Mt. Tsukuba

There is a saying in Japanese, though it does not seem to be so well known – ‘Fuji in the west, Tsukuba in the east’. Mt. Fuji is undoubtedly Japan’s most famous mountain, but Mt. Tsukuba, located in the west of Ibaraki, also has a rich history with the local area, and is listed as one of Japan’s ‘hyakumeizan’, or 100 famous mountains. It is easily distinguishable by its characteristic double peaks, known as Mt. Nantai and Mt. Nyotai.

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Legend has it that thousands of years ago, a deity descended from the heavens and asked Mt. Fuji and Mt. Tsukuba for refuge. Mt. Fuji refused, proudly assuming that it did not need the blessings of a deity as it was already so grand. Mt. Tsukuba, however, humbly welcomed the deity. Now, Mt. Fuji is cold and barren, while Mt. Tsukuba is teeming with life. It is believed that Japan’s creator gods, Izanami no Mikoto and Izanagi no Mikoto, are enshrined in the ancient shrine that sits on its summit. Mt. Tsukuba is a feature in poems and stories reaching back to the Nara Period (710-794).

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Nowadays, Mt. Tsukuba is a popular hiking destination, and there are several trails you can take to the summit. One of the most popular is the Miyugahara trail that starts near Mt. Tsukuba Shrine, conveniently accessible via a shuttle bus from Tsukuba Station.  That path will take you around two hours at a moderate pace to reach the saddle between the two peaks. From there, climbing up to either peak will take you around 10-15 minutes. For those who just want to see the top without breaking a sweat, there is a cable car that will take you close to the top of Mt. Nantai.

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We decided to try out another trail that starts at the Tsutsujigaoka Ropeway Station and takes you to the top of Mt. Nyotai. You start out on the Otatsuishi trail, which eventually meets up with the Shirakumobashi trail. The ropeway will also take you to the summit. We hiked the trail up and caught the ropeway down. I recommend this method – you can work hard on the way up then coast on the way down! The view from the ropeway is definitely worth checking out.

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The path starts next to an old playground – after climbing for about 300m, you will reach Tsutsujigaoka Plateau, where you can stop to admire the view. As the path climbs it becomes more wooded – you can see a variety of trees, including Japanese cypress, Japanese evergreen oak, and beech. You might also be lucky enough to see some colourful butterflies – swallowtails, silver-washed fritillary, and copper are often seen along the Otatsuishi trail.

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The path takes roughly 40 minutes to the point that it merges with the Shirakumobashi trail, and there is a rest area where the two paths meet. From there, along the Shirakumobashi trail, it will take you around 15 minutes to reach the top of Mt. Nyotai. Along the way you will see a number of interesting rock formations, some of which have signs explaining their names and history. Several have some significance in Shinto and Buddhist customs. You can also see the ropeway off to the side of the path.

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The summit commands a splendid view of the Kanto Plain. On a clear day, you can see Tokyo Skytree, and sometimes even Mt. Fuji in the distance. From there you have the option of hiking the trail that connects Mt. Nyotai to Mt. Nantai, where you could jump on the Shizen Kenkyuu trail that winds around the summit of Mt. Nantai.

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Once you’re ready to head down, you can either head back along one of the trails, take the cable car from the saddle, or take the rope way from Mt. Nyotai. We chose the third option, and enjoyed a well-earned lunch at one of the restaurants near the Tsutsujigaoka Ropeway Station. And of course no venture in Japan is complete without buying some delicious local souvenirs!

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Do you enjoy onsen? There’s nothing better at the end of a long hike than a soak in a hot bath! There are a number of ryokan with onsen around Mt. Tsukuba Shrine near the base of the mountain. We visited Edoya – read about it in our upcoming One Day in Ibaraki article!

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Mt. Tsukuba is climbable all year round, though autumn and spring provide the most charming scenery. In late winter/early spring, you can check out the plum blossoms in the Plum Forest during the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Blossom Festival. In autumn, you can enjoy the brilliant reds and oranges of the changing leaves – during November, the mountain is lit up in the evenings and the cable car operates until late. It is definitely worth visiting in both seasons!

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Access

By Public Transport
To Tsutsujigaoka: Accesible via shuttle bus from Tsukuba Station (50 minutes), Numata (20 minutes), or Tsukuba-san Jinja Iriguchi (10 minutes).
To Mt. Tsukuba Shrine (Tsukuba-san Jinja Iriguchi): Accessible via shuttle bus from Tsukuba Station (40 minutes) or Numata (10 minutes).
To Numata: Accessible by shuttle bus from Tsukuba-san-guchi (3 minutes) or Tsukuba Station (30 minutes).
To Mt. Tsukuba Entrance (Tsukuba-san-guchi): Accessible via shuttle bus from Tsukuba Station (35 minutes) or regular bus from Tsuchiura Station (50 minutes)

By Car
Those driving can reach the cable car by entering Tsukuba-san Jinja (筑波山神社) into their GPS System, or the ropeway by entering Tsukuba-san Keisei Hotel (筑波山京成ホテル).

Mt. Tsukuba Cable Car/Ropeway Website (includes maps and trail information)

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34th Annual Kasama Himatsuri

When: April 29 – May 5, 9am – 5pm
Where: Kasama Geijutsu no Mori Park Event Square, Kasama
Website

Head to Kasama during Golden Week for a pottery festival where over 200 ceramic artists, potteries, and local stores will gather in the beautiful Geijutsu no Mori Park to welcome customers to their stalls to see and buy their unique wares. The food and drink stalls are run by ceramic artists, and you will be able to enjoy a variety of unique dishes made using ceramic ware. There will also be a number of events, including a clay mask auction, a clay mask festival run by elementary school students, and a playground.

Check out the PR video here.

Places to See Before You Die – Hitachi Seaside Park in Nemophila Season

When: April 25 – May 17
Where: Hitachi Seaside Park (605-4 Mawatari Aza Onuma , Hitachinaka, Ibaraki)

Spring is in full swing at Hitachi Seaside Park! Until April 24th, you can visit to see the tulips. Then, from April 25 to May 17, you can see the park’s famous Nemophila flowers (also known as baby blue-eyes) covering 3.5 hectares on Miharashi Hill, creating an ethereal panorama of blue sky, blue sea, and blue flowers.

Nemophila are annuals that bloom from April to May. The Nemophila used in Hitachi Seaside Park are of the Insignis blue variety. Whilst they are in bloom until mid-May, after they blossom they begin to pale, so the best time to see them is during Golden Week.

Every year tens of thousands of people visit Hitachi Seaside Park to admire this rare sight. If there’s one thing you should see while you are in Ibaraki, it’s this!

Events

Flower Stamp Rally
Until May 17, you can pick up a stamp card at the gates or the Terrace House and collect flower stamps from various locations around the park.

Fish and Flowers
On May 16 and 17, you can see a variety of colourful tropical fish from Aqua World in Oarai in the Terrace House.

Details

Opening Hours
9:30am – 5pm (7:30am – 5pm from April 29 – May 6)
Admission
Adults (15+) – 410 yen
Seniors (65+) – 210 yen
Children (Elementary and Junior High School) – 80 yen
Infants (Under 6) – Free
*Free admission for elementary and junior high schoolers on May 5 and everyone on May 17

Access
Public Transport – 15 minutes by taxi or bus from JR Katsuta Station East Exit
By Car – 15km from the Hitachi Minami Ota IC on the Joban Expressway, 1km from the Hitachi Kaihin Koen IC on the Hitachi Naka Toll Road (accessible via the Kita-Kanto Expressway)

Yaezakura Festival

When: April 18 – May 6
Where: Shizumine Furusato Park, Naka (1720-1 Shizu, Naka, Ibaraki)
Website

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Head to Shizumine Furusato Park in Naka to see the yaezakura, sometimes called double cherry in English. Yaezakura are a variety of cherry blossom with double-layered petals that typically bloom later than other varieties. Shizumine Furusato Park was selected as one of Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom viewing sites, and is famous for its 2000 yaezakura trees. Head to the park to relax among the blossoms in the spring weather.

From April 25 to May 2 from sunset to 9pm there will be illuminations in the evening, transforming the park into magical world. On April 25 – 26 from 10am to 8pm* there will be numerous stalls and stage events, including yosakoi dancing and a performance from Ibaraki’s local hero Ibaliger.

*May be cancelled in poor weather

44th Annual Kasama Azalea Festival

When: April 18 – May 10, 8am – 6pm
Where: Kasama Azalea Park (Kasama Tsutsuji Kōen), Kasama (Kasama-shi Kasama 616-7)
Cost: 500 yen admission to the park – free for persons with a shōgaisha techō (also admits one caregiver) and children under middle school age

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See around 8,500 azaleas of a number of varieties in bloom during the Kasama Azalea Festival. The Kasama Azalea Park encompasses around 7 hectares and the azaleas temporarily turn the hillside brilliant red. During Golden Week a number of events will be held in the park.

Check out the beautiful scenery in this video.