Ashikaga is a small city nestled in the mountains of southern Tochigi prefecture, roughly 70 km from Tokyo. The gentle heart of Ashikaga balances the busy spirit of Tokyo with rich history and vibrant Japanese culture, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. A five minute walk from Ashikaga JR station will bring you to Japan’s first academic institution, a beautiful Kamakura style Ashikaga Clan temple, and traditional Japanese restaurants that are both delicious and affordable.
A statue of Confucius marks the beginning of the old cobblestone road that leads to Ashikaga Gakko, the oldest academic institution in Japan. It is said that the school was founded in the 9th century. The school had roughly 3,000 students from all over Japan in 1550, studying subjects from Confucianism to Chinese Medicine. The school was disestablished in 1872. Today, the public can stroll the gardens of the school and view the structures upon which the foundation of Japan's education system was built. The entrance fee for Ashikaga Gakko varies but never rises above 400 Yen.
From the exit of Ashikaga Gakko turn right to the corner of the street, take another right, and then cross the covered bridge over the Koi filled moat surrounding the Bannaji temple. In addition to the main temple you will find a library, a bell tower, many statues, and a lovely garden on the temple grounds. This temple was founded by Yoshikane Ashikaga, a member of the Ashikaga family. Oftentimes you'll run into the kind local man who works at the temple and is always happy to provide historical information in English. In the spring you can view breathtaking cherry blossoms lining the moat, and the majestic yellow of the gingko tree inside the temple grounds is not to be missed in autumn. But no matter what time you choose to visit this National Historic Site, you’ll undoubtedly fall for the temple's serenity. If you are traveling with children, they can enjoy the park that is just left of the main building. There is no fee to view the temple.
The streets are lined with traditional restaurants serving dishes from sushi to curry rice, but if you find yourself in the mood for something different, you can head over to Southwest Paradise, where the chef brings dishes to life in his outstanding take on Southwest American food. I highly recommend the burrito, complemented well by a margarita.
If you want to escape the bustle of Tokyo but wish to return to your hotel or hostel in the evening, look no further than a trip to Ashikaga. Here you’ll find friendly people, vibrant culture, and the tranquility of Japan. If you are unable to pull yourself away from the beauty of the city, hop on the train towards Oyama for only one stop, where you can view the world famous Ashikaga flower park.