kills everything that comes near it.
Even today there is a fence blocking us from getting closer.
The story of Sessho-seki.
One of the handmade jizo…many people place coins at the feet of the jizo for their own prayers.
Many of the Jizo had crocheted hats and scarves wrapped around them.
My omikuji from Nasu Onsen Shrine…it said that change was coming. Hmmm.
Nasu is also known for their fresh fruit and vegetables. These dips were on sale.
The ashi-yu felt amazing, even though the water was really hot at first.
Located at the foot of Nasu Onsen Shrine, it’s free for anyone to dip their feet into.
We ended the day near Kuro-iso Station (黒磯駅).
I had soba for dinner even though I had it for lunch, too. So good!
182-22 Yumoto Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町湯本182-22
TEL: 0287-76-3230
OPEN: 11:00am until noodles sell out (closed Tuesdays)
ZARU SOBA: 700 yen
182 Yumoto Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町大字湯本182
TEL: 0287-76-2306
OMIKUJI: 100 yen
KONBAIRO NO YU (こんばいろの湯)
182-14 Yumoto Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町大字湯本182-14
TEL: 0287-76-2619
OPEN: 9:00am-6:00pm
4-4 Honcho, Nasushiohara-shi, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須塩原市本町4-4
TEL: 0287-62-0007
OPEN: 11:00am-8:00pm