Breezes and Bars

A Breeze from South Asia

An event showcasing the lifestyle and culture of the people of lushly green Bangladesh.

Date: April 29th; opens at 2pm, runs from 2:30-4pm.

Location: Kasama Tomobe Kominkan, Dai Hall

Tickets: 1000yen

Performance by Uttoron.

Uttoron began in 1988 as a group of students who wished for people in Japan to experience the culture of their home country of Bangladesh, and now operates around Japan. The 15 members perform songs, dancing, and even poetry readings, providing a fun and educational opportunity for cultural exchange. ‘Uttoron’ means ‘growth/improvement’ in Bengalese.

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Mito’s 2nd Bar/Bar/Bar Event!

In November of last year the first ever bar/bar/bar (310bbb) event was held in Mito, comprising 143 restaurants and attracting 3200 people, leading to the decision to hold the 2nd one on April 20th and 21st. Only this time there will be almost 200 restaurants participating, and 5000 tickets available for sale!

How does it work? Well, first you purchase your tickets at the ticket locations and pick up your map, passport, and wristband (must be worn at all times during the event). Next, you use your map to head to the restaurant you want to visit (if you get lost, there are navigators wearing arm bands ready to help!). Hold out your wristband as you enter, and hand over one of your tickets once you’ve ordered the bar set. Next, get them to stamp your passport, because if you get 4 stamps you will be entered for a draw for some really nice prizes. Then, enjoy your food and drink (each ticket is good for one dish and one drink!). Finally, once the event is over, tear off the passport and fill in the survey on it to enter the draw. If you still have tickets left once the event is finished, you can use them to get 700yen off your next bill at any participating restaurant.

Tickets can be purchased in advance (3200yen for 4) at Playguide (Keisei Department Store), Machinaka Joho Koryu Center, and Komon Marche. Same day tickets (3600yen for 4) can be purchased at Machinaka Joho Koryu Center, Miyamoto Shuten, Izumi-cho Kaikan, and the pedestrian deck at the north exit of Mito Station.

Original link (Japanese)

Torazuka Kofun and Ocarinas

Torazuka Kofun Wall-Painting Spring Exhibition

This keyhole-shaped, ancient Imperial gravesite is being opened to the public for a few days this spring, to enable everyone to glimpse the 7th Century paintings inside.

Period: March 29th – April 1st, April 5th – April 8th, 2012

Times: 9am-12:30pm, 1:30-4:30pm

Admission: adults – 150yen, elementary/junior high students – 80yen,

Location: Torazuka Kofun Historical Park (Hitachinaka-shi, Nakane)

Directions:

1. 25min walk from the Hitachinaka Kaihin Tetsudo Nakaminato Line Nakane Station.

2. 15min by car from the JR Katsuta Station.

3. 10min by car from the Kita-Kanto Expressway Hitachinaka IC.

Original link (Japanese)

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2012 Sojiro Concert in the Woods in Hitachiomiya

Mr. Sojiro will be performing his famous ocarina in the lovely spring weather.

Date: May 12th

Arrive 2pm, Ocarina Woods Parking Lot (Osezawa Entrance, 700m on foot to location)

Performance starts at 3pm (ending at 4pm)

Location: Ocarina Woods, Outdoor Music Hall (inside Kami-Osechi, Hitachiomiya)

*in the event of rain the performance will be moved to the Ogawa Sogo Center

Host: Hitachiomiya City

Tickets on sale starting 4/8 (only 9-12 on the first day, 8:30-5:15 every weekday after that). Only 130 tickets total, cost is 2000yen (all assigned seating). Contact Hitachiomiya City Hall, Shiminkyodo-ka Chiki-zukuri Shi-en Group, 0295-52-1111 (ext 125)

Original link (Japanese)

Royal Hideaway

Finally reopened after several long months of reconstruction, Mito’s historically rich Kobuntei could be considered the jewel in the crown of the city’s famous Kairakuen. With its delicately painted wall-screens and stunning views of the surrounding countryside, this former aristocratic villa offers a glimpse at a different lifestyle.

Built around the same time as the park itself, Kobuntei was originally used by Lord Noriaki Tokugawa as a home away from home; he would relax and enjoy the beauty of the seasons, entertain guests and grant audiences to his subjects, and keep himself and his forces in readiness for any potential attack from outside.

Constructed with a semi-detached wing just for his wife, concubines, and their ladies-in-waiting, the compound itself is not very large. In traditional Japanese style the rooms are on the inside while a walkway runs along the edge of the house like a veranda, looking out alternately into the well-kept garden or the vista comprising Lake Senba and its surrounds. Though it was burned to the ground during the American air-raid on Mito during the second world war, it was rebuilt shortly after and most of the original buildings and features survive. Some damage from the recent Eastern Japan Earthquake led to it being closed for almost a year to remodel and repair, and now it is an interesting combination of ancient architecture and modern materials.

The largest attraction of the villa is the beautiful wall-screens in the women’s quarters, designed and hand-painted by a celebrated artist from Tokyo’s Arts University. Each room has a different theme to go with its name, covering peach, plum, and cherry blossoms as well as the beautiful red fall leaves. Though painted in a traditional style, some slight elements of the color choice and composition hint at a more modern hand. Lit by the glow of small floor lanterns, the overall aesthetic gives a very nostalgic feel and seems almost inviting.

The women’s quarters themselves are separated from the rest of the house by a narrow hallway, to prevent unsanctioned mixing of the sexes, and face mainly onto the inner gardens. Meanwhile, the men’s quarters occupy the central and upper floors of the house, and gaze out over the hillside and surrounds. The men’s quarters also have some of the interesting technological additions developed as part of Lord Noriaki’s preparations for attack.

Carefully built bamboo blinds on the side of the walkway to the Lord’s rooms allow those inside to see all comers, while being visually impenetrable from the outside. The walkway itself was also built very narrowly, to prevent the traditional Samurai longsword from being drawn inside. The stairs to the upper level where the Lord would spend the bulk of his time are extremely steep and narrow, taking most of one’s concentration just to maintain balance; this was to prevent rival warriors from battling their way upstairs by giving an even larger advantage to those on the high ground. On the landing between the two flights of stairs is a small resting place for warriors to keep watch and prevent insurgence, and the right wall panel of the bottom flight is actually a hidden room from which a Samurai could attack potential invaders from the side as they attempted to head up. According to legend, Lord Noriaki’s fondness for the number 11 led to both flights of stairs having exactly 11 steps; this is because there are 11 strokes in the characters for bushi, or warrior.

There are other novel features on the upper level, such as a rounded door frame made from the remnants left from the making of a giant taiko drum, and a dumbwaiter –type pulley system going directly from the kitchen below into the tea preparation room beside the main sitting room. This of course, was also intended to serve a double-use; in the event of the upstairs being overrun by opponents, the Lord could use the pulley shaft and ropes to slip out via the kitchen and escape.

Directly below the upper levels is a large, open space that was designated as the artists’ room. Here poets, artists, and musicians would gaze out on the seasons through the openings left when the removable walls were down, practicing their craft. One of the back walls is actually a kind of kanji dictionary, providing a listing of obscure and hard-to-write characters so that poets could copy them down when inspiration hit.

Beyond just being a historical artifact, Kobuntei offers much to the imagination in describing what life and times might have been like during the final years of the Edo period of Japan. Not only that, but the tricks and traps built-in make it much more than just a lovely view.

Sakura Festivals

2012 Yae Sakura Festival

Shizumine Furusato Park, the location of the Yae (double-flower) Sakura Festival, is one of ‘Japan’s 100 most beautiful sakura spots’, and once the 2100 trees within the 12 hectare park are in full bloom it is a magnificent sight. In addition, thanks to the shiba-zakura (white/purple) that were planted last year, this year’s festival promises a slightly different view to enjoy.

This year’s festival also includes character shows, dance, speeches, local vendors and the B1 Granprix’s famous ‘Yokote Yakisoba’, and many other events. Illuminations are also planned.

Period: April 21st – May 6th, 2012

Evening Sakura (illumination): April 27th – May 3rd, 2012

Event Days: April 28th/29th

Free entry, paid parking (normal – 500yen, mid-size – 1000yen, large – 2000yen)

For details contact 029-298-1111 (Japanese)

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1st Annual Zuio Sakura Festival

The ‘1st Annual Zuio Sakura Festival’ was chosen as the citizen’s choice for local improvement events, and will be held as follows.

During the festival there will be lit-up sakura trees, a karaoke competition, Japanese koto performances, hula dancing, flower-hat dancing, theater, and more.

Attendance is free, so please come participate.

Date: April 7th/8th (may be delayed due to blooming status of sakura)

Location: Zuiryu Elementary School grounds (Hitachiota, Zuiryu-cho 985)

Hosted by the Zuio Protection Society

Events:

April 7th – 6-9pm, Zuio sakura illumination

April 8th – 10-4pm, Zuio Sakura Festival; karaoke competition, Japanese koto, hula dancing, flower-hat dancing, theater, and free amazake.

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50th Annual Hitachi Sakura Festival

Period: April 1st – 22nd, 2012

Location: Hitachi Heiwa-dori, Kamine Park, Juo Panorama Park (both Heiwa-dori and Kamine Park have been selected as ‘Japan’s 100 Best Sakura Spots’)

Night Sakura Light-up: For the full period of the festival illuminations will be on display at the following locations.

1. Heiwa-dori; 6-11pm; the 1km of lit-up sakura trees is a highlight

2. Kamine Park; sunset-9:30pm; lit-up with paper lanterns

3. Juo Panorama Park; sunset-9pm; lit with paper Chinese lanterns

Event Schedule:

1. Heiwa-dori – April 7th/8th

– 50th Anniversary Events

April 7th, Kiryu Yagi-Bushi (song); 12:50/3:30

April 8th, Soma Samurai Horse-Riders in Full Armor; 1:30/4:30

–          Hitachi’s Culture (UNESCO Intangible Cultural Asset)

A float featuring puppet theater using mechanical dolls

April 7th, 2pm/5pm/7pm

April 8th, 12pm/3pm

Dancing and musical performances, souvenir and food vendors

Road Closures/Pedestrian Areas

4/6: 6-9pm, Route 6 – Keyaki-dori

4/7: 11am-9pm, Route 6 – Hitachi Station

4/8: 8:45am-8pm, Route 6 – Keyaki-dori

*due to the Hitachi Sakura Road Race on 4/8 these roads, including the intersection between Keyaki-dori and Heiwa-dori, will be closed.

2. Kamine Park – March 17th – April 22nd

Spring Festival (character show, etc)

3. Juo Panorama Park – April 14th/15th

Dance and musical performances

Refreshment booths

Original link (Japanese)

CIR Diary – A Child at heART

I recently had the chance to enjoy the Power Sources art installations open at Art Tower Mito. Built by two Swiss artists, Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lanzlinger, each piece is full of playful elements and vivid colors, with plenty of details that invite exploration and encourage wonder. If you’re looking for something interesting do, I highly recommend it.

From pieces made of chemical crystals that ‘grow’ over time with the help of visitors, to a display where you can collect your tears and examine their crystalline structures under a microscope, rooms where you lie on your back on a soft bed and enjoy miniature worlds suspended from the ceiling or mesmerizing light shows, strange new creatures and a large swing that seats five people, there is something here for everyone. In fact, when I mentioned the delightful sense of childhood nostalgia I got from the pieces, they both described how they felt we should all just stay as children, always playing. Though not all of the pieces are child-friendly, there are a few that would be fun for any age, and to bring out the child inside. Especially the piece outside the museum in the open space beside the fountain; two pieces, each consisting of a walker designed for the elderly covered with dozens of plum branches, each branch sprouting plastic flowers, fruits, and other colorful knickknacks. A nearby sign invites visitors to take these ‘Walking Bushes’ for a stroll, and believe me, I did. Though it’s a little embarrassing at first, it can be quite amusing to walk your portable shrub around, getting curious stares and envious looks; before long someone else wants to try it out, and it quickly grows into a friendly group experience.

The exhibition runs until the beginning of May, and the size of the crystals will change throughout so multiple visits are encouraged. Please take a look!

Ely