Cycle Sports Festival 2013

Dates: March 2nd and 3rd, 2013

Location: Hitachi Seaside Park

 

Held in connection with the first heat of the JCRC series. Come see top-class amateur cyclists battle it out in various races, and enjoy the many other events on offer!

Events:

  •  Family-oriented jogging with a running advisor (3/2, must register in advance)

 

  • Marathon vs. Ekiden team! Fighting Hitachi Seaside Park (3/3 must register in advance)

 

  • Serendipity Marathon, ‘the way we met…’ (3/3, must register in advance)

 

  • Kids Bike Festa 2013 (both days, must register in advance)

 

  • Hitachinaka 3-Wheel Gran Prix (3/2, must register in advance)

– Children compete to be the fastest tricyclist

 

  • Laki-chan’s Paper Garden Project (both days)

– Come see a flower garden made with 50 000 children’s paintings

 

  • Doggie Festival Zone, bring your dog to the Doglympics (both days)

 

  • Sports Courses (3/3)

– Handball and futsal

 

  • Ibaraki Flavor Market, lots of local delicacies (both days)

 

  • Stage Events (both days)

– Acts include Dr. Kopa, Lucy, Kadode Pichiku Pachiku, Elsollaluna Belly Dancing, Kuroki Sisters, AUNJ, and more

 

Direct questions to 029-301-2772, for information on participation visit http://hitachinaka-csf.com

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40th Annual Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival

The Mt. Tsukuba plum forest is located midway up the slop of Mt. Tsukuba (roughly 250m above sea level), and from here you can look down over a beautiful view of fields and gardens and the cityscape of the Science City, as well as Mt. Fuji and the skyscrapers of the big city in the distance.

Within the park there are white, pink, and yellow-stamen plum trees amounting to 1000 trees in total, as well as Tsukuba’s famous stones; the contrast between the stones and the pink and white plum blossoms makes for a gorgeous view.

During the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival you will catch sight of many people taking pictures.

Period: February 16th to March 24th

 

Events:

Mt. Tsukuba’s Famous Gama Oil Street Vending Performance (every day)

Asakusa Street Performances (Saturdays and Sundays)

Stage Events (Saturdays and Sundays)

 

Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival 40th Anniversary Commemorative Event

March 10th, 11-3pm

 

Rest Spot:

Plum Tea Serving (every day)

Outdoor Tea Party (every Sunday)

 

Other:

Welcome by the Tsukuba Tourism Ambassadors (every Sunday)

ume1For more info about Mt. Tsukuba, please see our website!

Raising Spirits

Sake, known domestically as nihonshu, is one of Japan’s great contributions to world cuisine. While major brands like Gekkeikan have been exporting outside the country’s borders for decades, it is only recently that the smaller, more specialized breweries have begun to enter the market, as the Japanese food craze continues to expand. Among those local producers who have managed to make inroads in the overseas markets is the Yoshikubo Sake Brewing Company of Mito, Ibaraki, and they were kind enough to give us an idea of the amount of work that goes into making a premium, craftsman’s sake.

Ippin sake Mr. Hiroyuki Yoshikubo, the brewery’s managing director and hopeful 12th generation president of the Yoshikubo Sake Brewing Company, gave us a guided tour of the facilities, complete with detailed explanations at every step along the way. For someone who has spent years enjoying the taste and effects of a good sake, it was quite an eye-opening experience to see the production method firsthand.

The brewery itself has a history spanning over 220 years, stretching back into Edo period Japan. After having begun with the traditional seasonal system, which involved hiring farm laborers from the north of Japan who had no work during the winter months, they eventually realized the changing of the times and twenty years ago began hiring year-round employees as well. Currently they have 5 full-time employees and 3 seasonal laborers, for a full staff of only 8 people. And yet, these 8 people manage to produce roughly 360 kiloliters of sake in the scant 6 month period when brewing is optimal. Sake itself needs cold temperatures to become a full-flavored beverage, and to avoid the possibility of rot or spoil, which means that brewing is only done during the period from November to April. As soon as the new rice crop is harvested and shipped at the beginning of November the Yoshikubo brewery opens for business, with its employees working nearly round-the-clock to keep the sake at its best.

Washing rice for sake, at Yoshikubo

In the past, Mr. Yoshikubo related, it was possible for brewers to start at around 6am, when it was still cold out but just about daylight; however, due to the impact of global warming in Japan, it is now necessary for the workers to start their shifts at around 4am. The brewmaster, who must have many years of experience in brewing and pass a rigorous test to prove their skills, lives onsite throughout the production period in a special room, so that he can nip out and check on the temperatures and other details of the lengthy process.

The story begins with the rice, but not just any rice. The rice used in sake brewing is different from the rice consumed with meals; it has a longer stalk, thicker grains, and a much higher starch content. In fact, this rice would probably be very unappetizing if eaten, because of the lack of refined flavor found in edible rice, but it is the very qualities that make it bland that turn it into good sake. First the rice is polished using special machines, removing first the outer husk of the raw grain and gradually eroding more and more of the grain itself. The more polished the rice is, the higher the quality of the flavor; however, that also increases the price, as it will take more rice to produce the same amount of alcohol. Yoshikubo Sake Brewing prides itself on polishing its rice both more than the national average and than the Ibaraki average (in most cases using only half the grain of rice), making for a higher quality sake without too much of an increase in price. Another point of pride is the very dry flavor; Yoshikubo has some of the driest sake available, maintaining high levels of bite in all of its products.

Letting malted rice air out, Yoshikubo

After polishing the rice is taken to be washed. On a side note, the powder left over from polishing is used for different purposes depending on its grade: the outer husk portion is used for pickling vegetables, the middle portion for animal feed, and the inner portion for making rice crackers. The rice washing process is done by hand, to avoid splitting the grain. If the grain is split the fermentation time is halved as well, meaning the flavor of the overall brew will be uneven. They also carefully monitor how much water is absorbed by the rice, to maintain consistency and moisture content at a specific level. After washing, the rice is steamed for an hour in a large machine (for the regular grade) or a small barrel (for the premium grade), and then transported to the malting room. Here, a special kind of malt that has been used exclusively at Yoshikubo breweries for generations is applied, and the rice is covered with blankets to trap the heat and speed up the growth of the malt. The temperature of the rice mixture has to be varied over time to maintain the growth of the malt without letting it consume the rice, and eventually the malted rice is transferred into smaller and smaller containers, and spread out horizontally to allow more and more contact with the air.

Rice fermenting, Yoshikubo

When the malting process is complete it is time for fermentation. The rice mixture is transferred into large cylindrical metal drums and water and yeast is added. The water itself is from a special spring that was favored by the local lord from the Edo period; in the past it was available throughout the city, but now they have to drive a huge truck over to the source every day to withdraw enough spring water for the day’s production. Over time you can see the progress of the mixture: first the grains are still substantial, and there is quite a lot of bubbling; over time the grains get broken down more and more and the bubbling becomes less noticeable. Eventually the mixture is moved to the storehouse for its final evolution, which takes between 3 and 4 weeks. During this stage the mixture is so toxic that they leave the tanks open to breathe without any concern about insects; if a human being were to fall into one of these tanks they would die within two seconds, because even though it is open to the air there is no oxygen inside whatsoever. The space is filled with carbon dioxide and pure alcohol vapor, and even if someone is rescued within the critical two seconds they usually never recover from a vegetative state. Mr. Yoshikubo invited us to take a whiff of the safety spout, just to prove his point; one noseful was enough to burn my lungs and throat and leave me with the vague sensation I’d just lost quite a few brain cells.

Rice becoming sake, Yoshikubo

Once the fermentation is complete the mixture is pressed and the alcohol is bottled and readied for transport. Mr. Yoshikubo was kind enough to give us a taste test of some sake that had been pressed only three days earlier, and the sweetness and purity of the flavor were exquisite. It was easy to tell why their flagship product, Ippin, had made such inroads in markets such as the US, Korea, India, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Despite the higher fees for air transport (to maintain temperature) and imports, it has gone on to gain quite a favorable reputation for its refined taste and even won several awards both domesticall and abroad. As a fan of sake myself I was more than happy with the quality of it, especially after having seen all the hard work and time that went into making it.

Testing Ippin, Yoshikubo

Here the nihonshu odyssey came to an end. After showing us some Korean-style makkori liquor (sake with rice still inside) and some cherry blossom sake made specially for the spring season it was time for us to say goodbye. It will be a different experience drinking sake from now on, having witnessed the process firsthand, and I have to admit that I am rooting for the further success and expansion of Yoshikubo’s brewery. In a world where automation and mass production are usually the words of the day, Mr. Yoshikubo and his family have protected and maintained many tradition, artisanal brewing techniques through generations, and continue to create premium products such as Ippin by hand. If you have the chance, why not give it a try and see for yourself?

Cherry blossom sake, Yoshikubo

Ibarakese 15

Starting to get a little warmer, but not sure we’re out of the woods yet. The plum blossoms are just starting to bloom!

This time we have ‘tsu’:

~っぽ (~ppo): to describe a certain characteristic of a person. Ex: Mitoppo = Mitoite (Mitojin), Akireppo = easily bored person (akippoi hito), okorippo = easily angered person (okorippoi hito), etc

つーげづら (tsu-gezura): a cold-looking face, looking unwell (kao-iro warui)

ついんぼ (tsuibo): cane (tsue)

~つける (~tsukeru): expression used when collaborating with or helping someone. Ex: 持ってつける (motte tsukeru) -> motsu no wo tetsudau (help carry/hold something), 行ってつける (itte tsukeru) -> tsukiau (go with someone somewhere)

つこでる (tsukoderu): fall, trip, roll down (ochiru, korobu, korogaru)

つとめ (tsutome): a worker, a salaryman, an employee (kaishain)

117th Annual Mito Plum Festival

Location: Kairakuen Park, Kodokan Hall Park

Dates: Wednesday, February 20th – Sunday, March 31st 2013

 

“Spring in Mito starts with plum blossoms…”

The 117th Annual Mito Plum Festival will take place at Kairakuen Park and Kodokan Hall Park between February 20th and March 31st, 2013. Kairakuen Park boasts about 3,000 trees of 100 types of plums, and Kodokan Hall Park about 800 trees of 60 types of plums that will all be in bloom throughout the festival.

Besides being able to enjoy the wonderful plum blossoms, various events will take place nearly every Saturday and Sunday inside Kairakuen Park. Some events include koto performances, tea ceremonies, Japanese drum performances, and much much more! Spring is the season when Mito shines! You won’t want to miss out on all the beauty and fun that the festival has to offer!

List of Events

■ Wednesday, February 20th

○Plum Festival Opening – Memorial Present

Kairakuen Park East Gate, 10:30am~

 

■     Sunday, February 24th

○     Outdoor Koto Performance

Kariakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

○     Dance Performance

Tokiwa Shrine, 11:00am~12:00pm

 

■     Saturday, March 2nd

○     Mito, Kasama, Oarai Sightseeing PR

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

○     Doll Festival Display

Kairakuen Park, 10:30am~12:00pm

○     8th Annual Night Plum Festival

Kairakuen Park, 6:00pm~9:00pm

 

■     Sunday, March 3rd

○     Open-air Tea Ceremony

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

○     66th Annual Photography Event and Photo Contest

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

○     Mito Doll Display

Kairakuen Park, 11:00am~12:00pm

 

■     Saturday, March 9th

○     Open-air Tea Ceremony (run by high school students)

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

 

■     Sunday, March 10th

○     Open-air Tea Ceremony

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

 

■     Saturday, March 16th

○     Open-air Tea Ceremony (run by high school students)

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

 

■     Sunday, March 17th

○     Open-air Tea Ceremony

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

○     Bustle of the Plum Forest – Japanese Drums and Dance

Kairakuen Park, 11:00am and 1:00pm

○     Tsugaru Shamisen Performance

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

○     67th Annual Haiku (Japanese Poem) Contest

Ibaraki Prefectural Youth Hall, 10:00am~2:00pm

 

■     Saturday, March 23rd

○ Open-air Tea Ceremony (run by high school students)

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

 

■     Sunday, March 24th

○ Open-air Tea Ceremony

Kairakuen Park, 10:00am~3:00pm

 

■     Sunday, March 31st

○     Mito Komon Festival Japanese Drum Performance

Kairakuen Park, 11:00am and 1:00pm

mito plum festFor more information about Mito, the plum blossoms, the festival(last year’s info as well), or Kairakuen, you can check out related articles by clicking on the links^^

1st Annual World Chocolate Festival

Chocolate lovers unite!

This creative festival is being held as a charity event contributing to the recovery efforts from the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. Beginning February 2nd and running until March 10th, Mito will be filled with chocolate and chocolate-related events, for a very sweet spring.

 

Events:

 

Chocolate Exhibition

Chocolate objets d’art and chocolate posters will be on display in the entrance hall of the Mito Art Gallery (Art Tower Mito) and in a special venue in the parking lot of the Keisei department store.

 

Chocolate Sales

Chocolate from around the world will be on sale throughout the city, including premium brands such as Godiva!

 

Commemorative Photo Chocolate

Every weekend at the Keisei parking plaza venue you will be able to have your picture taken to be inserted on the label of a chocolate bar you can give to someone special. Here’s your chance to make a personalized chocolate bar, make sure you don’t miss it!

 

Chocolate Charity Concert

On February 24th the Mito Art Gallery will be hosting a charity concert whose proceeds will go towards helping with recovery efforts from the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. The performances are from:

Part 1 (1pm):

Mito Shinsou Elementary School Brass Ensemble

Lilyvale Elementary School 6th Graders (vocal)

Mito Keimei High School Express Jazz Orchestra

Part 2 (3pm):

Bumblebeat (Beach Boys style)

Cohirozy (guitar and vocals)

Senor Senorita (latin guitar and vocals)

Takeshi Shibanuma (guitar and vocals)

B Train Jazz Orchestra

 

Making the World’s Longest Chocolate Roll Cake

On March 9th at 3pm, the Mito Art Gallery will be the scene for a new gourmet world record. There is a limit of 100 people who can participate (1000 yen per person, you get to eat the cake!), so make sure to reserve your spot quickly at http://world-choco-fes.com/form.html

 

Chocolate Cake Garden Party

On March 8th, 9th, and 10th, from 11-7 the Keisei department store will host a chocolate cake garden party for 1000 people. Each person will be able to choose 6 cakes to eat (1300 yen per person) during this time, so it is the perfect chance to find your favorite. Participants will be selected by random drawing, to apply you must obtain a form from Stenogroup, Yamashin, or Book Ace and mail it in.

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For more information about Mito, please see our homepage