A day trip to Kairakuen Garden in Mito City, Ibaraki.
Mito City's Kairakuen Garden is a famous plum blossom viewing spot. And on weekends during the period of the Plum Blossom Festival you can get from Ueno Station to the temporary Kairakuen Station by special limited express trains "Hitachi" and "Tokiwa" in about an hour.
Traffic to Kairakuen Garden
Exiting the plain temporary station, you'll be greeted by magnificent old stone steps. Since your ticket won't be collected at this station, I suggest buying your ticket, either regular or limited express, for the next stop, Mito Station; doing so will come in handy later.
※As there is no platform at the temporary Kairakuen Station heading back to Tokyo, to get home you'll either have to take a fixed route bus to Mito Station or get back on the train for another stop and switch to the Ueno-bound train from there.
Tokiwa Shrine and Gireikan
I first found myself at Tokiwa Shrine and Gireikan, which is located adjacent to Kairakuen Garden. As I visited during the Plum Blossom Festival, the grounds were fairly crowded with tourists. Food stands, etc., were located here and there, selling a variety of different things. I prayed for safe travels and went on my way.
Onwards! To the Kairakuen Plum Blossom Festival!
Kairakuen, Kenrokuen in Ishikawa Prefecture, and Korakuen in Okayama Prefecture are known as the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Kairakuen Garden is known particularly for its plum blossoms, however. While they may not be quite as fluffy or popular as cherry blossoms, the gardens become a sea of pink when the plum blossoms come into full bloom.
The garden was filled with tourists, so many that it was hard to move! Well, not really. It was actually quite pleasant, and I enjoyed moving along slowly with the warm sun shining down on my face.
This is the front gate. The gate in front of the temporary Kairakuen Station is the east gate. During the Edo period, the Mito feudal lord, Tokugawa Nariaki, designed Kairakuen Garden to reflect the Chinese philosophy of the yin and the yang. In order the experience the yin and the yang, one is advised to enter the garden from the front gate.
On the other side of the front gate is a lovely area with bamboo growing left and right.
Gazing at the beautiful reflection of the plum blossoms on the water seemed to rejuvenate my soul.
Viewing spot for plum blossoms and trains
The Joban Line runs along the outside of Kairakuen Garden. If you’re a fan of both blossoms and trains, this is a great viewing spot! The JR limited express “Hitachi” and “Tokiwa” only pass by about twice every hour, so be sure to check the schedule before you go. Either way, though, the regular train passes fairly frequently and is just as enjoyable to watch.
Next, I visited Kobuntei, which is located within Kairakuen’s grounds. While entrance to Kairakuen is free, to enter this area you’ll have to pay 200 yen. It’s certainly worth it though!
I headed up the steep flight of stairs to the third floor. The panoramic views of Senbako Lake and Kairakuen Garden were breathtakingly beautiful. I felt like I was given a taste of what being a feudal lord was like.
Tazunaki Plum Grove
On the other side of the Joban Line, across from Kairakuen, is the Tazunaki Plum Grove. I suggest giving this spot a visit as well!
A stroll around Senbako Lake!
Continue onwards from Tazunaki Plum Grove, and you’ll find yourself with the Senbako Lake (3 km around) spread out before you. Why not enjoy the fresh air and surrounding scenery by taking a stroll around the lake; even better, it’s on your way back to Mito Station!
Large swans can be seen swimming in the lake. And their story is an interesting one. After overcoming the Sakuradamon Incident of the Edo Period, Mito City, Ibaraki and Hikone City, Shiga became sister cities in 1968. As a token of their friendship, these swans were presented to Mito City from Hikone City—well, their grandparents were anyways. But what was the Sakuradamon Incident, you ask?
It was a major event that occurred near the end of the Edo period, in which Japanese Chief Minister Ii Naosuke, who was from Hikone City, was assassinated by a ronin samurai of the Mito Domain outside the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle.
It’s about a 30-min walk to the south entrance of Mito Station from Senbako Lake, but luckily for us it is an enjoyable one. What do you think this is? Believe it or not, it’s a natto statue located outside the station. Mito is known for its natto, or fermented soybeans, after all!
Pass through the south exit to the north exit, and there's a statue of Mito Komon (Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the second feudal lord of Mito) from the TV drama known to probably every Japanese person alive. Why not take a photo with Komon-sama, Suke-san, and Kaku-san?
I then walked for a few minutes in the direction of the Kodokan from Mito Station’s north exit. The area was just brimming with history and culture.
Finally, I arrived at the Kodokan. The Kodokan was founded during the Edo period by Tokugawa Nariaki, the ninth feudal lord of the Mito Domain, as a hanko (a type of school for the children of the samurai class). Tokugawa Keiki, the son of Tokugawa Nariaki and 15th and final shogun of the Edo shogunate, also studied here.
The Kodokan’s grounds are not only filled with the beauty of white and red plum blossoms, but also the yellow blossoms of the Asiatic dogwood. In the fall, the trees produce red, gummy-like fruit that is often used in Chinese herbal medicine.
Kairakuen Garden’s plum blossoms are best viewed from late February to mid-March. With over 3,000 trees of about 100 varieties, you can find a combination of early blooming, regular blooming, and late blooming varieties; this means that the blossoms can be enjoyed over a longer period of time. The Mito area is rich with history too, so doing some research—especially on the Edo period—beforehand will help you to enjoy the area on an even deeper level.
Basic information on Kairakuen Garden
- 1 Tokiwa-cho, Mito City, Ibaraki[MAP]
- About 20 minutes by bus on the Kairakuen route from Mito Station’s north exit
- Business Hours
- [Kairakuen Main Garden] Mid-February to the end of September 6 am - 7 pm, October to mid-February 7 am - 6 pm
[Other areas excluding the main garden] Open 24 hours
- Open every day (Kobuntei is closed December 29-31)
※Hours may change due to events.