CIR Diary

International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI 2018)

(*日本語は下にあります。)

On September 7th, we visited the Tsukuba International Convention Center where the 30th International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI 2018) was held.

The event is an annual international informatics competition where contestants from various countries come together and solve an array of computer science related problems and compete for a chance at a gold medal.

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The number of participants in this prestigious competition has been steadily increasing. This year’s IOI welcomed more than 900 participants representing 85 different countries. While the event is mostly focused on science, it also gives participants to enjoy multiple different cultures through their interactions with the other contestants and the staff.

According to the volunteer we talked to, most of the volunteers were exchange students from Tsukuba University, the rest is made of Japanese students and staff of companies around the area. Each of them was assigned to a team in respect to their mother language or a language they are skilled at. And the volunteer is in charge of showing their assigned team to the dormitory, food court, contest halls, as well as helping them get around in the city while providing interpretation. Of the couple volunteers we talked to, all of them were enthusiastic to share their experience with the foreign teams.

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“Showing the contestant teams around in Tsukuba city was really fun, it reminded me of my first culture shock after coming to Japan a few years ago. I made some great friends through this opportunity and we have made promises to meet again either in Japan or somewhere else in the world.”

“I felt very connected to be able to meet someone from my home country who lives in this city,” says one of the team member in regard to his assigned volunteer exchange student, “It gave me a sense of home while competing in a country I have never been to, and I was able to learn so much about the life here, makes me want to come back again in the future.”

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We had the opportunity to interview some of the contestants and staff to get their perspectives on the event and what brought them all the way here to Japan.

The Japanese national team was made of some of the most intelligent students one can ever meet, they are a little shy to speak at first, but when the topic is brought upon the contest itself, their eyes were filled with joy and excitement. They complimented each other on their respective results in different sessions and expressed how amazed they were by the talent of other foreign teams.

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“You never know how big the world, and how many greater people are out there until you really compete with them.” says the Japanese contestant Inoue Wataru, “I see them, just like regular students, and I didn’t expect how amazing they are when sitting in front of the screen.” Inoue Wataru won personal score of 6th place in the entire contest, we must say he is being overly humble with his words, as we felt the exact same about him and his teammates.

The Chinese contestants were no doubt the best in their team effort, all of the four members won the gold medal with personal results of 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 23rd place. Unlike the other teams who dressed very casually, they came to the event in matching suits and ties. However, when confronted about this, they laughed and replied with a blush. “Our coach teacher said that we should wear suits because Japan values those who dress formally to international events such as this one, so we thought we should follow the culture here. But turns out we are the most formally dressed, teams from the other countries just wore shorts and t-shirts like they would if they work in silicon valley.”

They explained to us the very strict selection process of contestants from China, the 4 of them were chosen through 3 stages of intensive selection tests and training camp, out of over 2000 students who signed up from schools all over China.

DSC_9403Finally, we were able to talk to the legend himself Benjamin Qi. Before attending the event, we had no idea who he was but once we arrived at the venue, he was all everyone talked about. “Have you met Benjamin Qi?!”, “We call him BenQ”, “His talent is out of this world”.

When we met Benjamin, he came out of an elevator and suddenly all the contestants had their heads turned towards him. “Oh, he’s here! He’s here! That’s BenQ!” That’s when we knew we had to make find out why this particular competitor was so famous.

 

As far as the first impression goes, Benjamin seemed like just any other regular high school student. One could not have imagined that he was one of the leading programmers of his age group. When asked about his fame at the event he was very humble about it and said he wasn’t a fan of all the attention. Benjamin Qi is a high school student from Princeton, the United States who made a name for himself at this event by achieving a perfect score on a problem that lasted for 5 hours. A feat no one has to come to achieve up until this year’s Olympiad. Benjamin gained interest in computer science while in 8th grade.

DSC_9411He said he self-studied until he entered high school where he took classes on the subject. To secure a spot at this year’s IOI 2018, Benjamin participated in a 6-day long competition in North Carolina where he and other high schoolers went head-to-head to become one of the United States’ representatives at the event. As the for the event, Benjamin noted that it was a fantastic opportunity to put his skills to the test as well as great exposure to a variety of global cultures. Benjamin won 2018 IOI personal best with 4 perfect scores and a big percentage gap with the 2nd place winner.

In the end, we realized that we were only merely taking a slight peek under the curtains, the world of informatics and how important these skills are to the future society is unable to be valued.

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We live in a world where words such as “geeks” and “nerds” are still widely used as insults and mocking to people who have different interests than the so-called “majority”. It is sad to see students being bullied at school and called names because their talents are not being understood by the ignorant mass. However, the nerd discrimination is bound to disappear as leading figures like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk who are bringing significant changes to the world through technology. We hope that one day, the contestants will shine on the world stage with their great talent in informatics and the skills to push our society forward.

 

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This is the first time the IOI is hosted in Japan, and Tsukuba city was selected to be its hosting venue. The city of Tsukuba is also known as the Tsukuba Science City, it is now the most significant science technology accumulation site in the country, where more than 300 public and private institutions and enterprises are located. Many foreign researchers and exchange students who seek for high-level experiences and opportunities gather in Tsukuba. The city also offers various services in multi-language to support the living of foreign residents. While its foreign residents give back to the community by doing volunteer works, representing Tsukuba and acting as the bridge between this city they live in and the world.

2018

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From left: CIR Cedric (USA), CIR Gloria (Canada)

 

 

(日本語訳)

9月7日水曜日に,私たちは,「国際情報オリンピック(IOI)」の取材のため,つくば国際会議場を訪れました。

このイベントは,毎年開催され,数理情報科学を競うため各国からつくば市に集まった競技者は,数多くの情報科学に関する問題を解き,金メダル獲得を目指します。

この名誉ある競技会には,85の国を代表する900名以上の競技者が参加し,その数は年々増加しています。イベントでは,科学に焦点があてられる一方で,競技者の皆さんは,他の競技者やスタッフの方々との交流を通じ,多様な文化に触れているようです。

この大会を支えるボランティアのお話によると,彼らの殆どは,筑波大学の学生とのことでしたが,他の大学の学生や会社関係者も参加しています。ボランティアは,自身の母国語とチームメンバーが話す言語と同じか,あるいは,日常的にその言語を理解できるレベルにある場合,当該チームに割り当てられ,宿舎や食事場所,競技場への案内や通訳をしながら,市内の紹介も行います。皆さん,外国から来たチームと積極的に交流していました。

「競技者をつくば市にご案内することはとても楽しいことです。数年前の来日直後にカルチャーショックを覚えたことを思い出させます。この機会を通じて多くの素晴らしい知り合いができ,日本か海外で再会することを約束しました。」

「この街に住む,同国人の方と知り合いになれ,つながりを強く感じています。」と語るのは,ボランティアとして勤める交換留学生。「行ったことがない国と競うことで母国に想いを馳せます。ここでは,多くを学ぶことができ,また戻ってきたいという気持ちになります。」

私たちは,競技者とスタッフに,このイベントについての見解やどのような経緯で来日することになったかインタビューする機会を得ました。

日本代表チームは,とても知的な生徒たちで構成されています。初めは内気に話していましたが,競技の話になると一転し,彼らの目は興奮に満ちた様に変わりました。日本のチームメイトたちの結果に賛辞を送りつつ,他国のチームの才能にも驚きを隠せない様子でした。

「実際に対戦してみないと,世界とはいかに大きく,多くの優秀な競技者がいるということに気づきません。」と語るのは,日本代表の井上さん。「彼らはただの学生にしか見えませんが,一緒に競技をしてみると,彼らの優秀さに気づきます。」そんな井上さん自身も,個人得点で六位という成績を上げていて,かなり控えめに発言していることがわかります。

中国代表は,疑いなくチーム全体の力量としては最上でしょう。メンバー4人全てが2位,3位,6位,23位という金メダルを獲得しています。軽装で参加している他のチームと違い,彼らはお揃いのスーツで参加しています。このような事実について,彼らは笑えみ,顔を赤らげて返答します。「僕たちの先生から,こういう国際イベントにおいては,正装が日本では評価されると聞いていましたから,この国の文化に従っただけですよ。結果として,僕たちが最も正装になってしまい,他の国の競技者は,まるでシリコンバレーにでも勤めているかのようにTシャツと短パンでしたね。」

彼らは,中国国内での厳しい選考過程も説明してくれました。4人は,3次に渡る,過酷な選考試験と合宿を経て,国内2,000人の応募者の中から選抜されたのです。

遂に私たちは,ベンジャミン・クイ,その人と会うことが叶いました。私たちは,今日ここに来るまで,彼のことを知りませんでした。しかし,会場に到着するや否や,競技者の皆さんが,彼の話をしていることに気づきます。「ベンジャミン・クイにもう会った?」「彼の才能は並外れているよ。」

私たちが,ベンジャミンに出会ったのは,彼がエレベーターから降りてくるところで,皆,彼の方を見るのです。「彼が来た!ベンQだ!」そういう声を聞いてようやく彼がどれほど有名なのか気づいたのです。

最初の印象では,ベンジャミンは,普通の高校生にしか見えません。彼が世代を代表するトップのプログラマーだとは誰も気づかないでしょう。私たちが自身の名声についてどう思うか尋ねると,そういう注目はあまり好かないと,とても控えめに話します。ベンQは,5時間にもおよぶ問題を完全回答した米国プリンストン出身の高校生なのです。これは,今年の情報五輪まで誰も達成していない快挙なのです。彼は,中学二年生の時にコンピューターサイエンスに興味を覚えたのだそうです。

この科目は高校に入学するまで自己学習をしていたそうです。今年の情報五輪の参加権を得るまで,彼は,ノースカロライナにおいて6日間に渡る他の高校生との競争に打ち勝って米国代表になっています。彼は,今回のIOIについて,異文化を体験しつつ,自分が培った技術で競技に臨めることは素晴らしいことだと言い,自己ベストで,第2位に大差をつけ優勝しています。

最後に,私たちは今回,数理情報科学の世界を垣間見たに過ぎませんが,これらの技術は,私たちの将来に計り知れないほど重要だと気付かされます。

世間では,限られた特定の分野に興味を抱く人たちを未だ「おたく」という言葉で嘲り,彼らの才能が,凡人には,およそ理解できないとの理由で,嘆かわしいことに,学校でいじめられたり,誹謗中傷を受けたりします。しかしながら,「おたく」と言って差別する行為は,技術革新で世界を変えたスティーブ・ジョブスやイーロン・マスクのような才能を消し去ることにもなりかねません。私たちは,今回の競技者の皆さんが,将来,情報科学の世界で,その比類ない才能を発揮し,世界を動かす原動力になることを期待してやみません。

今回のIOIは,日本で初めて開催され,つくば市が開催地として選ばれました。つくば市は, 300もの公的,民間両方の科学関連施設が集積する日本で最も重要な科学都市として認知されています。高いレベルの研究を求めて,多くの外国人科学者や留学生がここつくば市に集まってくるのです。市では,外国人居住者に対する様々な多言語によるサービスを提供しています。一方で外国人居住者たちは,世界との橋渡し役として様々なボランティアを提供しているのです。

 

今回のIOI開催を契機として,つくば市,ひいては茨城県がより国際的に飛躍することを願ってやみません。

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Autumn Leaves in Ibaraki 2016

Autumn, the season of changing leaves, is finally upon us. Blessed with a diverse natural environment, there are many places in Ibaraki that you can visit to appreciate the colourful leaves of autumn.

Fukuroda Falls (Daigo)

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One of the three great waterfalls in Japan, Fukuroda Falls is sometimes known as ‘Yodo no Taki’, a play on words that can be translated as either the four-tiered waterfall, referencing the four levels of the falls, or the four-time waterfall, as it is said that in order to appreciate their beauty, you must visit them in every season. There is parking on site as well as a store and vending machines. There are also a number of beautiful hiking trails in the area.

Trees: Maple, sawtooth oak
Best time to visit: Early to mid November
Recommended spots: The waterfall viewing tunnel, viewing platforms 1 & 2
Address: 3-19 Fukuroda, Daigo-machi, Kuji-gun, Ibaraki
Access: 10 minutes by bus from JR Fukuroda Station. Get off at Takimoto, it is ten minutes’ walk from there. If travelling by car, it is roughly 50 minutes from the Naka IC on the Joban Expressway.

Mt. Yamizo (Daigo)

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The highest peak in Ibaraki, Mt. Yamizo stands 1,022m tall and offers spectacular views of Tochigi and Fukushima Prefectures. At the summit you will find Yamizomine Shrine, Nichirinji Temple, and a virgin forest containing a variety of beech trees. Around the eighth station, you will find a group of springs from the Yamizo River.
Trees: Beech, Erman’s birch, Japanese oak, maple

Best time to visit: Late October – Early November
Recommended spots: Mt. Yamizo Viewing Platform
Address: Kaminomiya, Daigo-machi, Kuji-gun, Ibaraki
Access: 50 minutes by bus from JR Hitachi-Daigo Station. Get off at Jakechi (蛇穴) – it will take around 2.5 hours to reach the summit from there. By car, it is a 1 hour 50 minute drive from the Naka IC on the Joban Expressway.

Eigenji Temple (Daigo)

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Eigenji Temple is nicknamed the Maple Temple. As the name would suggest, the Japanese maple trees around the temple create a fantastic view as they turn brilliant shades of red when autumn arrives. Eigenji Temple is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of music, and its elevated location provides a splendid view of Daigo, allowing you to see all the autumn leaves in the town.

Trees: Japanese maple
Best time to visit: Mid November
Address: 1571 Daigo, Daigo-machi, Kuji-gun, Ibaraki
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from JR Hitachi-Daigo Station
Parking: 30 spaces at the temple. Temporary parking also available.

Mt. Nantai (Daigo)

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Mt. Nantai is located in the south east of Daigo, and stands 654m tall. The northern and eastern slopes are quite gentle, while the western and southern sides are steep cliffs. Mt. Nantai has been a sacred places since ancient times, and is shrouded in a mysterious atmosphere. There are many hiking courses in the area that provide splendid views.

Trees: Maple, Japanese lacquer, Japanese oak
Best time to visit: Early to mid November
Recommended spots: Tsutsujigaoka Viewing Platform
Address: Saigane, Daigo-machi Kuji-gun, Ibaraki
Access: 60 minutes’ walk from JR Saigane Station. 50 minutes’ drive from the Naka IC on the Joban Expressway.
Parking: 5 free spaces

Okukuji Valley (Daigo)

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With the beautiful Okukuji River that flows through it offering splendid views along Route 118, Okukuji Valley is ideal for a leisurely drive. Mt. Yamatsuri, located in Okukuji Prefectural Natural Park among the southern-most peaks of Fukushima Prefecture offers splendid views from season to season. In particular, the changing leaves of late October to late November set the mountain ablaze with colour.

Trees: Keyaki, Japanese maple
Best time to visit: Early to mid November
Address: Daigo-machi, Okukuji-gun, Ibaraki
Access: 15 minutes’ walk from Hitachi-Daigo Station. Roughly 50 minutes’ drive along Route 118 from the Naka IC on the Joban Expressway.

Hanazono Gorge (Kitaibaraki)

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Hanazono Gorge is located upstream of the Hanazono River, and is part of the Hanazono Hananuki Prefectural Natural Park. During autumn red and yellow leaves fall from the trees and float down the river, creating another splendid piece of autumn scenery. At the bottom of the gorge you will find Hanazono Shrine. There are two hiking trails; the Nanatsu Taki Hiking Trail that begins behind Hanazono Shrine, and the Eizomuro Hiking Trail, located 15 minutes’ drive from Hanazono Gorge. On a sunny day, you can see Mt. Fuji.

Trees: Maple, Japanese maple
Best time to visit: Early to late November
Recommended spots: Shiro Waterfall
Address: Hanazono, Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki
Access: 30 minutes by taxi from JR Isohara Station, or 25 minutes’ drive from the Kita-Ibaraki IC on the Joban Expressway
Parking: 60 spaces

Sarugajo Gorge (Kitaibaraki)

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Sarugajo Gorge is located upsteam of Hanazono Gorge. It is said that the Satake clan, after being defeated in battle, survived after receiving walnuts, akebi, and sake from monkeys that gathered in the area. Sarugajo Gorge is renowned for the beauty of its numerous waterfalls, which include Hako Waterfall, Rakuun Waterfall, and Senen Waterfall (which translates to ‘the waterfall of 1000 monkeys!). Listening to the sound of flowing water while appreciating the beauty of the changing leaves is an autumn experience you shouldn’t miss.

Trees: Yamamomiji, maple, beech
Best time to visit: Late October – mid November
Recommended spots: Hako Waterfall, Rakuun Waterfall, Senen Waterfall
Address: Ogawa, Sekimoto-cho, Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki
Access: 40 minutes by car from JR Isohara Station. 35 minutes by car from the Kita-Ibaraki IC on the Joban Expressway

Hananuki Gorge (Takahagi)

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There are splendid views along the Hananuki River from the Hananuki Dam to Namerigafuchi and the Kotakizawa Camping Ground. The view from the Shiomidaki Suspension Bridge that stretches across the gorge is particularly spectacular, even more so in autumn when the trees that grow along the river and stretch over the bridge create a gorgeous tunnel of fall colours.

Trees: Japanese maple
Best time to visit: Mid to late November
Recommended spots: Shiomidaki Suspension Bridge
Address: Ono area, Takahagi, Ibaraki
Access: 25 minutes by taxi from Takahagi Station. 20 minutes by car from the Takahagi IC on the Joban Expressway.
Parking: During the autumn leaves season there is paid parking – 80 spaces for 500 yen per vehicle at the Hananuki Parking Lot and 40 spaces for 500 yen per vehicle at the Ono Parking Lot

Ryujin Suspension Bridge (Hitachiota)

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Ryujin Suspension Bridge is located in Okukuji Prefectural Natural Park, and is located 100m above Ryujin Dam, which dams the Ryujin River. It is a 375m long pedestrian bridge and offers unique panoramic views in every season. The bridge is open from 8:30am to 5pm and costs 310 yen (210 for children) to cross.

Trees: Maple, Japanese maple
Best time to visit: Mid to late November
Address: 2133-6 Kegano, Hitachiota, Ibaraki
Opening Hours: 8:30am – 5pm
Admission: Adults 310 yen, Children 210 yen
Access: 45 minute bus ride from JR Hitachiota Station. Get off at Ryujin Otsuribashi; it is 20 minutes’ walk from there. By car, it is 45 minutes from the Hitachiota IC on the Joban Expressway.
Parking: 200 spaces

Seizanso (Hitachiota)

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Seizanso is the retreat where the second daimyo of the Mito Domain, Mitsukuni Tokugawa, spent his twilight years, from 1691 until his passing in 1700. It is a simple, single-story house with a thatched roof. From the round window in the study, you can gaze out upon the artificial miniature hill and the pond, which is shaped like the Chinese character for heart. Here Mitsukuni Tokugawa supervised the editing of the Japanese history book known as the Dai Nihonshi.

Trees: Japanese maple, ginkgo, konara oak
Best time to visit: Mid to late November
Address: 590 Arajuku-cho, Hitachiota, Ibaraki
Opening Hours: 9am – 4pm (open every day during autumn leaves season)
Access: 5 minutes by taxi from JR Hitachiota Station. 30 minutes by car from the Hitachiminamiota IC
Parking: 70 spaces

Kagoiwa (Hitachiomiya)

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This cliff face on a mountain south of Mt. Nantai in Okukuji that towers over Yuzawa Gorge has been shaped by years of wind and rain to look like a basket weave, giving the area its name. The viewing platform at the summit provides a splendid view.

Trees: Japanese maple, Japanese lacquer tree, mountain ash
Best time to visit: Late October – Late November
Address: Hitachiomiya, Ibaraki
Access: 30 minutes by car from Yamagatajuku Station. 1 hour by car from the Naka IC on the Joban Expressway
Parking: 5 spaces

Gozenyama Prefectural Natural Park (Hitachiomiya)

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The Gozenyama Prefectural Natural Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty. The view from the Naka River Bridge is reminiscent of Arashiyama in Kyoto, and is thus called the Arashiyama of Kanto. Autumn truly brings out the beauty of this region, as the leaves of the keyaki forest change and colour the landscape a variety of brilliant shades. There are over 100 varieties of mountain birds living in the park.

Trees: Keyaki, konara oak, evergreen oak
Best time to visit: Mid November – Early December
Recommended spots: Fujikura Waterfall, Belltower ruins
Address: Hitachiomiya, Ibaraki
Access: 60 minutes by bus from JR Mito Station. Roughly 25km by car from the Mito IC on the Joban Expressway
Parking: 100 spaces

Kairakuen (Mito)

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One of the three great gardens of Japan, Kairakuen was built by order of Nariaki Tokugawa, 9th daimyo of the Mito Domain, in July 1842.

Trees: Japanese maple
Best time to visit: Early to mid November
Address: 1-3-3 Tokiwa-cho, Mito, Ibaraki
Access: 15 minutes by bus from JR Mito Station. 20 minutes from the Mito IC on the Joban Expressway.

Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History (Mito)

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The Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History has permanent exhibits covering history from ancient to modern. There is also a traditional farm house from the Edo Period and a western-style school building from the Meiji Period that have been dismantled and reconstructed in the grounds of the museum. In November, when the leaves of the gingko trees begin to change, the museum holds the Museum Gingko Festival. With most events falling on weekends and public holidays, you can enjoy traditional Japanese music, tea ceremonies, and other activities that celebrate Japan’s history and culture.

Trees: Maple, Japanese maple, ginkgo
Best time to visit: Mid to late November
Address: 2-1-15 Midori-cho, Mito, Ibaraki
Hours: 9:30am -5pm (last entry 4:30pm, closed on Mondays)
Admission: Adults 150 yen, University Students 80 yen, school students, people over 70, and people with a physical disability certificate free
Access: 15 minutes from the Mito IC on the Joban Expressway
Parking: 127 spaces (3 spaces for persons with disabilities)

Kitayama Park (Kasama)

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In Kitayama Park, you can see the beauty of the seasons reflected in the lake that lies between the mountains. Take a walk through the park and be rejuvenated by its natural beauty. The park includes a viewing platform with 360 degree panoramic views, resting facilities, a camp ground, a barbeque area, and a roller slide. Spend time with your family and friends in this tranquil area.

Trees: Maple, Japanese maple
Best time to visit: Early to late November
Address: 1416-62 Taira-machi, Kasama, Ibaraki
Access: 20 minutes’ walk from JR Shishido Station. 5 minutes on Route 355 from the Tomobe IC on the Kita-Kanto Expressway. 20 minutes on Route 355 from the Iwama IC on the Joban Expressway.
Parking: Free

Mt. Sashiro (Kasama)

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Mt. Sashiro is a 15 minute walk from Kasama Inari Shrine. It stands 182m above sea level, and is located in the middle of the Kasama Basin. It is covered with thick forest. More than 100 varieties of plant life grow there, and it is sometimes called a natural botanical garden. The autumn leaves in the park at the foot of Mt. Sashiro are a sight to behold.

Trees: Japanese maple, ginkgo
Best time to visit: Early to late November
Recommended spots: The bell tower
Address: 1015-2 Kasama, Kasama, Ibaraki
Access: 5 minutes by car from JR Kasama Station. You can also take the Kasama Sightseeing bus from Tomobe Station and get off at Nichido Museum of Art. By car, it is 9 minutes from the Tomobe IC on the Kita-Kanto Expressway.
Parking: Available

Mt. Tsukuba (Tsukuba)

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Mt. Tsukuba is sometimes called Shiho (the purple mountain) due to the colour it turns when the sunrise hits it. Over 1000 species of plant grow on its slopes, making it a treasure trove for botanists. Its hiking trails and cable car bring many visitors all year round. From the top, you can see autumn colours across the entire Kanto Plain.

Trees: Japanese ivy, oak, yamaurushi, Japanese maple
Best time to visit:  Early to late November
Recommended spots: Mt. Tsukuba Shrine, Mt. Tsukuba summit, Miyawaki Station in the Tsukuba cable car
Address: Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Ibaraki
Access: 40-50 minutes by direct shuttle bus from TX Tsukuba Station; get off at Tsukuba-san Jinja Iriguchi or Tsutsujigaoka. 55 minutes by bus from JR Tsuchiura Station; get off at the last stop Tsukuba-san Jinka Iriguchi. You can take another bus from there 6 minutes to Tsutsujigaoka. 40 minutes by car from the Tsuchiura-Kita IC on the Joban Expressway.

Sairenji Temple (Namegata)

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Sairenji Temple is an ancient Tendai sect temple said to have been built in 782. It contains a number of cultural assets. There is a Deva gate built in 1543 that was originally two stories high. In 1790 it was rebuilt to be the main temple gate and changed into a Deva gate. The big gingko tree in the grounds is a prefecturally-designated natural monument that is said to be 1000 years old. The autumn leaves are not to be missed.

Trees: Ginkgo
Best time to visit: Late November to early December
Address: 504 Sairenji, Namegata, Ibaraki
Access: From the Joban Expressway, take Route 355, go straight through the traffic lights at the Route 354 intersection and turn left into Sairenji in roughly 3km.
Parking: 100 free spaces

Upcoming Events

43rd Annual Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival

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

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.

One Day in Ibaraki

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~