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.



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!