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We need to talk

Hello everyone! Now that it has been almost a month since we launched the blog, we’d like to hear what you think. This blog and the prefectural website are here to make living in Ibaraki easier and more interesting, and to attract visitors from outside. Please let us know how we’re doing, and what else we can do^^ A very quick 2 minute survey is all we ask;)

Feedback please!

Mito’s Plum Blossom Festival!

It’s that time of year again! In less than two weeks*(see below) Mito’s Annual Plum Blossom Festival begins, bringing with it a host of exciting events that draw visitors from both near and far. Beyond just celebrating its 116th anniversary, this year’s festival is also much anticipated because last year’s was abruptly cancelled due to the pervasive influence of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake that damaged facilities and disrupted lifelines. Thanks to the dedicated work of all involved, everything has been repaired and renewed in time to this traditional welcoming of spring.

Beginning as a way of celebrating the opening of the Joban railway line between Mito and Ueno, the festival has since expanded from one day of blossom viewing to encompass over a month and a half of activities. Set mainly in the sprawling Kairakuen park, itself one of Japan’s famous Three Great Gardens, the festivities are timed to coincide with the blooming of the park’s over 3000 trees and 100 varieties of plum blossoms.

This year’s festival begins Saturday, February 18th, and runs right up until March 31st, with several events running co-currently and a variety of cultural highlights to enjoy. Throughout the period the Joban train line coming from Ueno will be stopping right at the Kairakuen stop on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 3pm (until March 20th), making it that much easier to travel up for a daytrip on the weekends. A pair of old-fashioned buses from the Meiji era will be offering free tours of all the tourist spots in Mito each weekend, starting at 9:30am and finishing at 3:30pm, with a total trip time of a little over an hour. In addition, from February 24th to March 11th the park will be decorated with lights so that the beautiful scenery can be enjoyed under a more romantic evening atmosphere (park closes at 9pm).

Among the festival’s longest-lived traditions are the Plum Blossom Ambassadors. Celebrating 50 years since creation, the Plum Blossom Ambassadors are a group of 10 specially-chosen representatives who are both mascots and guides to the festival. Though the position has been opened up for male applicants (and there have been a few), all ambassadors, both current and historical, have been female. Every year a new kimono pattern is chosen, and dressed in these elaborate layers the Plum Blossom Ambassadors wander around the park offering both knowledge and photo opportunities to visitors.

Each Sunday (except the 25th) there are outdoor tea parties, hosted by a different school of tea each weekend, open to all comers. On the same days the nearby Tokiwa Shrine will be hosting performances by different traditional Japanese instruments like the koto or shachi, in addition to other concerts on certain Saturdays. Performances of No, cultural dances, the yearly Hina doll festival-related Hina Nagashi where dolls are set afloat on a local pond, natto eating contests, food fairs, and of course, the simple beauty of the pink, white, and yellow plum blossoms, all await the more than one million visitors who descend on Mito for the festival every year.

 

Here is a listing of the major events:

 

2/18 – Opening Day Prize Giveaway   East Gate, 9am; Baio Bridge, 11am

2/18-19, 2/25-26 – 100yen Taste-Testing Fair    Kairakuen

2/19 – Outdoor Tea Party (Ishishu School)   Kairakuen, 12-3pm

Japanese Traditional Music and Dance     Tokiwa Shrine, 11-12

2/25 – Plum Blossom Ambassadors 50th Anniversary Gathering    Kairakuen, 10-11am

Viola Concert                Kairakuen, 6pm

Gospel & Acapella            Kairakuen, 6:40pm

2/26 – Outdoor Tea Party (Omotesen School)         Kairakuen, 10-3pm

Mito’s Hina Nagashi           Kairakuen, 11-12

3/3 – Five Town Community Hina Nagashi              Kairakuen, 10:30-12pm

7th Annual Plum Blossom Festival at Night        Kairakuen, 6-9pm

3/4 – Outdoor Tea Party (Edosen School)             Kairakuen, 10-3pm

65th Annual Photography Festival and Photo Contest       Kairakuen, 10-3pm

No Song and Dance Performance                   Tokiwa Shrine, 11-12pm

3/10 – Mito/Kasama/Oarai Tourism Bureau Tourism Promotion    Kairakuen, 10-3pm

Lion Dancing                    Kairakuen, 6pm

Mandolin Concert               Kairakuen, 6 :40pm

3/11 – Outdoor Tea Party (Urasen School)                   Kairakuen, 10-3pm

Outdoor Koto Concert              Kairakuen, 10-3pm

66th Annual Plum Blossom Viewing Haiku Festival  Ibaraki Prefectural Youth Hall, 10-2pm

3/17 – 11th Annual Mito Natto World Speed-Eating Competition   ‘Sakurada Incident’ Open Movie Set (Lake Senba), 10-1pm

3/18 – The Flourishing Plum Forest, Taiko and Dance         Kairakuen, 11 & 1pm

Shachi Concert               Tokiwa Shrine, 12-1pm

3/25 – Mito Komon Festival Taiko                   Kairakuen, 11 & 1pm

 

Related Events:

 

1/7 – 3/25 Kodokan 170th Anniversary Special Exhibit         Tokugawa Museum

1/7 – 3/25 The Plum Blossom Festival of the Mito Tokugawa Family 2 Tokugawa  Museum

1/7 – 3/20 Early Spring Flower Festival            Ibaraki Botanical Gardens

2/11 – 5/6 Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger Exhibition     Art Tower Mito

2/18 – Mito Domain Castle-Town Food Fair                 Art Tower Mito

2/11 – 3/20 The Beauty of Portraits – Through the Eyes of History  Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History

2/25 – 12-Layer Heian Kimono Try-On Day     Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History

*Apologies for the lateness of this article. It was written in the first week of February, but permission to post it was not given until this week.

English Oasis

The Tsukuba Science Network hosts talks in English periodically, and the next one is very internationally oriented. Titled ‘ Cultural Differences You Should Be Aware of When Living in Japan’, the talk will be held by Dr. Tokio Kenneth Ohsuka on March 24th at the Science Information Center.

For more details please click here^^

CIR Diary – The Coccoon

As of 2 weeks ago my apartment building is undergoing external renovations. The whole 3 stories are enveloped in scaffolding and tarps, to the point that from the outside it looks like we’re being fumigated or torn down. I suppose to the average passerby this is nothing unusual, especially considering all the reconstruction that is going on after the damage from the earthquake. But this is my first time living inside a building while it is essentially being stripped down and recoated.
As if the somewhat oppressive feeling of winter wasn’t enough, the all-enclosing super-size tarp blocks out almost all light from my windows and balcony, leaving me in a somewhat weird greyish limbo state (very much like Silent Hill…). In addition, though sleeping in on the weekends is one of my favorite things it is very hard to do when there are shadows and voices and the metallic clatter of boots on scaffolding coming from right outside your window at 8am on a Sunday morning. In fact, it’s a little like being trapped in your own home, for someone as shy as me. I’d really rather be completely anonymous, but every time I go outside I have to face the fact there will be random Japanese builders widening their eyes in surprise at the sudden emergence of a gaijin.
To add insult to injury, I came home from work one day this week to find that now the entire inside of the building has been covered in plastic and electrician’s tape, coming to look like an abandoned warehouse from a slasher movie. Every inch that is not being painted has been wrapped like a fly in a spider’s web, and it was somewhat freaky to find that my door and windows had all been taped shut in the same way. In fact, I had to tear a hole in the plastic to get my key in the lock! The worst part is, that very morning I had replaced my little potted plants to their normal spot on my balcony after having taken them inside for the weekend when we were told they were power-washing the whole exterior. Now that my balcony door has been sealed shut I can’t even see them anymore, and I’m wondering if they will survive…
All in all, the eerie atmosphere and muffled sounds and light give the impression of living inside an insect’s cocoon, and every time I come home from work I half expect to see little egg sacs emerging from behind the swathes of plastic and tarp. Though I know there is still another few weeks to go I sincerely hope the whole experience ends quickly, before I or the building start sprouting wings or extra legs.

Ely

Hina Nagashi in Kairakuen Park

Hina Nagashi is a custom that originated in the Heian era, and is intimately linked with the famous Tale of Genji. In the celebrated novel Genji takes part in a ceremony where the traditional hina doll, usually given to female children as a way of instructing them in housekeeping and wifely ways, is cast into a fast-flowing river as a proxy for its owner. The idea was that the cleansing properties of the waters would purify the owner of sins as well, allowing them to move forward with their lives.

Currently the dolls for hina nagashi are made of paper, and set afloat in little boats that are later recovered (to prevent damage to the ecosystem), but the tradition survives. For those who would like to give it a try, there will be a hina nagashi conducted at Kairakuen park on both February 26th (11-12) and March 3rd (10:30-12, the actual festival day), at the little retention pond to the southwest of the main park (north of the train tracks).

For those who prefer to remain indoors, there is a display of vintage hina dolls at the Mito City Museum, or you could visit one of the many Hina Festivals across the prefecture, such as the famous festival in Makabe.