One Day in Ibaraki

Fly Me Away

Nestled among the sun-dappled cornfields and greenhouses of the city of Omitama lies one of Japan’s newest airport facilities, the Ibaraki International Airport. But, unlike most other airports, Ibaraki Airport was built exclusively with Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) in mind, from the ground up. Not only does it offer some of the cheapest fares in Japan, its location and amenities boast of stream-lined and efficient design and ease-of-use, making it a highly attractive spot for travelers and locals alike.

The airport itself is built beside the twin runways that it shares with the JSDF Hyakuri Base, one of the key points that determined its origins. Thanks to the runways and control tower already in place for the air forces, the construction costs of Ibaraki airport were roughly half of what a similar size facility cost in Shizuoka. On top of which, as opposed to providing boarding gates like most airports, the innovative approach of using step-ramp trucks to board the aircraft right on the apron led to many attractive benefits for the aircraft carriers it has courted. This is because boarding gates cost money, to build, to operate, to maintain, all of which gets passed along to the carriers and finally to the customers through higher fares. Eliminating the boarding gate costs also means that the aircraft can swing along sideways on the apron instead of approaching the building nose-first; this reduces costs by avoiding the need for a vehicle to push back the aircraft onto the runway or extra engine idling prior to takeoff as the plane can simply turn back towards the runway on its own once boarding is complete. Finally, boarding gates normally mean departures are located on the second floor and arrivals are located on the first floor of a terminal, requiring twice the staff and equipment. No boarding gates meant the process could be streamlined onto one floor, leaving the remaining space available for duty free or food service shops.

Once you enter the terminal building everything is perfectly efficient. The police and a rental car shop at one end, souvenirs and local produce at the other; in the center lies the information booth with staff who speak multiple languages, while on either side stand automatic money exchanging machines and a paid internet terminal. Currently the airport has routes through Skymark Airlines and Spring Airlines, so there are counters set up for both of them; Asiana maintains a counter as well, although their flights have stopped temporarily since the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. Check in closes 40 minutes prior to takeoff, but because passing through security takes less than 5 minutes for the most part there is no need to arrive an hour and half before your flight such as with Haneda or Narita. Once through security there is a pleasantly featured waiting room to relax in before you walk the 50 metres to the waiting aircraft. Arrivals are similarly streamlined, allowing for quick deplaning and baggage collection before exiting into the same lobby as you entered to depart.

Other attractive features include the free parking for those flying in or out, and the ability to ride a highway bus to Tokyo for only 500 yen, both of which are much cheaper than the major airports. There are lower airport usage fees too, only 500 yen per customer as opposed to the 2500 yen charged by Haneda or Narita, meaning your ticket is cheaper yet again. Also, for those who have an interest in aircraft, you can often catch sight of various fighter jets flying in and out of the Hyakuri base, and there are two older aircraft on display to the right of the terminal.

In fact, of the 1 million visitors to the airport in the last year, only 300 thousand were actually flying; the rest were visiting the airport just for fun! It’s easy to see why, as the upper floor is stocked with Korean merchandise and local delicacies such as the fabulous Omitama pudding, while the lower level sells goods from different regions every week; when we visited there was an Okinawa fair on, with plenty of tasty treats on display.

Currently Ibaraki Airport offers domestic flights to Hokkaido, Kobe, and Okinawa, and international flights to Shanghai, but they are in negotiations to open more routes in the near future. The Okinawa route, which was originally just for this summer, has now been extended to the end of the year, thanks to its high popularity, and the Shanghai route not only increased from 3 to 6 days a week but also became regular service as opposed to the charter service it was offering before. Thanks to its high-quality service and features Ibaraki Airport was even named Low Cost Airport of the Year last year, but they are working hard to make sure the trend to excellence continues this year as well.

Whether you intend on visiting Rokkakudo, Nikko, or Tokyo, Ibaraki Airport is close, cheap, and charmingly appointed.

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Upcoming Events

45th Annual Mito Hagi Matsuri

Period: September 1st to September 20th, and September 30th (harvest moon)

Location: Kairakuen Park

Mito’s 9th Lord, Lord Tokugawa Nariaki planted hagi (bush clover) received from the Date Domain in 1843 as part of the construction of Kairakuen Park.

Kairakuen’s hagi is mainly the Miyagi-no-hagi; there is white hagi, mountain hagi, round-leaf hagi, and many more, totaling 150 groupings of hagi whose flowering makes the autumn landscape come to life.

Cited as one of the 7 plants of autumn, hagi was the most often used plant in the Manyoshu collection of poetry, appearing in 140 poems.

Events:

9/8 10am   Release of 2012 singing crickets        Kairakuen, Miharashi Plaza

10am – 3pm  Photo-op with Mito Komon cast and Plum Ambassadors  Miharashi

9/9   12 – 3pm  Photo-op with Mito Komon cast         Miharashi

9/15  12 – 3pm  Photo-op with Mito Komon cast         Miharashi

9/16  10am – 3pm  Outdoor Koto Performance          Miharashi

10am – 3pm  Hagi Festival Haiku Contest        Prefectural Youth Hall

12 – 3pm  Photo-op with Mito Komon cast         Miharashi

9/17  12 – 3pm  Photo-op with Mito Komon cast         Miharashi

9/30  3 – 8pm  Kobuntei Tea Ceremony                  Kobuntei

3 – 8pm  Group Outdoor Tea Party                 Miharashi

3:30 – 5pm  Noh Song and Dance Performance      Tokiwa Shrine

5 – 5:20pm  Tsugaru Shamisen Performance        Miharashi

5:30 – 5:50pm  Koto Performance                  Miharashi

6 – 6:40pm  Shinto and Court Music Performance   Miharashi

7 – 8pm  Poetry Reading                          Miharashi

6 – 8:30pm   Candle Illumination                  Kairakuen

 

Sales of tea party seat tickets:

300yen per seat (both Kobuntei/outdoor tea parties)

Sales date: 9/30 2pm

Sales location: beside Kairakuen’s east gate

*There is a limited amount of seating for Kobuntei, so tickets will be sold on a first come first serve basis (admission for Kobuntei is a separate fee of 190yen).

 

Related events:

1. Children’s Sketch Contest

9/1 – 20

2. Tours from the ‘Mito History Advisors’, local tourism volunteers

9/1 – 20, Weekends and holidays only, 10am – 3pm

3. Paper lantern display (containing poems from the poetry reading)

9/1 – 30

 

Hagi Illumination:

9/14 – 23, 29, 30

*The east gate, Umezakura bridge, and main gate will be open (others closed)

IbarakEATS!

Hidden Treasure

Hidden in the back of a building, with only a very simple sign advertising it, is one of Mito’s best-kept secrets. Cafe Rin is an exquisite little café on the ground floor of one of the many eponymous buildings near the Daiku area of Mito, featuring a soothing and relaxing atmosphere and delicious home-style meals. Not only is it removed from the noise and bustle of the busy streets outside, it fronts onto a small Japanese garden that has frequent visits from intrepid local cats who dare to scale the high bamboo walls. If you’re looking for a great place for a date, a chat, or just to sit and study, Rin is exactly what you want.

Once you pass down the dark, spare, narrow hallway from the street entrance, you reach an area that feels as if it is a different world. The walls are pleasant jewel tones with interesting art and architecture, soft jazz plays in the background to add to the ambience, and the low lighting makes things seem to glow with a nostalgic warmth. Water is self-serve and nearby is a bookshelf full of books for all ages (in Japanese, but some are illustrated children’s books that even adults may enjoy) that guests can read at will. The menu is small, but full of items that tempt the tastebuds, rendering decision-making a bit lengthy. Most dishes are a fusion-style combination of Asian or Western influences, such as the California bowl with its avocado and smoked salmon served over balsamic rice. All dishes come with a perfectly dressed salad and a tasty cup of soup, but make sure to leave room for the desserts. Among the regular offerings is the heavenly fig cheesecake, and you can turn any dessert into a set that comes with a drink and a scone, complete with a tiny dish of whipped cream and jam.

There is also a variety of coffees and teas on hand, and if you prefer to have your sweets to go their fluffy and lightly sweetened scones are available for purchase beside the cash register. All in all, the prices are reasonable and the food never disappoints (try the cheesy meatballs!), but the elegance and calming atmosphere is what will keep you coming back for more.

Upcoming Events

Wasshoi! Summer Children’s Festival

Time-travel to the Showa 30s and 40s era! Hacchan the cat will be on hand to visit all his fans.

Period: August 17-19th

Location: Mimo, 4th floor

*Experience the Showa atmosphere: A recreation of Sazae-san’s house

Mosquito nets, tea cupboards, low dining tables, fly-net cupboard, and more

*Children’s Watering Hole: A recreation of a mom n’ pop candy store

 *Let’s Play!: A recreation of a Showa plaza

*Showa Games: There were no videogames or cellphones, but we still had fun!

Bamboo stilts, hopscotch, forts, storyboard theater, paper airplanes, blowguns and bow and arrows, making ink stamps from vegetables and leaves, making lanterns, etc.

*Try using old-fashioned tools! Your chance to try tools that even your father and mother don’t know about.

Try ice-grinders and sewing machines from the Showa and Taisho eras, millstones and rotary phones, foot-pedal organs, hand-spun washing and drying machines, cleaning equipment and more.

 

8/17-19: Purrfect Photo Contest

Display of submissions of local cat photos, with judging and prizes on the last day.

 

8/17: Ride the mini Shinkansen!

‘Train-kun’ will ride on rails inside the hall and carry children around/Station-master photo-op in front of new Hitachi traincars.

 

8/17-19: Mimo Culture Center Fun Show

Various shows and lessons from the Mimo Culture Center, including magic, bellydancing, aroma-therapy, calligraphy, etc.

 

8/18: Balloon Art

Mickey Mouse and Ultraman made from balloons!

 

8/17-19: Revisit the nostalgic scent of the Showa era

–          try shaving wood with a plane

–          making cypress incense

–          how to put together the wood frame for sliding doors

 

8/18-19: The appearance of Space-time Superhero ‘Ibaraiger’

A chance to shake hands and get an autograph!

 

8/17-19: Let’s play Showa Games!

–          learn how to play with the cup-and ball toy

–          learn how to play with beanbags

 

8/19: Fun Live Performance

A ‘learn to love math’ concert and a drum workshop.

Upcoming Events

The Secret of the Bones

Summer vacation children’s museum.

A huge collection of animal bones! Come visit the strange and exciting world of bones!

Period: July 21st to August 31st

Location: Mito Museum, 4th floor

Hours: 9:30am to 4:45pm (closed Mondays, free Admission!)

Our hands contain 54 different bones, roughly one quarter of all the bones in our bodies. The ‘rock’, ‘paper’, and ‘scissors’ shapes made for the rock-paper-scissors game are actually fairly complex techniques that only become possible with many bones.

This exhibition has gathered the bones of over 80 different types of animals, including the long ‘fingers’ of bats, and the teeth at the end of an owl’s tongue! We will share the secrets of the bones of these animals, as well as display the fossils of animals who have long since become extinct. Please come and enjoy the strange world of bones.

Related Events:

–          Touch real bones!

Date: August 22nd, 10-11am/1-2pm

Location: 4th floor

Come and touch and feel the weight of the bones of various animals, such as the rhino, zebra, and camel. You can also try and put the scattered bones back together again!

–          Family fun! Make a picture frame out of fossilized shells and coral.

Date: August 25th, 1-3pm

Location: 3rd floor audiovisual room

Limit: 15 people (must participate with guardian/parent)

Must apply in advance, fee 800yen

–          Try making a fossil replica

Date: August 29th, 1-3pm

Location: 4th floor

Try your hand at making a replica of a fossil from ammonites!

 

And there are also bone puzzles, a chance to make a bone mobile (for baby cribs), and a chance to try on a bone suit, plus much more!

One Day in Ibaraki

Water for the People

One of Mito’s landmark attractions is the beautiful Lake Senba, a part of the famous Kairakuen Park. Though it is a man-made lake, this has allowed the city to incorporate many attractive features that make it a mainstay of life for many residents, and there are several different facets to enjoy at any given time.

The most oft-used and commonly known feature is of course the footpath. Divided in half to cater to both walkers/joggers and cyclists, the footpath encircles the entire lake at close proximity, and is marked in metres for those who like to measure their workouts. In fact, the entire circumference is a round 3 kilometers, perfect for a relaxing stroll or an invigorating run.

Meanwhile, the original design of the lake itself was based upon the famous West Lake of Hangzhou. Admiring the beauty of the imperial retreat, Lake Senba’s architects made sure to copy the most defining features in order to give the same feel to local residents. Elegantly swaying weeping willows frame the shoreline, with a small canal alongside the northern part of the lake to give the walkway an isolated, floating sensation.

For those who like to enjoy culture, the lake is conveniently located beside the Modern Museum of Art and the Prefectural Cultural Center. However, a recent addition is the film set for the movie ‘The Sakurada Gate Incident’, which is open to the public for a nominal fee. The set itself is designed to resemble the Edo period, specifically the location of an assassination, and sometimes even has extras in period costume available for photos.

Of course, you could always rent a rowboat or swanboat and paddle out into the middle of the lake to get a different perspective, an especially romantic proposition in the spring when the nearby Kairakuen’s plum or cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the air is still fresh.

At night the lake’s many fountains light up in various colors, making it a pleasant place for an after dinner stroll and giving a lovely view from the nearby Senba Bridge. This is also when the lake’s many waterfowl bed down for the night, for those who prefer to enjoy the lake without accompaniment from the swans, both black and white, ducks, and seagulls.

Finally, if you’re in more of an indoors mood, there is the Kobun Café. Right on the western shore of the lake, this modern-styled café offers great views out of its open-design windows all year round. The prices are reasonable too, with a full lunch set coming in at only 780 yen, quite filling for such delicious fare. Plus, they even have pastries in the shape of the swans, vanilla for white and black sesame for black.

Lake Senba has a beauty that changes with the seasons, but has much more to offer than just aesthetics. What it lacks in natural origins it more than makes up for in convenience and added value; it is, in a sense, everyone’s lake.

Upcoming Events

Mitooka Eiji’s Railway Design Exhibition

From Eki-ben to the Shinkansen

Period: July 7th to September 30th, 2012

Location: Art Tower Mito

This is an exhibition centered around Mitooka Eiji, who is a designer who worked mainly on the design of the JR Kyushu rail lines. It introduces 25 years of his work, from the railcars of JR Kyushu to the design of public transportation, through his ideas, sketches, posters, seats and desks, and railcars. It was planned in order to encourage children to take an interest in design, through the mediums of train stations and vehicles. We hope that you will enjoy the exhibition as if you were travelling through the world of design yourself. Please come and experience the Mitooka Eiji Design Exhibition’s excitement and fun for yourself.

Profile:

Mitooka Eiji was born in Okayama in 1947, and is a designer and illustrator. In 1972 he founded the Don Design Associates, and works on designing a wide range of things such as architecture and railways. He has received numerous awards, particularly for his work on designing the JR Kyushu trains and stations, such as the Brunel international railway design award and Blue Ribbon award, as well as the Mainichi Design Award (2010), Kikuchi Kan Award (2011) and others. His main design pieces are the JR Kyushu 800 series Shinkansen ‘Swallow’, the special express 787, 883, and 885 series, and the Wakayama Railways ‘Tama Train’ and ‘Tama Station’.