KENPOKU ART 2016 – Mountain Route

My supervisor and I made a trip from Hitachiomiya to Daigo to see the various art pieces placed around northern Ibaraki. Some of the facilities that house the art pieces require an entrance fee. If you decide to take the weekend bus tour or the free KENPOKU shuttle bus with your friend(s), I’d recommend getting the KENPOKU Passport. The passport cost \2,500 and it will permit you one entrance to each of the facilities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Michi-no-Eki Hitachiomiya Kawa Plaza

E-14: Ryota Shioya – riverbed / a gathered people

The artist took into consideration the placement of the piece. The decision to permanently construct this artwork at a rest stop, Kawa Plaza, where hundreds of people will pass through daily is symbolized by river rocks which have been smoothed down by rushing water. It seems that the artist was trying to show the beauty of passing through a place.

1

The Former Miwa Junior High School

E-01: Hackathon – The Sound of TapBoard

The Sound of Tapboard was an interesting use of sound and motion in order to draw the viewer into the experience. The artist created an interactive, unusual piece of art that anyone can enjoy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-02: Yoichi Ochiai – Colloidal Display and Others

The artist of this piece utilized many materials to send his message to the viewers. His juxtaposition of electronic resources to portray the beautiful image of the butterfly was innovative. He successfully and stunningly created a link from the technological world to the natural one. This was one of my favorite piece to see, simply because the beautiful butterfly was so unexpected from the loud sound of the machine working.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-04: Hackathon/CALAR.inc

This was another piece in which the artists successfully gave the viewer an experience for all the senses. By inviting guests to walk through the storybook and view colorful videos it creates a more memorable experience. The artists’ storybook format and decision to arrange the path in a specific order urges the viewer to continue on until the end in order to truly finish the artists’ tale. The artists’ use of lighting, sound, and space helped to create an intriguing experience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-05: Hiroshi Suzuki + Masato Ohki – Constellations of the earth ― Ibaraki-kenpoku-za

This was another piece in which the artist sought to draw in the viewers. By creating a participatory artwork, the entire community was able to play a part in creating the finished product. The piece combined many different elements including space satellites and radio wave reflectors, as well as the finished piece made to mimic the constellations of the earth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-06: Isabelle Desjeux – The Ibaraki Inventorium

This artist’s background as a molecular biologist shaped her artwork in a fantastic way. By bringing her love of another field and incorporating it into her artwork, she succeeded in creating something not only beautiful for the viewers, but also educational. Her focus upon wildlife found in Ibaraki is a way to involve the viewers and to perhaps have them view their surroundings with a different light after seeing the piece. Her decision to place the artwork in a science classroom also creates an interesting contrast for the viewer to see beautiful work in a somewhat familiar place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-07: magma – WOODSTOCK

This piece was an entire room that the artists had transformed. The whole room- from the ceiling, to the decorations and furniture, were all crafted of wood from the Miwa region. Upon walking into the room, there is a calming effect for the viewers. This calming effect is accentuated by the artist’s decision to include xylophone music and forest sounds. The unity in material gives the viewer a kind of eye-pleasing harmony.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-07: magma – GREAT TEACHER

In this piece, the artists worked to incorporate humor and portray their, perhaps, relatable experiences. They transformed the principal’s office and manipulated the sound, lighting, and contents of the office. They created a robot in place of the headmaster and recorded a dialogue- successfully making the principal’s office a dramatic, humorous experience. This piece puts the viewer into the shoes of a student, and reminds viewer of the feelings of listening to adults speak.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-08: Fumiaki Murakami – Fly Me to the Earth

The artist of this piece successfully utilized AR (augmented reality) technology in order to create a kind of looking-glass for the viewer. Upon entering the classroom, there was an airplane suspended from the ceiling. Upon closer inspection, the rear end was a lens. The viewer is invited to peer into the lens and is instantly shown real scenery and nature. The artist crafted the lens to give the viewer a bird’s-eye, virtual reality view of Hitachiomiya. The piece is interactive and successful in giving the viewer a beautiful never-before-seen view of familiar surroundings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-09: Miki Yamamoto – Classroom of Ribbon around a Bomb

This piece was a storybook depicting a girl’s school life. The artist, having grown up in Ibaraki, successfully made her piece relatable to the viewer and also gave a respectful nod to her home prefecture. The illustrations in the storybook were simple and beautiful, mirroring the simple life of the girl in the story.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Former Yawara Seishonen-no-Ie

E-10: Zadok Ben-David – Blackfield

This piece was a surprising visual experience for the viewer. The artist crafted 27 thousand small, metallic flowers to greet upon entrance to the room. The flowers are of various colors and diverse real-life environments, but are unified by their placement. The flowers are two-dimensional, so upon further entering the room the flowers begin to change before the viewer’s eyes. The flowers, metallic on one side, are hiding thousands of colors on the other side. The artist, Zadok Ben-David, says that the piece is “a psychological installation about life and death, very moody, developing and changing while we walk along. It has two sides, black and colour, symbolising and manipulating a state of mind, yet leaving us a choice”. The symbolism in his piece was beautifully crafted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

E-11: Wang Te-Yu – No.85

The artist of this piece created an interactive experience for the viewers by filling a room with a giant balloon. The artist invites the viewers to enter the entirely white room, feeling the ground slightly deflate with every step. The lack of color and furniture in the room create a kind of dreamy, surreal, and peaceful experience. The artist’s aim to free the viewer of outside physical sensations with the white balloon successfully places them in a different world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA17

E-13: Matthew Jensen – Reflecting on the Kuji River / The Sun Returning

The artist of this piece, similar to the ‘Ibaraki Inventorium’ artwork, utilized his interests in other areas in order to create a truly beautiful finished product. He focused on the Kuji River in this piece. The piece features stunning beautiful, aerial photos of sunsets reflected upon the river. The artist also trekked along the river and collected small stones and objects that were found along the shore. By including multiple perspectives of the area, the piece truly lives up to its name and is a reflection on every part of the river.

18

The Shopping district in front of Hitachi-Daigo Station

The Daigomachi Culture & Welfare Hall (大子町文化福祉会館) offers free bike rentals to tour the area. There are many artworks located near the Hitachi-Daigo Station, so riding a bike around the area is a great way to explore the town. There are several restaurants that are collaborating with KENPOKU Art 2016 to entice tourists to the area. Daigo is famous for Oku-kuji Shamo chicken, and Yamaki (弥満喜) is one of the better known restaurants in the area collaborating with the event. At Yamaki, you can enjoy yuba sashimi and Oku-kuji Shamo chicken prepared in various ways.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

F-16: Song-Ming Ang – Daigo Lost and Found

The Daigo Lost and Found piece is a historical peek into the past for the city of Daigo. Footage of the city’s festivals and events were taken decades ago and were recollected specifically for this display. The video footage, displayed on old TVs, give a glimpse into what life was like in Daigo decades ago. For current residents or those familiar with Daigo, it’s a reminder of the cultural history and values that are unique and beautiful to these residents. For newcomers, it’s a historical introduction to a city with a rich and vibrant history.

22.JPG

Fukuroda Falls (Tunnel)

F-18: Jung Hye-Ryun – Serial possibility – fukuroda fall

The artist of this piece successfully transformed the tunnel which leads visitors to Fukuroda Falls in Daigo. The piece is representative of the Kuji River and winds along the overhead of the tunnel as the viewer walks. The artist created beautiful, twisting neon lights which mimic the twists and turns of the river. By symbolizing the Kuji River, he created a link between two of Daigo’s most beautiful areas.

2324

Kochia Carnival!

When: September 17th (Saturday) ~ October 23rd (Sunday)
Where: Hitachinaka, Hitachi Seaside Park
ひたちなか市・国営ひたち海浜公園
茨城県ひたちなか市馬渡字大沼605-4
Autumn, the season when Kochia changes its color to red.
When autumn begins, kochia transform Miharashi Hill from green to sea of red. At the bottom of the hill, cosmos sway with the autumn wind, so come enjoy the magnificent view at Hitachi Seaside Park.

Growing diligently under the hot summer heat, kochia changes its color to bright red when it starts to feel the gentle breeze of autumn. Now, the fun of Kochia Carnival is about to begin! During this carnival, there will be various events for you to experience. “Kochia Carnival!”

On the last day (October 23rd) Admission is FREE!
Admission is also free on October 23rd (Sunday)

Dates: September 17th (Saturday) ~ October 23rd (Sunday)
Place: Hitachi Seaside Park
Hours: 9:30am ~ 5:00pm
Open Everyday During the Season
Admission Fee: Adult ¥410, Senior Citizens ¥210, Child ¥80
Parking: Bus ¥1,550, Car ¥510, 2-Wheel Vehicles ¥260

Directions:
By Car – Via Kitakanto Motorway Hitachinaka IC, 1km from Hitachinaka Toll Road Hitachi Seaside Park IC
By Train – JR Joban Line “Katsuta Station”, then 15 minutes by bus
Contact Hitachi Seaside Park, Hitachi Park Management Center
TEL: 029-265-9001

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
Little Farm (029-862-3542)

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
September
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
Mid 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 Kaju Kumiai (0299-43-1111)

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

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 Kaju 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 Kaju Kumiai (0299-43-1111)

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

Tsuchiura
Mid October – Mid November
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 Kaju 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)

Dried 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 (029-133-5621)

Tokai
Hoshi-imo Kōbō (029-283-0278)

Mt. Tsukuba Onsen – Edoya

After viewing the beautiful plum forest on the side of Mt. Tsukuba or after a climb to the top, nothing is more relaxing than a dip in one of the local onsen. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Tsukuba next to Mt. Tsukuba Shrine is Edoya, a traditional Japanese inn (or ryokan) and onsen.

DSC_0126

Although the three current buildings that make up the ryokan date from between 1968 and 1985, Edoya’s rich history can be traced back to 1628 during the Edo Period. After the Mt. Tsukuba Chuzenji Temple was built by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the area saw a sudden increase in worshipers, and Edoya was built to help meet those needs. After the temple was dismantled in 1872, the owner at the time built a western style mansion on the site, called the Holland Mansion, in 1873 in order to continue to draw visitors to the area.

Holland Mansion (Courtesy of Mt. Tsukuba Onsen - Edoya)

Over the years, Edoya has had many important and famous guests, including the 19th Sumo yokozuna (grand champion) Taniemon, Hitachiyama (born in Mito), poets Hakushu Kitahara and Yau Yokose, and even Emperor Showa (Hirohito) in 1985.

irori

Nowadays, Edoya is still enjoyed by visitors, both from within Japan and from abroad. For those who only want to stay the day, Edoya is a great place to stop and relax. Inside, one can enjoy lunch at its café Seseragi, or just enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while resting your feet in the ashiyu (footbath) located on the veranda overlooking a small river and greenery. Day visitors can also take a dip in Edoya’s onsen, which also overlooks the same wonderful greenery, and refresh after a long day’s hike around the area. For those looking for a nice place for dinner, Edoya is also home to the Japanese style restaurant Yusentei, where guests can enjoy a private dinning atmosphere.

ashiyu4

roten

For those who wish to experience a traditional Japanese ryokan, Edoya offers Japanese style rooms to stay the night. With a large range of rooms, Edoya can accommodate between 2 to 7 people per room, making it a great place to stay for any occasion. They also have rooms with western style beds for those who want to still experience a traditional ryokan without sleeping on the floor on a futon. As most rooms do not have a bath, guests can bathe in the onsen for free (although rooms with baths are also available upon request). Also included in the price for most plans is a delicious Japanese style dinner and breakfast held in a dining area.

103[1].2

room

Edoya also offers banquet rooms that can be rented out for dinners, weddings, enkai (or drinking parties), and even office meetings. They also offer the option to book a free shuttle bus to and from Tsukuba Station, offering easy access from Tokyo, and to those who don’t want to hassle renting a car (or just driving in general).

DSC_6463

DSC_6472

While the ryokan is open all year round, it is especially popular during certain times of the year. The first is during the Plum Blossom Festival that runs between late February and late March. The next is during in the fall when Mt. Tsukuba turns red, yellow, and orange with the colors of autumn. Also, as Edoya is located right next to Mt. Tsukuba Shrine, it can become quite busy when shrine festivals take place.

11

Whether you find yourself at Mt. Tsukuba just for the day, or decide to spend a weekend relaxing, Edoya is definitely worth a stop!

Address: 728 Tsukuba, Tsukuba 300-4352
TEL: 029-866-0321
Website: www.tsukubasan.co.jp (available in Japanese and Chinese)
Price: Lunch 3,000 yen/ person~
Stay (Dinner and Breakfast) 16,000 yen/ person~

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.

01

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).

02

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.

03

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.

04

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.

05 06 07

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.

08 09 10

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.

11

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!

13

12

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!

14

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!

15

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)

Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival

Although cherry blossoms are considered to be quintessentially Japanese, plum blossoms, their lesser known cousins, are also the heralds of spring in many parts of Japan, their fragrant flowers of pink, red, and white blooming in late winter and filling the hearts of locals with hope for an end to the chill. Ibaraki in particular has a strong relationship with plum blossoms. Around 3000 trees of 100 different varieties of plum blossom trees fill Kairakuen, one of Japan’s three most famous parks, located in Mito.

1

While cherry blossom festivals are decidedly more numerous, there are also a number of local festivals from late February to mid-March that celebrate the annual appearance of the plum blossoms. One such festival is the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival. Held annually in the Plum Forest (bairin), which sits around 250m above sea level on the slopes of the mountain. Far above the city and away from the constant background bustle of people and traffic, this festival offers attendees a rare view of the Kanto Plain through branches peppered with soft petals of pink and white. When we visited the festival in mid-March, we were blessed with a beautiful sunny morning, allowing us to appreciate the contrast of the pale petals against a brilliant blue sky.

2

There are a number of paths winding through the trees, so you can take a leisurely stroll through to appreciate the blossoms (pausing for pictures of course). A small stream flows down the mountain through the forest, and during the festival it fills with fallen petals. The same petals flutter through the air and form a pink and white carpet upon the forest floor, creating an atmosphere that is truly ethereal.

3

Upon climbing to the upper reaches of the forest, you will find an observation deck, which provides a breathtaking view of the whole forest and the city of Tsukuba below. On a clear day you can see Tokyo, and sometimes even as far as Mt. Fuji.

4

During the festival, the road is lined with food stalls selling local products, including many plum-themed snacks such as plum youkan (sweet jellied azuki bean paste) and plum-flavoured soft serve. Beside the forest there is a small building where you can escape the seasonal chill and enjoy complimentary cups of tea. For something a little more substantial, the Omotenashi building that sits just below the forest serves as a rest area where visitors can warm up with steaming bowls of rice miso soup and hot drinks.

5

Just outside the Omotenashi building is a stage set up for the duration of the festival where visitors can see a number of shows, including one by a gama no aburauri, a spruiker from the Edo Period who would give lively performances in order to sell bulrush oil, a local cure-all. From swordsmanship to silly puns, this short routine has got it all, and is worth checking out. On weekends there are also several additional folk entertainment performances.

6

This unique festival is definitely worth a visit, and can easily be made into a great day trip if you add in a climb to Mt. Tsukuba’s summit, a visit to the Mt. Tsukuba shrine, and a dip in one of the numerous nearby onsen facilities. You could even stay overnight in one of the fantastic local inns. If you are looking for something to do in late February or March, look no further!

7

Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival

When: Dates vary each year, usually begins around February 20th and ends in the last weekend of March
Where: Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest
Website: http://umematsuri.jp/

Access

By Public Transport
Take the Mt. Tsukuba Shuttle Bus from Tsukuba Station and get off at Tsukuba Jinja Iriguchi (roughly 40 minutes). It is a short walk from there to the Plum Forest.

By Car*
From the Tsuchiura Kita IC on the Joban Expressway: Around 20km along National Route 125 in the direction of Shimotsuma and Mt. Tsukuba
From the Sakuragawa Chikusei IC on the Joban Expressway: Take National Route 50 then it is around 20km along Prefectural Route 41 toward Mt. Tsukuba

Parking
There are five parking lots: Parking Lots 1-4, which are managed by the City of Tsukuba, and Tsutsujigaoka Parking Lot, which is managed by the Prefectural Government. Parking Lot 1 is the closest to the Plum Forest where the festival is being held.

*As the roads and parking lots tend to be crowded during the festival, it is recommended that you take public transport.

Hitachi Seaside Park

Hitachi Seaside Park is a government run garden and amusement park located along the coast in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki that has enough beauty and scenery to enjoy at any time of the year.

West Entrance

Before opening as a park in 1991, the land where Hitachi Seaside Park is currently located had been used for a variety of reasons, and has changed hands many times over the past 80 years or so. Starting in 1938, the Mito Army Flight School was located at the sight, and many Japanese pilots were trained there during WWII. After losing the war, the land was confiscated by the United States Army in 1946, and was used as an U.S. Army firing range until 1971 when training operations were ceased. During that time, many local residents were displeased with having the firing range there, and there was even an accident in 1949 where a local was killed due to a misfire. Finally, on March 15th, 1973, the entire area was returned to the Japanese Government, and the plans to develop the area into the park it is today began.

Currently, Hitachi Seaside Park is made up of seven different areas covering a total of 190 ha (470 acres, 2 sq km). Each area has a specific theme, and different types of plants and flowers can be seen. One of the areas, named the Pleasure Garden, even consists of an amusement park where nearly 30 different attractions, including a giant Farris wheel, can be enjoyed. The park also is home to an 11km long bike path (rental bikes available!) that winds its way through all seven areas, so you can enjoy the wonderful scenery without having to wear out your legs by walking around the enormous park.

HSP Farris wheel

Merry Go Round

With a vast variety of flowers that bloom at various times of the year, there is almost no point during the year where there isn’t something to see at the park. In the spring there are tulips, nemophila (baby blue-eyes), and rapeseed blossoms. In summer there are poppies, linaria, zinnia, sunflowers, and green kochia. In the fall, the kochia slowly turn red, and there are cosmos and Hitachi fall buckwheat flowers. In winter, ice tulips (tulips that bloom with snow on the ground) and daffodils can been enjoyed. Finally, an array of natural wild flowers and grasses can be seen and various points all year round.

Cosmos 1

Pampas

Tamago no mori

By far, the most popular flowers are the nemophila flowers in spring and kochia in the fall. Both are planted across an area called Miharashi Hill, which is also home to two traditional Japanese houses, one from the mid 1600’s and one from 1706, relocated from different parts of Japan. During the nemophila season (between late April and mid-May), nearly 4.5 million blossoms can be seen. Dyeing the entire hill a vivid blue, the sky and nemophila flowers create an ocean of blue as far as the eyes can see. It truly is a breathtaking sight.

Nemophila 1

Nemophila 2

Traditional Japanese Houses

Nearly 32,000 green kochia (also called “broom-grass” in Japanese, as they can be dried and made into brooms) are planted as seedlings by hand at the beginning of July. As the plants grow, the space between them shrinks and the entire hill takes the form of a fluffy green cloud. As fall progresses, the green kochia slowly turn a deep red. (Since the park mainly consists of evergreen trees, it is said they started planting kochia so that visitors can truly experience all four seasons.)

Kochia 1

Kochia 2

Red Kochia

Next to the hill, nearly 2 million cosmos bloom in shades of pink, red, and white in order to further accent the red kochia. The guide said that the ratio of pink, red, and white is the park’s own special blend with a higher percentage of pink flowers in order to better match the kochia. Also, in the area in front of the traditional Japanese houses, nearly 1.5 million white Hitachi fall buckwheat flowers bloom. Many visitors try their best to angle their cameras to capture all three areas in one shot. After the kochia dry out the park cuts them, and visitors can try their hand at making kochia brooms as well. The cut kochia are also used in the park’s yearly giant zodiac drawing which is usually on display until early January. (The fluffy kochia are a perfect match for 2015, which is the year of the sheep!)

Cosmos 2

Kochia brooms

Giant Sheep 2015

To go along with the nemophila and kochia seasons, the park has created various treats only available during each season. Some of the treats include nemophila ice cream, kochia ice cream, nemophila curry, and kochia curry. The bright red and blue curries are quite the sight, but the park guide assured us that the flavor is none other than a delicious curry. I definitely recommend them to anyone who is interested in trying strange looking dishes!!Kochia Ice Cream Nemophila Curry Kochia CurrySo if you are looking for a nice place to take your family or simply looking for a place to stretch your legs and take in some beautiful nature, Hitachi Seaside Park is a must see in Ibaraki!

Address: 605-4 Onuma-Aza, Mawatari, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki 312-0012

Tel: 029-265-9001

For admission fees, park hours, and days closed, please check Hitachi Seaside Park’s English homepage here.