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 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!


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 022013

Good afternoon everyone from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! I think today we can officially call a beautiful spring day. The sun is shining (sorta!) and it’s too warm to go out wearing a coat!

On my way back in from lunch I noticed the rest of the trees in front of city hall:

Ready to Pop!They are ready to pop any day now! Given enough time and more of this warm weather, they will be in full bloom and ready for the flower viewing season.

Cherry Blossoms at Amatsu ShrineDo you see that paper? Do you know what it is? Or where this tree might be?

Amatsu ShrineOf course, that paper is an omikuji. A sacred fortune purchased at shrines. The cherry tree is one in front of Amatsu Shrine, Itoigawa’s largest and historically most important shrine. It’s looking like the trees will be in bloom in time for Amatsu Shrine’s Grand Spring Festival.

Amastsu Shrine's Grand Spring FestivalThe Grand Spring Festival is only about a week away! Read this blog over the next few days to keep updated on it.






Apr 012013

It’s a beautiful day today as we go into April here at the Itoigawa Global Geopark! It’s not quite cherry blossom season yet, but this morning I spotted one early bloomer in front of Itoigawa City Hall:

Early Sakura

Cherry blossoms in front of Itoigawa City Hall

Only a few trees have bloomed and, even then, they aren’t even close to full bloom, but it’s a beautiful sample of the show to come!

Keep posted for more images of the spectacular sights of Itoigawa and the Itoigawa Global Geopark!


Mar 182013

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! The weather recently has been pretty ridiculous here. Warm and sunny spring one day, cold and snowy winter the next! Today, it is fantastically warm, but overcast and raining off and on. Hopefully spring comes soon! As it comes we prepare for that most Japanese of spring activities: Cherry blossom viewing.

But rather than the typical picnic and sake style of viewing, why not try it in a more ‘Geo’ style?

Weeping Cherries and Reflection


Our friends over at Itoigawa Base introduced me to the 4th Annual Weeping Cherry Flower Road Hiking Tour in Tokuai.

Many of you may know of Tokuai as half of the Tsutsuishi-Hamatokuai Geosite.  This geosite, the farthest east of all Itoigawa’s geosites, sits along the border of neighboring Joetsu City.  Traditional fishing villages and terraced farmland characterize this geosite’s scenery:

Tsutsuishi Fishing Village

Terraced Fields of Tokuai









About 20 years ago, the Tokuai Furasato Organization, a local Not-for-Profit Group, planted nearly 300 weeping cherry trees throughout Tokuai. Now that they have grown, we can enjoy their blossoms in the spring. They now plan yearly hiking trips through the area of Tokuai to view these blossoms, the local traditional scenery, and geological beauty of the Tokuai region.

Weeping Cherry & House


So if you find yourself in Itoigawa during April, why not take the time to enjoy cherry blossom viewing the “Geo” way, through this guided hike through the countryside?

Date: April 14, 2013
Time: 9am—2pm
Place: Tokuai (About a 20-30 minute walk from Tsutsuishi Station)
Fee: 1000 yen (includes pork soup and mochi [rice cake])
Facebook Event Page (Currently Japanese-only)

Please wear comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for hiking. Pork soup and mochi will be served, but please also bring a light lunch and plenty of water.
Be mindful of the weather.



Feb 192013

Good afternoon, everyone!

The rain from yesterday has let up, but it’s colder than ever now! It seems spring is still teasing us.

Do you know about the JR Oito Line? The Oito Line runs from Itoigawa Station through the Himekawa Gorge to Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. The region it runs through receives a great deal of snowfall throughout the winter season. Enough so that it must occasionally be closed to allow for snow removal.

Waiting for the Train in Snow

To make the best out of a bad situation, on Saturday, February 23rd, JR workers will host the “Snow Removal and Snow Play Tour.”  Adults and children alike are invited to ride the Oito Line from Itoigawa Station to Hiraiwa Station to play in the deep snow…

Playing in the Snow


…and see the snow removal trains in action! (all pictures are from last year’s event)

Snow Removal Train


‘Tonjiru’ pork soup will be served for lunch and after the event participants are invited to bathe in the hot springs at nearby Hotel Kunitomi. It should be a fun day for adults and children alike, so if you’re interested, please stop on by!


Time: Saturday, February 23rd
Meet at JR Itoigawa Station at 7:50am

Location: Hiraiwa Station and Hotel Kunitomi

Cost: Adults 1500 yen, Children 12 and under 700 yen, Infants free
(Children should be accompanied by a parent or guardian)

Limit 80 people on a first-come basis

Please bring the following: Gloves, winter clothing, boots, and a light lunch.