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 052013

Good afternoon again from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!

Box Seating ConstructionProgress continues at Amatsu Shrine in preparation for the Grand Spring Festival. These temporary box seats are built every year to accommodate the crowds of people who gather to watch the ‘action’ of the kenka mikoshi (see yesterday’s post!). Today, I want to introduce the Spring Festival’s ‘serenity,’ the ancient court dances called bugaku.

Children Procession

Before the action of the fighting shrines, visitors are treated to a preview of the bugaku as the children who perform it are paraded into the shrine grounds, carried by their fathers.

Child in CostumeThe children wear traditional dress and their faces are painted. The children wear different costumes related to the dance they will perform.

Bugaku Court Dance

Overall there are 12 court dances. Eight performed by children, four performed by adults.

While the exact year is unknown, the dances have been performed here for at least 500 years and they remain as they have for centuries, passed down from each generation to the next.

The slow, graceful movements of these dances form a striking contrast to the excitement and frenzy of the fighting shrines, making the bugaku of Amatsu Shrine a beautiful gateway to a time long past. If you visit Amatsu Shrine for the Grand Spring Festival, do not leave after the fighting shrines has ended, because these dances are not to be missed.




Apr 042013

Good afternoon again from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! In what is becoming a pattern as of late, today’s warm, sunny weather is the complete opposite of yesterday’s cold and rain. If the weather forecast is to be believed, spring may in fact finally be here to stay!

Today, I’d like to introduce to you an upcoming event but first, let’s check in on our sakura blossoms:

Cherry Blossoms against a Blue SkyWe definitely have more flowers today than we have any day, but as you can see in the background, most of the trees are still only budding. We should hit full bloom sometime next week. If we’re lucky, they will be in time for the Amatsu Shrine Grand Spring Festival.

Amastsu Shrine's Grand Spring FestivalAmatsu Shrine’s Grand Spring Festival is a centuries old tradition in Itoigawa. Held every year on April 10th and 11th, it was in ancient times locally called “The Festival of the Tenth.” More recently, it has become better known as the Itoigawa Kenka Matsuri or ‘Fighting Festival.’

The Grand Spring festival has two main events. One described as the “action,” the other described as the “serenity.”

The “action” is, as you might imagine, the biggest and most popular event of the Grand Spring Festival. This action takes the form of the kenka mikoshi, or fighting shrines.

Two teams of young men representing the districts of Oshiage and Teramachi parade into the shrine grounds carrying their home district’s omikoshi, or portable shrines, on palanquins. After receiving the blessing of the shrine’s priest, the two teams begin to chase each other in a circle around the shrine grounds, running fast with their omikoshi on their shoulders. After a few laps, the two teams meet and push their shrines into each other, each team pushing with all their might to break the other teams’ formation. After a time, one team will break and run and the chase begins again.

Kenka Mikoshi

Kenka Mikoshi, Apr 2010 (Click to enlarge)

After this has carried on for some time, the teams will each return to their respective corners to cheer and chant in an impressive display of energy and enthusiasm. Following careful deliberation, the priest will announce the winning district. This district is said to be blessed with a bountiful rice harvest and fishing for the rest of the year.

Every year 15-20 thousand people visit Amatsu Shrine to view this festival, making it one of Itoigawa’s largest events. After the “action” ends with the declaration of the winning district, the “serenity” begins with the performance of 12 traditional court dances, or bugaku.

Check back here tomorrow for more information about the upcoming festival and its bugaku court dances.




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!




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 292013

Good morning and welcome again to the Itoigawa Global Geopark blog! I hope you’re having a fine day wherever you are. Here at the Itoigawa Global Geopark it is warm, but a little rainy. Cherry blossom season is fast approaching, so we’re all hoping for sunshine for the next couple weeks!


We’re excited here at the office to share with you our new English website! I know, I know! We just redid the website’s format a few months ago, but trust me, this update is worth it!

access infoWith (what we hope is) an easier-to-navigate format, and more detailed information about individual geosites, including access information, points of interest, and PDF downloads of our park brochures, the Itoigawa Global Geopark’s new English website should be about a bazillion (rough scientific estimate) times more helpful than the old one!

The pages are still works-in-progress. In particular the English translations are still very rough. But we were just too excited to withhold it from you any longer, so we’re publishing it now. Please bear with us as we continue to update and improve the individual pages. In the meantime, you can giggle at some of the funny English!


Mar 262013

Good morning, everyone, from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!
The temperature has dropped again the past few days. Will we ever see spring?

This past weekend visitors to Marine Dream Nou (near the Benten-iwa Geosite) had a respite from the lingering cold thanks to the 2013 Sea of Japan’s Bounty – Hamajiru Festival.

Hamajiru Festival

Scores of people came to enjoy crab and seafood soups (sold at a special price of 100 yen per bowl) as well as fresh crab, grilled seafood, and other seaside treats!

Crab Soup

‘Hamajiru’ Seaside Soup with Crab

Itoigawa’s local Idol Group, The Geo☆Girls, also performed at the festival. Visitors also had a chance to partake in a fish auction on both Saturday and Sunday.

Without a doubt, however, the most popular part event was the all-you-can-eat crab buffet:

Crab Feast

Located next to Nou Fishing Harbor, Marine Dream Nou is famous for its crab as well as other fresh seafood caught daily and sold directly by local fishermen and their families. During this festival only, you can pay1500 yen for 30 minutes of all-you-can-eat fresh-caught crab― a deal that cannot be beat!

The food was so good, even Black Bancho, the mascot for Itoigawa Black Yakisoba, made an appearance, selling yakisoba and entertaining the crowds:

Black Bancho

Thank you to everyone who came this year and a special thank you to the organizers and fishermen who made this festival the success that it always is!

While it’s too late for this year’s festival, we hope to you see here next year!



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.



Mar 072013

Good afternoon, everyone! Here at the Itoigawa Global Geopark we’re experiencing some fantastic spring weather. It’s so warm, I rode my bicycle in to work today! I hope you’re seeing some beautiful weather wherever you are.

So, yesterday I visited Shimohayakawa Elementary School once again to try their Geo School Lunch! This month’s menu takes advantage of Kaiyo High School’s recently announced fare: Makochan Udon!

Mako-chan Udon

I wrote about Makochan Udon in a blog entry last week. At that time I (rather embarrassingly!) had to admit that I had not tried it. However, by stroke of luck I was invited to enjoy Geo School Lunch at Shimohawakawa Elementary School!

Makochan Udon, Fried Smelt, Spinach, Rice

Today’s menu consisted of (from left-to-right) rice, fried nigisu (a locally-caught type of deepsea smelt), spinach and peanut salad, and, the main event: Makochan Udon!

Makochan Bukkake Udon Closeup

The Makochan Udon was served bukkake-style. That is to say, the cold noodles are added to a rich fish-based broth. In this case, the broth was garnished with carrots, onion, and kamaboko, a type of fish sausage.

You can really see the jade-like green flecks of kelp in this udon. The flavor is rich and slightly salty while the texture is very ‘al dente,’ slightly chewier than your typical udon noodles and much more flavorful. I definitely prefer them over regular udon.

Unfortunately, the delicate flavor of the noodles was a bit overwhelmed by the rich broth, so I am definitely looking forward to trying them again.



Lunch with Shimohayakawa Elementary School Students

Lunch with Shimohayakawa Elementary School Students