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Incredible Ibaraki #1: Exciting Railway Updates & Cycling around Ibaraki!

Incredible Ibaraki #1: Exciting Railway Updates & Cycling around Ibaraki!

When it comes to travelling to Japan, most people would enter from Tokyo and then branch out to other neighbouring regions. With the country’s highly efficient railway network, travellers find it very convenient to get around by rail and discover exciting new places along the way.

 

Tokyo is located in the Kanto Region (関東地方 Kantō-chihō), which is made up of several prefectures such as Tochigi (栃木県 Tochigi-ken), Gunma (群馬県 Gunma-ken), and Chiba (千葉 Chiba-ken). Another prefecture located in the Kanto Region is Ibaraki (茨城県 Ibaraki-ken), which is often overlooked by many travellers to Japan but has many interesting surprises for all visitors.

 

Ibaraki Prefecture in the Kanto Region. (Image credit: illustAC)

 

Located just north-east of Tokyo, Ibaraki is easily accessible by rail, and visitors can travel from Tokyo to the prefecture by hopping on the Jōban Line (常磐線 Jōban-sen), which spans from the city all the way to Miyagi Prefecture. Other JR railway lines that travel through Ibaraki include Suigun Line (水郡線 Suigun-sen) and the Mito Line (水戸線 Mito-sen), and visitors can travel on these lines to learn more and discover the different parts of the prefecture.

 

Limited Express Hitachi on the Jōban Line. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Did you know? There are some exciting updates for selected railway stations in Ibaraki that visitors ought to check out, as well as new outdoor activities that visitors can experience in the prefecture. Want to know more about them? Then read on!

 

Railway station interiors galore

Mito Station, one of the major railway stations along the Jōban Line. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Railway stations in Japan are often seen as gateways to cities and towns. As visitors get off their trains and set foot onto the railway station platform, they get an idea of what the surrounding destination is about and what it has to offer, from the local culture to the gastronomical experience that awaits them.

 

Ibaraki is a prefecture that has plenty to offer for all visitors, from its iconic places of interest to its unique gastronomical delights and cultural heritage. Some of the railway stations in the prefecture have undergone some changes so that visitors can experience some of them the moment they arrive there.

 

Here are some updates for selected railway stations in Ibaraki:

 

Mito Station (水戸駅)

New decors inside Mito Station. (Image credit: JR East Mito Branch)

 

Mito Station is a major railway station in Mito (水戸市 Mito-shi), the capital city of Ibaraki Prefecture. The station serves as the main gateway for visitors coming to explore the city and the prefecture, and it has convenient railway access thanks to the Jōban Line, which is directly connected to Tokyo Station (東京駅 Tōkyō-eki).

 

As part of a tourism campaign by Ibaraki, the station has been newly decorated to reflect the prefecture’s local culture. For instance, an eye-catching monument has been installed at the platform near the ticket gates, and it combines two of Mito’s traditional handicrafts: Suifu paper lanterns (水府提灯 Suifu chōchin) and Yanaka no Oke (やなかの桶 Yanaka no Oke).

 

Monument reflecting Mito’s traditional handicrafts inside Mito Station. (Image credit: JR East Mito Branch)

 

Did you know? Mito is known as “Suifu” in the past, and Suifu paper lanterns have a history stretching back hundreds of years ago. Today, Mito is one of Japan’s top producers of paper lanterns, and its lanterns are made with sturdy Japanese washi paper.

 

Another traditional handicraft of Mito is Yanaka no Ome, which is a traditional wooden craftsmanship where locally grown wood such as Japanese cypress (ヒノキ hinoki) and Sawara cypress (サワラ sawara) are bent and held together by bamboo hoops to make items such as barrels and buckets. This technique makes use of the wood’s durability to ensure the items’ lifespan, and the items also have a fresh wooden scent that users can enjoy.

 

Railway station signboard upgrades!

A railway station signboard in Japan. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Ibaraki Prefecture’s railway network includes the Jōban Line, the Suigun Line, and the Mito Line.  All railway stations feature a signboard (駅名標ekimeihyō), which is one of the first things that welcomes all passengers the moment they get off their trains and set foot on the platform.

 

Also as part of Ibaraki’s tourism campaign, 22 railway stations along the 3 train lines mentioned above will be refurbished to reflect the local attractions of the prefecture, with themes ranging from tradition to nature. Here is the list of railway stations selected on the respective train lines:

 

Jōban Line (常磐線)

In total, 13 railway stations on the Jōban Line will have new signboards to showcase each of their unique attractions. Here is a preview of selected railway stations on the train line:

 

(Clockwise from top-right) Signboard designs of Katsuta Station, Ushiku Station, and Mito Station. (Image credit: JR East Mito Branch)

 

  • Katsuta Station (勝田駅): Hitachi Seaside Park (国営ひたち海浜公園 Kokuei Hitachi Kaihin-kōen), home to the iconic baby-blue nemophila and red kochia
  • Ushiku Station (牛久駅): Ushiku Daibutsu (牛久大仏 Ushiku Daibutsu), the largest standing statue in Japan that is made from bronze, with a total height of 120 metres.
  • Mito Station (水戸駅): Kairakuen (偕楽園), a sprawling 350-hectare park that is one of Japan’s “Three Great Gardens” and home to 3,000 glorious plum trees

 

Selected railway stations in Ibaraki along the Jōban Line. (Image credit: Google Maps)

 

There are the 13 railway stations that feature refurbished signboards along the Jōban Line, and they include the major ones below:

① Ushiku Station (牛久駅)

② Tsuchiura Station (土浦駅)

③ Tomobe Station (友部駅)

④ Mito Station (水戸駅)

⑤ Katsuta Station (勝田駅)

 

Suigun Line (水郡線)

The Suigun Line, a lesser-known railway line that serves as a gateway to many amazing sights of Ibaraki’s natural splendour, will also feature selected renewed signboards for five of its railway stations. Here is a sneak peek for some of them:

 

(Clockwise from top-left) Signboard designs for Kami-Sugaya Station, Fukuroda Station, and Hitachi-Daigo Station. (Image credit: JR East Mito Branch)

 

  • Kami-Sugaya Station (上菅谷駅): Swan-viewing at Ichinoseki Tameike Water Park (一ノ関ため池親水公園 Ichinoseki Tameike Shinsuikōen) in Naka City (那珂市 Naka-shi) during winter; Magariya (曲がり屋 Magariya), a historical building featuring a thatched roof, which serves as a venue for several events held throughout the year
  • Fukuroda Station (袋田駅): Fukuroda Falls (袋田の滝 Fukuroda no taki), one of Japan’s “Three Famous Waterfalls”; Okukujiringo apples (奥久慈りんご Okukujiringo), a local specialty of the town
  • Hitachi-Daigo Station (常陸大子駅): Kuji River (久慈川 Kuji-kawa) which flows through the town of Daigo (大子町 Daigo-chō); sweetfish fishing (鮎釣り ayu-zuri); and Eigen-ji Temple (永源寺 Eigen-ji), which is also known as “Maple Leaf Temple” (もみじ寺 Momiji-dera) for its beautiful autumn foliage

 

Selected railway stations in Ibaraki along the Suigun Line. (Image credit: JR East Mito Branch)

 

Here are the five railway stations that feature refurbished signboards along the Suigun Line:

① Kami-Sugaya Station (上菅谷駅)

② Hitachi-Kōnosu Station (常陸鴻巣駅)

③ Fukuroda Station (袋田駅)

④ Hitachi-Daigo Station (常陸大子駅)

⑤ Hitachi-Ōta Station (常陸太田駅)

 

Mito Line (水戸)

For the Mito Line, visitors will get to see new signboard designs for four railway stations. Here is a preview of some of the railway stations:

 

Signboard designs of Shimodate Station (top) and Kasama Station (below). (Image credit: JR East Mito Branch)

 

  • Shimodate Station (下館駅): “Paulownia geta” (桐下駄 Kiri-geta), a traditional craft of Ibaraki; and “Takigi Noh” (薪能 Takigi-nō), an ancient Japanese traditional play
  • Kasama Station (笠間駅): Kasama-ware (笠間焼 Kasama-yaki), a style of Japanese pottery that has been designated as a traditional Japanese craft; chestnuts (栗 kuri), as kasama is Japan’s largest production area for chestnuts (栗 kuri); and Kasama Shrine (笠間稲荷 Kasama Inari), one of Japan’s three major Inari Ōkami shrines (三大稲荷 Sandai Inari).

 

Selected railway stations in Ibaraki along the Mito Line. (Image credit: JR East Mito Branch)

 

Here are the railway stations along the Mito Line with new signboard designs:

① Yūki Station (結城駅)

② Shimodate Station (下館駅)

③ Iwase Station (岩瀬駅)

④ Kasama Station (笠間駅)

 

Embark on an unforgettable cycling adventure!

Cycling along the Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road.

 

Ibaraki is a prefecture that is definitely exploring by rail, but do you know another great way to check it out? By cycling! Ibaraki has plenty of relatively flat terrain that makes it easy for cycling enthusiasts of all levels to enjoy cycling around the prefecture, and one of the most popular cycling routes is Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road (つくば霞ヶ浦りんりんロード Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Rin-Rin Rōdo).

 

Route map of Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road. (Image credit: Google Maps)

 

The Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road is a 180km cycling path located in the southern part of Ibaraki, connecting the Tsukuba cycling path from Iwase Station (岩瀬駅 Iwase-eki) to the Kasumigaura cycling path that spans around Lake Kasumigaura (霞ヶ浦 Kasumi-gaura), one of the largest lakes in Japan.

 

The extensive route offers plenty of unforgettable scenery, from amazing views of the majestic Mount Tsukuba (筑波山 Tsukuba-san), one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains (日本百名山 Nihon Hyaku-meizan), to the placid waters of Lake Kasumigaura. There are also plenty of rest stops for cyclists to rest and even enjoy Ibaraki’s local delicacies along the way!

 

Splendid views along the Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road.

 

Guess what? Visitors from Tokyo can directly access the cycling route via Tsuchiura Station (土浦駅 Tsuchiura-eki) by travelling on the Jōban Line. Visitors can hop on the Limited Express Tokiwa from Tōkyō Station and reach Tsuchiura Station in less than an hour!

 

PLAYatré Tsuchiura at Tsuchiura Station. (Image credit: PLAYatre TSUCHIURA)

 

Interested in cycling and exploring the cycling route as well as Tsuchiura and the surrounding region? Then you don’t want to miss PLAYatré Tsuchiura (PLAYatré土浦), a one-stop location for cycling enthusiasts and those keen on exploring the area by bicycle, and is one of the largest specialised cycling facilities in Japan that can address every cycling need.

 

Level one of PLAYatré Tsuchiura. (Image credit: PLAYatre TSUCHIURA)

 

PLAYatré Tsuchiura has seven levels altogether, and at the first level, visitors can find the BIKE BASE 「りんりんスクエア土浦」 (Rin-Rin Sukuea-Tsuchiura) which features a cycling concierge that they can enquire the different cycling routes and places of interests along the way, and le.cÿc (ル・サイク ru-saiku), a bicycle speciality store that offers various bicycle services such as repair and maintenance, bicycle rental, workshops and seminars, and more.

 

STATION LOBBY at level three of PLAYatré Tsuchiura. (Image credit: PLAYatre TSUCHIURA)

 

Do you know what else is awesome at PLAYatré Tsuchiura? At level three, visitors can find the STATION LOBBY, a waiting area that is unlike any other. The concept of the area is to be “Japan's best station waiting room that makes you want to come to the station an hour early,” and it features amenities such as bicycle racks for cyclists, experience and learning corners, restaurants and more. So a word of advice: you might want to set aside some time to explore this area!

 

Hoshino Resorts BEB5 Tsuchiura. (Image credit: PLAYatre TSUCHIURA)

 

You may have heard of a hotel, but what about a “bicycle hotel”? At PLAYatré Tsuchiura, visitors can enjoy staying at the Hoshino Resorts BEB5 Tsuchiura, a hotel especially for those who enjoy cycling and sightseeing. The hotel bears a chic industrial interior, and is designed to be bicycle-friendly so people can check in and out with their bicycles with ease. There is also a 24-hour lounge where visitors can mingle with each other, and the hotel rooms are equipped with bicycle racks. How cool is that!

 

PLAYatré Tsuchiura (PLAYatré土浦)
Address: 1-30 Ariakecho, Tsuchiura, Ibaraki 300-0035
Access: 1-minute walk from Tsuchiura Station (土浦駅)

 

Closing

Ibaraki may not as popular as its other counterparts in the Kanto Region, but it has plenty of surprises for visitors. Located close to Tokyo, the prefecture is easily accessible by rail and is a haven, particularly for those who enjoy exploring new places by bicycle. Why not consider travelling to Ibaraki for your next railway adventure? You might learn that it has more surprises than you originally thought!

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Planning to visit Ibaraki? Then you might want to consider getting the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass that offers unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains, some Joyful Trains, and the Fuji Excursion) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days.

 

At ¥15,000, the pass enables you to travel around Ibaraki on the Jōban Line, Mito Line, and Suigun Line, as well as to other popular day-trip destinations from Tokyo such as Karuizawa, Nikko, Izu Peninsula, and more. The pass can be used at the automatic ticket gates, and you can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains, and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Header image credit: photoAC

 

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