Do you know about Shimotsuke City? Well, even Japanese around the Kanto-region haven’t heard about Shimotsuke, but it has lots of interesting history and lovely spots to visit. The citizens of Shimotsuke are very proud of their historical hometown, which, as well as abundant nature, includes many traces of ancient eras like the historically designated temple Yakushi-ji and the ruins of the temple Kokubun-ji.
Shimotsuke has three train stations: Koganei (小金井) in the south, and Jichiidai (自治医大) and Ishibashi (石橋) in the north. The reason why many Japanese haven´t heard about the city is because it is the result of merging towns. Shimotsuke was established on January 10, 2006, by the merge of Minami-kawachi in Kawachi District, and Kokubunji and Ishibashi in Shimotsuga District. Shimotsuke has a population of 60,000 people.
Much of Shimotsuke City today comes from the former town of Ishibashi. It has maintained a close friendship over 30 years with its sister city in Germany. The exchange between Shimotsuke and the German sister city Dietzhölztal, which is to this day a very active relationship, started officially in August 1974 and was initiated by a Japanese doctor named Ishibashi from the former city Ishibashi (lit: stone bridge) who went to Germany and found the city Steinbrücken (lit: stone bridge) with the same meaning. This piqued his interest, so he visited Steinbrücken (which has since merged into Dietzhölztal) and the friendship between the two cities started.
Now, every 3 years German and Japanese junior high school students visit each other and partake in a homestay to experience the culture of their host. Over the years, many networks have been formed between citizens, so there is a lot of movement and exchange within the relationship. This is also why a German CIR works in Shimotsuke, and why there are weekly German language classes available as well as Germany-related places and events.
Evidence of the exchange between Japan and Germany can be found in such places as Ishibashi station, where you can see a mechanical clock with fairy tale characters from the Grimm Brothers stories. Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel are among some of the characters you can see.
Places to Visit
Grimm Village and House
The citizens of Shimotsuke created their own “Grimm Village”. The Grimm House–the main building of the village with traditional German architecture–displays objects related to the famous Brothers Grimm. On display in the tiny exhibition is one of only three early etching wood-prints in existence, in addition to one of the first picture books and dolls. Visitors can enjoy the world of the Grimm Brothers and browse through merchandise.
Temple Ruins of Yakushi-ji 薬師寺
If you’re interested in the history of the temple Yakushi-ji, you can learn about its history in the Shimotsuke Yakushi-ji Temple History Hall, which maintains reconstructions of the old Yakushi-ji corridor and its surroundings at the history plaza.
Kofun (burial mounds) 古墳
Shimotsuke is home to a variety of burial mounds, including the grave-mound Kabutozuka.
Famous haniwa (clay figures) 埴輪
Haniwa are unglazed clay figures that were placed around burial mounds. They were created in the image of people and animals with unsophisticated expressions but were ingeniously crafted using simple methods. Many of these are highly valued for their artistry. The picture above shows a haniwa figure in the shape of a horse called “Ko-chan”, found in the Kabutozuka grave mound.
Cherry Blossom Festival
In addition to the several historical spots, there are many other beautiful places in the area
like the Tenpyō Hill Park (下野市天平の丘公園). Every April the Tenpyō flower festival is
held when the double-flowered cherry blossoms bloom. It’s a breathtaking sight to see the park in full bloom with over 450 cherry trees! Take part in traditional Japanese culture by enjoying a lovely picnic with food and drink beneath the colorful trees.
If you have further questions about Shimotsuke and can’t find information on the internet, please feel free to contact the CIR in Shimotsuke.