Taking the short trip from Tokyo to Ibaraki? Then check out some of these excellent attractions in the area. We have highlighted shrines, waterfalls, museums, aquariums, a giant statue of Buddha taller than the Empire State Building, and even a bridge! So, why not add Ibaraki to your holiday plans? Here are nine of the best sights:
(image by photozou.jp)
Since the Heian Era, only three shrines have had the venerable history to earn the top rank of “Jingu”: Ise Shrine, Katori Shrine and Kashima Shrine. Kashima Shrine is dedicated to Takemikazuchi-no-Ōkami, the most powerful patron god of the military arts and the god of victory. As the deity to subjugate the malevolent gods with his overwhelming strength, he generally offers good fortune in work and in life from his power and negotiating prowess. Also, Kashima Shrine is known as the eastern tip of the ley line that begins in Takachiho on the island of Kyushu and passes through Mt. Takano, Ise Shrine, Mt. Fuji, Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace. The expression “kashimadachi” which means “to set off on a journey” originated from samurai praying for safety at Kashima Shrine on their travels before beginning the journey.
Within the shrine, there are 4 spots which are said to be particularly potent. One is the area around the honden main shrine. Along with the honden, there is the ornate lacquered roumon tower gate which is one of the Three Great Tower Gates of Japan, the haiden prayer hall and the sacred tree which is around 1200 years old. Before visiting the honden, it is customary to visit Takafusa Shrine which is located in front of the haiden. The second power spot consists of the rear shrine and the path leading to it. The straight-line path from the grand torii gate to the rear shrine is the road to the wrathful spirits of the rear shrine from the honden’s peaceful spirits. While supporting the feelings toward your objective, the spirits add passion to your decisiveness and dynamism. The third power spot is the keystone. A magical rock that seals in earthquakes, it apparently suppresses a giant catfish that lurks underground, and the rock cannot be pulled out at all. There is also a keystone at Katori Shrine in Chiba Prefecture, which is said to press down on the catfish’s tail while the one at Kashima holds down the head. The fourth power spot is Mitarashi Pond. Seen to the left and below the rear shrine, clear water comes forth from a miraculous spring. Said to keep flowing even during droughts, soba noodles which are made with the spring water can be eaten at the tea house next to the pond.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kashima Shrine
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kashima Shrine
- Tours of Kashima Shrine
Aqua World Oarai Aquarium
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One hour by train directly from Tokyo. The Kanto region’s largest aquarium is composed of 9 areas. In the Encounter Sea zone, there is the giant water tank that is the largest in the entire facility in which you can see the amazing sight of 20,000 fish representing 80 species from offshore Oarai. In the Seas of the World zone, you can see the sharks that are the symbol of the aquarium. Within this zone, you will want to focus on the common smooth-hound, the only shark of its type found only at this aquarium. In the Ocean Sunfish tank which is the largest of its type in the entire nation, several ocean sunfish are raised.
The aquarium also has a Museum zone that is not found in any other current aquarium in which there are numerous deeply interesting exhibits such as a model of a shark 4 meters in length, a model of the world’s largest ocean sunfish, and a specimen of a shark’s tooth. Another attractive feature is the many opportunities for interaction. There is the popular program of the 50-minute Exploration Tour at the Backyard of the aquarium. Separated into the 2 courses of General and Specialist, they are held 3 times a day. The numbered tickets that are distributed when the aquarium opens are given out on a first come, first serve system so you will want to come to the aquarium early.
Then, there is Kidsland which is popular with children. They can watch the 15-minute Fun Fact Fishing video which is shown 4 times a day and enjoyably learn about ocean life through experiments. At the Touching Pool where you will be able to get in touch with the animals, you can pick up creatures such as starfish and sea urchins. Doctor fish which nibble on the cuticles of people are raised here and once you place your hand into the water tank, it’s fun to see the fish close in and start nipping at your skin. You can also observe the Penguins’ Walk Time, and the Aqua Viewing is also popular for being able to chat with the divers in the water.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 1,850 / Child: ¥ 930
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Aqua World Oarai Aquarium
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Aqua World Oarai Aquarium
- Tours of Aqua World Oarai Aquarium
Tsukuba Space Center
(image by flickr.com)
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is an organization bringing together Japan’s researchers in space development. Its Tsukuba Space Center has been a base for the country’s space development work since its inception in 1972. General entry is possible and visitors can experience cutting-edge technology up close. On entering the facility, the first thing that can be seen at Rocket Plaza is the 50-meter H-II rocket. The purely domestically-made rocket which took about 10 years to develop has a size which is eye-opening. The Space Dome which is the permanent display area is divided into 5 areas in which actual satellites, genuine rocket engines and a life-size model of the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” (Hope) can be seen up close. There is also a mini-lecture of about 25 minutes given 5 times a day which doesn’t require any reservations. At the back of the Space Dome, there is Planet Cube. There are special exhibitions under themes that change every season and a museum shop. Products related to space such as space food and stationery are popular.
The popular facility tour requires advance reservations. The 3 courses that have been operating up to now will be made into 1 course from October 2015 which will require admission (70 min. duration). The “Kibo” operations control room and the basic training facilities for astronauts are seen here. Also twice a year in spring and autumn, there are special exhibitions in which otherwise inaccessible buildings can be entered so that visitors can get an even deeper knowledge about space.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Tsukuba Space Center
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Tsukuba Space Center
- Tours of Tsukuba Space Center
Ryujin Large Suspension Bridge
(image by photozou.jp)
This symbolic bridge has giant blue steel towers which evoke a dragon dancing through the sky. The dragon that is illustrated on the walls is also spectacular. At Ryujin Gorge which the bridge passes over, there are also many events throughout the seasons which take advantage of the wonderful view. There is the Koi Nobori (Carp Streamer) Festival from mid-April to mid-May. About 1000 streamers are hung by the bridge to pray for the healthy growth of children, and the sight of magnificently competing streamers over the wonderfully green Ryujin Gorge is overwhelming. During this period, mini carp streamers also make an appearance on the major roads in the area. On Children’s Day (May 5th), kids of junior high school age and younger can cross the bridge for free. From early August to mid-August, the Lantern Festival is held. 500 lanterns and 100 bamboo lanterns (candles placed in hollow bamboo trunks) decorate the area around the bridge which bring about a magical world.
A splendid soundscape is also created from the many wind chimes that come in from all over the country. Admission to cross the bridge is free after 5 p.m. on the days when the lanterns are lit. During November, there is the Fall Foliage Festival. There are many strangely-shaped rocks on the precipices, and Ryujin Gorge stands out even further with the many changes to features such as the waterfalls, the deep pools and the shallows. In this period, the much-praised fresh Hitachi Autumn soba can be eaten. All kinds of events can be enjoyed such as a stamp rally for the surrounding area and wadaiko drum performances. Then, there is bungee jumping which sprang into fame overnight due to a commercial. Since its beginnings in March 2014, over 10,000 people have already taken the plunge. There are plenty of thrills and exhilaration with this dive from the Japan’s highest jump at 100 meters. At several places across the bridge, there are acrylic windows from where you can look straight down into the gorge.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 310 / Child: ¥ 210
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Ryujin Large Suspension Bridge
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ryujin Large Suspension Bridge
- Tours of Ryujin Large Suspension Bridge
Ami Premium Outlets
(image by photozou.jp)
The overriding attraction of outlets is its reasonable prices. In particular at Ami, there are plenty of American brands. For the men, there is Banana Republic, Gap and Coach. Along with the apparel of Polo Ralph Lauren, there are branch shops selling household goods such as towels and linens. As well, there are sports brands such as Adidas and Nike along with Theory which is a hit with women. In addition, Ibaraki Prefecture is an area which has a lot of golf courses in the northern Kanto region, so stores like Ashworth and Taylor Made are also popular.
Ami Premium Outlets is also known for first-class brands of household goods. There are the pillows of Tempur and the functional kitchen goods of T-Fal along with stores dealing in electronic appliances. Also, there is Le Creuset, Tachikichi which sells tableware, and Sealy Beds which sell premium beds. The tea shop Fauchon has also recently become a topic of conversation with its opening of its first branch in a Japanese outlet here.
The first thing that draws your eyes is Sandaya Honten with its Kuro-Wagyu steak. The world’s cuisines are here for you with restaurants such as the Thai Keawjai, Delifrance with its recommended focaccia, Kim Kim Jang with its bibimpap, and the noodles of Miyatake Sanuki Seimensho. Independent restaurants such as the kaiten sushi Kaneki and Kobe Motomachi Doria are located in the corner at the northern end. If you want to know about tourism in the surrounding area, head for Ami Communication Center in front of the Food Gallery. There you will receive a guidebook on the area.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Ami Premium Outlets
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ami Premium Outlets
- Tours of Ami Premium Outlets
(image by flickr.com)
The biggest memorial park in a metropolitan area, Ushiku Jouen is also a site for recreation and relaxation, and it is a tourist spot whose popularity has been rising as a Buddhist facility that can be enjoyed by the whole family. The Ushiku Daibutsu within the site is known as a giant Buddhist statue listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. It is an enlarged form of the Amithaba Buddha, and it measures 120m in height and it boasts its status as the world’s largest bronze statue. When you think of New York’s Statue of Liberty at 93m, it has a tremendous impact when you look up at the Ushiku Daibutsu. Since its completion in 1992, it has had a short history, but you can go inside it where you can experience the contemporary world of Buddhism which has meditated on various ideas.
Anyone can enter the statue which is divided into 5 levels. There is a space where the shakyo or copying of Buddhist sutras from the sermons of a priest can be done. Then on the 3rd floor, 3400 gold Buddha statues are arranged, and you can view the world of Buddhism expressing its idea of Heaven. From the observation platform at the Buddha’s chest area on the highest level at 85m, you can look out over the landscape of tranquil Ushiku with its fields spreading out, and on sunny days, you can even see Tokyo Sky Tree and even Mt. Fuji far off in the distance.
There are attractions for children within the park grounds. There is a petting zoo where you can feed and even touch small animals such as rabbits and squirrels. Also, a show featuring the traditional Japanese entertainment of sarumawashi (monkey acrobatics) is popular. In the fields right in front of the Ushiku Buddha, pretty flowers bloom everywhere in the spring and fall, and you can enjoy picking them. The sight of the Ushiku Buddha standing among fields of poppies and cosmos is a tranquil one.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 800 / Child: ¥ 400
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Ushiku Daibutsu
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ushiku Daibutsu
- Tours of Ushiku Daibutsu
(image by flickr.com)
When the garden was established in 1842, visitors entered through the front gate instead of the current east gate, so they could understand the true quality of Kairaku-en by going through the front gate. Since visitors can enter the east gate from the closest station of JR Kairaku-en Station, you will want to get off at the preceding Mito Station and take the bus to the front gate. The theme of Kairaku-en Garden is “Yin and Yang”. Passing through the black front gate with its straw-thatched roof and through another shingled gate, there is the Osugimori (Big Cedar Wood) to your right and the Mousou Bamboo Forest to your left. Walking through the densely-growing forest, the serenity stands out even more. At the first fork on the path, looking down over the cliffs on the right, there is an oasis that floats out from the darkness.
There is a teahouse, Kobuntei, which uses the water from the Tougyokusen Spring. Nearby is an 800-year-old Taro cedar tree. It is a place where you will want to visit to hear the story about the long history for the clear spring. Head back to Osugimori after taking a break at Tougyokusen. In this area, there is a thick growth of kuma bamboo grass, and on the forest path which has been gently cooled by the green moss, you can feel a moment of serenity. Once you come to another fork on the path, head for Kobuntei. Kobuntei, which has been called “the excellent pavilion of the world”, is a hidden world that has been opened up. Constructed for poetry readings and tea parties, the view from the 3rd floor of the plum forest and Senba Lake is exquisite. In front of Kobuntei is Shibasaki-mon Gate. In this area is Kairaku-en’s biggest highlight, a place of changes in the positive and negative (yin and yang). Once you pass through the gate, there is a large plum forest which expands in front of you. On the right, there is a viewing plaza from where you can see Senba Lake. Vivid colors will be shown that will reveal a world that is different from any that you have seen before. This garden that skillfully features the positive and negative will lead visitors to a Japanese style of tranquility.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 200 / Child: ¥ 100
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kairaku-en
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kairaku-en
- Tours of Kairaku-en
(image by flickr.com)
Fukuroda Falls is located on the Taki River, a tributary of the Kuji River which flows from Ibaraki Prefecture into the Pacific Ocean. One characteristic of Fukuroda is the large 4-tiered rock face over which the water flows like a ribbon being pulled. It is from there that it was given its alternate name of Yodo (4 times) Falls, but according to one story, a legendary poet from the Heian Era, Saigyo, once remarked “One has to come and see the waterfall once every season to get a sense of its true character” as a form of praise which may also be the origin for the name. It is from its beauty that it was selected as one of the Three Great Waterfalls of Japan. The town of Daigo where the waterfall is located is in the middle of the mountains so it gets especially chilly in the winter. For that reason, the water that flows over the falls freezes and Fukuroda becomes a pure white ice fall which can be observed.
During the winter, there are events which include the lighting up of the falls, and the illumination of the suspension bridge in front of the observation point which create a wintry fairytale-like scene. Also the autumn colors at the falls and in the surrounding vicinity between early and mid-November are a highlight. The trees that turn red and gold during that time bring out the wonder of the falls. There are 2 ways to reach the observation point. The course that heads for the point by getting out of the tunnel is impressive for suddenly bringing the falls right in front of you, while the approach from the riverside walking path on the opposite side means that you can see the falls from a distance and it’s great for that leisurely stroll while enjoying the combination of the falls with the autumn colors. Along with being able to view the front of Fukuroda Falls from the observation point, there is another observation point 40m above the ground which can be accessed from behind via 2 elevators so that you can get a bird’s-eye view of the falls. If you’re good at walking, then taking the Tsukioreyama hiking course is also good. The 20-minute trip up to the top ensures a close view of Fukuroda Falls that can only be seen by the climbers.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 150
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Fukuroda Falls
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Fukuroda Falls
- Tours of Fukuroda Falls
Hitachi Seaside Park
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The park is about 110km north of Tokyo. Facing the Pacific Ocean, the sea breeze is very pleasant in the summer. The park is divided into 7 areas and each area has flowers that blossom all throughout the year. The nemophila which blooms in the Miharashi area is at its peak from late April to early May. On the huge 3.5ha Miharashi-no-Oka Hill which overlooks the Pacific, the 4.5 million blue blooms of the nemophila all open at once. The 360-degree view of this blue world of sky, sea and nemophila has a breathtaking beauty. In autumn, the kochia is famous. Known in Japanese as houkigusa, the fluffy red kochia is at its peak from late September to early October. As the greenery of summer slowly gives way to the colors of fall, it is this gradation from green to red that is charming. The kochia that has brilliantly changed color and painted Miharashi-no-Oka scarlet makes for superb scenery. In addition, there are the white and yellow spring daffodils and tulips, along with the sunflowers and lavender of summer, the cosmos of autumn and rape blossoms of winter, so the park can be enjoyed for its flora at any time.
The Pleasure Garden area is a hit with the kids, and in March 2015, 5 of the attractions got an extra boost. Next to the amusement park, there is a gigantic slide which has a diameter of 24m and a large snake-like facility spanning 400m with 19 items so that you can play there for the entire day. The park area is certainly huge so it’s good to make use of the rental bicycles or the Seaside Train to get around. During the year, there are several days which are free of admission so please check the website before making your way to the park.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 410 / Child: ¥ 80
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