by Faith Kitsunezaki
As a family we often escape the concrete jungle of Tokyo life and head out to the countryside of Nasu in Tochigi prefecture. We always anticipate the lush green tree tunnels that begin our drive into Nasu, signaling the beginning of a holiday with a feeling of relaxation. Nasu can be enjoyed throughout all four seasons; situated in the mountains, it provides pleasant, fresh air in summer, a wonderful change of color in the trees in autumn, and enough snowfall to go skiing in winter.
Nasu is a traditional farming area that has also lent itself to providing an oasis of refreshing distractions from the buzz of modern life. Arty cafés, antique shops, a mass array of restaurants and beer gardens, trick art museums, and wildlife safaris are enough to tempt even the hardiest of city dwellers. In one day it is possible to visit a number of attractions and places of interest, and still make time for a final soak in the hot springs before heading home.
Nasu With Kids Nasu is situated in the countryside, so it is advisable to bring comfortable walking shoes. In summer a light jacket may be needed for the evening or in case of rain. In other seasons Nasu tends to be cooler than Tokyo, so be sure to bring warmer clothing than what you would wear in the city. To get to Nasu takes less than two hours by car on the Tohoku expressway.
After making the trip to Nasu, usually our first stop is Shozo Café. It has an almost British retro feel, with a funky mix of furniture and art that is both unique and welcoming. Shozo does great teas and coffee, along with English scones and various sandwiches and nibbles.
When the weather permits, we like to visit the Minamigaoka dairy farm. It is situated on a large plot of land, and has enough parking space even for visiting bus groups. Airy shops provide a great selection of local meats, cheeses and spreads, in addition to handmade wooden souvenirs and trinkets. Fresh ice cream and milk from the farm itself can be tasted and enjoyed while sitting on log seats. Children enjoy feeding the carp and having a pet of the young lambs or kid goats in the spring, or going for a ride on donkeys or horses in the farm. We often try our hand at archery or fishing—those lucky enough to catch a fish can then cook it on one of the small grills provided and enjoy it fresh.
Airy shops provide a great selection of local meats, cheeses and spreads, in addition to handmade wooden souvenirs and trinkets.
As a family we have often wanted to visit Bali or Thailand, yet never seemed to have the time or money, so it was a pleasure to stumble upon the Asian Old Bazaar along the main drag of Nasu. It is not hard to find, with its colorful flags and equally colorful parking attendant doing a swirling dance routine and waving to every car that passes! Viewing the myriad of bazaar shops meandering up the hillside in lush green landscapes and stone courtyards, it was hard to think that we were actually still in Japan. Once our shopping appetite had being satisfied with purchases of household and interior items, it was time to focus on lunch, with coconut and mango drinks and freshly made rice paper rolls in the small restaurant.
If it decides to rain, there are plenty of places to wile away the time until the sun comes out again. For teddy bear lovers of all ages, The Teddy Bear Museum is a great place to visit. It is situated in a large, almost European style manor house. Entering the museum, visitors are greeted by a large teddy bear in both English and Japanese. The ground floor contains teddies from around the world, ranging from microscopic ones to those two meters high, from antique to modern. The second floor is dedicated to Totoro, Satsuki, Mei, Neko Bus and other characters from one of Studio Ghibli’s best loved movies, My Neighbor Totoro. In every corner there is something to catch a child’s attention, while also bringing amusement to adults. A teddy shop provides a wide selection from which to purchase a new toy for the collection at home, or as a present for friends. Downstairs is the Teddy Bear Garden Café, a very quaint little establishment with a sideboard filled with cups and saucers, all of course featuring teddy bear prints. Wooden tables and chairs fill the room, which looks out on a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside. We were joined at our table by a rather distinguished looking bear who was very well-behaved during our afternoon tea break.
Although the area around Nasu is home to many hotels, pension type cabins, and large resorts with hoTeddy Bear Garden Cafét springs for relaxing, we opted for a traditional Japanese ryokan, Sekijitsu. This old-style inn features large rooms with their own private sauna, as well as an outdoor bath to enjoy under the stars. Both dinner and breakfast courses featuring local produce are brought directly to the room, so guests can eat while lounging in the various designs of yukata provided by the hotel.
For more information check the following websites:
Shozo Café: www.shozo.co.jp
Minamigaoka Dairy Farm: www.minamigaoka.co.jp
Asian Old Bazaar: www.asianoldbazaar.com
Teddy Bear Museum: www.teddynet.co.jp/nasu.html
Sun Valley Resort Nasu: www.nasu3800.co.jp/english/index.shtml
Virtual Tours of Nasu: www.beads-net.com/e/index7.htm