Apr 162014

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! It’s becoming warmer every day in Itoigawa. The snow is melting from the mountains, feeding the many rivers and streams of the Geopark.

The largest of these rivers is the Himekawa, which flows from Omachi City in Nagano to the Sea of Japan in Itoigawa. The river cuts through the Northern Alps and a wide variety of stones can be found along its banks and those of its tributaries.

Visitors to the Stone Park enter at the mouth of the river, represented here

Visitors to the Stone Park enter at the mouth of the river, represented here

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation, and Tourism’s Takada River and National Highway Office has, in cooperation with the Itoigawa Geopark, created the Himekawa Fureai Stone Park. This park has been designed as a model of the Himekawa River and its main tributaries. As visitors walk  on the promenade, they can see examples of the types of stones which are found along that river.


From limestone in Himekawa…

Jadeite…to the jadeite of Kotakigawa…

Yakuseki…to yakuseki…


…andesite and more!

Stroll through the Himekawa Fureai Stone Park during your next visit to Itoigawa and witness the beauty and diversity in the earth you walk upon.





Apr 142014

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! Apart from the sudden downpour during the Itoigawa Kenka Matsuri, the weather has continued to be clear and beautiful.

Last weekend was perhaps the best time for viewing the many cherry trees blossoming throughout the Itoigawa Geopark. I had a bit of free time myself on Saturday, so I took the opportunity to visit the Himekawa River Cherry Tree Park.

Cherry trees line the embankment of the Himekawa River

Cherry trees line the embankment of the Himekawa River

The Himekawa River Cherry Tree Park is built atop the levee which protects Itoigawa from the flood-prone Himekawa River.

The cherry trees were in near full bloom on Saturday

The cherry trees were in near full bloom on Saturday

The cherry blossoms, called sakura in Japanese, were in near full bloom. At the park, a number of people were out walking their dogs, photographing the trees, or just relaxing as the evening sun lit the delicate flowers.

The Kubiki/Umidani Mountains

The Kubiki/Umidani Mountains

Far in the south, the Kubiki/Umidani Mountains provide a perfect backdrop. These mountains, ranging  from about 1000 to 2500 meters (3300 – 8200ft) in height, form the Gongendake, Yakeyama, Umidani Gorge, and Amakazariyama Geosites.

Mt. Kurohime (right) and Mt. Myojo (left back)

Mt. Kurohimeyama (right) and Mt. Myojo (left back)

To the west across the river, Mt. Kurohimeyama (1221m) and Mt. Myojo (1188m) were nearly as beautiful as the flowers were. Mt. Kurohimeyama, the imposing mountain to the right, is located between the Maikomidaira and Omigawa Jade Gorge Geosites. Mt. Myojo, the distant, nearly all-white triangular peak to the left, is located in the center of the Kotakigawa Jade Gorge.

There is still time during this week to enjoy the cherry blossoms, but don’t delay: They may not last through the weekend.


Apr 112014

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!

Yesterday was the Amatsu Shrine Grand Spring Festival, which is better known as the Itoigawa Kenka Matsuri. I wrote about this festival in my last post, so I won’t bore you with the particulars again, I’m just going to share some pictures from yesterday’s festival:

Shrine and Cherry Blossoms

The cherry blossoms were in near full bloom yesterday, providing a beautiful backdrop to the day’s festivities.

Unfortunately, just before the main event, it began to rain quite heavily, but that didn’t dishearten the teams of men carrying their shrines:


And as the shrines came down to bear upon each other, it was easy to forget the cold rain in all the excitement:

Kenka Mikoshi

Kenka Mikoshi 2

A great big thank you is in order for the men of Oshiage and Teramachi districts, their perseverance made this year’s Itoigawa Kenka Matsuri possible!





Apr 022014

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!

Although the first day of spring was over a week ago, it’s taken a little while longer for it to really feel like spring here in Itoigawa.

Ume (Japanese apricot) flowers blossom in front of Itoigawa City Hall

Ume (Japanese apricot) flowers blossom in front of Itoigawa City Hall

An ume (Japanese apricot) tree in front of Itoigawa City Hall has started to blossom, with hundreds of delicate flowers scattered across its branches.

Unfortunately, the cherry trees are only now beginning to bud, so it may be a week or more before we see them.

Stay posted for more pictures of spring in the Itoigawa Global Geopark!


Feb 122014

Good morning everyone from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!

After several days of snow, sleet, and freezing temperatures, the sun has deigned to grace us with its presence, even if only for a moment.

The Northern Alps as seen from City Hall.

The Northern Alps as seen from City Hall. Click to enlarge.

The weather offers a beautiful view of the Northern Alps. Particularly stunning is Mt. Kurohimeyama. Despite being relatively small at only about 1200m, Kurohimeyama’s location close to the coast makes it one of the most visually impressive mountains visible from central Itoigawa. Made entirely out of limestone, the mountain is the site of a large quarry.

Just to the left of center in the image is the peak of Mt. Myojo. About the same height as Kurohimeyama, Myojo is located within the Kotakigawa Jade Gorge. The view of Mt. Myojo from the gorge is one of the most amazing within the Itoigawa Global Geopark.

Itoigawa Station and Downtown Itoigawa

Itoigawa Station and Downtown Itoigawa

Downtown Itoigawa and the Hokuriku Shinkansen Itoigawa Station looked beautiful in the snow as well. Due to open in Spring 2015, the Hokuriku Shinkansen will provide fast, easy access by bullet train to and from Itoigawa, Tokyo, and Nagano. While the local train line station has been completed, work still continues on Shinkansen station and platforms. When it opens, Itoigawa Station will be the closest Shinkansen Station to the Sea of Japan.

Enjoy the snow while it lasts!

Until next time,


 Posted by at 12:11 PM
Nov 262013

This Sunday, after months of construction, the new Itoigawa Station is going to be (mostly) complete!

The North Entrance to the newly built Itoigawa Station

The North Entrance to the newly built Itoigawa Station

The local rail terminal and North Entrance to Itoigawa Station is for the most part complete. A gangi, or Japanese-style roof over a footpath, is still to be built on the walkway in front of the station. This part of the station will be open for use starting December 1st. To the left of the picture is part of the old Itoiagawa Station which had been converted into a small temporary station during the construction process. From December 1st this building will be reconverted back into station offices.

The JR Itoigawa Station South Entrance and Shinkansen Building

The JR Itoigawa Station South Entrance and Shinkansen Building

On the other side of Itoigawa Station, work continues on the South Entrance and the platform for the Hokuriku Shinkansen which is scheduled to open in early 2015. Until this construction is complete, only the North Entrance of the station will be usable.

The entrance to Itoigawa Station, still closed off until Sunday

The entrance to Itoigawa Station, still closed off until Sunday

Join us Sunday morning when the gates are opened and the first passengers enter the station! The City of Itoigawa and Japan Rail will be hosting a celebratory event from 10am. Check back here tomorrow for more information!


Nov 112013

From last Thursday until Saturday, 29 students and 6 staff of the Kau Yan School in Hong Kong visited the Itoigawa Global Geopark. They were accompanied with one staff member of the Hong Kong Geopark. This marks the first student exchange from Hong Kong Geopark to Japan.

Students from Kau Yan School in the Fossa Magna Museum

Geopark staff greet the Hong Kong students at Itoigawa StationStaff of the Itoigawa Global Geopark greeted students as they arrived at Itoigawa Station. Under heavy construction while preparing for the new Hokuriku Shinkansen, the station was quite cramped so we had to move the students quickly. A heavy storm had rolled in, bringing concerns of train delays and cancellations, but the students arrived safely and on time.

Marutanbo - Oyashirazu Community LodgeAfter rounding the students up onto buses, we brought them to where they would be staying during their visit to Itoigawa. Located within the Oyashirazu Geosite, Marutanbo is a beautiful lodge and community center operated by a local fishing family. With a beautiful view of the Sea of Japan and the cliffs of Oyashirazu, it offers a tranquil alternative to the hotels and inns of central Itoigawa. The meals provided include a bounty of local ingredients, including fish freshly caught by the owners.

Exchange with Itoigawa StudentsTheir visit to Itoigawa began with a trip to Itoigawa Elementary School, where they had an opportunity to interact with local students their age. Despite the language barrier, the two groups of students were able to enjoy their time together, playing a variety of games.

HK students visit Fossa Magna MuseumNext, the students visited Fossa Magna Museum to learn more about Itoigawa Global Geopark and its connection to Hong Kong as a Sister Geopark. The children were particularly delighted by the large collection of jade and other precious and captivating stones on display at the museum.

P1920143Next, we took the children to Nou River, where they tried salmon catching for the first time. We were worried how children from Hong Kong would react to this experience, but we were happy to see how much they enjoyed it.

P1920157While some were a bit startled by how quickly salmon can move, they soon became pros at sneaking up behind to grab them by the tail.

2013-11-08 17.09.04There final visit of the program was to Itoigawa’s Kaiyo High School, located in the Nou District, to observe a training session of the local world champion sumo team. The students seemed to be very impressed with the performance, and one student even accepted the challenge of the local grand champion:

P1920213We were all very sad to see them go, but we hope they enjoyed their time here in Itoigawa and look forward to more student exchanges in the future.



Let’s hope for many more years of close friendship between Hong Kong and Itoigawa.











Oct 242013

Good afternoon everyone from the Itoigawa Geopark! As late season typhoons continue to  draw close to Japan, we prepare for more unseasonably warm and rainy weather.

During a brief break in the rain, a friend of mine and I had the opportunity to visit Itoigawa’s mountains for some light hiking. We packed our bags and drove up to the Umidani Gorge Geosite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe main visitor’s facility for Umidani Gorge Geopark is Sankyo Park, which features ample parking, camping facilities, and an observation deck. The park is the starting point for two trails, one which climbs up to the peak of Mt. Komagatake and another which winds down into the Umidani Gorge. It is the second trail which we decided to take.

2013-10-13 10.22.51Upon arriving at the trail head, the massive rock face of Mt. Senjogatake immediately commands our attention. At only about 1200m (about 3900 feet), Senjogatake is not a particularly tall mountain, but its shape and bands of exposed andesite give it a striking appearance.

The mountain itself is the remnants of a once submarine volcano. The diagonal bands were formed by the repeated flows of magma. They were exposed when the mountain was split by a combination of plate tectonics and erosion by the Umigawa River which flows through the gorge.

2013-10-13 10.46.26Walking down the trail, we caught this beautiful view of the appropriately named Nametaki, or Licking Falls, spilling down into the gorge below.

2013-10-13 11.18.13Continuing further down into the gorge, we drew ever closer to the Umigawa River below. Seeing such a small river, it is difficult to believe that it could have carved such a massive gorge.

2013-10-13 10.50.53As we came to the point where the trail crosses the river, we came to the city posted warning sign. The Umigawa River, like so many rivers in Japan, may be small, but its force should never be underestimated. After rains, snowmelts, and other situations which cause the river to swell, it is important to never attempt fording the Umigawa as its swift currents can easily sweep away even an experienced hiker. When the river is calmer, it is fairly trivial (albeit wet) to cross.

2013-10-13 10.56.45We finally arrived at the river itself. Filled with massive boulders and gushing rapids, the crossing can be a bit daunting for the inexperienced, even on relatively calm days. My friend and I had a fairly tight schedule, so we crossed only halfway to a comfortable-looking boulder to enjoy a late breakfast. Had we had more time, we could’ve continued the extra 30-40 minutes to the stunning Umidani Highlands deeper within the gorge.

2013-10-13 11.20.01On our way back up, I took a few pictures of the trail itself. For most of the trek, it is quite narrow. It is important to walk slowly and to take extra care when the ground is slippery. Make use of the safety ropes wherever they are installed.

2013-10-13 11.30.39Despite being mid-October, we were too early for Umidani’s usually stunning autumn foliage; only a few trace hints of yellow were visible in the trees. But the weather was beautiful and it was a near perfect day for hiking. I hope the next opportunity I get to hike will be more colorful.











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.



Apr 032013

Good afternoon again from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! The weather has taken a bad turn and it’s become a bit chilly and rainy today. Nevertheless, I intend to keep you up-to-date on the sakura, or cherry blossoms!

Clouds, Sakura, and TemplesDespite the inclement weather, more and more of the blossoms are starting to bloom. While not a welcome sight, the grey storm clouds do provide a nice contrast with vibrant greens and pinks of the flowers. In the background is the entrance to Hodenji Temple, a Buddhist temple across the street from City Hall.

Rain is, without a doubt, essential for cherry trees to grow and blossom, but it can be destructive when it happens at an inopportune time:

Dropped Petals

These petals and blossoms were stripped from the early-blooming trees in front of City Hall. Wind and rain can have a terrible effect on flowering trees such as these sakura.

For lunch today I was downtown, in front of Itoigawa Station, where I noticed this:

New Itoigawa StationThe scaffolding around the new Itoigawa Station has begun to come down. In front is that is left of the old Itoigawa Station, which is currently acting as a temporary station while construction continues. The new Itoigawa Station will be ready in time for the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen High Speed Railway, which will connect Itoigawa directly to Tokyo by bullet train in 2014. I’m not sure which I’m looking forward to more, seeing cherry blossoms or seeing the fully completed Itoigawa Station!

Keep checking this blog for more updates on Itoigawa’s sakura and the new train station!