Ashikaga is a small city easily accessible from Tokyo that is the birthplace of the once mighty Ashikaga clan that ruled Japan for over two centuries during the Muromachi period of Japanese history. It is also a city for nature lovers--with the very famous Ashikaga Flower Park, as well as a national park for some pleasant one-day hiking, including to the mountaintop site of what was once an 11th century castle.
Ashikaga is dotted with ancient temples and shrines, several of which are worth visiting for their beauty and historical significance, especially the magnificent Orihime Shrine which overlooks the city, and whose founding is connected with Ashikaga's past as a center of silk weaving. Bannaji Temple is unique for the massive, ancient tree that dominates it, and in having began life as a semi-military compound. Ashikaga also has the site of Japan's most historical academy, the Ashikaga Gakko (Ashikaga School).
Ashikaga is well located, on a plain nestled at the foot of mountains and with a river running through it, and is said to have been inhabited since about 7 to 8 thousand years ago. It entered the history books in 1054 A.D. when a member of the Ashikaga family, descended from the Heian era aristocrats, the Fujiwara, built a castle on a mountaintop here to control the area. Two later crucial events were the establishment in about the 11th century of a Confucian academy, then the moving here in the 13th century of an Ashikaga descendent to the town itself (to where Bannoji Temple is) to establish direct rule.
Ashikaga's modern history began in 1888 with the building of the Ryomo Railway Line, then the Tobu railway company's line in 1907, connecting the town with Tokyo, and launching it as an important textile production center, especially for silk. Textiles still play a role in the city's economy today, but with the major addition of plastics and metal production.
Ashikaga Flower Park
Ashikaga Flower Park is by far the most popular attraction in Ashikaga--although quite far (about 7 km, or 4 miles) from the center of the city. The main lure of this 9 hectare (23 acre) park, which opened here in 1997, is in its profusion of wisteria, a flower known as fuji in Japanese. Long trellis tunnels of wisteria provide visitors with the unforgettable experience of walking through elegantly hanging fronds of this delicately tinted and scented flower. Many other kinds of flowers are also on show here in beautifully, and often imaginatively, landscaped settings.
The entry fee for Ashikaga Flower Park changes according to the season, being most expensive in spring, as much as 1,700 yen, and cheapest in summer to winter, as little as 300 yen.
Train to Ashikaga Flower Park
On the Tobu Isesaki Line (starting at Asakusa Station in Tokyo), at Kuki Station change to the JR Tohoku Main Line, at Oyama Station change to the JR Ryomo Line, then get off the train at Tomita Station.
On the JR Tohoku Main Line (starting at Ueno Station in Tokyo), at Oyama Station change to the JR Ryomo Line, then get off the train at Tomita Station.
Ashikaga Flower Park is a 13 minute walk from Tomita Station.
Driving to Ashikaga Flower Park
On the Tohoku Expressway, exit from the Sano-Fujioka interchange, and drive along National Route 50 bound for Maebashi/Ashikaga.Takes about 18 minutes from the interchage.
On the Kita Kanto Expressway
-from the Ota Kiryu interchange drive along National Route 122 onto National Route 50 bound for Ashikaga/Oyama. Takes about 20 minutes from the interchange.
-from the Ashikaga interchange drive along National Route 293 onto Prefectural Route 67 bound for Sano. Takes about 15 minutes from the interchange.
-from the Sano Numata interchange drive along Prefectural Route 16 onto Prefectural Route 67 bound for Ashikaga. Takes about 12 minutes from the interchange.
Bus to Ashikaga Flower Park
A free shuttle bus to Ashikaga Flower Park leaves from Ashikaga Station daily during peak Park seasons (i.e. in spring until mid-May), but is a weekends- and public holidays-only service at other times of the year.
Read more about Ashikaga Flower Park.
Ashikaga Information & Communication Space
The Ashikaga Information & Communication Space （足利まちなか遊学館 Ashikaga Machinaka Yuugakukan), is prominently located on a corner In the center of Ashikaga city, and near its major historical sights. A lot of Ashikaga sightseeing information can be got here in the form of maps and pamphlets, most in the Japanese language, but some English information can also be got if you ask. It is something of a museum as well as a source of tourism information, with its working--and running--models of old silk spinning and weaving machines, providing a palpable insight into what was in the 19th and much of the 20th century the city's biggest industry. There is a corner, too, where you can often try your hand at weaving on a traditional loom, and a shop where you can buy handwoven products.
From the north exit of Ashikaga Station on the JR Ryomo Line, go straight ahead one block to JR Ashikaga Station Entrance intersection (has traffic lights), then turn left and go straight along Route 67, through two more intersections with traffic lights. On the next intersection after that (one without traffic lights) the Center is there on the right hand side of the road. About a 5-minute walk.
Ashikaga Gakko (Ashikaga School)
Ashikaga Gakko is a rather dull name for what is, historically, Japan's most illustrious academy. The school was founded possibly in about the 9th century (its exact history is unclear) and was the highest seat of learning for Japanese, with about 3,000 students from all over Japan at its peak.. The current compound is probably less than half the size of the original, but is still spacious and contains several large venerable buildings restored in 1990 that can be entered, and with historical artifacts on display. A walk around the back of the compound reveals a serene, green space not so frequented by the sightseeing crowds.
Ashikaga Gakko is just a couple of minutes' walk from the Ashikaga Information & Communication Space down the road that goes off the main Route 67.
Bannaji Temple is the Ashikaga temple most closely associated with the ancient Ashikaga clan. This 4 hectare (almost 10 acre) site was originally the home of the Ashikaga clan lord who settled here in the 12th century to rule, thus the wall and moat surrounding it. Bannaji's most famous feature is the massive, ancient gingko tree that grows beside the main temple building. Also, the numerous cherry blossoms in the temple grounds make for springtime beauty. Dedicated to the patron saint, Dainichi Nyorai, Bannanji is also known as "Dainichi-san."
Read more about Bannaji Temple.
Bannaji Temple is right next to the Ashikaga School. If you go to the road that runs along the back of Bannaji and follow it left away from Bannaji, you will get to Orihime Shrine, about 15 minutes away.
Kofukuji Temple is a small but picturesque temple that is worth a few minutes of your time to stop at if heading for Orihime Shrine from Bannaji Temple. Founded in the mid-17th century, Kofukuji has numerous stone Buddhas of various kinds seated in its serene, leafy grounds. Kofukuji Temple is a Sōtō Zen temple, and was presided over for a long time by the Zen scholar-priest Tetsuō Takei (1910-87) whom the well-known calligrapher and poet, Mitsuo Aida (1924-91), a native of Ashikaga, revered and frequently visited here.
Orihime Shrine and Park
Orihime Shrine is a big, beautiful shrine on a hill overlooking Ashikaga, accessible by a long flight of steps. Orihime means "weaving princess" after the legendary being who wove the garments of the Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu. The name reflects Ashikaga's long history as a textiles town. Orihime Shrine is spaciously and majestically laid out in a way somewhat unusual for shrines in Japan. It is striking in color, too: vermilion, and, being lacquered, has dazzle. It was first built here in 1879, and its current incarnation dates from 1937 after being razed by fire. The shrine's association with weaving extends to the weaving of human fate, as it is famous as a shrine to pray for a partner.
Right behind Orihime Shrine is Orihime Park, with its profusion of flowers, and great panoramic views of Ashikaga City, the Watarase River that runs through it, and the Kanto plain beyond.
Ashikaga Prefectural Nature Preserve
Ashikaga Prefectural Nature Park is a north-south aligned expanse of mountainous land behind Orihime Shrine, about 10 km long. It contains several hiking paths that take the tramper over generally easily traversable, but occasionally challenging, terrain and through several spots notable for the views they afford of the surrounding countryside. The closest point of interest is the site of the old Ashikaga Castle, about 2 km from Orihime Shrine and Park. Accessible in less than 2 hours, the old castle site shows nothing of the castle, but is now home to a very atmospheric old shrine in a shady clearing at the 251 meter summit of Mt. Ryomo. Much further on, at the north of the park, is the most spectacular sight of the Park: the Nagusa Rocks, a cluster of massive, often evocatively shaped boulders. The Nature Preserve is accessible from Orihime Shrine if you are touring Ashikaga City on foot, or by car from a number of points throughout it.
The Kurita Museum is home to the world's largest collection of two types of Japanese porcelain: Imari and Nabeshima ware. Imari ware is porcelain produced in Arita, Kyushu, in the 17th to 18th centuries and is typified by ornate, colorful, symmetrical designs. Nabeshima ware was produced during about the same time, in the same area, but features bolder designs. The Kurita Museum was established in 1975 by a native of Ashikaga City, its huge collection was assembled over the course of 50 years, and it occupies an almost 10 hectare (24-acre) site about 7 km east of Ashikaga Station. The grounds are landscaped, affording the visitor the pleasure not only of porcelain but of beautiful, tranquil surrounds.
Kurita Museum hours: 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Mondays (or Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday, in which case it is open on Monday). Closed between December 28 and January 2.
10 minutes walk from Tomita Station on the JR Ryomo Line.
1,250 yen for adults.
Ashikaga Watarase Fireworks Festival
The Ashikaga Watarase Fireworks Festival is a more than century old tradition that began back in 1903. The festival is held on the first Saturday in August on the banks of the Watarase River. The daytime festival happens on the event space near the Naka Bridge and features music. The nighttime fireworks are unforgettable, with over 20,000 fireworks set off, and the spectacular "Niagara" display forming the climax. The festival is a major event drawing spectators from far away and is attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
By train, there are two ways to get to Ashikaga from Tokyo, by the Japan Rail (JR) Ryomo Line, or the Tobu Isesaki Line.
JR is the obvious choice if you have a JR Rail Pass, but, if paying for your ticket, the Tobu Isesaki Line can be cheaper.
The JR line station is called Ashikaga Station, while the Tobu line station is called Ashikagashi. The JR Ashikaga Station is closer to the main attractions of Ashikaga than the Tobu Ashikagashi Station, which is across the Watarase River, on its south side.
From Tokyo go to Oyama Station by JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line, JR Utsunomiya Line, or certain JR Tohoku Shinkansen trains, transfer to the JR Ryomo Line and get off at Ashikaga Station.
Tobu Isesaki Line
From Tobu Asakusa Station go direct to Ashikagashi.