Bears, deer, bugs, ancient pottery, human and dinosaur skeletons, rocks, and almost anything you can think of related to the history of Tochigi Prefecture can be found in a beautiful building in a beautifully landscaped park in Utsunomiya.
Tochigi Prefectural Museum stands at the back of Utsunomiya’s Central Park (Chuo Koen). The museum building itself is awesome for its architecture, from the inside. The focal point is the huge south-facing wall, two stories tall, made of what appears to be translucent pinky-orange marble.
Your visit starts on a sloping, spiraling hall which leads up to the second/top floor with two dioramas (one with buttons/spotlights and forest sounds), hands-on binoculars, touchable skulls and footprints. The taxidermified animals were a bit too real for our little museum visitor. “That was scary,” he told us later.
The slope and curving corridor keep you guessing as you move up and around. Of course, this design is ideal for kids and those in wheelchairs. You miss some awesome exhibits by taking the elevator. Baby strollers and wheelchairs, incidentally, are available to borrow.
Once on the second floor, look up and see the sky - sunshine lights the main passageway on the second floor. Once on the second floor, you’ll naturally be drawn into “Life in the Prehistoric Ages.”
Some of my local Japanese friends take their families on long trips in the quest for dinosaur exhibitions. When I mentioned dinosaurs can be seen right here in town, they were surprised. I can’t verify that the bones are authentic, but the dinosaurs in the “Prehistoric Ages” area appear to be life-sized. There is also a mammoth. For the Tyrannosaurus, see flesh on one side, and bones on the other. Don’t forget to look up to see flying dinosaurs. Further along in that section, we enjoyed reconstructing old pots using puzzle pieces.
Some exhibits have English labels. Other rooms include Edo Era, Middle Ages, Kofun Culture, the Geological Age, Modern Japan and Tochigi Prefecture, Tochigi’s Growth Today, Animals, Fungi and Plants Rocks, Minerals and Fossils, and Wildlife. Some things are rather startling like the weird and mysterious creatures that dwell in rice fields – like something which looks like a crayfish except it is as big as a full-grown cat. Check out the hundreds of drawers under the glass cabinets where countless specimens await discovery and examination.
While we wandered through the cultural artifacts area, a staff member approached and encouraged us to ask questions. She explained in Japanese many of the old cultural items on display such as a large basket women used to take out with them to work in the fields with infants, not for the harvest but as an old fashioned, portable play pen.
We visited on a Saturday in January. Our 3-year old son entered for free (all kids younger than high school age are free!) while my husband and got in for just Y500 (Y250 each). If you get thirsty, there’s a drinking fountain on the first floor. Make a day of it, and stay for lunch; the second floor has a little restaurant with big windows overlooking the park’s greenery, or if the weather is fine, picnic in the park.