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20 August, 2023

[TRAVEL] 3D2N Summer in Ibaraki, Japan

Konnichiwa from Ibaraki! 

My 2023 Japan summer trip mainly focuses on the Greater Area of Tokyo, covering 5 prefectures altogether. Ibaraki prefecture (茨城) was my first stop upon landing at Narita Airport. Located northeast of Tokyo along the Pacific coast, it took me 2 hours by train (2,310 yen one-way) to arrive at Mito, the capital of Ibaraki.

Little did I know, Ibaraki is so huge and if you have only 1 to 3 days to spare, then staying around Mito, Oarai and Hitachi area would be good enough to explore the famous landmarks in the prefecture while immersing yourselves into the beauty of history, culture and nature here. 

As the location of each tourist spot in Ibaraki is rather remote (although well connected via public bus / train), it is highly recommended to rent a car here and save your time travelling from one place to another. 

Here are the top 6 places of attractions I have been to throughout my 3D2N here in Ibaraki:

1. Hitachi Seaside Park
Hitachi Seaside Park (ひたち海浜公園)

Operating hours: 09:30 - 18:00
Entrance ticket: 450 yen 
Access: 20 minutes by Ibaraki Kotsu Bus from Katsuta Station 

Hitachi Seaside Park is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in Ibaraki. I have heard about how beautiful this 215 hectare park is when it turns into an ocean filled with over 5 million Nemophila Harmony ("Baby Blue Eyes") flowers that bloom during late spring (from late April to mid May), or vibrant scarlet red field of Kochia during autumn (mid to late October).

While summer may not be the best season to visit the park (due to the strong heat at the unsheltered area), I was glad to see many kinds of seasonal flowers here including the newly planted 32,000 baby kochia!

Baby Kochia (Summer Cypress) field at Miharashi Hill
with the giant ferris wheel as the backdrop.

Linaria and sunflower field near the South Entrance.

Zinnia field near the Former Aizawa Family's House.

Another spot I wanted to visit in Hitachi Seaside Park is the Glasshouse Café for a cup of coffee while enjoying the sea view, but unfortunately it only opens during weekends.

There is a theme park (with water park) located next to it, so it is ideal for family summer vacation too. Overall, it is definitely worth a trip to Hitachi Seaside Park regardless of the season of the year.

2. Oarai Isosaki Shrine
Ōarai Isosaki Shrine (大洗磯前神社)

Operating hours: 08:30 - 18:00
Entrance ticket: Free
Access: 30 minutes by Ibaraki Kotsu Bus from Mito Station / 
20 minutes walk from Oarai Station

Ōarai Isosaki Shrine is another highlight of my Ibaraki trip. Not every Japanese arch is the same - each comes in many styles and colors and can be placed at unusual locations like the one in Ibaraki. 

This is a white torii gate that stands out amongst the rocks and splashing waves of the ocean. I was here during sunset hours and the picturesque scenery was just amazing. The sound of nature on its own was a therapeutic melody for me, and I enjoyed the evening breezes that cooled down the bright summer day :) 

Alternatively, sunrise would also be a good time to view the gate. In fact, there are plenty of "floating tori gate" in Japan - so looking forward to visiting more soon! 
There is also a long fleet of staircase leading to the shrine, overlooking the sea. It was so breezy here although it was summer!

Oarai Sun Beach (大洗サンビーチ海水浴場) is located next to it, nearby Oarai Seaside Station, but the view for me was not as scenic. Anyway, feel free to drop by if you have some extra time to spare.

3. Horide Shrine and Hoshiimo Shrine
Hoshiimo Shrine (ほしいも神社)

Operating hours: 10:00 - 18:00
Entrance ticket: Free
Access: 2 minutes walk from Ajigaura Station
(last stop of Hitachinaka Seaside Railway)

Hoshiimo Shrine is another unique sightseeing spot at the seaside of Hitachi, famous for its gold-painted torii gate which resembles the golden yellow hoshiimo (sweet potato) snack in the region. Hoshiimo Shrine is named after "sweet potatoes" because the land of Hitachinaka City is blessed with the largest seet potatoes production in the whole of Japan. The people here not only feel grateful for the God's blessings, but are super friendly and warm too.  

I was the only visitor at this shrine in the morning, hence I bumped into the shrine operator at the entrance and he happily showed me around, shared the history of this place and even showcased the gold-painted superbike for me to take photos. I love how it was so peaceful and quiet here. 

100-year-old Hitachinaka Seaside Railway (Minato Line)

While it is more convenient to get here by car, hopping on the 100-year-old Hitachinaka Seaside Railway along the 14.3k Minato Line is definitely worth a trip for its scenic greenery view along the 30-minute ride to Ajigaura Station, where the Hoshiimo Shrine is located at. Thanks to the beautiful view, I totally didn't feel the travelling time at all! 

You will be greeted by a retired railcar at Ajigaura Station.

One-day pass for Hitachinaka Seaside Railway costs only 1,000 yen for unlimited ride!

4. JR Hitachi
JR Hitachi (日立駅) - "Glassbox Station"

JR Hitachi Station is probably the most Instagrammable station in Japan. It is only 30 minutes away from JR Mito Station (590 yen one-way via JR Joban Line), the city centre where I stayed in Ibaraki. Dubbed as a "glassbox station", JR Hitachi is an amazing vantage point of the deep blue sea with a seaside highway running next to it. 

I can totally imagine myself spending some peaceful hours sitting here,
appreciating the beauty of nature right in front of my eyes.
Best viewed during sunset hours!

Sea Birds Café (シーバーズカフェ) 

Operating hours: 07:00 - 22:00
Access: Hitachi Station East Exit

There is a cafe located in the station itself, featuring a great panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. I ordered a chiffon cake and drinks set (1,050 yen) during the afternoon tea time, and spent a relaxing hour here watching the vehicles along the seaside highway, with the shimmering blue sea and foamy white waves as the backdrop. 

Again, immersing myself into the slow-paced life was just so soul-comforting.
And it reminded me to appreciate every little moment in life.

5. Kairakuen Garden / Tokiwa Shrine
Kairakuen Garden (偕乐园) / Tokiwa Shrine

Operating hours: 06:00 - 19:00
Entrance ticket: 300 yen
Access: JR Kairakuen St. (only open during certain period) /
Ibaraki one-day bus (400 yen)

Kairakuen Garden in Mito (水戸) is one of the "Three Great Gardens of Japan" along with Kenrokuen in Kanazawa and Korakuen in Okayama. It is famous for plum blossoms viewing during mid-February to end-March every year. And there is a Mousou bamboo forest at the northernmost Omotemon Gate (表門) which looks similar to Kyoto's Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. 

I have been to Korakuen in Okayama during autumn, and the autumn foliage was indeed a very beautiful sight. Unfortunately, this time around, there was nothing much in the garden during summer hence I only made a quick tour around the quiet shrine, Tokiwa Jinja next to it and left. 

6. Lake Senba
If you are up for nature strolls, biking or boating, then Lake Senba is a must-visit attraction where you can enjoy the tranquility in the large park surrounded by the lake. It is also the home for the graceful swans, a white glasshouse and the statue of Tokugawa Mitsukuni (Mito Kōmon), an iconic politician during the early Edo period.

Happy to see hydrangeas here which lasted from late spring till summer.

In Mito, there is a one-day pass (400 yen) where you can hop onto any of the 3 buses from the north exit of JR Mito Station:

❤ Ibaraki Kotsu bus (red line)
❤ Kanto Tetsudo bus (blue line)
❤ Kantetsu Green bus (green line) 

And visit the major sightseeing spots nearby including:

❤ Kairakuen Garden
❤ Lake Senba  
❤ Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History
❤ Art Tower Mito Contemporary Art Gallery
❤ Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki
❤ Kōdōkan Mito Han School

The best part? The ticket also includes a discount on some of the entrance fees, so it definitely offers good value for money.

3D2N accommodation at JR-East Hotel Mets Mito 

After having a very pleasant experience at Hotel Metropolitan Kamakura, owned by JR-East Hotel network during the last Spring trip, I chose JR-East Hotel again this round and indeed it exceeded my expectation as always. Perfectly located right next to JR Mito Station, the hotel was clean, spacious and comfortable. Overall, it was great for a short stay.

Personally, the beauty of nature and landscape in the peaceful town of Ibaraki is something that truly captivates my heart, especially when I get to stay near the ocean. All in all, Ibaraki is a hidden gem which I feel is worth exploring if you are considering to travel around the greater area of Tokyo. 

❤ ❤ 

Overall, I am happy to unlock another prefecture in Japan during this trip! And if I were given another opportunity to return to Ibaraki prefecture, I would probably want to travel here during spring / autumn and explore other parts of Ibaraki such as: 

❤ Hitachi Seaside Park (during different blooming season)
❤ Double-peaked Mount Tsukuba
❤ Tsuchiura fireworks festival
❤ Ushiku Great Buddha
❤ Ibaraki sake brewery
❤ Hananuki Valley
❤ Fukuroda Falls

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