History Trip in Ibaraki (Part one): Kodokan and Kairakuen

From Feb. 7 through 8, we went on a monitor trip to experience the history of Ibaraki Prefecture.

We mainly visited historical tourist spots around Mito City and Kasama City in Ibaraki Prefecture, including Kodokan, Kairakuen, Lake Senba, Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum, Kasama Inari-jinja Shrine, and the Doll Festival Display at Makabe.

Ibaraki Prefecture is in the northeast area of the Kanto region and adjacent to Chiba, Saitama, Tochigi and Fukushima prefectures.

First, we visited Mito City, the prefectural capital of Ibaraki Prefecture. Mito was the domain of the Mito Tokugawa branch family and many people from Mito played a major role around the time of the Meiji Restoration in the middle of the 19th century. The Mito Tokugawa clan started from Tokugawa Yorifusa (1603~1661), the 11th son of Tokugawa Ieyasu (the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate), and governed the Mito domain (current central and northern Ibaraki Prefecture) during the Edo period. The 9th lord, Tokugawa Nariaki (1800-1860), established the famous Kairakuen garden and the Kodokan han school in Mito City.

The statue of Tokugawa Nariaki in front of Kodokan


Kodokan was built in 1841 as the han (domain) school of Mito, which was roughly equivalent to a university in the present time. Seimon (main gate), Seicho (official reception hall), and Shizendo (nobility hall) are national important cultural properties.

Seimon (main gate). It opened when the domain lord visited and other formal occasions.
Seicho Shoyakukaisho (the antechamber for visitors)

Room numbers 2, 3, and 4 of Shizendo are study rooms.
We visited in winter and had to take off our shoes and stand on the cold floor and tatami. Our feet felt like freezing because there was no heat at Shizendo to warm the facility. We were impressed that people in the past had studied in this chilling coldness.

“Dainihonshi,” or the “Great History of Japan,” was compiled by the order of the 2nd lord of the Mito domain, Tokugawa Mitsukuni.

Document exibition room

By installing app “MITO-no-KOTO,” you can see explanation in English.




While Kodokan was an academic and martial arts training facility, Kairakuen was a place where people had a rest in their spare time. It was based on the concept of Tokugawa Nariaki that comes from a phrase of Confucius, “tension and relaxation,” which means it is important for you to be sometimes relaxed and not only study single-mindedly.

The name Kairakuen was inspired by a phrase of Mencius (another Confucian). Kairakuen was built not just for the lord and his retainers, but also for the common people. Kairakuen is counted as one the Three Great Gardens of Japan, along with Kenrokuen in Kanazawa City (Ishikawa Pref.) and Korakuen in Okayama City (Okayama Pref.).

Entering from the front gate is recommended.

Front Gate

You can experience “the world of yin and yang” that Tokugawa Nariaki intended to create through the route to Kobuntei (villa) via a bamboo grove, Togyokusen (a spring), and a cedar forest.

Mysterious Bamboo Grove

The location and design of Kobuntei was decided by Tokugawa Nariaki himself. “Kobun” means ume plums, and it is said that Nariaki liked ume very much.

View of Kobuntei from Inside Kairakuen

“Sakura” room was a room for female attendants of the lord’s wife

Views of ume trees and Lake Senba from the 3rd floor of Kobuntei

Nariaki also looked out upon a beautiful view from Rakujuro.

Nariaki, who loved ume, planted many ume trees in Kairakuen and around Kodokan. An Ume Festival is held every year, and it takes place from Feb. 16 (Sat) through Mar. 31 (Sun) this year (2019).

We visited on Feb. 7. About 10% of the flowers were blooming.

Kairakuen is lit up as a “Promenade of Light” from Feb. 23 (Sat) through Mar. 21 (Thur, holiday), creating a fantastic night view.

(Provided by Ibaraki Prefecture)

At “Miharashi-tei,” which is also a tourist information center for Kairakuen, you can get multi-language sightseeing brochures of Ibaraki Prefecture and Wi-Fi service.

A voice-guided navigation of Kairakuen is also available in Japanese, English and Chinese.

Don’t forget to buy Ibaraki and Mito souvenirs.

Ibaraki Prefecture produces about 90% of the national output of hoshi-imo (dried sweet potatoes).





Lunch: Kenchin-soba (buckwheat noodles with various ingredients)

For lunch, we ate Kenchin-soba, which is one of Ibaraki’s local specialties.

We ate at soba restaurant Mikawa.

Buddhist vegetarian dish “Kenchin-shojin-gozen”: 1,750 yen (tax included)

Since Ibaraki Prefecture is home to mountains, such as Mt. Tsukuba, and faces to the Pacific Ocean, it is blessed with abundant vegetables, fruits, and fish from mountains and the sea. The hot noodles with generous seasonal vegetables warmed our body and soul.

Kobun Cafe

After lunch we took a walk around Lake Senba near Kairakuen and took a break at Kobun Café.

We rested and relaxed while enjoying the view of Lake Senba and eating Senba Hakucho Puff, whose shape looks like a white swan.

Hakucho (white swan) Puff has a custard flavor, and Kokucho (black swan) Puff has a black sesame flavor.

You can enjoy a fine, expansive view from the rooftop of Kobun Café.

I rang Kibo-no-kane (bell of hope) on the rooftop!



Dinner: Anko-nabe (monkfish hot pot)

After teatime, we went to Tokugawa Museum and Kimuraya-honten, which is a venerable Japanese confectionery shop established in 1860, and visited Gotetsu Mukyoan to eat Ibaraki’s winter specialty Anko-nabe (a hot pot meal) for dinner.

Anko-nabe course 4,400 yen (tax not included)

The best season to eat anko (monkfish) is October to March. Monkfish is a tender fish and you can eat all but the bones. Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the major production areas of monkfish in Japan.

Antipasto: Aspic of monkfish, white meat dressed in rice malt, ovary and skin, liver and organs

Anko-nabe (monkfish hotpot)
Deep-fried Monkfish Paste

Zosui (rice with soup) is rich with monkfish flavor. I ate it all, even though my stomach was already full.








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The information herein is as of February 2019
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