Sep 022013

Two weeks ago, on August 21st, 30 third-year junior high school students from Itoigawa departed on a study tour of Itoigawa’s Sister Geopark, the Hong Kong Global Geopark.


During their stay in Hong Kong, the weather was cloudy and rainy. They had initially prepared themselves for Hong Kong’s stifling heat but, thanks to the clouds and rain, were spared from the burning August sun.

Boat Tour

On the 2nd day, the group toured the Hong Kong Geopark, located within Hong Kong’s surprisingly rural New Territories. In addition to a boat tour of the Geopark, they were also given an opportunity to land on and visit two islands which house traditional villages far removed from the skyscrapers and bright lights of Metropolitan Hong Kong.

View from Boat

Traditional Village

The scenery on the islands and within the villages of the Hong Kong Geopark were like nothing the students had ever seen.

After dinner, the students went to view the nightscape of Hong Kong, but the fog was heavy and so the summit of Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Peak was not visible. Sadly, the fog ensured that Hong Kong’s famous “Million Dollar View” could only be appraised at about 500 grand that night.

Touring High Island
On the 3rd day, the students from Itoigawa had an opportunity to meet with local students from Hong Kong and tour more of the Geopark together. At lunchtime shyness got the better of the students and they said very little to each other, but by the end of the exchange they were exchanging mail addresses and promising to write each other! Hopefully some closer friendships will develop through continued correspondence.

View of Hong Kong

On the 4th day of their stay in Hong Kong, the group toured the city of Hong Kong and learned more about how people live there. While they spent the entire day in the city, enjoying a wide range of sights and visiting many landmarks, the students reported that it felt like they were there for only a moment. They certainly want to visit again to experience more of this beautiful city.

It was a great five days for the students who participated and they learned a great deal about our Sister Geopark in Hong Kong. Through programs like this we hope to continue to foster close relationships with other geoparks both here in Asia and aroud the world!


Aug 202013

Good afternoon, everyone! As you may know, last Saturday was the 2013 Play & Learn at the Itoigawa Global Geopark event.

The Itoigawa Global Geopark Learn & Play event gets set up at Oyashirazu Pier Park

The Itoigawa Global Geopark Learn & Play event gets set up at Oyashirazu Pier Park

Learn & Play is a yearly event which invites young and old alike to participate in a variety of fun (and educational!) activities related to the Itoigawa Global Geopark. Held toward the end of summer vacation, Learn & Play has something for everyone:

Geopark staff and volunteers help children and parents identify rocks

Geopark staff and volunteers help children and parents identify rocks

One of the main activities offered was the creation of rock sample cases. The beaches of Oyashirazu are a treasure trove of rocks of  many kinds and origins. Geopark staff members, volunteer guides, and students from the Niigata University Geology Department were on hand to assist in the identification and labeling of specimens.

Children and adults try their hand at making magatama beads

Children and adults try their hand at making magatama beads

Perhaps the most popular activity was magatama bead making. In this activity, instructors taught guests how to make their own magatama beads, using techniques similar to those employed by the Jomon people millennia ago here in Itoigawa. Rather than use jade, which is exceptionally hard and requires countless hours of grinding and polishing to work using traditional methods, visitors made their beads out of talc. The earliest Jomon people similarly used talc to produce their first beads, owing to its soft and easily malleable nature.

Children paint rocks they've collected

Children paint rocks they’ve collected

Another activity offered was rock painting. Here, children were encouraged to collect rocks with interesting shapes and to paint them based on how they thought they appeared. You may remember the post from last week in which we made a few examples of these.

Learn & Play 2013Overall, the event was a great success! Apart from these three activities, visitors could also participate in a seaside treasure hunt and an Oyashirazu Pier Park-themed quiz! Hundreds of people came out to take part in the event and we’d like to thank all of them. We hope to see you next year as well!




Aug 162013

Good morning, everyone! Ishikoro here, reporting from the (at least recently!) ever sunny Itoigawa Geopark!

Today I’d like to share with you one of the features of the Kotakigawa Jade Gorge Geosite: The Jade Gorge Fishing Park.

Mt. Myojo rises over the Fishing Park

Mt. Myojo rises over the Fishing Park

The Jade Gorge Fishing Park centers around an artificially-formed branch of the Kotakigawa River, using the river’s natural flow. It offers visitors, beginners and experienced anglers alike, an opportunity to try mountain stream fishing. Among the fish found swimming in this stream are varieties of char, rainbow trout,  and other freshwater trout. After catching the trout, the park has facilities available for cleaning and grilling the fish to enjoy right there.

The price for fishing (which includes rod, bait, basket, and a limit of 5 fish) is 2000 yen.

Visitors try their hands at hand-fishing

Visitors try their hands at hand-fishing

Last Sunday, the Fishing Park hosted its annual Char and Trout Festival, offering visitors a variety of ways to enjoy the cold mountain stream water and the fish that inhabit it.

The Fishing Park will remain open everyday from 9am until 4pm until August 25th. After that, the park will open only on weekends and holidays. Plan a trip here soon, before summer vacation ends.


Aug 142013

Good afternoon, everyone, from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!

Today, we did some preparation for the Itoigawa Geopark Learn & Play event that will be held at Oyashirazu Pier Park this Saturday (August 17th).

Jade CoastFirst we went to the Jade Coast, a popular beach near Downtown Itoigawa.

Scouring the ShoresAnd then, we began our search! But what are we looking for?

Rocks!Rocks! Of course we are looking for rocks! We collected bags of them and brought them back into the office.

But what did we do with those rocks? You’ll have to come to Oyashirazu Pier Park on Saturday if you want to find out!



Itoigawa Geopark Learn & Play 2013
Place: Oyashirazu Pier Park
Time: August 17 10:00am – 2:30pm
Open to Anyone and Everyone!




Aug 122013

Good morning, everyone, from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! It’s shaping up to be another sweltering August Day today, but we’re all working hard here in the office!

Last week, I was unable to write a blog about it, but this morning I would like to share with you one of Itoigawa’s largest summer festivals which was held here on the 3rd:  The Omanta Festival.

Omanta Festival Dancers

Community members join in the dancing that forms the main event at the Omanta Festival.

Omanta’ is a word in the Itoigawa dialect of Japanese that translates to “you (plural).” It is a word that is unique to Itoigawa and so it is only natural that it come to represent just what it means to be a citizen of Itoigawa.

The Omanta Matsuri or Omanta Festival is held on the first weekend of August every year. It starts early Saturday morning with the usual shrine processions and culminates in a large bon odori, a style of traditional Japanese dance that is performed in a large circle. The bon odori at Itoigawa’s Omanta Festival is danced by nearly 3000 members, divided up into over 50 teams. The entire dance is performed in front of Itoigawa Station, around roughly two blocks.

Picture of Itoigawa's Mascots

Mascots of Itoigawa and the Geopark pose for pictures.

This year’s festival saw the introduction of a new mascot for Itoigawa, standing third from the right: Gyofu-san. Modeled after Gyofu Souma, a famous poet and writer from Itoigawa, Gyofu-san was created to introduce the traditional arts of Itoigawa to the younger generations.

Mascots dancing

Mascots join in the bon odori

The mascots even had an opportunity to join members of the Itoigawa Geopark Staff in the festivities of the evening.

On the 10th, Nou District celebrated with their fireworks festival. I’ll be sure to post about that before the week is out.


Jun 102013

Good afternoon, everyone! This weekend I had the opportunity to visit Omotesando, the large, highscale shopping avenue often called the ChampsÉlysées of Tokyo. I of course made a point to stop by Nespace, Niigata’s Tourism Information Center in Tokyo.

2013-06-09 13.11.00Located a short walk from the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line’s Omotesando Station, Nespace offers convention space, tourism information, a variety of Niigata products, and a restaurant/cafe specializing in Niigata delicacies.

2013-06-09 12.57.46Inside, Itoigawa’s Makochan Udon, which I introduced earlier in this blog, is available for the first time outside of Niigata.

2013-06-09 13.00.22Also available is a wide selection of sakes. Niigata is one of the major sake-producing regions of Japan and with 5 local breweries, Itoigawa is no exception. In the center of this photograph are two of Itoigawa’s sakes available for purchase in Nespace, Tsukimizu-no-ike on the left and Nechi Otokoyama on the right.

Before coming to visit Itoigawa, why not sample some of Niigata’s treats in Tokyo?




May 272013

Good morning from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!

I’m posting this to apologize for the lack of updates, but as we draw ever nearer to our re-certification, we just keep getting busier and busier! We are working harder than ever before to ensure the Itoigawa Global Geopark is worthy of that title!

Things look to be calming down a little bit, so keep posted here for more updates about news and events from around the Geopark!


May 072013

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! Today is the first day back from Golden Week, a long series of holidays in late April and early May. I’m feeling well-rested and ready to start working again to bring you the latest information from Itoigawa!

My Golden Week was a relaxed one. While most people use the long holiday as an opportunity to travel far and wide, I’m quite content to enjoy the sights right here in Itoigawa. I’ll share one of those locations with you today!

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Nanasha-Ookami, a small shrine located in the Rendaiji District of Central Itoigawa, is a quiet shrine on a hilltop. It is unknown how long this shrine has existed.

2013-04-29 15.54.18 turn

The shrine has a surprisingly large grounds for its size, making it an excellent place to stop and forget the outside world for a few moments.

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Of particular interest is this building, located beside the main shrine. Called the Gohyakurakando, or Hall of the 500 Enlightened. This building houses a large collection of Buddhist statues, carved during the early 1800s by a single priest who lived nearby.

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Another view of the Gohyakurakando from behind the main shrine building.
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Such displays can be found throughout Japan and Itoigawa is no exception. The statues were carved by a single priest over the course of 10 years. He placed these statues in his temple, which has since been lost, as a way of praying for the people of his community. A popular folk legend says that if you look long enough at the faces of these statues, each one unique, you will find your own face among them.

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I just hope mine isn’t the guy on the left with the shoulder problem.



Apr 232013

Good afternoon again from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! Today I’d like to share with you another upcoming event in Itoigawa: The Spring Flowers of Itoigawa Bus Tour!

Organized by the Itoigawa Bus Company, this tour will run every day from Saturday, May 11th until Wednesday, May 22nd, the perfect time of year for seeing some of the late spring flowers of Itoigawa.

When most people think of Japan in the spring, they naturally think of cherry blossoms. While the cherry blossom is without a doubt Japan’s most famous and most popular flower, spring brings with it a wealth of other flowers to enjoy. This tour gives participants an opportunity to enjoy two of Itoigawa’s main late spring flowers: wisteria and azaleas.


The first stop on the tour is here at Tsukimizu-no-Ike Pond, part of the Tsukimizu-no-Ike Geosite. This small pond has long been known for its beautiful wild wisteria plants which bloom in mid- to late-May. The pond itself is also a beautiful sight, with massive boulders scattered about it when it was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when a nearby mountain collapsed.


The bus will also visit nearby Aramachi’s Wisteria Festival, in which local townsfolk display their own prized wisteria plants. These plants can be seen along the main road that passes through the Aramachi District. The village also has a few nice shops selling locally produced sweets and other goods.


IMG_5363The tour will end at the Kaneko Azalea Garden. This garden, planted on a privately-owned hill with over 3500 azaleas, has been planted and cared for by the same family for two generations. The view from the top is stunning, with thousands of azaleas spreading in all directions.

In addition, the bus tour will visit the Tanimura Museum of Art and Gyokusui-en Garden, where lunch will be provided.

If after the cherry blossom season ended you feel you haven’t quite had your fill of flower-viewing, be sure to take this opportunity to enjoy more of the spring scenery here in Itoigawa.




  • Time: Saturday, May 11 – Wednesday, May 22nd
    • Bus departs at 10:10am in front of the Jade Kingdom Center by Itoigawa Station
  • Tickets: 2900 yen for adults   1900 yen for children 12 and under
    • Price includes lunch and all admission fees
  • Please dress for the weather and in clothing and shoes suitable for walking

Apr 102013

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! Today is the day of the Itoigawa Kenka Matsuri. The weather is not the best festival weather, but there was still a huge turnout and the festival was definitely a success! Unfortunately, I was unable to attend personally, so instead I want to share something else with you today:

Asian Skunk CabbageThis plant is called mizubashou or ‘water banana’ in Japanese, a name derived from the shape of its leaves. In English, it is known by the name Asian skunk cabbage. They are related to the skunk cabbage found in Western North America, but unlike their pungent American cousins, they have no noticeable smell. They are also not particularly cabbagey either.

Mizubashou Colony

These plants grow in marshes and wetlands throughout Japan and the Russian Far East. Generally speaking, these plants only grow in alpine and subalpine zones, but here they grow at an unusually low elevation of only 5m. Only about 1km from the coast, it is not only the lowest-growing colony of Asian skunk cabbage in Japan, it is also the closest to the sea.

Because of this, they are very easily viewed when they blossom in late March and early April. I rode a bicycle from central Itoigawa and was there in about 20 minutes!

MizubashouWhile mizubashou may not be as famous as Japan’s many cherry blossoms, they are a much-loved spring flower here in Itoigawa. Their simple beauty and rarity in the wild makes them a treasure to flower enthusiasts across the country.