Upcoming Events

Sand Art and Haiku

2012 Hitachi Sand Art Festival

Date : July 15th, 10am

Location : Kawarago Port and Kawarago Beach, Hitachi

This year’s event includes many different attractions. There will be sand art creations on display from two internationally-recognized pros, and a section where you can learn how to make your own! There is also a dance contest, food and goods stalls, and a yukata contest with prizes. For those who want to spend more time in the water there is a touring boat and a banana boat to ride around on, so bring your bathing suits. To cap it all off, there will be a theatrical firework performance by Nomura Fireworks at 8pm.

Also running concurrently is the 5th Annual Challenge Festival in Kawarago.

There will be a free shuttle bus running from JR Hitachi-taga Station, and there will be no vehicles allowed in the area between 6 and 8:30pm, so hop on and leave your car behind. Come have some fun in the sun!

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Tabi Cafe Vol.13 – Kitaura’s Lake Shore, the Moon as seen by Basho

Date: July 14th, 2:10 to 7:30pm

Locations: Taiyo Station, Fukusenji Temple, Daigiji Temple, Kitaura Kohan Station

Thanks to the collaboration of the Kashima Rinkai Line, we are offering programs such as ‘a walk as Matsuo Basho’ and ‘let’s all ride the train!’ through which you can enjoy the areas around the Kitaura Kohan and Taiyo Stations.

Program 1: A walk and a ride on the train (2:10 to 4:30pm)

Free participation, free snacks

2:10pm…meet at Taiyo Station (there are trains arriving from both directions at 2:07)

2:30pm…leave Taiyo Station

–          walking course: from Taiyo Station to Fukusenji Temple (round trip)

there will be a talk about cultural assets at the temple

4pm…let’s ride the Kashima Rinkai Line!

–          ride from Taiyo Station to Kitaura Kohan Station (5min)

210yen for adults, 110yen for children

Program 2: Talk session (4:40 to 6pm)

‘To learn about ancient times…’

Free participation, light meal and drinks provided

Location: Daigiji Temple *transportation from Kitaura Kohan Station will be via the staff’s vehicles

Program 3: Walking (6 to 7pm)

–          walking course: from Daigji Temple to Kitaura Kohan Station

there are trains leaving Kitaura Kohan and arriving at      Taiyo Stations for 6:42-7:21 and 6:47-7:27 respectively

Must register in advance through online form on website

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Upcoming Events

Fish fun

Kasumigaura’s ‘Exciting Kids’ Summer Vacation!’

The period from July 16th (Marine Day) to September 1st (Kasumigaura Day) is Kasumigaura Water Quality Improvement Month.

As part of the events forming the Kasumigaura Water Quality Improvement Month, the Ibaraki Prefecture Kasumigaura Environmental Science Center will be hosting ‘Kasumigaura’s Exciting Kids Summer Vacation!’ for elementary and junior high age students.

This is a chance to learn everything about Kasumigaura, from plants to plankton, fish to water quality, a special series of courses provided this summer only.

Dates:

1st Course – Kasumigaura’s Plants and Water Quality

July 22nd, 10am to 3pm

2nd Course – Kasumigaura’s Living Things

July 29th, 10am to 3pm

Location: Ibaraki Prefecture Kasumigaura Environmental Science Center and Kasumigaura Lakeshore

Meeting place: Ibaraki Prefecture Kasumigaura Environmental Science Center

15 groups of parents and children, from elementary to junior high age, free participation

There will be a bus provided from Tsuchiura Station east exit to the Center, departing at 9:30am and returning at 3:20pm

Please apply via phone or fax at the locations below:

Ibaraki Prefecture Kasumigaura Environmental Science Center, Environmental Activities Promotion Division

Tel : 029-828-0961  Fax : 029-828-0967

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Shirosato’s ‘Fish-snatching Festival!’

Date: July 7th, 10am (moved to July 8th in case of heavy rain)

Location: Michi no Eki ‘Katsura’, Naka River riverbed

Due to its high popularity with children, we will once again be holding our annual ‘fish-snatching festival’. We will form a giant fish tank out of the Naka River riverbed so that everyone can enjoy trying to catch fish with their hands. Please feel free to invite your family and friends and come along!

Free participation

Schedule:

9:30 to 10am…participant registration

10am…opening ceremony

10:30 to noon…fish-snatching!

Upcoming Events

Summer sights

Summer Gourmet Street Vendor Fair and Surfing Festival

Date: July 7th and 8th, 10am to 4pm

Location: Oarai Coast (near Aquaworld, Oarai Swimming Area parking lot), free admission

Time to beat the heat with some tasty eats! This food fair will bring together famous foods from both local vendors and other prefectures, including a gathering of all the most popular yakisoba types from around the country. Among the local delicacies on hand are Ibaraki’s famous grilled ham as well as a melon soda float served right out of the melon! Also making a tempting appearance are Okayama’s Hiruzen yakisoba, Kanagawa’s Atsugi Shirokoro hormones, Tochigi’s Utsunomiya gyoza, Fukushima’s Aizu traditional sauce pork-cutlet rice bowl, and much more.

Guests include Japan’s 2012 Miss World representative Igarashi Nozomi (7th only), Ibaraki’s representative comedian Antoki no Inoki (both days), and owner and chef of Omotesando’s Ristorante Da Fiore Manaka Hideyuki’s Kitchen Ibaraki (7th only).

Furthermore, a surfing contest will be held over both days, open to both pros and amateurs, as well as a charity flea market and autograph event held by pro surfers!

Not to mention, both days will be free admission to the Aquaworld aquarium for junior high students and under. Other events for kids include making magnets out of seashells, stamp rally, Tanabata message writing, a bouncy castle and free balloons. Don’t miss it!

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Ama-biki Kannon Ajisai Festival

The Ama-biki Kannon in Sakuragawa is a miracle-working Kannon goddess whose areas of expertise are childbirth, child-rearing, pregnancy, avoidance of disaster, and financial fortune, and is the 24th hallowed site of the Bando Kannon Sites. It is also well-known as a temple featuring beautiful seasonal flowers, such as sakura, botan (peonies), tsutsuji (azalea), ajisai (hydrangea), as well as the turning of the leaves in fall. In addition to making the entrance free to all visitors and encouraging relaxation, there are souvenirs available that can only be found at the Ama-biki Kannon temple.

This year’s Ajisai Festival runs from June 10th to July 20th, and the park will be filled with the water-colored blooms.

CIR Diary

New Eyes

Do you remember the first time you came to Japan? If you were like most of us, your eyes were sparkling with delight and wonder, your body possessed by an itch to explore every nook and cranny, and you were hooked from the instant you stepped outside. Have you ever wondered what that you might have looked like at that moment of discovery? I recently got the chance to witness this eureka euphoria firsthand as I got involved with the inaugural group from the Kizuna Project.

The Kizuna Project was created by the Japanese Government as a way of re-igniting the passion for Japanese tourism that had been somewhat diluted by the aftermath of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. The plan is to invite an estimated 9000 students from schools all over Asia and North America to come visit Japan for short or long term, and send another 2300 or so Japanese students abroad to some of those same schools as an exchange. While the students are in Japan they are given a tour of some of the most famous attractions, including, of course, Tokyo and its myriad facets, Kyoto, and Osaka. During that period they also spend some time with a Japanese family as part of homestay, and visit one of the prefectures struck by last year’s earthquake disaster so they can get an idea of the full impact of the tragedy and its lasting effects on the area. The ultimate goal of the project is to have these students return to their home countries and spread the word about their experiences in Japan, about the safety of tourism in Japan, and about the resilience and spirit of the Japanese people.

To that end, the first group spent 4 days in Ibaraki as soon as they arrived in Japan. Around 50 Students from Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh and Meridian High School in Idaho were united upon arrival and brought wide-eyed and jetlagged to meet the Prefectural Governor. All students were originally taking Japanese classes in their hometowns, and had already had some kind of introduction to Japanese culture through their studies, but it was fascinating to see them confronting it in person for the first time. Those who were chosen to meet the governor asked well-though-out questions about attracting industry to the area and making use of the entertainment industry to re-start tourism. But having seen very little so far it was too soon for the real excitement to set in.

However, by the third day there was no stopping them. They were brought to Hitachi Ni-ko High School to experience Japanese school life and meet students their own age, and from the instant their buses pulled into the parking lot the powder keg was lit. Though both groups of students were initially quite nervous and kept to themselves, it was clear they very much wanted to meet the other; it wasn’t until they were forced to play a game where they found a student from the other group and got them to teach them a new word in their language that things got interesting. Soon the room was filled with excited chatter as both groups realized that, despite the ever-present language barrier, they could communicate. The fascination with the ‘other’ took over and the room was overflowing with energy within seconds. When I asked the Japanese students what they thought it was interesting to hear their responses: ‘They speak Japanese so well!’ after the Idaho group sang a self-written song in mixed Japanese and English; ‘I saw someone who looks like Winnie the Pooh!’; ‘The girls are all so pretty!’. The Americans were equally enthusiastic, exclaiming over the cuteness of the girls (it was an all-girl school) and exchanging facebook contacts. In fact, many of the Americans told me that this interaction period had been the best part of the trip so far, and their euphoria was practically tangible.

Soon after the Americans were split into two-person groups and sent off to participate in regular Japanese classes. As I visited some of the groups it was interesting to see what they thought of school. Some students pointed out the different definition of ‘home economics’ they used here, others felt that the biology classes were much more hands-on. However, most students I talked to felt less surprise than wonder; almost universally they told me that they already knew what to expect when they got here and that this experience was exactly what they’d expected. Whether through anime or other forms of visual culture they had already come to know Japan, and were rather thrilled to find it exactly as they’d hoped; in fact, it seemed to me that they were overjoyed to actually be inside this world they had viewed externally for so long.

Later the students split into their high school groupings to make posters of encouragement for the local residents, after having viewed the damaged areas the previous day. Many felt that talking with a local fisherman in Kita-Ibaraki about the tsunami and its impact on his livelihood had been extremely meaningful, and actually seeing Otsu Port and the remaining damage there had helped them get an idea of the scope of the disaster. When I asked what his favorite part of Ibaraki had been one student mentioned Rokkakudo and its exquisite beauty; when I told him that it had been completely swept away last year and entirely rebuilt since he was amazed at the speed and craftsmanship. Others cited the architecture of the homes, or the traditional sleeping style with tatami and futon, or the kindness and generosity of the Japanese people they had met here. And every single student I asked immediately said they wanted to come back to Japan.

So, it seems the Kizuna Project’s first group is already fulfilling the aims of the project. Watching their excitement build with each experience and hearing their passion for a future connected with Japan reminded me of myself not so many years ago. Seeing things through their eyes helped me recall the wonder I held myself at that time, and it was exciting to hear their plans for the future. Hopefully these new spokesman will return to their country with tales that will inspire others to visit these shores, and hopefully someday they themselves will be able to return and continue the cycle of discovery and experience that is the beginning of new bonds between both individuals and nations.

Upcoming Events

Kudou Shizuka Exhibit

The Shimodate Museum of Art is currently holding an exhibit of the work of Kudou Shizuka, celebrating her 25th year as a singer this year. Ms. Kudou made her solo debut in the late 80s and has many hit songs under her belt. In order to commemorate this memorable year and to express her deep sentiments towards music she has been devoting herself to her performances.

At the same time, she began oil-painting in 1988 and won the newcomer’s award at the 75th Annual Nika Exhibit two years later. Her feminine style displays quite a different side from her powerful stage presence but still evokes a strong sense of identity, and she has placed many times in the Nika Exhibit over the years. In particular, in last year’s 95th Annual Nika Exhibit her ‘Depths of the Eyes’ won the special selection prize, and her further artistic activities are quite highly anticipated.

This exhibit will display 56 pieces, including the highly acclaimed ‘Depths of the Eyes’.

Period: June 2nd to July 29th

Hours: 10am to 6pm (last entry 5:30, closed on Mondays)

Admission: Adults 500yen, High school and under free.

Upcoming Events

Midsummer Rites

Summer Purification Rite Ceremony

Date : June 30th, 1pm

Location : Mito’s Hachimangu

It is said that ‘those who do the summer purification rites in June will live a thousand years’. During this religious ritual for purifying oneself of the sins and impurities that one has unknowingly accumulated over the last 6 months everyone forms a long procession and sings purification chants. After passing through a straw ring while reciting Japanese waka poetry the paper dolls that the sins and impurities have been transferred to are cast into the Naka river with prayers for health and well-being.

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Car Purification Straw Ring Passage

Date: June 24th

Location: Kasama Inari Shrine

As part of the rituals for the Summer Purification Rites held on the last day of June, Kasama Inari Shrine will be holding a ‘Car Purification Straw Ring Passage’ in the parking lot of the Sashirosan Kasama Inari Shrine outer gardens.

The passage through the straw ring is a ritual designed to exorcise the sins and impurities unknowingly accumulated during the previous 6 months. To keep up with the rapidly progressing car-based society a 6m diameter straw ring, the biggest in Japan is set up so that vehicles can pass through it. As a way of praying for safe travels and avoiding accidents personal cars, large buses, construction trucks, and motorcycles pass through the straw ring in a figure eight pattern, left, right and left again for a total of 3 passages.

This year, after the Harley Davidson club has passed through the ring they will form a stirring parade.

Also, as part of accident prevention workshops, the JAF will be making available their Seatbelt Convincer which lets you experience what it would be like to be involved in a collision.

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Summer Purification Rites, Straw Ring Passage

Date: June 30th

Location: Kasama Inari Shrine

The Summer Purification Rites are held every year at Kasama Inari on June 30th. This ritual was originally recorded as an event of national scale in the Taiho code of the Asuka period (701 AD), and is performed on the last days of June and December respectively. The intent is to purify oneself of sins and impurities, return to your original self, and pray for new beginnings.

During this ritual, participants write their name, age, and birth date on paper dolls, rub the dolls against their bodies, and breathe life into them 3 times so that the dolls will act as a surrogate and take on the sins and impurities of the bearer. This ritual is similar to ‘Nakatomi Harae’, Japan’s oldest purification ritual; once the doll is created worshippers then pass through the straw ring to purify themselves while the dolls will later be cast into the ocean for purification.

The origins of the straw ring come from a lost passage of the Bigofudoki from the Shaku Nihongi (annotated version of the Nihon Shoki). During the era of the gods, as Susanoonomikoto was travelling towards the southern seas he sought shelter for the night from a pair of brothers named Sominshorai and Kotanshorai. Though Kotanshorai, the younger brother, was wealthy, he refused; conversely, the very poor older brother Sominshorai took in Susanoonomikoto and did his utmost to provide hospitality. Many years later Susanoonomikoto revisited Shominshorai and told him ‘when there is illness passing through the earthly kingdom, make a ring out of straw and place it around your hips and surely you will be saved’. From this incident the belief emerged that writing ‘Sominshorai’ and attaching it to your gate would ward off disaster and making a ring of straw and passing through it became a part of purification rites.

Upcoming Events

Middle Planting Festival

A gathering to pray for an abundant harvest

Every year on the first day of summer the rice planting festival is held at Shimonomiya’s Chikatsu Shrine, where young girls plant rice seedlings in time to traditional songs.

Because the first day of summer falls exactly at the middle point of the division of the year into 24 periods, as was traditionally done, it became called the ‘Middle Planting Festival’. It’s not certain when this festival began, but the legend goes that it was a ritual conducted during planting on the holy rice field donated by Tokugawa Mitsukuni, leading us to believe it was already in practice by the early to middle Edo period.

The festival begins with a purification ritual at the shrine, followed by a Shinto prayer, offering of a sakaki branch, and planting songs before moving to the actual field. The shrine is decorated with shimenawa, the purifying ropes, and after the priest’s purification ritual taiko, flute and drums accompany the planting songs as 10 or so young girls plant rice seedlings in the holy field. The girls wear a light blue singlet tied with red ropes over red work pants and coolie hats. The planting songs are performed on the stage at the side of the field by the Planting Song Preservation Society.

Location: Chikatsu Shrine, Shimonomiya (Daigo)

Date: First day of summer (June 21st)