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
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.