8th Annual New Chestnuts Festival

When: October 4 9am – 4pm, October 5 9am – 3:30pm
Where: Shimin Center Iwama , Kasama (Kasama-shi, Shimogou 5140)

Ibaraki is the number one producer of chestnuts in Japan. In 2013, 4,910 tonnes, 23% of Japan’s chestnuts for that year were grown in Ibaraki, and Kasama is one of Ibaraki’s main areas for chestnut production.

The New Chestnuts Festival is fun for the whole family. You can try and buy chestnuts and sweets made from chestnuts. There will be games for children, and a contest for elementary school children where they can design a new sweet using chestnuts.

There will be a free shuttle service from Iwama Station to the venue. It is also accessible via national highway no. 355 off the Kita-Kanto Expressway Tomobe IC or the Joban Expressway Iwama IC.

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Fruit Picking in Ibaraki

As Japan’s second biggest producer of agricultural products, Ibaraki is heaven for fruit lovers with a number of farms and orchards open to visitors. In autumn, many of these places offer fruit picking experiences, giving you the opportunity to enjoy freshly picked seasonal fruit with your friends and family.

Note: The phone numbers provided will most likely only be able to handle queries in Japanese

Asian Pears (Nashi)

Ibaraki is the number one producer of Asian pears in the Kanto region, and the number two producer of the kosui and hosui varieties nationwide. They are mainly grown in Kasumigaura, Ishioka, Chikusei, Shimotsuma, and Yachiyo. Asian pears have been grown in Ibaraki since the Edo Period, and it is one of the oldest production areas in Japan.

Where can I go Asian pear picking?

Mito
Late August – Late September
Mito-shi Kajuengei Kumiai Renraku Kyōgikai (029-243-9312)

Shirosato
Late August – Mid September
Miyamoto Kankō Kajuen (029-289-3551)

Kasumigaura
Early August – Late October
Chiyoda Fruit Tree Tourist Association (0299-59-2116)

Tsuchiura
Mid August – Late September
Niihari Mogitate Kaju no Sato (029-862-3542)
Little Farm (029-862-3542)

Chikusei
Late August – Early October
Ichimura Nōen (0296-37-2407)

Grapes

Ibaraki’s vineyards are very popular for their fruit picking experiences. You can try your hand at harvesting a number of different varieties of delicious grapes between July and October, from Kyoho grapes to western varieties that can be eaten with the skin on.

Where can I go grape picking?

Hitachiota
Early September – Mid October
JA Ibaraki Mizuho Hitachiota Budō Bukai Jimukyoku (0294-70-3488)

Tokai
Late August – Early October
Shimizu Budō En (029-283-0278)

Hitachi
Early September – Mid October
Nakazato Leisure Nōen (contact JA Ibaraki Hitachi Nakazato Branch, 0294-59-0101)
Orikasa Budō Kankō Nōen (contact JA Ibaraki Hitachi Hidaka Branch 0294-42-4415)

Naka
Early August – Late August
Kamigane Budō En (029-298-3963)

Mito
Early September – Late September
Mito-shi Kajuengei Kumiai Renraku Kyōgikai (029-243-9312)

Ishioka
Early August – Mid October
Yasato Kankō Kajuen Kumiai (0299-43-1111)

Kasumigaura
Late August – Mid October
Chiyoda Fruit Tree Tourist Association (0299-59-2116)

Koga
Late July – Late September
Suzuki Budō En (0280-76-1248)

Apples

Most of Ibaraki’s apples are produced in the cooler mountainous areas such as Daigo, and you can enjoy their crisp sweetness between September and November.

When and where can I go apple picking?

Daigo
Mid September – Late November
Okukuji Ringo no Mura
Okukuji Ringo no Furusato
Okukuji Ringo En
Okukuji Asakawa Ringo Danchi
Okukuji Shizen Kyūyō Mura
For more information, contact the Daigo Tourism Association 0295-72-0285

Hitachiomiya
Mid September – Late November
Takamura Ringo En (0295-57-3775)
Late September – Late November
Sawayaka Kajuen (0295-57-2711)

Hitachi
Early September – Early December
Nakazato Leisure Nōen (contact JA Ibaraki Hitachi Nakazato Branch, 0294-59-0101)

Mito
Early September – Early December
Mito-shi Kajuengei Kumiai Renraku Kyōgikai (029-243-9312)

Shirosato
Early October – Late November
Miyamoto Kankō Kajuen (029-289-3551)

Kasama
Late September – Late November
Fujieda Ringo En (0296-74-3060)

Ishioka
Late September – Late November
Yasato Kankō Kajuen Kumiai (0299-43-1111)

Ushiku
Mid September – Early December
Kankō Nōen Naganuma Ringo En (029-875-0592)

Persimmons

Ibaraki is the northernmost area where persimmons can be grown. They are grown widely throughout Ibaraki though mainly in the south of the prefecture. The persimmons grown in the Yasato area in Ishioka have been gifted to the Imperial family since 1955, which speaks volumes about their delicious flavour.

Where can I go persimmon picking?

Ishioka
Late September – Late November
Yasato Kankō Kajuen Kumiai (0299-43-1111)

Kasumigaura
Late September – Late November
Chiyoda Fruit Tree Tourist Association (0299-59-2116)

Tsuchiura
Mid October – Mid November
Niihari Mogitate Kaju no Sato (029-862-3542)
Little Farm (029-862-3542)

Melons

Ibaraki is the number one producer of melons nationwide. The Earl’s Favourite variety is grown through summer and autumn mainly in Hokota, Yachiyo, and Ibarakimachi, and it comes into season during October. In Japan, melons are very popular as gifts.

Where can I go melon picking?

Sakuragawa
Early September – Mid October
KEK Chokuei Iwase Nōjō (0296-76-0744)

Hokota
Early September – Early October
Sun Green Asahi (0291-37-4147)
Early September – Late October
Forest Park Melon no Mori (0291-33-5621)

Mandarins

Mt. Tsukuba is said to the northernmost area for growing mandarins, and most of Ibaraki’s mandarin producers are located in that area. The Fukure mandarin from the foothills of Mt. Tsukuba is only 3cm in diameter and are known for their strong acidic flavour.

Where can I go mandarin picking?

Ishioka
Mid October – Late November
Yasato Kankō Kajuen Kumiai (0299-43-1111)

Sakuragawa
Early November – Late December
Sakayori Kankō Mikan Kumiai (0296-55-4330)

Tsukuba
Early November – Late December
Kessoku Mikan En (029-867-0688)

Chestnuts

Ibaraki is the number one producer of chestnuts nationwide, and Kasama, Kasumigaura, and Ishioka are the main production areas. Delicious when simply boiled, they take on a whole other level of tastiness when candied or simmered in their astringent skin.

Where can I go chestnut picking?

Kasumigaura
Early September – Late October
Chiyoda Fruit Tree Tourist Association (0299-59-2116)

Tsukuba
Late September – Early October
Ogawa Blueberry En (029-836-1312)

Sweet Potatoes

Whilst not a fruit, sweet potatoes are a healthy food packed with vitamins and dietary fibre, and Ibaraki is one of Japan’s top producers. Hokota and Namegata are the main production areas. 97% of Japan’s dried sweet potato is produced in Ibaraki.

Where can I see dried sweet potato being made/go sweet potato picking?

Ishioka
Asahi Satoyama Gakkō (0299-51-3117)

Kasumigaura
Chiyoda Fruit Tree Tourist Association (0299-59-2116)

Shimotsuma
Beers Park Shimotsuma Fureai Taiken Nōjō (0296-30-5121)

Hokota
Forest Park Melon no Mori (029-283-0278)

Tokai
Hoshi-imo Kōbō (029-283-0278)

Ishioka Festival

When: September 13-15
Where: Area around Ishioka Station, Hitachinokuni Sōshagū Shrine, Ishioka

The Ishioka Festival, one of the Three Great Kanto Festivals, is held every year at Hitachinokuni Sōshagū Shrine. From giant mikoshi to luxuriously ornate floats and brave lion dancers pulling over 40 “lion carts” through the middle of town, this 3 day festival brings in over 400,000 visitors every year from all over Japan!

September 13th (Saturday)

Jinkō Festival  

2-4pm Giant Mikoshi Parade (Hitachinokuni Sōshagū Shrine)
6-8pm Lion and Float Parade (Ishioka Station, Miyuki Street Intersection)

September 14th (Sunday)

Hōshuku Festival 

10:30am – 12pm Sumo (Hitachinokuni Sōshagū Shrine)
1-3pm Kagura: Traditional Shinto music and dance (Hitachinokuni Sōshagū Shrine)
1-7pm Myōjin Mikoshi (starting from Sōshagū Shrine and heading to the town centre)
3pm Lion Cart Dance Parade (Street in front of the station)
6:45 Float Parade (Miyuki Street)
8:30 Annual Town Festival to pray for safety with dancing by shrine maidens and scattering of rice cakes (temporary shrine)

September 15 (Monday)

Kankō Festival

10am – Kagura: Traditional Shinto music and dance (Hitachinokuni Sōshagū Shrine)
2-6pm – Giant Mikoshi Return Parade (starting from the temporary shrine and ending at Sōshagū Shrine)
6-8pm Lion and Float Parade (Miyuki Street Intersection)

47th Annual Mito Hagi Festival

When: September 1 – September 21
Where: Kairakuen, Mito

In 1843, Mito’s 9th feudal lord Tokugawa Nariaki planted hagi (bush clover) that he received from the Date Domain as part of the construction of Kairakuen. Kairakuen’s hagi is mainly Miyagi-no-hagi; there is also white hagi, mountain hagi, round-leaf hagi, and many more, totaling 150 patches that bring the autumn landscape 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

Hagi Light-up
Where: Around Kairakuen
When: September 1-21, sunset – 9pm

Take a Photo with Mito-chan and the Mito Plum Ambassadors
Where: Around Kairakuen
When:  September 15, 10am-3pm
September 21, 10am-3pm

Outdoor Tea Ceremony Hosted by High School Students
Where: Under the wisteria trees, Kairakuen
When: September 21, 10am – 3pm

Hagi Festival Haiku Contest
Where: Ibaraki Prefectural Youth Hall, Kairakuen
When: September 21, 10am – 3pm

The Ibaraki Prefectural Government Office Mikoshi and the Mito Kōmon Festival

If you have been to a Japanese festival, you have probably seen a mikoshi before. Often translated as ‘portable shrine’, mikoshi are used to carry gods around the town during a Shinto festival. The gods usually reside in the shrines dedicated to them, but once a year they ride on the mikoshi around the town to visit the citizens, who celebrate and pray for the blessings of nature and stability in their lives. This tradition is known as mikoshi togyo.

1K7A1168On August 3, four Ibaraki ALTs and I joined the Mito Kōmon Festival mikoshi parade as a part of the Ibaraki Prefectural Government Mikoshi Association. We helped to carry the one tonne mikoshi up one of Mito’s main streets on the north of the station. The street was closed off from traffic and packed with people, both onlookers and mikoshi bearers. Whilst it was a hot day, we did not start until 2pm, by which time the sun had moved behind the buildings and a cool breeze flowed through the streets, much to the relief of the parade participants.

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2014 Ibaraki Prefectural Office mikoshi bearers

Each mikoshi had its own bearers, dressed in the uniform of their group. After the opening ceremony, the bearers took their positions beside their mikoshi. When the signal to begin came, the air filled with energetic cries of ‘Souya!’ as the bearers heaved the weighty shrines onto their shoulders and begin the slow procession up the street. It took over and hour to reach our destination, but each group had enough people to take turns carrying the shrine, and took regular breaks, placing it down on wooden supports called uma.

1K7A1167The bearers keep their steps in time thanks to one leading member who walks in front with clapping sticks and leads the chant. What the bearers shout differs from region to region – when I carried a shrine in Oita Prefecture, the chant was something like ‘Sen to sa! Ya to sa!’, but in Mito the chant is ‘Souya!’ shouted back and forth between the leader and supporters and those carrying the mikoshi. When the mikoshi procession stops, before placing the shrine down on the uma the bearers will sometimes cry ‘saa saa!’ as they shake the mikoshi (rather violently, much to the protest of my shoulders) up and down to amuse the god. The mikoshi groups compete to be the loudest and showiest, and you cannot put the mikoshi down until the group in front of you does, so these displays of heart and endurance can continue for quite a while.

1K7A1190The Ibaraki Prefectural Government Office mikoshi is a little different than most in that it does not actually house a god. Instead, inside the shrine you will find a list of the members of the Mikoshi Association. So why go to the trouble of making a mikoshi that has no religious affiliation? The mikoshi tradition is an ancient one that has been passed down through generations, and it is an essential part of the culture of almost every region in Japan. Regardless of its religious origins, mikoshi togyo is an event that brings people together to celebrate and pray for the health, wealth, and happiness of the community.

1K7A1171A group of young workers from the Ibaraki Prefectural Government Social Services Department started the Mikoshi Appreciation Club in 1977. At a time when interest in Japanese cultural properties like mikoshi was waning, this group was formed with the intention of having fun participating in festivals while honouring the mikoshi tradition and passing it on to future generations. That year they participated in the Mito Tanabata Kōmon Festival where 11 mikoshi took part, signalling the start of a mikoshi boom.

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The names of the Mikoshi Association members being placed inside the mikoshi before the festival

The Prefectural Government Office mikoshi was made by the Toyama Penitentiary as part of a rehabilitation program. It was completed in 1989 with the membership fees of the Mikoshi Association members and donations from other prefectural employees. It has participated in the Mito Komon Festival and a number of other events every year since. When it is not taking part in events, it is on display on the second floor of the Ibaraki Prefectural Office.

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Leader directing the bearers using clapping sticks

I asked the head of the of the Mikoshi Association, Mr. Nemoto, to give me some information about the Prefectural Office mikoshi and why it is important to the Mikoshi Association and the community. He explained that mikoshi help people to discover the wonderful things their local area has to offer and foster solidarity among community members. It is important not just for those carrying the shrine, but also those watching and supporting the bearers from the sidelines. These things make mikoshi an invaluable cultural property, and the Mikoshi Association plans to continue to actively participate in community events and treasure the enjoyment this brings festival goers with the hope that these activities will help foster healthy and spiritually rich citizens.

1K7A1255The day does not end when the mikoshi reaches its destination – that evening everyone who helped to carry the shrine is invited to join a party in the cafeteria of the Prefectural Office. This is not just a way to celebrate the end of a hard days’ work – it is based on the traditional naorai no gishiki, or ritual feast. After the god has been taken around the town, those who carried the mikoshi hold a special party where they eat, drink, and celebrate together in the presence of the god. The Governor of Ibaraki also attended this lively event and chatted with the prefectural employees. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful day, one that will become a treasured memory for all who participated.