This is the reception area at the entrance. To the left, you will find the reception desk and a display of small Japanese souvenirs for sale (Photo: Stacy Kurokawa)

Gassan at Nikko Kaido

Tofu with elegance near Utsunomiya

This is the reception area at the entrance. To the left, you will find the reception desk and a display of small Japanese souvenirs for sale (Photo: Stacy Kurokawa)
Stacy Kurokawa   - 3 min read

My friend here in Utsunomiya recently hosted a family visiting Japan for the first time from Australia. Prior to their arrival she asked me where I would recommend taking them. My recommendations included a Japanese restaurant specializing in tofu called Gassan. I would also recommend it to vegetarians and those who would like to go out for a Japanese meal in a serene environment. Overseas visitors especially will need to be open to new tastes and textures to enjoy their dining experience at Gassan.

A student of mine treated me to a meal at Gassan the first time I dined there, when I first came to Japan. I recall being impressed by the round window in our private tatami room, featuring a garden view, and the beauty and fresh, delicate taste of the food. A nice thing about the tables is that there is a sunken floor, so one can sit upright, like in a chair. The server wears a kimono with sleeves tied back and enters and exits the room on bended knee, never showing her back to the diners (I have only seen female servers there).

Gassan's menu is seasonal, and has many pages, all in Japanese except for a few words. I have only ever tried the basic set menu, which features a wide variety of dishes in small amounts and includes tea or coffee and a dessert like a sweet hot soup made of anko (azuki beans) with mochi (rice cake). Although I have lived in Japan for over 10 years, I can't say I can identify the ingredients, let alone the names of many of the dishes served.

The lunch set is ¥1,890 and prices go up from there. You can get a free Tochigi soy milk beverage or soft drink if you bring this coupon. While pricey, you do get a private tatami room and a waitress dressed in kimono serving you on bended knee; furthermore, the food quality and presentation is excellent. This is the kind of restaurant where you may feel compelled to photograph every dish.

Gassan is just north of Utsunomiya City, on Nikko Kaido, the scenic cedar lined avenue leading to Nikko. By car, it is about a 15 minute drive from City Hall. If you happen to visit in early April, you will find a cherry tree's soft pink blossoms near the front entrance of the restaurant. In the rainy season, an assortment of roses blossom in a beautiful private rose garden across from the rear parking area; the cute western-style cottage "Rose House" attached to the rose garden too is of some beauty itself.

Gassan is open every day. The restaurant can seat 200 diners, and has a large parking lot including several spaces reserved for buses. Our family recently visited Gassan with my mother-in-law to celebrate my son’s entrance into kindergarten. We were dressed formally, which while not required, was suitable. Gassan is a popular gathering place for formal parties. We encountered a funeral party leaving at the same time as we were, carrying a large portrait of the deceased.

Stacy Kurokawa

Stacy Kurokawa @stacy.kurokawa

It's with a love of adventure that I came to Japan in 2003.  I  love getting off the beaten track and getting around by bicycle.  In 2020, I qualified as a Forest Therapy Guide.  I guide in parks in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture nowadays.