Kasama Hatsu-uma Inarizushi Festival

When: February 1, 10am-3pm (in case of rain, the event will be postponed to February 2)
Where: Kasama Inari Monzen-dōri, Kasama City

Deep-fried tofu and inarizushi are said to be the favourite foods of foxes, who are the messengers of Inari, the god of harvests, wealth, and fertility. Since ancient times, people have offered these foods to the foxes and prayed for a good harvest on the first horse day (hatsu-uma) of the Japanese lunar month, which is the traditional day for worship at Inari shrines. In conjunction with this, Kasama City is holding a Hatsu-uma Inarizushi Festival, as inarizushi is a local specialty.

Rock up at 11am to register to participate in an attempt to make the longest soba inarizushi roll in history! Participation is free and the attempt will begin at 1pm. There will also be a stall named ‘Inakichian’ opening especially for the festival, selling food and drink including their original ‘Inari Soup’ dish. Don’t miss out!

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Oarai Mentai Park

Down by the ferry terminal in Oarai you can find Mentai Park, one of Ibaraki’s more unique theme parks. Mentaiko is a popular side dish in Japan, consisting of marinated pollock or cod roe, and Mentai Park was born from the desire of mentaiko company Kanefuku Co., Ltd. to share their passion for high quality mentaiko production with the world. They decided to add an educational gallery and a shop where they could sell their products directly to their preexisting factory, and in December 2012 Mentai Park was born.

ImageImageThis attraction certainly makes an impression at a distance, and I am sure it has inspired a number of passersby to pull into the car park purely out of curiosity. On the roof is a giant statue of Tarapiyo, one of two characters created by Kanefuku to guide visitors through Mentai Park. You can meet the other character at the front door – wise Professor Tarakon, who will teach you everything you need to know about mentaiko.

ImageImageStepping through the doors you will find yourself in the shop, but I would recommend leaving this for last. Head across the floor to the entrance to the gallery. Stepping through the door you will find a 100m long hallway where you can learn a wealth of information about mentaiko, including the life cycle of the Alaska pollock, from whose roe mentaiko is made. There are many interactive features, making it great fun for children and adults alike. One of my personal favourites was a motion interactive floor projection – basically a virtual fish pond you could walk on that would react to your footsteps.

ImageImageHowever, the main feature of the gallery is the large windows facing into the factory, through which you can observe all stages of the mentaiko making process, from the harvesting of the roe, preliminary preparation, marination, and maturing right through to the packaging of the final product. Professor Tarakon and Tarapiyo explain each step on large signs above the windows. One sign also tells you how many kilograms of mentaiko have been made that day, and how many workers are on duty in the factory.

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Walking out the other end of the gallery you will find yourself in the shop again, with an appetite for mentaiko. You won’t have to wait long to satisfy it – you can sample some of the delicious ways that you can plate up mentaiko, including sliced mentaiko, mentaiko sushi, and even mentaiko sandwiches. Since you just watched it being made out the back, you know you’re getting a fresh product. In addition to trays of mentaiko, you can also buy a number of other products, including mentaiko dumplings. There are also vending machines dispensing free drinks for customers. Got a long trip home? No worries, there are special Tarapiyo cooler bags available to keep your mentaiko fresh. Next time you’re in Oarai, don’t forget to stop by and learn a little more about one of Japan’s favourite dishes. It certainly makes a delicious detour.

Ibaraki Kōgei Taizen (Glass Art Exhibition)

When:          January 2 – March 23 9:30 – 5pm*
Where:         Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum, Kasama city
Admission:   Adults 700 yen, High School/University Students 500 yen,
Elementary and Junior High Students 250 yen

In a discussion of craft in Ibaraki, you will often hear about Kasama pottery, Yuki silk, and Shunkei lacquerware, but this prefecture’s glasswork is also deserving of a mention. From the glass beads excavated from old tombs and the heirlooms of the Hitotsubashi Tokugawa family to glasswork studios and companies such as Studio Silica in Kitaibaraki and Kagami Crystal in Ryugasaki and the local individual glass artists, Ibaraki has a thriving glasswork scene. In addition, the works of master glass artists from Japan and around the globe, including Iwata Tōshichi (1893-1980), Iwata Hisatoshi (1925-1994), Kagami Kōzō (1896-1985), Fujita Kyōhei (1921-2004), and Harvey Littleton (1922- ) can be found in collections all around Ibaraki.

The goal of the Ibaraki Kōgei Taizen is to present the appeal of Ibaraki’s local crafts by going beyond pottery and introducing people to a much wider range of works. The first part of this series will focus on glasswork, collecting a number of pieces from local artists and some of the famous glasswork from local collections under one roof.

Exhibition Guide

Part 1    Ibaraki Glass Collection

1.1: Past to Present
Glass Beads Exhumed From Tombs
Hitotsubashi Tokugawa Family Heirlooms
Bohemian Art Nouveau

1.2: The Masters of Modern Glasswork
Kagami Kōzō/Iwata Tōshichi and Iwata Hisatoshi
Fujita Kyōhei and Masters Around the World

1.3 Modern Glass Artists – From the Collection of Studio Silica (Kitaibaraki City)

Part 2    The Glass Artists of Ibaraki
Matsumura Matsuo/Sako Jirō/Uzawa Fumiaki/Shioya Naomi/Abiru Shōgo/Ōkubo Shigemi/Takei Morihiko/Sugiyama Yōji/Kawakami Tomomi

*Entry until 4:30pm. Closed on Mondays.  Open on January 13 but closed the following day.

Daruma Market

When: January 13, 10am onward
Where: Kyu-Shimodate Omachi-dori, Chikusei city (exit on the north side of Shimodate station and walk up the slope of the large street on the left)

Pray for prosperity in business or good luck and success with a Daruma doll, a traditional Japanese doll fashioned after the creator of Zen sect Buddhism, Bodhidharma. When you purchase a Daruma doll, you make a wish or set a goal, and paint in one of its eyes. When the wish is granted or the goal is achieved, you paint in the other eye. Perhaps you have noticed this small, usually one eyed doll in shops around Japan.

In addition to stalls selling Takasaki Daruma and Saitama Bushu Daruma, potted plants and seedlings will also be on sale at this lively event. A Daruma doll is a great way to remind yourself to stick to your New Year’s resolutions, so why not visit Chikusei and pick one up?