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 262013

Good afternoon, everyone! It’s a beautiful sunny day today at the Itoigawa Global Geopark. It’s hard to believe after so much wind and snow!

As you may know, Itoigawa is home to Niigata Prefecture’s only maritime high school, Kaiyo High School in Nou.

As part of their school curriculum, students at Kaiyo cultivate and harvest marine products and use them to produce their own food products.  They’ve already scored a local hit with their “Mako Jam,” a salty sweet preserve-like spread made from kombu kelp. This year they have produced another kombu-based treat:

Mako-chan Udon

Mako-chan Udon

Made with kelp cultivated in the waters around Benten-iwa Geosite, Mako-chan Udon noodles have a speckled green, almost jade-like appearance. While I have, unfortunately, yet to have the opportunity to try them, my coworker tells me they have a nice ‘al dente’ body when cooked and are very smooth, with a rich, savory flavor (thanks to the natural umami found in kelp) that pairs well with any udon broth.

Mako-chan Udon Detail

The students at Kaiyo High School worked hard to perfect this recipe and are confident that it will be a success. Here at the Geopark Office we are inclined to agree!


Feb 252013

Good afternoon, everyone! Today the Geopark is seeing more snow. It looks like we’ll be getting a fair bit more of the stuff before we see spring!

Last week, I went with some friends to Tsukitoku Hanten, a Chinese restaurant near Itoigawa Station. To be fair, our original reason for going was this:

Huuuuge platter of gyozaLook at all that gyoza! It was on sale for only 100 yen per serving. We orderd 4 servings for a whopping total of 20 gyoza!

Gyoza in Yo' Face!Gyoza, known in many English-speaking countries as ‘pot stickers,’ are a variety of fried pork and vegetable dumpling that originated in China. They are popular throughout Japan and Tsukitoku Hanten serves up some of the best.

The gyoza were delicious, but I wouldn’t be wasting your time just telling you about the giant plate of gyoza we devoured. No, what I really want to share with you is a special dish only available until the end of February…

Monkfish Chow Mein…Monkfish Chow Mein!

Until February 28th, you can enjoy monkfish chow mein! The monkfish is lightly battered and fried before being tossed with crispy noodles and vegetables in a savory soy-based sauce. It was an excellent meal and I will definitely be trying it again next season! It’s a great way to taste Itoigawa’s winter specialty.




Tsukitoku Hanten (Japanese)
2-5-18 Omachi
Itoigawa-shi, Niigata-ken Japan 941-0061
Lunch:  11:00am – 2:30pm
Dinner:  4:30pm – 9:00pm

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 182013

Recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy school lunch at one of the elementary schools here in Itoigawa. Much like in many places around the world, school lunch is an opportunity to teach children about proper nutrition and healthy habits. But here in Itoigawa schools take school lunch education a step further and teach children about Itoigawa’s natural treasures and local delicacies as well through a program called Geo School Lunch.

For growing children, few things are as important as a healthy, varied diet. For a geopark, few things are as important as community involvement. Here in Itoigawa, we are working to meet both of these needs together through the Geo School Lunch Program. Served once a month, Geo School Lunch provides a creative way to teach children not only about the Itoigawa Geopark, but also the community where they live and its local produce.

The Geo School Lunch program builds upon the in-place nutritional education curriculum at Itoigawa’s schools and preschools by teaching children of all ages not only about the Itoigawa Global Geopark they live in, but also the profound way in which it shapes and enriches local cuisine.

Geo School Lunches are often themed to highlight some part of the Itoigawa Geopark. They might serve mille-feuille pork cutlets to represent the geological stratification seen in the mudstone and sandstone layers at the Tsutsuishi and Hamatokuai Geosite. They might serve edamame rice to represent the naturally-polished jade stones found on the beaches of western Itoigawa. Or, as was the case at Shimohayakawa Elementary, they may focus on the special local products that make Itoigawa such a delicious place to live and grow.

Shimohayakawa Elementary

Shimohayakawa Elementary, located in Itoigawa’s Hayakawa River Valley, is quite rural. Most of the school’s lunches make use of rice and vegetables farmed in and around the valley. Located on a hill overlooking the Aramachi district of Itoigawa, Shimohayakawa is surrounded by nature and within walking distance of the Tsukimizu-no-Ike Geosite.

Geo School Lunch

Geo School Lunch

For February’s Geo School Lunch, Shimohayakawa Elementary focused on the local foods that form an important part of Itoigawa’s food culture. It is almost entirely made of local ingredients and the children are explained the source of each one. From left to right are pictured: Locally-farmed white rice (an important part of Itoigawa’s economy), fishcake fried with laver (also made locally, a historically important staple of the Itoigawa diet), ‘autumn poem’ salad (another locally-grown, asparagus-like vegetable), and monkfish stew. Monkfish is a rare delicacy in Japan; to maintain sustainable population, fishing is limited to a short period of time during winter. Itoigawa’s monkfish is prized for its flavor and once a year children are treated to it at school.

Through eating these dishes and learning more about the geosites from which they are derived, children become more aware of the geopark’s activities throughout the community. They also develop a deeper understanding about how food gets to their plates. It is our hope that children take from the Geo School Lunch Program an interest in and appreciation for not only the Itoigawa Geopark, but the natural world around them, its importance, and the gifts that it provides to those who manage it carefully.


Feb 122013

Good afternoon, everyone!

We had a freezing cold morning at the Itoigawa Global Geopark today, but it’s thankfully warmed up a bit since then. Be careful if you’re walking on the streets!

Now, to chase away the cold weather we have some exciting news coming your way:

Over the weekend, the “Education for Disaster Prevention Challenge Plan” competition (sponsored by the Ministry of the Interior) was held in Tokyo and one of our local schools, Nechi Elementary School, returned with the top award, “Education for Disaster Prevention First Prize”!

Nechi Elementary Homepage

Nechi Elementary’s Homepage

This award is given to recognize schools which work with their entire community and region through a variety of unique activities.

Nechi Elementary’s school district includes Fossa Magna Park, the Kotakigawa Jade Gorge, Mt. Amazariyama, and a variety of other geological features spanning hundreds of millions of years of history. While this makes for spectacular scenery, it also means the area has long contended with a variety of natural disasters.

It is important when living in such a region to study about natural disasters, how to prevent them, and how to protect oneself and one’s community when disaster strikes.

Throughout the Itoigawa Global Geopark are a variety of natural landscapes and formations which can unexpectedly give rise to natural disasters including landslides, tsunamis and storm surges, avalanches and other snow-related disasters, and even volcanic eruptions.

We hope the children of Nechi Elementary will lead the way in teaching us new and creative ways in which to protect ourselves from the more malevolent forces of nature.



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!


Jan 282013

Good afternoon from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been away at conferences too boring to share the details with you all. I’m back in the office now and eager to tell you all about an event happening at one of my personal favorite geosites: Oyashirazu!

Starting this February 2nd and runnning all weekends and holidays until March 31st, the Itoigawa Bus Company will be operating the ‘Oyashirazu Winter Romance Tour.’ This tour starts at the Jade Kingdom Center beside Itoigawa Station and includes a tour of the Fossa Magna Museum, a tour of Kaga-no-I Brewery (the oldest operating brewery in Niigata Prefecture), and culminates in a tour of the Oyashirazu Geosite and a special monkfish lunch.

Oyashirazu in Winter


Oyashirazu, historically known as tenka-no-ken or ‘the precipice without equal under the heavens,’ is where the Northern Japanese Alps fall into the Sea of Japan producing 10km of sheer cliffs. Up until the 19th century the Hokuriku Road which connects Eastern and Western Japan passed along the base of this cliff. This meant that travelers would have to brave waves and harsh terrain along the water’s edge, making the journey incredibly dangerous. For these travelers, caves and rock shelters formed by erosion provided the only shelter from the waves. These natural shelters are still visible today.

The sharp cliffs and jagged coastline form a stark contrast with the gently curving roads cut into the cliff’s face. It’s a beautiful sight to see all year round, but snowfall in winter transforms Oyashirazu into a stunning landscape that cannot be missed.

Monkfish at Oyashirazu Pier Park

Monkfish at Oyashirazu Pier Park

Monkfish, a species of anglerfish that lives its life on the seabed of deep coastal waters throughout the world, is one of Itoigawa’s prized specialties. Like its anglerfish cousins, the monkfish is a fairly grotesque sight to behold: squat, flat, and almost entirely massive maw filled with sharp, jagged teeth. However, don’t judge a fish by its scales! (Especially monkfish as they don’t have any!) The monkfish’s flesh is succulent and a favorite in stews or fried in batter. Even more prized is its liver, which locals call ‘ankimo’. Ankimo is often called ‘the foie gras of the sea.’ Soft, rich, and almost buttery, it is cooked along with the flesh in stews, or served lightly steamed and sliced as sashimi.

Monkfish is only available during the winter months as fishing is limited in order to maintain a sustainable population. If you like fish and happen to be in Itoigawa during the winter months, though, you cannot let yourself leave without trying Itoigawa Monkfish.

For more information, please click here.


Jan 172013

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the Hayakawa region of Itoigawa.

Named for the Hayakawa River which runs through it, this part of Itoigawa is primarily rural, characterized by small villages and rice fields wedged between the mountains. It includes two geosites: the Tsukimizu-no-Ike and Yakeyama geosites.

Aramachi as seen from Shimohayakawa Elementary school.

Aramachi as seen from Shimohayakawa Elementary school.

While Itoigawa is a single city, it is comprised of many smaller town- and village-like communities.  This picture shows part of ‘Aramachi,’ one of the ‘towns’  of the Hayakawa region. Separated from the rest of the city by mountains and rice fields, Aramachi is fairly self-sufficient with all you would expect in a town of comparable size including restaurants, a post office, a supermarket, and local shops. Of particular interest are sweets shops and a shop that specializes in wasabi grown in the area around Tsukimizu-no-Ike Pond.

Mt. Hokogatake in Winter

Mt. Hokogatake in Winter

The Kubiki Mountains as seen from Kamihayakawa Elementary School

The Kubiki Mountains as seen from Kamihayakawa Elementary School

Further upriver are more villages and even a few hot springs resorts.  The mountain scenery here is unforgettable and I highly recommend both the Yakeyama and Tsukimizu-no-Ike Geosites to anybody visiting the Itoigawa Global Geopark.



Jan 102013
Ubagawa Bridge in the Snow

Ubagawa Bridge in the Snow

Get it, guys? I-snowy-gawa? It’s alright if you don’t, I’ll wait.



Okay, I’m sorry. That was terrible. But it is snowing really heavily today!

Sakura (Japanese cherry trees)

Sakura (Japanese cherry trees)

Itoigawa is located in the part of Japan known as Yukiguni, or ‘snow country’. While the winter temperatures here never drop much below freezing (lows average at about 0-1°C), winds blowing from continental Asia pick up large amounts of moisture while crossing the Sea of Japan. This moisture-laden weather system then breaks up upon hitting the mountain ranges that run along the center of the Japanese islands, releasing heavy snowfalls across this area.

Statues of the Bodhisattva Jizo

Jizo Statues

It is not unusual for some areas of Itoigawa to see several meters of accumulation throughout the winter season. While this weather can make life in winter quite difficult (we’re all pretty sick of snow by March!), it’s another one of the wonders of nature that gives the Itoigawa Global Geopark its spectacular scenery.

Entrance to Amatsu Shrine

Entrance to Amatsu Shrine

Unfortunately. this heavy snowfall makes many of the geosites in Itoigawa inaccessible in the winter, but it also makes for beautiful landscapes that you do not want to miss!


 Posted by at 3:39 PM