While places such as Nikko and Kamakura remain tops on the cultural spots to see in the Kanto area, there are a number of really interesting and beautiful places for a day-long getaway closer to home here in Ibaraki. The northern third of Ibaraki is quite mountainous, though none is particularly high in elevation (the highest being just over 1000 m). Within the hills and valleys of this region, however, lie a number of unusual sites, most notably, perhaps, is one of the grandest waterfalls of all Japan, Fukuroda no Taki. This is located near the town of Daigo, and is a must for any sight-seeing trip to northern Ibaraki.
Also located within the Daigo district is a flower garden that is perfect for a mid- to late-June outing. The gardens of the Chofukuji Temple are ablaze in glory with about 1.5 million iris in bloom. This temple is located south of Daigo just off of the main highway (route 118) near the Kamiogawa station (two stops south of the Daigo station of the Koriyama line out of Mito. Thus, if you go by train, you can walk from the station, and after you've seen all you want, go one more station up to Fukuroda station to see the falls as well (about 3 km from the station ­p;­p; there are buses if you don't want to walk).
If you are driving, the easiest way to get there is to take the Joban expressway to the Naka exit (one past Mito) and double back a couple of km to highway 118 and turn right. From there, it is about 40 km up to Daigo. If you have time on the return, we recommend crossing over the mountain behind Fukuroda (going East) and coming back towards Tsukuba in the next valley over, along route 461. The main road itself turns left and up over the next ridge of mountains towards the ocean, but there is a road that continues straight ahead on down the valley. About 4 km down this road is the entrance to Ryujin Dam (Hitachiota City), which is well worth a brief look ­p;­p; both from below and from above, via another road that leads up to the right. Spanning the small lake is a huge suspension bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in Japan. You have to buy a ticket to cross over the bridge, but the view is spectacular when the weather is good.
As you come down the valley further, the road "T's" into route 29. Turn left and follow this road, bearing to the left when it divides a few km down the road. If you're needing to get back to Tsukuba, the best way from that point is to continue through the city of Hitachiota to route 293 and turn left, proceeding over to route 6. The Hitachi Minami Ota interchange is a short distance to the right from there.
If you have a bit more time, however, you might want to check out Mito Komon's country home, called Seizan-so. (Mito Komon was a daimyo ruler of the region some 350 years ago who is famous for disguising himself as a simple man and going out among the people to help solve their problems.) The gardens and house close at 4:30, however, so don't try it if you are running late. There is also an entrance fee (¥500 adults, ¥250 children), but it is well worth it if you want to see a fine example of traditional Japanese architecture. If you are approaching from the north (as part of our loop drive), it's best to bypass the main part of the city of Hitachiota by turning to the right at the "Y" just as you're entering the city proper. This road runs into route 293, where you turn right. From there, it's less than a km to the entrance to Seizan-so, which is a few 100 m off to the left. For a detailed description of Seizan-so, see the Spring '95 issues of "Chotto Ibaraki" put out by the International Division in Mito (available at the Tsukuba Information Center).
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