118th Annual Mito Plum Festival

Where: Kairakuen Park, Kodokan Hall Park
When: Thursday, February 20th – Monday, March 31st 2014

“Spring in Mito starts with plum blossoms…”
The 118th Annual Mito Plum Festival will take place at Kairakuen Park and Kodokan Hall Park between February 20th and March 31st, 2014. Kairakuen Park boasts around 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 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
■ Sunday, February 23rd
○All Japan High School Cultural Festival 2014 PR Event
Kairakuen Park, 10am
Japanese music, Kenshibu, Calligraphy

■    Saturday, March 1st
○    Mito-chan Birthday Party
Kariakuen Park, 10am

■    Saturday, March 2nd
○    Open Air Tea Ceremony
Kairakuen Park, 10am
○    Doll Festival Display
Kairakuen Park, 11am

■    Saturday, March 8th
○    Open-air Tea Ceremony (run by high school students)
Kairakuen Park, 10am
○    Doll Festival Display
Kairakuen Park, 10:30am

■    Sunday, March 9th
○    67th Annual Photo Shoot and Photo Contest
Kairakuen Park, 10am
○    Open-air Tea Ceremony
Kairakuen Park, 10am

■    Saturday, March 15th
○    Open-air Tea Ceremony (run by high school students)
Kairakuen Park, 10am
○    9th Annual Night Plum Festival
Kairakuen Park, 6pm

■    Sunday, March 16th
○    Open-air Tea Ceremony
Kairakuen Park, 10am
○    Bustle of the Plum Forest – Japanese Drums and Dance
Kairakuen Park, 11am and 1pm
○    68th Annual Haiku (Japanese Poem) Contest
Ibaraki Prefectural Youth Hall, 10am

■    Saturday, March 22nd
○ Open-air Tea Ceremony (run by high school students)
Kairakuen Park, 10am

■    Sunday, March 23rd
○ Open-air Tea Ceremony
Kairakuen Park, 10am

■    Sunday, March 30th
○    Mito Komon Festival Japanese Drum Performance
Kairakuen Park, 11am and 1pm

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Daigo Oyaki Gakkō

Oyaki, sometimes called hodoyaki in Daigo, is a type of Japanese dumpling made from buckwheat traditionally filled with bean paste or wild vegetables. Oyaki has been made in farming households in Daigo since long ago, and is firmly established as a local specialty. However, due to the way that food culture and dietary habits have changed in recent years, opportunities to eat oyaki in Daigo decreased. Realising the importance of preserving this piece of Daigo’s history, in 1996 the local government decided to do something about it and began to research local oyaki. A decision was made to remodel Yokonoji Elementary School, which had closed down, into a facility dedicated to making oyaki. Thus, the Daigo Oyaki Gakkō was born, opening its doors on July 11, 1998. It is managed as a public-private partnership.

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There are currently 10 varieties of oyaki made at the Daigo Oyaki Gakkō, each containing local fresh ingredients and designed to complement modern tastes. You can also purchase tsukemono (pickled vegetables) made from fresh local vegetables and wild plants, and woodwork made from trees grown on Mt. Yamizo.

rsz_dsc_0063On weekends the cafeteria is open from 11am to 3pm, serving soba and udon made from local ingredients. On sunny days, you can sit on the terrace and enjoy the breeze and beautiful view of the mountains while you eat.

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The highlight of the Daigo Oyaki Gakkō is the Oyaki Workshop, where you can try your hand at making your own oyaki. We were allowed to make two apple and three pumpkin oyaki. The kind staff make the dough and prepare the filling for you in advance, so you get to do the fun part.

rsz_dsc_0039 First we were instructed to roll the dough into a ball, then flatten it out and put the filling inside. Then, to our delight, we were told we could make it into any shape we wanted. Our instructor gestured to a picture on the wall of some Hello Kitty oyaki that somebody had made. Basically as long as the filling is completely covered, you can do anything you want!

rsz_dsc_0044 rsz_dsc_0046Once your oyaki has been shaped, you can draw on it using brushes and some kind of liquid (I forgot to ask what it was made of. It kind of looked like soy sauce but it didn’t taste like anything). Again, you are free to draw whatever you like. Many people draw kanji.

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After we had finished drawing on them, the instructor took our oyaki to the next room and put them on a hot plate for about 30 seconds each side. They were then transferred to a large steam oven to be cooked. When they were finished, the instructed stamped them with the Japanese word for pass as a souvenir for taking part in the workshop. The best part is you get to take home what you make, and they are delicious!

rsz_dsc_0054 rsz_dsc_0059 rsz_dsc_0069 rsz_dsc_0070 rsz_dsc_0072Daigo Oyaki Gakkō
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm (closed Wednesdays, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day)
Cafeteria: 11am to 3pm weekends and public holidays
Can be arranged on weekdays if you book

Oyaki Workshop
Times: 9:30am to 3pm
Cost
Adults: 800 yen
Children 12 and under: 500 yen

Fukuroda Falls

After walking down a small street dotted with traditional shops and onsen in the small town of Daigo, you will find yourself at the base of Fukuroda Falls, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Daigo (and even in Ibaraki). With a magnificent height of 120 meters and a width of 73 meters, Fukuroda Falls lives up to its name of being one of the three most renowned waterfalls in Japan.

In Japanese, Fukuroda Falls is often called “Yodo-no-taki” which means the four-step falls and is derived from the way the waterfall is separated into four distinct tiers. Little known to most visitors, Fukuroda Falls also consists of a fifth tier upstream called Namase Waterfall, which can only be reached by hiking. For a small entrance fee, the four main tiers can be seen from two observation decks, one right at the base and one near the top of the falls, offering two very different, yet very stunning, views.

Fukuroda Falls Summer

Each season brings a new reason to visit the falls as its shape and the colors of the surrounding mountains transition throughout the year. In the spring and into summer, the new greens of the year burst to life around the powerful falls, overflowing with the water held captive by the mountains over the winter. As summer turns to fall, the falls recede some to give the stage to the resilient reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn. Finally, as the leaves drop from the trees along with the temperature, you may be lucky enough to see the rare occurrence of the entire waterfall freezing over.

 Fukuroda Falls Autumn

Starting last year, from November until February, visitors can experience the colorful illuminations that run from sundown until about 8pm. This year’s illuminations were a step up from last year, having not only lights but also incorporating movement and music. With the white, frozen falls as their canvas, the colors are spectacular. While the colors can become weak if the falls are not entirely frozen, our tour guide assured us that they will continue to test different methods each year in order to get the most out of the winter illumination.

 Fukuroda Falls Winter

For those of you looking for more of a challenge, there is also a 1.6 km hiking course that wraps around Mt. Tsukiore, taking you past the Tsukiore Kannon-do Temple (dedicated to the deity of mercy, Kannon) to a point from which you can see Fukuroda Falls from the top. Also, if you follow one of the branches off the main trail, you can also see the fifth tier of Fukuroda Falls, the Namase Waterfall. Both of these views are not well known and can be a fun addition for those who have visited the falls before.

Illumination

No matter what season you enjoy or how adventurous you are, Fukuroda Falls has something for everyone. It is definitely one of the places in Ibaraki you can’t miss!

Admission Fee:

Adults 300 yen, Children 150 yen (50 discount per person for groups over 30)

*To use the two observatories and elevator

Times:

May until October: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

November until April: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Contact Info:

Daigo Tourist Association

0295-72-0285

Uwaoka Elementary School

Nestled away in the small northern Ibaraki town of Daigo is a relic from the early Meiji period. Uwaoka Elementary School welcomed its first students on April 20, 1879, and closed its doors behind the final 36 on March 31, 2001. At its busiest, the school had 320 students. With schools in rural areas closing and merging at an increasingly rapid rate, this isn’t a unique story. Today there are many abandoned school buildings all over Japan, haunted by haikyo (urban exploration) enthusiasts. However, when the students of Uwaoka moved to other schools, the local community got together and formed the Uwaoka Shō Atochi Hozon no Kai (The Uwaoka Elementary Site Preservation Committee), to maintain Uwaoka Elementary School and its grounds in an effort to revitalize the area and enrich local culture. Thanks to their hard work, the school is a moment frozen in time – furniture, books, and posters fill the rooms and hallways just as students and staff left them 13 years ago. Luckily, the buildings were not damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake.

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Mr. Kikuchi, a member of the preservation committee and graduate of Uwaoka Elementary class of ’47, met us in the grounds in front of the school for a tour. As we chose to visit in midwinter, we missed out on the chance to see the numerous cherry blossom trees around the school in full bloom, but if you are planning to visit Daigo in spring they are definitely worth a look. In the gardens that frame the front of the building stands a strange statue of what appears to be a white horse – Mr. Kikuchi explained that it was most likely made by the students. A photo inside the building shows that there were once two statues – one fell over and broke, so now the remaining statue stands alone.

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The oldest building that now remains is the main building, constructed in 1911. A second building was added behind it in 1937, and additional classrooms were added on to the main building in 1963. As you step through the front doors and remove your shoes, the first thing you will notice is a display on the wall – photos of every graduating class since 1914. It is interesting to see how the student numbers swell in the 50s and 60s then steadily drop over the years to the final class of 6 students, reflecting Japan’s falling birthrate.

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The classrooms look as though they are still in use – books line the shelves and tables and chairs stand in neat lines facing the blackboard. Posters and set squares fill the walls, and a potted plant sits upon the teacher’s table. You can almost hear the footsteps and voices that surely filled the halls of the school in days gone by. The staffroom is still equipped with old telephones and a kerosene heater with a big brass kettle on top, and the principal’s office is full of trophies and certificates.

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As you walk along the hallways, you will notice a number of beautiful framed sketches of students, all signed with the same name – Hideki Komuro. Mr. Kikuchi explained that he was school principal during Uwaoka’s final years. The sketches are surrounded by posters about health and safety and bulletin boards covered in student’s work.

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Uwaoka Elementary is registered with the Japan Film Commission, and as a result has been used as a filming location numerous times, most famously for the NHK family drama Ohisama, set in Nagano Prefecture during WWII. You can also see it in NTV’s Saigo no Nightingale, TBS’ Home Drama!, Bokutachi no Sensō, and Satōkibi-batake no Uta, TV Tokyo’s Otoko-tachi no Fūkei and Kono Yubi Tomare, and NHK’s Yume Miru Budō and Junjō Kirari. It features in the film Ore wa Kimi no Tame ni Koso Shini ni Iku, and in several commercials, including one for Google Nexus 7. Inside one of the classrooms most often used as a location, the walls are covered in framed photos taken during filming and posters about Ohisama. According to Mr. Kikuchi, Uwaoka Elementary will be used again for filming in the near future.

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The back building houses a spacious assembly hall that was once two classrooms – as there was nowhere for the whole school to meet, the wall between them was removed to make one large room, which is the one you can see in the Google Nexus ad. High on the wall is a line of photographs of school principals, and the words to the Uwaoka School Song are printed in the wood above the door.

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Uwaoka has become a popular site to visit among haikyo enthusiasts, and there are several bloggers who have photographed and written about the site, though it has been described as a little too well preserved by those in search of creepy, dusty, abandoned buildings. Although it is usually closed to the public, it occasionally opens its doors to visitors and hosts events such as pottery and art classes. In 2012, between October and December, a temporary restaurant called Satoyama Restaurant was opened inside the school, run by renowned chef Yoshimi Hidaka. It celebrated local delicacies, including Okukuji shamo (wild fowl), shimi konnyaku (konnyaku served cold), Hitachi Aki Soba, and a variety of locally grown veggies, reinventing them in an Italian style. It was a huge success, and will hopefully open again in the future.

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The preservation committee has done a great service to Ibaraki by caring for this piece of Daigo’s history. Next time you watch a Japanese drama or film, keep an eye out for Uwaoka Elementary!

Hitachinaka Cycle Sports Festival 2014

When: March 16
Where: Temporary Course inside Hitachi Seaside Park, Hitachinaka

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If you are a cycling enthusiast then this event is for you! Come share your love of bicycles at the Hitachinaka Cycle Sports Festival! There will be road and mountain bike races as well as tricycle races for kids and grownups alike. There will also be a talk by road cycling legend Daisuke Imanaka, a performance by the comedy trio Omoshiroyaro-tachi, and many more things to check out throughout the day!

Registration for the races began on February 1. For more information, see the Japan Cycle Racing Club’s website.