Mention the city of Utsunomiya to any Japanese person and the likely first response will be a remark about gyoza. This part of Tochigi prefecture is famed for these delectable dumplings and so Neil and I felt obliged to keep people happy by dining out at one of the many, many restaurants specialising in the dish.
Whilst he opted for the more traditional Chinese type, I couldn’t resist the Japanese pan-fried style which came in 12 different flavours. Apart from the cheese one, I can’t say I noticed too much of a difference in taste between the majority of them but they were all good not that I could really distinguish between them and the gyoza in Tokyo!
Before that we walked for about 20 minutes to the Utsunomiya Castle Ruins Park which is a reconstruction based on historical records and findings of the excavation. The moat, turret and so on were restored to their original mid-Edo Period state.
This castle supposedly ranks as one of the seven great castles in the Kanto region. I find that hard to believe or maybe it used to be so well thought of. My initial impression was that it wasn’t much to look at but would be a nice setting for chilling with friends or family on the grassy park area, particularly during the cherry blossom season. The view from the side was better with the castle perched on the hill and reflecting in the seven metre deep moat which is thought to have been constructed in the first half of the 17th century.
Close to the castle was this water fountain (below) that was spurting out the water with such ridiculous unnecessary power. I have long been a fan of such wonders!!
None of that was why we were really in Utsunomiya though for the main reason was to watch some J3 football and thus tick another ground off our list of football stadia within reasonably easy reach of Tokyo. On my arrival at the station I was quite bemused as to why there were so many foreigners around. I know Japan has seen a huge rise in visitors in recent years but wasn’t expecting to see so many up in Tochigi prefecture. I then realised that it was because of Nikko (and it’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples) and people were just in transit.
There was a man with a sign in Utsunomiya station (below) pointing fans towards the east exit where there was a free shuttle bus to the Tochigi Green Stadium waiting behind the overly long named Utsunomiya gyoza kan ekimae event hiroba ten restaurant.
The buses leave on the hour and every 20 minutes after that and there are a series of statues dotted around the area including one of Godzilla (above) which was music to my ears as someone who has done a themed cycling tour of the Godzilla trail in Tokyo.
Unbelievably, Neil was not drinking after a big night out so it was up to me to fly the flag which was rare as I always drink the least on such trips. In fact, I didn’t use to even drink at football matches but that’s the bad influence that Neil (and Jack who was absent for this outing) have had on me!!
It was a blazing hot afternoon and we purchased tickets for 2000 yen each and headed straight in to take our seats on the open terrace opposite the main stand.
Anyone who is a regular reader of these stadium chronicles knows I’m a fan of the more traditional rectangular shaped ground and this was one of them although the amount of space between the goals and the stands behind them was almost similar in distance to what can often be seen at stadiums with running tracks around them.
This wasn’t actually the first time I had seen Tochigi SC as they were the visitors to the FC Ryukyu match I saw in Okinawa last October. At that time they were top yet somehow messed up and failed to get up. For this match, it was the away side Blaublitz Akita who were top with Tochigi SC coming up their rear.
The Blaublitz goal lived something of a charmed life in the first half in particular as they rode their luck before gaining something of a smash and grab victory with the winner ten minutes from time which in turn stretched their lead at the top of the J3 league.
Final Score: Tochigi SC 0-1 Blaublitz Akita
Click here to read ‘Top 10 Day Trips Beyond Kanagawa, Saitama & Chiba’