From Iwase to Itako – Exploring Ibaraki on the Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road

View of Mt. Tsukuba

The Tsukuba Ring Ring Road is well-known cycling track in the west of Ibaraki. It was once the Tsukuba Railway, which was discontinued in 1987 and eventually turned into a scenic cycling track stretching 40km from Iwase Station to Tsuchiura Station. Recently it was extended to join the road around Lake Kasumigaura and form the 180km Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road. With the extension of the cycling course, the Ibaraki Prefectural Government has teamed up with seven municipalities around Lake Kasumigaura (Tsuchiura, Ishioka, Tsukuba, Itako, Kasumigaura, Sakuragawa, and Namegata) to set up a bicycle rental system allowing you to rent bikes from one of seven locations and return them to any of the other locations. We rented cross bikes and cycled one of the most popular sections of the course – the old railway track.

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We set out from Iwase Station at around 10am. We were immediately given a preview of the scenery we would enjoy along the way – rolling fields, spring flowers, and distant mountains. Not long in we discovered an optional side trip of about 3km up to Amabiki Kanon Temple http://www.amabiki.or.jp/ – unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go the whole way, but if you want an extra challenge (the roads are quite steep) and are keen to see one of the most scenic temples in Ibaraki, this is definitely an accomplishable sidetrack from the main path. The road is marked quite clearly with signs so with the help of a map you shouldn’t have much difficulty finding it.

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Our first stop was in the Makabe Rest Area. The Ring Ring Road is punctuated by six rest areas between Iwase and Tsuchiura that were once stations on the Tsukuba Railway. Now they have seats, bathrooms, and some have pumps for your bike tires. When we reached the Makabe Rest Area we departed from the road once again to cycle through the old streets of Makabe, a castle town that was planned in the Sengoku period and completed in the Edo period. 99 buildings around the town have been designated as National Registered Cultural Properties. The town is renowned for its Hinamatsuri doll displays in February and March. There is a café called Hashimoto Coffee where you can drop in for a cuppa – unfortunately, it is closed on Tuesdays, which is the day we visited.

 

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As we continued along our path we drew closer and closer to Mt. Tsukuba. When we reached the Mt. Tsukuba Rest Area, we decided to veer off the track again in search of somewhere to eat and we found Maruchu, a soba restaurant. The food was delicious so I would definitely recommend it for lunch, but take care as the location of the store is not exactly where it says it is on google maps. If you head toward the google maps pin but turn left when you reach the street with a Lawson you will find it on the right side of the street.

 

After lunch, we powered along until we got to Tsuchiura. When we arrived in the city, we ventured off toward Lake Kasumigaura. Once you arrive at the lakeside you are treated to a beautiful view of the water. If you continue around the lake you have the option of visiting the Lake Kasumigaura Environmental Science Center, a museum and research centre on the northwestern side of the lake. Inside are a number of exhibits introducing the flora. fauna, and history around Lake Kasumigaura.

Finally, we headed back toward central Tsuchiura to return our bikes and have a well-earned ice cream before catching the train back to Mito. We explored just one section of the cycling path – there are many more recommended courses to check out. Whether you want a relaxed 10km course or a more intense 80km one (you could do the whole 180km if you’re up to it!), this well-serviced cycling course has something for everyone. Check out the information below and start planning your own adventure!

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Bicycle Rental

Time: 9am – 4pm
Cost:
Road Bike: 2000 yen
Cross Bike/Mini Velo: 1500 yen
Child’s Bike: 500 yen

Recommended Courses

1. 80km Course
JR Iwase Station – JR Itako Station (approx. 6 hours)
2. 50km Course
JR Tsuchiura Station – JR Itako Station (approx. 4 hours)
3. 40km Course
JR Iwase Station – JR Tsuchiura Station (approx. 3 hours)
JR Iwase Station – TX Tsukuba Station (approx. 3 hours)
4. 10km Course
Explore the cutting edge technological city of Tsukuba and the historical city of Tsuchiura! TX Tsukuba Station – JR Tsuchiura Station (approx. 1 hour)
Websites
Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring Ring Cycling Road Official Website http://www.rinrin-road.com/
Ibaraki Guide to the Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road (you can watch videos of the course and download maps!) http://www.ibarakiguide.jp/seasons/ring-ring-road.html

Locations to Pick up and Drop off Bikes

The hours listed refer to the opening hours of the facilities – pick up and drop off of bikes can be done every day between 9am – 4pm.

Sakuragawa
Iwase Station Square Takasago Ryokan
Hours: 9am -4pm (Closed during Obon and New Year’s)
Address: 174 Iwase, Sakuragawa
PH: 0296-75-2165

Tsuchiura
Lacus Marina
Hours: 9am – 5pm (closed Wednesdays from December – March)
Address: 2-13-6 Kawaguchi, Tsuchiura
PH: 0298-22-2437

Tsuchiura Machikado Kura Daitoku
Hours: 9am – 6pm (Closed on New Years Holiday)
Address: 1-3-16 Chuo, Tsuchiura
PH: 029-8242810

Ishioka
Nakamura Parking Lot
Hours: 8:30am – 5:15pm (closed weekends and public holidays)
Address: 425 Kitanemoto, Ishioka
PH: 0299-23-3399 (Ishioka Chiho Koiki Silver Jinzai Center)

Tsukuba
Tsukuba General Information Center
Hours: 8:30am – 6:30pm every day
Address: BiVi Tsukuba 1st Floor, 1-8-10 Azuma, Tsukuba
PH: 0298-79-5298

Kasumigaura
Hours: 9am – 5pm (closed Mondays except public holidays in which case it will be closed the following Tuesday)
Address: 4784 Saka, Kasumigaura
PH: 0298-40-9010

Namegata
Lake Kasumigaura Fureai Land
Hours: 9:30am – 4:30pm (closed Mondays except public holidays in which case it will be closed the following Tuesday. Closed over New Year’s)
Address: 1234 Tamatsukurikou, Namegata
PH: 0299-55-3927

Itako
Suigo Itako Tourism Association
Hours: 9am – 5pm every day
Address: 1-1-16 Ayame, Itako
PH: 0299-63-3154

How to Make a Booking

Note: If possible, please make reservations in Japanese. If you wish to book in English, please fax or email the information.

You must book three days in advance. Same day reservations will not be accepted unless there are extra bicycles available. Please note that Nakamura Parking Lot in Ishioka is reservation-only. Call, fax, or email the Lacus Marina Support Desk (details below) with the following information:

1. 氏名(グループの代表者。以下2~3同様)
Name (if you are a group, the name of one person in the group. Use the same person’s information for 2 and 3):
2. 住所及び郵便番号
Address (including post code):
3. 連絡先(携帯番号)
Contact Information (mobile phone):
4. ご利用日
Date of reservation:
5. 貸出施設及び予定時刻
Location and time you would like to collect the bikes:
6. 返却施設及び予定時刻
Location and time you will return the bikes:
7. 利用車種(台数)・ロードバイク( 台)・クロスバイク( 台)・ミニベロ( 台)
Type and number of bike(s):
Road Bike (Number of bikes you wish to reserve: )
Cross Bike (Number of bikes you wish to reserve: )
Mini Velo (Number of bikes you wish to reserve: )

There are a limited number of bikes available, so Lacus Marina will contact you to let you know if they can cater to your request after they receive it. Bikes can only be rented on a daily basis – you cannot keep them overnight.

On the day, pick up your bikes from the facility you designated. Make sure to bring some form of ID. You can also borrow a helmet free of charge (either child size, L, or M), but please understand if your size is unavailable.

Please return the bikes to the facility you designated by the time you designated.

Cancellations: Please contact the Support Desk by 4pm the day before your booking if you wish to cancel. If you are more than an hour late to pick up your bikes, your booking will be cancelled.

Caution

  • The bicycles all have a TS Mark sticker, insuring the rider with personal accident insurance and liability insurance
  • The bikes are not insured for theft or damage. If you leave the bike at any point make sure that you lock it
  • If you lose or damage the bike’s attachments (e.g. light), helmet, or key, or if they are stolen, you will have to pay for their replacement
  • Responsibility for accidents or theft that were not caused by the actions of the organisers will not be taken by the organisers
  • Please obey the traffic laws and cycling manners, and cycle safely
  • Please ensure that the tires, breaks, and gears are working correctly before you leave
  • If you are in an accident or if you have any trouble such as your bike breaking down, please call the Support Desk

Lacus Marina Cycling Support Desk
Hours: 9am – 5pm
Address: 2-13-6 Kawaguchi, Tsuchiura
PH: 0298-22-2437
FAX: 0298-26-2839
Email: info.cycle@lacusmarina.com
Website: http://www.lacusmarina.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lacusmarina.ibaraki

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44th Annual Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival

When: February 25th – March 20th, 2017
Where: Tsukuba and the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest    

Video of 2013 Festival

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Tsukuba’s plum tree forest sits at around 250m above sea level, and from among the trees you can gaze out upon Tsukuba City, and even spot Mt. Fuji and Tokyo Sky Tree in the distance. The Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival is unique in offering the chance to enjoy such a splendid view while walking amongst the red, pink, and white blossoms.

On weekends and public holidays you can revel in the beauty of the plum blossoms while keeping toasty sitting by an open hearth from 10am to 3pm at the Plum Forest Plum Viewing Square (umebayashi kanbai hiroba). Other activities held every day during the festival include a treasure hunt for a golden toad around Mt. Tsukuba and workshops for making pens from plum tree branches (100 yen to participate) and toasted sandwiches (400 yen to participate) at Forest Adventure Tsukuba.

Access: 40 minutes via the Mt. Tsukuba Shuttle Bus from Tsukuba Center Mt. Tsukuba Shuttle Bus Stop (next to bus stop no.1) outside the A3 and A4 TX Tsukuba Station exits (bus schedule). Get off at Tsukuba-san Jinja Iriguchi (筑波山神社入り口)

Limited Time Plum-themed Dishes

Throughout the festival, stores around Tsukuba will sell a variety of plum-themed dishes for you to try. Get in quick, as some places only offer a limited number of the dish per day!

Meals

Kandaya (Tsukuba-shi Tsukuba 722)
Tsukuba Akane Chicken and Plum Mayonnaise Rice Bowl (1000 yen)

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Ishihama (Tsukuba-shi Tsukuba 721)
Plum Rice and Kenchin Soup (root vegetable soup) (850 yen)

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Murasaki (Tsukuba-shi Tsukuba 753)
Plum Tororo (shaved yam) Soba/Udon (980 yen)

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Mt. Tsukuba Drive In (Tsukuba-shi Tsukuba 1233-8)
Plum Udon/Soba (780 yen)

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Hitachino (Tsukuba-shi Usui 2103-5 Kazekaeshi Ridge)
Marinated Hitachi-wagyu Beef on Rice (with plum stock) (2160 yen)

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Tsutsujigaoka Rest House (Tsutsujigaoka Ropeway Station)
Natto & Pork Cutlet Meal (1050 yen)

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Mt. Tsukuba Keisei Hotel (Tsutsujigaoka Ropeway Station)
Fragrant Plum Shokado Bento (2160 yen)
An extravagant bento box including stewed yellowtail with radish, bamboo, and plum-shaped carrot, Tsukuba Biton pork-wrapped asparagus with plum sauce, fried and battered anglerfish with plum, bamboo kamameshi (rice cooked with other ingredients in a pot) and local strawberries from the Yasato area.

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Tsukuzen (Tsukuba-shi Numata 1441-1)
Plum Gozen (1620 yen)
A plum-filled meal including plum inari sushi made from rice from Yumeda Farm located at the foot of Mt. Tsukuba, plum konnyaku, pickled plum tempura, side dishes made from local vegetables, and Hitachi Aki Soba.

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Oshokujidokoro Aoki (Tsukuba-shi Tsukuba 829-1)
Plum and Perilla Sushi with Wild Vegetable Soba (1500 yen)

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Tsukuba Ham (Tsukuba-shi Hiratsuka 383)
Pork Roast Steak and Plum Beurre Composé (2484 yen)

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Chicken Paitan Ramen Obiya (Tsukuba-shi Kaname 137-3)
Spicy Red Yuzu and Shaved Plum Ramen (850 yen)

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Sweets

Kamiya Seika (Umaimon Dokoro in the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest)
Plum Yōkan (100 yen)

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Daiichiya (Umaimon Dokoro in the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest)
Plum Yōkan with a Stewed Plum (450 yen)

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Sugimotoya (Umaimon Dokoro in the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest)
Mt. Tsukuba-yaki Pastry with Plum-flavoured Filling (200 yen)

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Tsukuba Yakon (Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest Rest Area and Mt. Tsukuba Omotenashi Kan)
Plum Chiffon Cake made with rice flour (190 yen)

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Ishihama (Tsukuba-shi Tsukuba 721)
Plum Anmitsu (650 yen)

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Tsukuba Ham Shizen Aji Kōbō (Tsukuba-shi Hiratsuka 383)
Plum Tart Set (702 yen)

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Cable Car Miyawaki Store (Next to Mt. Tsukuba Shrine)/Tsutsujigaoka Rest House (at the ropeway station)
Red Plum Soft Serve Ice Cream (320 yen)

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Mt. Tsukuba Drive In (Tsukuba-shi Tsukuba 1233-8)
Plum Soft Serve Ice Cream (350 yen)

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43rd Annual Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival

When: February 20th – March 21st
Where: Tsukuba and the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest
Video

Tsukuba’s plum tree forest sits at around 250m above sea level, and from among the trees you can gaze out upon Tsukuba City, and even spot Mt. Fuji and Tokyo Sky Tree in the distance. The Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival is unique in offering the chance to enjoy such a splendid view while walking amongst the red, pink, and white blossoms.

Every day during the festival there will be free plum tea and performances by gama no aburauri (a spruiker from the Edo period who would give lively performances to sell bulrush oil, which was used to treat wounds. It is now a famous local product in the Tsukuba area, particularly on Mt. Tsukuba). On weekends there will also be folk entertainment.

On Saturdays during the festival, there will be a pottery making workshop at the Mt. Tsukuba Plum Forest kiln. It costs 1500 yen to participate, with a separate fee to have the completed piece posted to you afterwards.

Throughout the festival stores around Tsukuba will sell a variety of plum-themed dishes for you to try.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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)

11th Annual Mt. Tsukuba Summit Tanabata Festival

When: July 26-27
Where: In front of Mt. Tsukuba Summit Cable Car Station

Tanabata is a Japanese festival that celebrates the day that once a year Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair), star-crossed lovers separated by the Milky Way, are able to meet. The day that Tanabata is celebrated varies by region, but it is generally a day in July or August. To commemorate the occasion, people write wishes on colourful slips of paper and hang them from bamboo

In Miyukigahara, in front of the Mt. Tsukuba Summit Cable Car Station 800m above sea level, around 20 Tanabata bamboo decorations will make a grand summertime display on Mt. Tsukuba.

Tsukuba is famous for its twin peaks. Izanagi no Mikoto is enshrined on Nantai-san, and Izanami no Mikoto on Nyotai-san. Izanagi and Izanami are a couple, so it is said they possesses the virtues of harmony in marriage and matchmaking.

Miyukigahara is in the middle of Nantai-san and Nyotai-san, and is said to be a holy place where at night the two gods meet and affirm their love for one another.

There will be 1000 slips of paper for people to write wishes on being handed out from the 24-27th, so first in best dressed! Come experience a traditional Japanese festival on the beautiful Mt. Tsukuba.