When I moved to Japan, I first lived in the countryside of Tochigi Prefecture. While I now live in Tokyo, possibly the wackiest and most culturally significant city I’ve ever lived in, it’s nice to get out of the crowds and congestion every once in a while.
If you’re looking to make a day trip from Tokyo, take the JR Joban limited express (slower than a bullet train, but much faster than a local) an hour or so north to the fresh, welcoming lands of Ibaraki Prefecture. I’ve written before about several things to do in Ibaraki, but let me take you back through this prefecture’s most exciting sightseeing spots, best restaurants, and places to stay for a full day—or two!
If you want to make the most out of your trip, start in Hitachinaka City, the most northern part on this list, and make your way back to Tokyo by traveling south.
See Kochia at Hitachi Seaside Park in the Fall
Hitachi Seaside Park isn’t just one of the best places to go in Ibaraki Prefecture, but it’s also on our list of top recommended locations for enjoying autumn in Japan. The 350-hectare (865-acre) park holds flower festivals and displays throughout the year, but two seasons, in particular, stand out. In spring, 4.5 million Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila) flowers bloom from the end of April to mid-May.
Afterward, 32,000 kochia (summer cypress) plants take their spot on Miharashi Hill. Mid-October is generally the best time to see summer cypress in Hitachi Seaside Park, but weather conditions can affect the season. If you’re feeling hungry after exploring the park, you can stop at the onsite Glass House Café, or you can walk to our next location….
Eat and Shop at Fashion Cruise Newport Hitachinaka
From the outside, Fashion Cruise Newport Hitachinaka looks like your typical mall from Everytown, USA, but about the only American brand store you’ll find is a Toys’ R Us. (That’s right Americans, in Japan a kid can still be a kid!) The second floor serves food from all over Japan, and walking through here is like taking a quick tour of the entire country!
If you’re looking for a great place to buy a souvenir, head to the Joyful Honda home center. Here, you can buy ceramic eastern-style teapots, desirable Japanese kitchen knives, and obento lunch boxes. Near the exit, you’ll see booths selling lottery tickets, and if you want to guarantee your winnings, head to our next stop….
Get Some Good Luck at Sakatsura Isosaki Shrine
This unassuming, family-owned shrine might not seem as striking as places like Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto at first, but stepping onto the grounds you’ll feel the spiritual energy envelop you. A tunnel of wild camelia trees seems to lead you into another world. The Sakatsura Isosaki Shrine’s priests don’t prune the trees at all, and yet their branches twist in a perfect maze to shade you from the sun.
At the end of the path lies the Main Hall which enshrines the Shinto deity Sukuna-hikona no Mikoto—known as a god of good fortune, health, and harvest. Locals come here to pray to win big at the lottery, and it seems like Sukuna-hikona no Mikoto is listening! Lottery winners who prayed at the shrine have won a combined total of 6 billion yen (60 million USD)!
Hanging outside of almost every Japanese pub, festival, or shrine you’ll often see Japanese-style lanterns, and at Suihu Chochin you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about one of Japan’s most beloved traditional crafts. At the front of the shop, you’ll see several lanterns available for purchase ranging in styles from classic oblongs to modern shapes of faces and vases. Clapper-style lights illuminate them, and all collapse as flat as a pancake making transporting one home a cinch.
By reservation, you can see the workshop where artisans lovingly labor over their new projects. Watching them work so hard might inspire you to make your own… and you can! For a small fee, you can try decorating a small chochin (lantern) for yourself to take home.
Try Plum Wine and "Cheese" Flavored Soft Serve Ice Cream at Meirishurui Brewery
Kairakuen—one of Japan’s 3 “Great Gardens”—is famous for its blooming plum blossoms in March, and what can you make from plums? Plum Wine! Near the scenic Lake Semba lies the Meirishurui brewery, famous for its umeshu and other spirits. A tour leads you through fermentation tanks, a bird’s-eye view of the vast factory, and a museum of ancient brewing tools.
The flavors of Meirishurui’s plum wines range from astringent to sweet, and you can taste several types at the end of the tour. While you’re here, be sure to ask for a scoop of their koji (a rice byproduct) flavored soft serve ice cream. Surprisingly, it tastes like cheese!
*Note* Although umeshu is often translated to plum wine in English, it’s more accurately described as Japanese apricot liqueur.
Thousands of years ago, the Yūki Region was one of the most influential areas in Japan. It has since divided into Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefecture.
Rent a Genuine Kimono at Kiraku Kimono Dressing Room
Among Japan’s bountiful traditional cultural experiences, wearing kimono stands out as an opportunity that travelers can’t miss. But not all rental shops are created equal, and standing alongside Japan’s most esteemed establishments, tourist traps offering low-quality articles have cropped up over the years.
If you’re looking for a truly immersive and educational experience, head to Yūki City to try the revered Yūki-tsumugi silk kimono. Just a short distance from Yūki Station, you’ll find the Kiraku Kimono Dressing Room where experts will dress you in multiple layers of Japan’s most luxurious fabric in a matter of minutes.
See How Kimonos are Made at Yūki Traditional Craftwork Museum
Every step of the complex Yūki-tsumugi silk fabric production technique requires teams of skilled artisans using their hands and traditional tools. The process takes years to master and making one kimono can take up to 5-6 months and 2,000 silk cocoons to complete. At the Yūki Traditional Craftwork Museum, you can get a small taste of this UNESCO-certified Important Intangible Cultural Property.
First, you’ll get a chance to hand-spin yarn from a silk floss under the guidance of a teacher. Afterward, a dyer shows how the material is bound with cotton threads so that patterns can emerge. Finally, you’ll see a demonstration of a weaver using a waist-tension loom (jibata) to finish out the day. At the end of your tour, you’ll be ready to become a textile artisan yourself!
Take a Dyeing or Weaving Workshop at Okujun’s Tsumugi-no-Yakata
Among the many well-established Yūki-tsumugi textile companies is the exalted Okujun group. Their lustrous and exceptionally light fabrics have garnered international attention, and Okujun designs have premiered in admired exhibitions like Paris Fashion Week. Among their facilities is the Tsumugi-no-Yakata museum, shop, and workshop center housed in a complex of Japanese-style buildings that surround a tranquil courtyard.
Workshops are available by appointment. Choose from dyeing a cotton towel, bandana, and eco bag, or dye an authentic silk shawl. In a weaving class, you’ll have the rare opportunity to try the jibata loom! As of now, Tsumugi-no-Yakata only takes workshop reservations by phone. Contact us to take care of your booking for you.
Make Sake at Buyu Nihonshu Brewery
If you can’t get enough of Japanese rice wine, Ibaraki is the place for you! The fertile lands yield the tastiest grains, and the waterways are some of the cleanest in the entire country. There are 40 sake breweries in Ibaraki, but the Buyu Brewery is one of the most time-honored in the prefecture and offers plenty to do in family fun.
Established in 1876, Buyu specializes in Nihonshu, which English speakers might know better as “sake.” Tours are typical of most breweries, but if you come at the right time, you can participate in exciting activities the whole family can enjoy! In May, you can learn how to plant rice, and harvest it in October. In November, you can take part in the brewing process, and in December help the masters with bottling. Children are welcome to join the activities, and once they turn 20—the age of adulthood in Japan—Buyu will send a bottle of the batch they helped make!
Chikusei City was formed in 2005 when several municipalities merged. The center of Chikusei was called Shimodate, and some stations and sightseeing spots retain the former name.
Learn About Japanese Pottery at Itaya Hazan Memorial Hall
Itaya Hazan (1872-1963) is one of the most celebrated potters in Japan, and the first 20th-century ceramist to have his work registered as an Important Cultural Property. Exhibitions of his pieces are held all over the world, but the Itaya Hazan Memorial Hall offers the most intimate experience.
Upon entering the grounds, you’ll see a recreation of the master artist’s boyhood home. The interior is usually off limits but on rare occasions, the Memorial Hall holds tea ceremonies and you can drink from an original Hazan cup. Behind the house, you can see Itaya Hazan’s workshop which includes his throwing wheel and French style kiln—the first of its kind in Japan. Nearby, a small museum of his cups, vases, and designs. When I went, I was able to see a temporary exhibit that included pieces from the Kanbayashi family’s private collection (which often gets displayed here), as well as brass-topped canes that Hazan gifted to the 80-years-old and older citizens of his hometown.
Get Your Snacks and Souvenirs at Tachikawa Japanese Confectionary
Just a 2-minute walk from the Itaya Hazan Memorial Hall, you’ll find this 100-year-old sweets shop. The second floor retains the original façade, but the first floor has been updated through the years. Inside you’ll find an ample collection of traditional Japanese sweets with slight twists by the Tachikawa shop.
If you’re looking something to eat right away, try the Anmitsu Daifuku. “Animtsu” and “Daifuku” are normally separate dishes, but Tachikawa combined these classic treats to make one. The outside “Daifuku” part is a light-tasting sweet, sticky rice—like mochi—and the inside filling is an “Anmitsu” made with sweet beans, fruit, and syrup. To take as a souvenir, grab a box of Butter Doriyaki. Doriyaki tastes similar to pound cake and is usually filled with chocolate or beans. This one has beans and butter which makes for a delightful, creamy texture.
Where to Eat in Mito: Mondokoro Izakaya at Mito Station
Japan’s most infamous delicacy natto—fermented soybeans—is often lovingly described by non-Japanese people as smelling and tasting like a fresh foot. It’s quite the acquired taste, but if you’re going to try it anywhere, Ibaraki’s natto is known as one of the tastiest. Don’t try eating plain natto your first time. Ease yourself into its distinct fragrance by trying it as an ingredient in a large dish.
At Mondokoro Izakaya, you can try not only Ibaraki’s natto but several local delicacies in every dish. Their specialty is the Natto Hot Pot, which is a stew-like concoction filled with a miso paste and bone stock, various vegetables, pork, and a few fermented soybeans. If the taste is still too strong for you, drown it out with an umeshu flight.
Where to Eat in Yūki City: Shinsei-do
For a “home-cooked” Japanese meal, check out the quaint Shinsei-do restaurant. Shinsei-do specializes in chestnut rice (kuri gohan in Japanese), which contains whole chestnuts and a bit of salt for flavor.
Families typically eat kuri gohan in the fall, so you can’t miss out on trying it especially in autumn. Set meals include miso soup, pickles, meat, and dessert. The second story only offers Japanese-style floor seating, but the first story has tables and chairs for your comfort.
Where to Eat in Chikusei City: Shoku-no-Kura Aratame
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, check out Shoku-no-Kura Aratame. The restaurant is on one of Chikusei’s main roads, but once you enter the tranquil Japanese garden encloses you in a fantasy world, and you’ll forget about the cars rushing by outside.
The inside of the restaurant is sophistically decorated with antique knick-knacks from Japan and Western countries. As you take in your surroundings, you’ll indulge in a bento meal. The exact ingredients change with the season, but generally include raw, simmered, and fried dishes.
Where to Stay in Ibaraki: The Mito Plaza Hotel
Nestled between lazily swaying trees lies Ibaraki’s premier place for luxury and comfort: the Mito Plaza Hotel. Spending one night here—much less a lifetime—will leave you wishing you could extend your stay thanks to the ornate décor, kind staff, and supreme onsite facilities.
Room types vary by Single, Double, Twin (can accommodate three people in separate beds), two types of twin rooms with Jacuzzis (“A-type” includes a living room), Junior Suite, and Plaza Suite (comes with a living room, dining room that seats 8, and kitchen). You might think this opulent place comes at a high price, but surprisingly the rates for the Mito Plaza Hotel are comparable to mid-quality hotels in Tokyo.
If you need to get out of Tokyo, don’t pass up on the chance to check out all there is to see, do, wear, and eat in Ibaraki Prefecture!