In this post we are featuring Nasu-Karasuyama (那須烏山市）, a small city located in Tochigi prefecture which is about 2h from Tokyo and known for its beautiful nature, traditional craft and sake.
I have been a fan of the aged sake made by Shimazaki sake brewery and wanted to learn more about the things to do in Nasu-Karasuyama. So, I contacted the Nasu-Karasuyama Tourism Department and talked to their tourism team, Takano-san, Sato-san, Tanakajima-san and Aoki-san who all shared some really great information with me.
Below is my interview with the team, which I hope will inspire you to visit Nasu-Karasuyama!
A beautiful view of the Arakawa river in Nasu-Karasuyama
Nasu-Karasuyama City is a beautiful place with a rich natural landscape. The clear Naka River and the Arakawa River, represent the original landscape of Japan. Visitors can leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind and relax in this beautiful place surrounded by nature.
The area also has many local resources that allow visitors to experience history and culture. One of them is the Karasuyama Yamaage festival （山あげ祭り）, that has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site. Another one is the Karasuyama Castle ruins, which have been designated as a national historic site.
People visiting can also enjoy the local sake brewery, which was founded in 1849, or the Japanese washi paper mill that has been in existence since the Nara period (710-794AD). It is a great place where traditional Japanese handicrafts and skills have been preserved and are still treasured today.
Access to Nasu-Karasuyama City takes about two hours from JR Tokyo Station via Shinkansen and other trains, so visitors can easily come here for a day trip. It really is a perfect destination for those who want to experience nature and culture and refresh their spirit.
Nasu-Karasuyama Castle Ruins
All four seasons in Nasu-Karasuyama are very attractive, and the beautiful nature can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Visitors can see the cherry blossoms and mountain azaleas in spring, fresh greenery and yana in summer, autumn leaves in autumn and the sea of clouds in winter in the Kunimi area.
Furthermore, Nasu-Karasuyama is especially lively every July with the 460-year-old Yamaage Festival. This festival is one of the major festivals in Nasu-Karasuyama, and the sight of the huge floats parading through the streets is very powerful.
The area also offers a variety of activities that allow visitors to enjoy the great outdoors, such as fruit picking, kayaking and rafting. The experience of picking mandarin oranges and other tropical fruits is very popular with tourists.
Yamaage Festival / Yana Fishing / Autumn Leaves
Let’s see. There are a few things we think would be great for visitors to explore:
The Ryumon waterfall is about 20 m high and 65 m wide, flowing beautifully down into an opening of the forrest. There is a legend that this waterfall is inhabited by a giant dragon, which is said to be the origin of its name.
The waterfall is lovely during all year as it changes through the seasons with cherry blossoms in spring, fresh greenery in summer, autumn leaves in autumn and the waterfall even freezes in winter. It is a beautiful place that you will want to visit again and again.
Shimazaki Sake Brewery is known for their cave they use to store and age sake. The cave was built at the end of the Second World War to manufacture tanks and is now used by the long-established Sake Brewery. The cave has three 100 m vertical shafts and five 60 m horizontal tunnels, with a total length of 600 m. Once you enter it, it is so quiet that you feel as if you have wandered into another world. Furthermore, multi-lingual tables are available that visitors can use to tour the cave.
Nasukarasuyama washi has a long history dating back to the Nara period (710-794 AD) and is used for diplomas at many schools in and outside the prefecture. In addition, it is also used for the Harikayama (the background painting of the floats) of the Yamaage Festival and is well-known by many people. It is also a national selective cultural property and a traditional craft of Nasu-Karasuyama City. At the workshop in the Koharazawa area, you can watch craftspeople make washi and have a valuable experience by trying your hand at making washi yourself if you like.
Ryumon Waterall / Shimazaki Brewery / Washi Kaikan
I highly recommend the Yamizo soba (八溝そば) – buckwheat noodles.
This special soba is great to be enjoyed at difference in temperatures, it is both tasty when eaten cold and delicious when served hot.
The locally harvested brown buckwheat is handmade into noodles by skilled professional cooks, and can be enjoyed freshly prepared at many places. In fact, Yamizo soba is popular with both locals and tourists alike for its buckwheat flavor and chewy texture and is best enjoyed in a tranquil natural setting
Local Yamizo Soba Noodles
There are also many local specialities in Nasu-Karasuyama City.
The most recommended is the sake from the long-established Shimazaki Sake Brewery (島崎酒造). The sake, brewed by skilled craftsmen who follow traditional methods with great care, is extremely popular among the locals. In particular the Uroko Yamahai Junmai Genshu（熟露枯 山廃純米原酒）. This sake won the Platinum Award at the French Sake Competition and is highly regarded overseas.
Then there are many handicrafts made from Karasuyama Washi, one of the traditional crafts of Nasu-Karasuyama. A wide variety is sold at the Washi Kaikan (和紙会館). From small business card cases to large tote bags, all with a unique texture. What is unique about Karasuyama Washi is, that it is thick and durable and comes in a variety of colors and patterns, so it makes a great gift from Japan.
Shimazaki Sake Brewery / Washi Kaikan show room
Yes, there is. The Yamaage Matsuri (山あげ祭), held every year in July, is one of the most exciting festivals in Nasu Karasuyama City.
460 years ago, the Lord of the Karasuyama Castle, Nasu Suketane(那須 資胤), enshrined Gozutenno at Yakumo Shrine(八雲神社) to pray for the prevention of epidemics, good harvest, and peace. Because of that it is believed to be the origin of the present-day Yamaage Matsuri.
The festival features a spectacular open-air Kabuki performance in the very center of the town. Watching the local people carry the floats through the streets and building the sets for the Kabuki performances is a sight not to be missed. The colour mountains which are part of the set are particularly impressive and the show attracts a large number of people. These traditional performing arts are a valuable part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Yes, there is!
There are many sightseeing spots where you can enjoy the great outdoors, such as fruit picking and experiences in nature. Fruit picking allows you to taste seasonal fruits such as apples, strawberries and mandarin oranges (Mikan). Especially the mandarin oranges from the Kunimi area are a rare variety, said to be the northernmost in Japan.
Visitors can also enjoy water sports such as kayaking and rafting. The Naka River is known as a clear stream and offers active experiences while enjoying the rich natural scenery. Furthermore, there are campsites, which can be enjoyed with family and friends. We think spending time in nature is a great way to relax and refresh yourself.
Mandarin Oranges (Mikan) /Naka River Kayaking
From a local perspective, the team form the tourism department of Nasu-Karasuyama were so incredibly helpful to get a better understand of what Nasu-Karasuyama city has to offer.
I really hope if you are reading this and decide to go visit, you will have an amazing time in this wonderful town north of Tokyo!
If you are coming from Tokyo, taking the train or driving is going to be the easiest.
From Tokyo or Ueno station, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to JR Utsunomiya station (50min) and change for the JR Karasuyama Line and get off at JR Karasuyama station. (Sometimes you will need to go 2 stations further to JR Hoshakuji station to change for JR Karasuyama line. Check the Japan Transit Planner for train times.).
50 minutes drive from Utsunomiya IC on the Tohoku Expressway (Tohoku Jidoshado)
50min drive from Kaminokawa IC on the Kitakanto Expressway (Kitakanto Jidoshado)
I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.
To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.
Contributor: Angus Miyaji
Founder of Nearby Tokyo and Japan World Link, Angus helps visitors discover off the beaten track destinations in the North Kanto regions (Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki & Saitama north of Tokyo). He regularly travels between Japan and the UK promoting tourism and Japanese sake.