Sometimes, after a long day of shopping, you just need to find somewhere to sit down for a few minutes. If such a spot is green and peaceful, that’s even better. Fortunately, for anyone who finds themselves in downtown Utsunomiya City, whether for business or pleasure, Utsunomiya Castle Ruins Park provides exactly such a spot.
The park sits just a block over from the towering office complex of the Utsunomiya City government and consists of a large, grassy area below a reconstructed wall and pair of watchtowers. Cherry trees dot the walkways and a small museum guards a pedestrian tunnel that passes through the wall. During the spring, the cherry trees blossom white and pink, creating a pleasant picnic area in the heart of the city.
Friendly volunteer staff operate the information booth and museum inside the wall. They will happily show you around the castle grounds, pointing out interesting bits of historical context and trivia. Many of the staff speak at least a little English and can provide visitors with several handouts and informational pamphlets in English.
The earliest fortifications on Utsunomiya date back to the early eleventh century. Built by Fujiwara Soen, his descendents, under the clan name Utsunomiya, added moats, walls, and other fortifications until the fifteenth century when a recognizeable castle stood tall. The castle survived until the Boshin War of the 1860s, when the castle was burned to the ground. In 2007, the castle was rebuilt into its current form of park and rest spot for city residents and workers near the heart of the business district.
The castle was reconstructed with an eye toward giving visitors a feeling of what it might have been like to stroll the castle grounds or patrol its watch towers rather than complete historical accuracy. Thus, there are ramps and an elevator where there ought properly only be wooden stairs, but these modern conveniences do not distract from the authenticity of the wooden bracings along the inner wall, or the low height of the arrow slits.
The two yagura (watch towers) have been faithfully reproduced in wood and have models inside showing their construction.
Inside the pedestrian tunnel is a small museum dedicated to the history of the castle and Utsunomiya itself, including several displays and maps of the grounds and surroundings.
When to Go
Utsunomiya Castle boasts four distinct varieties of cherry trees, which means that there are blooms for almost two full months during the spring, from late March through the beginning of May, depending on the weather.
For those who prefer food to flowers, Utsunomiya Castle Ruins Park hosts the occasional gyoza (dumpling) festival during the summer months. Keep an eye on the Utsuonimya City homepage for dates and be sure to arrive early and with an empty stomach.
Admission to the castle grounds is free and the park is open between the hours of 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
How to Get There
From Utsunomiya JR Station, the easiest (but not the most direct) way to Utsunomiya Castle is by a twenty minute walk. Head straight West on Odori, then turn left at PARCO, which leads directly to the castle park.
By car, follow the Tohoku Expressway, then turn onto Oya Kaido (Oya Highway). Follow Oya Kaido as it turns into Odori then turn right at Chuo Dori, which leads to City Hall. From there, turn left and follow the road for one block. At the stoplight, turn right and continue for about 30 meters. You’ll come to a paid parking lot, where you can leave your car for ¥100 per hour. Cross the street on foot and you’ll be in the castle grounds.