Nasu-Shiobara: Good for a weekend trip
For an easy trip to the nature from Tokyo - try Nasu-Shiobara.
Located in the popular Nikko National Park, Nasu-Shiobara is comprised of the two towns, Nasu and Shiobara, nestled around Mount Nasudake. Being part of a national park, the area is home to many hiking trails, rivers, waterfalls and hot springs. It Is considered a great destination for families with kids, as it can
be reached in just over an hour from Tokyo and has many child-friendly attractions.
What to do in Nasu-Shiobara?
A nostalgic onsen town reminiscent of the Showa era, it has rustic charm and many people were out and about in their yukatas during our visit. The "Yuppo no Sato" facility, built in the wonderful Kengo Kuma style, was one of the best footbaths I've been to, with a circular path that gets hotter the futher you go, and massaging stones throughout.
In the Shiobara vicinity are some natural sights you may wish to see.
Ryuka Falls - You walk about 20 minutes along a river and through the forest until you come to these 60m tall falls. A massive concrete structure has been erected to protect people from falling rocks, but the falls were nonetheless quite mesmerising.
Senbonmatsu Farm - This is a good place for young children. They have a petting zoo with farm animals the kids can touch and feed, some small rides, pony riding and a miniature train.
Momijidani Suspension Bridge - Shiobara is known for its suspension bridges. Momijidani looks to be quite stunning in Autumn, but during my trip in summer I didn't find it particularly impressive.
Genzankutsu - a limestone cave where Minamoto no Aritsune was said to have lived after he escaped from a rival army. There are some exhibits in the cavern showing how he would have lived in the dank underground tunnels, which is quite interesting. It's very close to the centre of Shiobara, so easy to reach.
Kotarogafuchi - This is an old tea house deep in the forest, running alongside a river. You can sit by the water and eat Japanese style sweets. It is very quaint, but you'll need a car to reach it.
Kinomata Valley - Crystal clear, icy cold water, deep enough to swim in.
Otome Falls - A short five minute walk down a hill will bring you to these falls. Worth a short stop to enjoy the fresh air, but no need to go out of your way.
Numappara Marshland - located at an altitude of 1,230m, this is a lovely, child friendly hiking spot. You will walk about 20 minutes through the forest to reach the marshland, where you will feel lost in the nature surrounded by interesting flora and fauna, and the Nasu Mountain ranges. The paths are mostly flat and easy for toddlers to traverse.
Hunter Mountain Shiobara Lilly Festival - In summer there are over 4 million lilies blooming here, the flowering fields are a sight to behold.
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The livelier side of Nasu-Shiobara is Nasu Onsen. Centered around the small hot spring town of Yumoto, there are many attractions to be seen and experienced.
Omaru Onsen Ryokan - This is a very atmospheric old hotel which allows guests to use their hot spring facilities during the daytime. There are two gender mixed pools sitting alongside a natural waterfall (you can cover yourself in towels for privacy), and even better is the female-only pool up the hill with a stream running right next to it, surrounded by alpine grass. It felt like something out of Heidi.
Nasu Ropeway - You can take the ropeway up Mount Nasudake for views of the surrounding mountains. This is best to do in the Autumn season (October) for the most spectacular view. You can hike a further 30 minutes to reach the mountain's peak.
The Murder Stone - While I'm not usually a fan of the many famous rocks that Japan offers, the murder stone is interesting due to it's volcanic properties; it's actually a collection of rocks which vent poisonous gases. Legend has it that the stone used to be a cunning fox which turned into a temptress to try and seduce the emperor, but failed and was turned into this murder stone. Nearby is a shrine, and hiking trails which can take you to Tsutsuji Suspension Bridge and many more forest paths.
Heisei no Mori - This woodland area is used to educate people on the nature of Tochigi. They offer free guided walking tours (in Japanese) and many activities like bird watching, or snowshoeing. Here there are many easy hiking trails through the ancient beech forest.
Hachiman Tsutsuji Gunraku - If you visit in May, definitely check out the azalea fields. They span for 3km along wooden boardwalks.
Okashi no Shiro - This facility has baking classes for kids, a small but lovely garden and a forest walk, complete with a spot for swimming. The best part is the all-you-can-eat blueberry picking, where you can fill a container to take home and there's no time limit.
Nasu Safari Park - An open plan zoo boasting lions, tigers, giraffes, elephants and more. We did the night safari and it proved quite popular with a toddler. The animals come right up to the bus and stick their heads in the window, which all the children loved.
Komadome Falls - It's just a viewing spot, but quite a spectacular waterfall so a nice place to stop, especially in the Fall.
Nasu Animal Kingdom - We did a half day, but you could easily even spend a full day here. It's half zoo, half farm, stretching over a large area of farmland, and best for kids elementary age or younger. If you like high ropes courses, it is also very near to the NOZARU Tree Adventure course.
Is it family-friendly?
I found Nasu-Shiobara to be a great family destination, providing many suitable facilities for children, along with easy nature hikes. If you don't want to move around too much, the Nasu area in particular makes a good base.
Is it social distancing friendly?
On a long weekend like the one I went on, it was quite busy here. The traffic leading out of the area was causing some traffic jams, and even there were no empty hiking trails. However, we only did the easier child friendly paths, while the more serious hiking courses were quiet and offered better social distancing.
How to get there:
It's very easy to reach Nasu-Shiobara. Simply take the shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nasu-Shiobara Station (69 minutes). From there, you can catch a bus to either Shiobara or Nasu onsen. It is recommended to rent a car to get around the area if you are interested in doing a lot, as it saves a lot of time and not everything is accessible by bus.