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 182013


Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Geopark!

We have a chilly, but sunny day today in the Itoigawa Geopark. The typhoon which caused so much damage in other parts of the country has passed us. Our thoughts go out to those in affected areas.

Last weekend, the Itoigawa Coast Geosite hosted a Railroad Festival in front of Itoigawa Station. The weather was absolutely perfect and the turnout was fantastic.




A variety of events were planned for the festival, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Hokuriku Main Line which services Itoigawa. A relay event was held from Omi Station to Itoigawa Station, to commemorate the laying of the last section of track which completed the Hokuriku Line, film and television star (and Itoigawa native!) Masaru Nagai participated in the relay and gave autographs.

The local Geo☆Girls idol group gave a variety of performances, along with Hisui Taiko, one of Itoigawa’s local taiko drum groups.

tetu03And a miniature steam train offered rides for children.

Itoigawa’s gourmet delight, Black Yakisoba, was so popular at the event that the stand completely sold out. With such an excellent turnout, we are even more excited for the upcoming opening of the Hokuriku  Bullet Line.



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.


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 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.






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 052013

Good afternoon, everyone!

We’ve lucked out and had two days of sunshine in a row. The snow is melting and we’re getting a little taste of spring.

Today, I’d like to tell you about a couple events happening this weekend. First will be on Saturday, where the Itoigawa Community Center will present Prayer of the Earth — Professor Naumann’s Dream, a musical narrative  created by and starring members of the Itoigawa community.

nauman1Of particular note is the costuming, which features beautifully-crafted outfits that have been on display in the City Hall and Oumi General Culture Center.



The performance is one of many ways in which we hope to share the message of the earth and of the Itoigawa Geopark.


■ Date: Saturday March 9th
■ Times: Show #1 2:00pm  Show #2 6:30pm
■ Location: Oumi General Culture Center
■ Tickets: Adults 2500 yen      Students 1000yen
No reserved seating available. 500yen surcharge for tickets purchased at the door


Now, that performance is in Japanese.  If you are looking for a fun performance in English, this year the Niigata Charity Musical Group is putting on an original musical in Itoigawa this Sunday. The musical is an original interpretation of Beauty and the Beast, written and performed by Niigata’s Assistant English Teachers.

Beauty and the BeastThe musical will be held at Beach Hall Magatama on Sunday, March 10th. Tickets will be 1000 yen for adults and 500 yen for students. I will be attending, I hope to see you there as well!  All proceeds go to benefit child education in Papua New Guinea.

Date:  Saturday, March 10th, 2013
Performance starts: 2:00 pm
Doors open: 1:30 pm
Location: Beach Hall Magatama
Address: Niigata-ken, Itoigawa-shi, Teramachi 4-3-1, 941-0058


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.


Feb 052013

This Sunday, the Itoigawa Monkfish Festival came to a close at Oyashirazu Pier Park in the Oyashirazu Geosite.

Itoigawa Monkfish Festival

Itoigawa Monkfish Festival

Every year, Itoigawa holds the Itoigawa Monkfish Festival. At this festival, members of the community and visitors alike can enjoy a taste of winter in Itoigawa.

I’ve talked about monkfish before. A variety of anglerfish, monkfish live mostly sedentary lives on the seabed. They are indolence made flesh, spending most of their time slightly buried in the sand where they lay in wait for unsuspecting prey to pass by. When a tasty morsel should stray too closely to the monkfish’s antenna-like lure, it extends its massive jaws to swallow the meal whole. It’s fins are not adapted for swimming, rather they act as feet, allowing the monkfish to “walk” along the surface of the water.

Monkfish at Oyashirazu Pier Park

Monkfish at Oyashirazu Pier Park

It may very well be this sedentary lifestyle that gives monkfish its delicious flavor and favorable texture. The meat is a highly prized ingredient in soups and stews and the liver has been likened in flavor and texture to fine foie gras.

Monkfish Cleaning at Oyashirazu Pier Park

Monkfish Cleaning at Oyashirazu Pier Park

For three weeks every winter, the city of Itoigawa holds a monkfish festival each Sunday. The first is held in front of Itoigawa Station, the second at Marine Dream Nou, and the third at Oyashirazu Geopark. This year, over 7500 community members and visitors came to enjoy monkfish stew, a monkfish cleaning demonstration, and other fun activities.

Monkfish Cleaning at Oyashirazu Pier Park

Monkfish Cleaning at Oyashirazu Pier Park

Thank you to everyone who came even despite the chilly weather! If you are in Itoigawa next year, we hope to see you at the next Monkfish Festival!