Fresh Seafood and Flowers of All Colors: Introducing the Wonders of Ibaraki Prefecture
Have you ever come across photos of massive ocean blue gardens or red furry bushes, and wondered where on earth those places are? Well, you are reading the right article!
A two-hour drive or train ride from Tokyo, Ibaraki Prefecture is located to the northeast of Tokyo. About 17% of the prefecture is designated as natural parks, and it's well worth the visit if you are a garden or nature lover. Ibaraki is divided into 3 main areas: Tsukuba, Mito and Hitachinaka, with Hitachinaka being the most popular among the three for the list of things to do. Not only is the area famous for the furry red Kochia flowers in autumn, but you can also enjoy autumn foliage at Fukuroda Falls or get yourself a treat at the Mentai Park (明太子, men tai ko, Pollock roe).
I went to Ibaraki with my best friend – it was an enjoyable day trip despite the rain. We went with VIP Tour Japan (website in Japanese), which was very nicely planned and much cheaper than taking the train or driving there, saving us lots of time, energy, and an extra 3,000 yen. Here’s what our day trip looked like:
Morning – Hitachi Seaside Park
The bus left Shinjuku at 8:10. We stopped over at one highway rest area for a 20-minute restroom break. On the way to the park, you can also see the very calming natural scenery side of Japan from the bus window.
We arrived at the park at 10:40. Spreading over 200 hectares, Hitachi Seaside Park is beautiful all year round with red Kochia bushes (or balls) in autumn and blue Nemophila flowers in spring. The park is also equally as beautiful throughout the year, with poppies, lilies, tulips, roses, and other sorts, for a dream-like flowerland. For the best experience, check out the Hitachi Seaside Park flower calendar before planning your trip, or call up the park for a more accurate forecast of the flowers. In some years, the flowers last longer than the forecasted timeline.
Not only this, the park is also children-friendly, and if you are planning to bring your family with children, you might as well just spend the whole day there. There is also a small amusement park, a few restaurants, and cycling trails in the park. The entrance fee to the park is 410 yen for adults and 80 yen for children.
Early afternoon – Lunch at the local fish market (Nakaminato Osakana Ichiba)
Good news for sushi lovers: the market is located just right beside the sea, which means all the food here is one of the freshest you can find in Japan. You can choose to eat at the restaurants serving “kaiten sushi” (conveyor belt sushi) or simply go for the freshly grilled seafood at the market. There are many options, from the popular sea urchin “uni” to the giant squid and juicy scallop. It is also a great place to buy some seafood flavored snacks as souvenirs.
Late afternoon – a stop at Mentai Park
“Mentai” comes from the word “Mentaiko”, which translates to Pollock roe in English. This is a paradise for fish egg lovers. Here, you can get tons of fresh roe, and the place also serves different kinds of onigiri (Japanese rice balls) stuffed with salmon flakes and mentaiko. As weird as it sounds (because Japan never fails to impress us), Mentaiko soft ice cream is a must-try – it actually tastes better than it sounds.
Evening – Return trip to Shinjuku Station
After hanging around Mentai Park for 1.5 hours, we got on the bus headed back for Tokyo. We also received a lovely souvenir from the tour.
If you have a driving license in Japan, it is highly recommended to drive to Ibaraki, although it will certainly be more expensive. There are many other spots which are not covered by the bus tour and would be a bit frustrating to get around with public transport, such as the Fukurodo waterfall or the Ibaraki Nature Museum. But if you are looking for something convenient and not too expensive, then a bus tour might be a better choice.
As summer is approaching, definitely keep Ibaraki in mind for some breathtaking scenery spots.