A Sea of Plum Blossoms
Kairakuen Garden is a gorgeous surprise on a hill in the city of Mito, Ibaraki. When you visit during early March, it feels as though you are in an sea of plum blossoms in whites, pinks, and reds. Thousands of trees bloom during this time, making for a magical visit. I felt so relaxed as I walked among the trees. There were many tour guides around including English speaking guides during the Mito Plum Blossom Festival! Learn about the history of Mito and the park- how the Lord Tokugawa Nariaki built the garden not just for himself, but for all the public to enjoy.
During late February and March, the Mito Ume (Plum) Festival is held. Visit one of the many food vendors for a Japanese snack such as taiyaki (a fish shaped pastry with a variety of fillings) or yakisoba (fried noodles). Also make sure to visit the gift shop for some omiyage (souvenirs for your friends or family) or some Mito memorabilia. While in the garden, make sure to check out the view of Mito and Lake Senba from above! Besides the plum trees, there is also a bamboo grove, small cedar woods, and Kobuntei. Kobuntei is a traditional Japanese building that visitors are welcome to visit.
Kairakuen is definitely a must if visiting Mito. And if you’re in Japan during late February or March, plan to stop at Kairakuen to feel as if you too are in a sea plum trees.
A Relaxing Ride
After entering Kairakuen Garden, I highly recommend taking a ride on a jinrikisha (rickshaw). After sitting down in the jinrikisha, I was handed a Japanese umbrella to hold for some pictures. Then we enjoyed being pulled through the gorgeous plum blossoms all around the garden. I felt like royalty as we rode- people were waving and saying hello! The jinrikisha stopped at several places around the garden to share a little bit more about the location. It was so relaxing and such an enjoyable way to experience the garden and plum blossoms.
A Peaceful Escape
One of my personal favorite spots in Mito is Senba Park. Take a walk or run around the lake on the paved three kilometer walking/jogging path and enjoy spotting wildlife- fish and many types of birds including swans! In late February and March, you can enjoy seeing the ume plum blossoms in the park and the nearby Kairakuen. Then in late March and early April enjoy a walk through the sakura cherry blossoms that surround the lake! It is an experience you don’t want to miss!
You can also rent a swan- shaped pedal boat or rowboat. And next to the lake there are also a couple cafes you can stop at for lunch, a snack, or an ice cream as well as many vending machines if you need something to drink.
Next to the lake lays the rest of the park with pathways and fields as well as more ume plum and sakura cherry blossom trees. On a sunny day, you will find many families and friends having a picnic. It is such a relaxing and friendly atmosphere and worth a visit!
Lunch at Tousuian
After a morning spent at the nearby Kairakuen Garden and Senba Park, the special ume plum lunch set at Tousuian was just the perfect midday meal. The lunch set started with a variety of Japanese appetizers including a delicious monkfish salad, ume plum jellyfish, and konnyaku sashimi (a Japanese food made from the konnyaku yam and then jellied). That was followed by some tempura (fried food) including a natto one. If visiting Mito, you must try natto (sticky fermented soybeans) which the region is famous for. The main course was a pork plum shabu soup which they brought out raw and was cooked at the table over a small flame! It was so delicious, and was served with rice and a side of pickled vegetables. The dessert was chocolate yokan (chocolate with red beans) and a candied green plum- so yummy! They followed the meal up with a special blend of coffee from Saza’s coffee.
The meal was so delicious, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was relaxing yet elegant. I definitely will be returning again!
The Cutest Creme Puffs
When visiting Senba Park, I recommend a stop at Kobun Cafe. With huge windows stretching from the floor to the ceiling, it’s a way to enjoy the lake no matter the weather! Whether ordering lunch, a snack, or just a lemonade, you can’t go wrong here. I ordered a creme puff which they make in the shape of a swan! It was so cute, and I didn’t want to eat it. But when I did, it was delicious. You could order white (vanilla) or black (black sesame). I also tried their sparkling lemonade which I will need to go back to get again! It was so refreshing on a warm day. If you visit the cafe on nice, sunny day, I recommend heading up to the roof to enjoy the view and fresh air- perhaps you can even see the swans swimming while enjoying a swan creme puff!
Tatami D.I.Y. (Do it yourself)!
Perhaps you’ve experienced the traditional Japanese mat- tatami- either at a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) or at a traditional restaurant. But not many people get to make their own. At Tatami No Sekikawa, you can design your own small tatami mat to take home. I got to choose from a variety of omote (cover) colors and heri (border) patterns. Then I was guided through the process of making my own. The guide was so helpful in making sure my piece turned out well. And I can’t wait to find a place for my tatami in my home.
After I finished my mat, we were shown the tatami factory and saw each step of the process. It was so interesting to see how tatami is made on a larger scale and was easier to understand after making my own. Overall, the experience was a fun, interesting, and interactive way to learn about the Japanese tatami.