The More You Know It, More You Love It! The Allures of the Nasu Region
The snow falls silently, dancing in the wind to finally lay a veil of white upon the land. In February, the Nasu Highlands are a snow white landscape that awaken the senses. This in stark contrast to summer, when it becomes a popular resort destination.
Nasu might be known as a summer resort destination by many, but it is just one of many seasonal faces Nasu has to offer. During the winter, its main attractions include its hot springs and skiing. Bathing in the hot springs in the cold winter is other worldly, say Narusawa and Gunji, both members of the Nasu Tourism Association. At their office, located at the foot of Mt. Nasu close to where the Sesshoseki Stone (*1) lies, they offer advice and necessary support to visitors.
The next location they guided us through was Nasu Yuzen Shrine, close to their office. The shrine originates back to the Asuka era (A.D. 592-710). The story goes that the regional administrator found a white deer wounded from his arrow bathing in a hot spring. The shrine is also known for a number of interesting features. Its gate is said to have been erected as an offering from Nasu no Yoichi (*2), and a pine tree planted by the late Emperor Hirohito can be found inside. It was also featured in a haiku (a 17 syllable poem) by the famous haiku poet, Matsuo Basho. The list goes on. This shrine was, and still is, a place that is tightly intertwined with the people of Nasu, and many visit the shrine to this day.
"The route from here to the Sesshoseki Stone is a perfect place for a stroll. In the spring and summer, an extended walk over the Tsutsuji suspension bridge and to the "Holy Place for Lovers" (Nasu Highland Lookout) also offers a magnificent view unique to the highlands. In early summer, (May 28th for 2017) the "Gojinkasai Festival" (Holy Fire Festival) is held at Nasu Yuzen Shrine, in which you get to see figures with fox masks marching around with torches. Truly a mysterious night." Narisawa's glowing recommendations truly show her enthusiasm in this region.
The general role of the Tourist Association is to give necessary information to tourists, but these two strive far beyond that. They focus on providing tourists with the best advice tailored to their individual needs, paying attention to even the smallest details. Nasu has a wide range of things to do throughout the year, from experiencing the natural beauty of the Nasu Mountain Range, hot springs and historic sites, to visiting milk farms and enjoying tasty milk products. Utilizing this information, they recommend activities for tourists of every age and gender. They even visit every attraction themselves to check for important details such as wheelchair accessibility.
These visits continue to increase their attachment towards the area. The more we know about Nasu, the more we love the region, and that is the powerful attraction the Nasu region has, say Narisawa and Gunji in . They express that not only people from outside of Tochigi but those residing within also ought to visit. "There are date-specific events such as Craft Fairs, Night Forest Hikes, and the Gojinkasai Festival. Residents of the area can continue to visit and enjoy these events as well." explains Narisawa. She herself visits these events often and is enjoying her life in Nasu.
The fieldwork continues amidst the backdrop of the massive Nasu Mountain Range.
*1 Sesshoseki Stone
A historic site close to the source of the Nasu Yumoto Hot Spring. Filled with volcanic gases including hydrogen sulfide and arsenic, the area is named after the deaths of many animals within. Sesshoseki literally means, "the killing stone." Legend says that the evil Nine-Tailed Fox spirit became this poisonous stone, continuing to wreak havoc upon humanity.
*2 Nasu no Yoichi
A son of the regional warrior clan who fought for the Minamoto clan during the late Heian era (around the 12th Century).