My attempt at visiting Honda's Twin Ring Motegi was a failure but not as frustrating as the Prince-Skyline Museum fiasco. Arriving in Utsonomiya at around 10:30am, I went straight to the information booth and was informed that no buses on weekdays go all the way to Twin Ring Motegi (why did the website not mention this?). My only recourse was to take the next bus bound for Motegi Station at 1:30pm, get there at 2:43pm and then take a taxi to TRM which would have set me back ¥5000 for the round trip. It's a little steep but would have been justified if I were able to spend more than two hours at the collection hall.
With almost three hours to kill I decided to walk around the city. I took the tourist bus in town to my first stop, Hachimanyama Park where I was hoping to see some er... blossoming Cherry Blossoms and the municipal velodrome. When I got off, I struck up a conversation with a Japanese lady and her two kids who also got off on the same stop. When she found out I was from America she told me she loved "Indy." Looks like Tochigi is big on racing! More on that in a bit...
On the walk up to the park, I stopped by the main library in town and saw a set of two very unique looking fluorescent tube lamps. Situated next to a circular staircase, it looked as though the lighting designer took his/her cues from said staircase. That's one thing I always thought was weird about Japan. They are so far ahead of us in terms of technology, yet I see nothing but fluorescent tubes used. No LEDs? Of the few bulbs I saw, they were regular incandescents, not CFLs or LED based bulbs. I'm assuming this is going to change soon since Japan has proposed banning domestic production of incandescent bulbs.
Carnegie Mellon Brick Surfaces in the East
Anyway, back to the park. Befitting my trip thus far, the cherry blossoms weren't even close to blooming and the velodrome was closed. I've gotten so used to my trips not working out that I just took it in stride and headed towards the center of the city. Walking by the Tochigi Prefectural Office Campus felt as if I were walking onto Carngie Mellon's Japan campus. Every building there was built from the token yellow brick. Check out the photo, looks computer-generated doesn't it?
I've been in Japan for about three weeks now and this was the first time seeing so many pasta and pizza joints. Seems like Utsonomiya is the 'Little Italy' of Japan. They are also known for their gyoza / dumplings but the one place I tried them at didn't exactly blow me away.
On O-dori, the main road in town leading to the JR Utsunomiya Station, I came upon an IndyCar parked in front of a cafe appropriately named Indycafe. In a corner of the cafe a few deejays and their guests were recording a show live for the Radio Berry Station. I'm assuming it's a regularly broadcasted show about the IRL since the Twin Ring race isn't scheduled to take place for almost another month.
By the time I got back to the station I was leaning towards going back to Tokyo and coming back to visit the ring on a weekend. After quizzing the lady at the information desk, I decided it was worth the money to come back in a few weeks when Terry's in town. Below you'll find my guide on visiting the ring.
If you visit the Honda Twin Ring Motegi on a weekday when the bus doesn't run past Motegi Station, add ¥5000 for the roundtrip cab fare from Motegi Station to Twin Ring Motegi (it takes about 10 - 15 minutes each way). I say go on a weekend and catch the bus that goes all the way to the ring.
For the cost conscious travelers like me, take the rapid / "Rabbit" train on the JR Utsonomiya Line from Ueno to Utsunomiya. It should cost ¥1890 each way and take 1 hour 25 minutes. You'll want to take the 6:53am train which gets to Utsonomiya at 8:19am (the 7am train which gets you to Utsonomiya at 8:41am is also a possibility but that's cutting it close).
You can also opt to pay an extra ¥2400 each way to ride the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Utsunomiya. This will cut the traveling time to Utsunomiya from 1 hour 25 minutes down to 50 minutes. If you have the JR Pass, might as well.
The only bus bound for Twin Ring Motegi on the weekends leaves at 8:50am from bus stop No. 3 (West Exit of the station). It'll cost ¥1500 each way and should take 1.5 hours. Keep in mind the only return bus leaves Twin Ring Motegi at 3:40pm, arriving at the JR Utsunomiya Station at 5:12pm. Don't miss it or you'll be taking the cab to Motegi Station and catching a bus from there.
To summarize, the trip should take you about 3 hours by local train and bus or 2 hours and 20 minutes by Shinkansen and bus (each way). The total cost will be either ¥6790 (local train/bus) or ¥11580 (Shinkansen/bus). If you have the JR Pass, the entire trip should be free (unless I'm reading incorrectly, then the bus portion will cost ¥1500 each way). Oh, and though the Collection Hall is free, getting into the park to access it will set you back ¥1200.