Kairakuen: The Plum Blossom Festival of Ibaraki

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きれいですね~

“Spring begins with plum blossoms in Mito,” all the pamphlets read. Just before the Sakura (cherry) blossoms start to bloom, the plum blossoms are well fully blossomed. Although Sakura blossoms are known as the symbolic flower of Japan, plum blossoms are still a sight worth seeing.

Kairakuen garden was built during the Edo period  and has been a well known spot since then for plum blossom viewing. This festival is held every year from February 20th to March 31st and is completely free. More than 3,000 trees fill the park and, the colors range from snow white to a very vibrant pink.

Some views of the park.

Getting there is about a two hour train rid from Tochigi prrefecture. There are three seperate sections for the park. The main area is where the trees and festival food is located. Here many people eat bentos (Japanese lunch boxes) on the grass and watch some traditional kimono dance performances. You can walk through the house of Nariaki Tokugawa to see an imperial emperor style home, visit the spring water park, and walk through the beautiful Tokiwa shrine.  The park is pretty big but I do recommend walking the full length just to get a good view of the entire area.

Tokiwa shrine

It’s not the most famous festival in the Kanto area but it’s been gaining a lot of notoraiity over the past couple of years. It’s free and on a beautiful day, it’s the perfect setting for a lovely park stroll.

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A lovely couple taking wedding pictures

Makabe Town: Stone Lanterns and Hina Dolls

Two weeks ago I had a cool opportunity to write for Japantravel.com. A company based in Japan, they pay foreigners to travel around Japan and write articles about their experience.  They covered my travel expenses and in return, I wrote a 500 word article about what I did and learned. I was nervous at first because, my work would be published for many people to see. Then, I became even more nervous when I realized that my tour guides couldn’t speak any English.

It was hard because, a lot of historical Japanese words are difficult to understand (somethings just don’t translate to English) and general vocabulary for stone making is a little difficult as well (I never thought I would learn the word for stone lantern or craftsmen). Nonetheless my guides were very nice to be sure I understood most of what they were saying. If you’d like to read my article you can find it here.

Reading this was actually a lot easier than you think.

Makabe Town is a small rural town located in Ibaraki prefecture. Even though it’s tiny it’s a pretty well known spot to visit in Japan. Makabe is most famous for it’s Makabe Stone (makabeishi) which is the stone used to create the lanterns and statues most commonly found at temples and shrines in Japan. I think it’s safe to say that most of the statues and lanterns at least in the kanto region originated from this small town. The beauty and aesthetic of these lanterns comes to life once the color starts fading and moss starts to grow. Makabe town takes a lot of pride in their stone sculptures. They’re incorporated in every aspect of the town.

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A small view of Makabe Town
Some Makabe stone statues. These can be found pretty much anywhere all over Japan.

This area is also well know for it’s buildings that have remained standing since the Edo period, earning Makabe the name of koedo (little edo).

Some photos of the house I visited

While I was visiting, the town had already set up their Hina dolls. Hina dolls are used to celebrate Hina matsuri, also “Girl’s Day”. It’s the day to celebrate good welfare for your daughters. People place them out for display in early February until the festival on March 3rd. It’s said once the festival is over you have to put the dolls away quickly or else your daughter won’t get married.  During this time residents set out their dolls displays and open up their homes to visitors to get a glimpse of little Edo. Many of the homes simply wanted to display their dolls creations but most residents were selling trinkets and goods reminiscent of Edo times.

 

I will admit, that I was a little put off when I received the topic for my assignment. Writing about rocks wasn’t super exciting, but this was a lot more fulfilling than I expected it to be. I know Makabe town would be a little difficult to explore without proper transportation but it’s definitely a place worth visiting. Who knows you might even learn something new.

Me, with my tour guides. They were so nice.

Obon Marks the End of Summer

Obon or just the Bon festival in Japanese is a Buddhist custom to honors one’s ancestors. It’s not an official national holiday but people still take this time out to be with their families, pay their respects to their ancestors, or just to relax.

The Obon festival in Sano was held at the Akiyamagawa river, a short ten minute walk from my apartment. It was pretty small compared to the Hidesato festival but I assume it’s because this is more of a spiritual affair. It was filled with your usual Japanese festive foods; Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Soba noodles, beer, etc. The monks set up their own tent for those who wanted (to pay) to send a special prayer to their ancestors. There was traditional Okinawan Oban dancing and singing, and at the end of it all there was thirty minute firework filled with smiley faces and strawberries.

 

This time officially marked the end of the summer holidays. All the teachers started showing up to work regularly giving supplemental summer lessons before the next semester starts. Which means that I’ll actually have to start working pretty soon *sad sigh*

佐野秀郷まつりと足利の花火

The first week of August was a pretty lively weekend for me in Sano. The Hidesato Festival in Sano and the  102 Ashikaga fireworks festival were happening this weekend. The Hidesato Festival  is the biggest event of the summer in Sano. So far this weekend was the liveliest I’ve seen this whole city. There was plenty of festival food to enjoy at cheep prices, Hidesato style horseback archery, carrying of miniature shrines (mikoshi), live concerts, dances, mascot meet and greets, and so much more.

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Ashikaga Fireworks Festival

 

On the sixth I went to the 102 annual Ashikaga fireworks festival. Where people come and sit along the Tanaka Hashimoto riverside and watch about two hours worth of fireworks being shot up into the air. For the fireworks, various sponsors pay money to set off their own fireworks, pretty much to show off how rich they are. To give an estimate on how much some companies paid, $7000 USD would get you about five seconds worth of fireworks. It was beautiful and well worth the adventure. I did feel a little out of place here because so many people were wearing yukatas and kimonos. Once I get my first pay check  I have to buy one.

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A lil bit of lovely fireworks!!

 

On the seventh I spent a little bit more time at the Hidesato Festival in Sano.The Sano Hidesato festival, this year was the 24th annual festival held on the 6th, and 7th of August. Here you could meet some of the mascots of Tochigi, they even put on a little play with them at the State House.