The three M’s of southwestern Tochigi Prefecture
The three M’s of southwestern Tochigi Prefecture are Moka, Mashiko and Motegi. Today I’d like to talk about Moka (pronounced Moh-oh-ka).
There ought to be a dance called the loka moka and a drink the moka moka. I’ll work on that if the Mooka tourism board ever hires me. For now, let me tell you about five interesting attractions in Moka:
- A SL (Steam Locomotive) runs once daily on Moka Railway, 41.9 km between Shiodate Station and Motegi Station on weekends and national holidays only. For a free thrill, greet the hissing, steaming locomotive at the platform at Moka Station at 11:05 AM, observe the engineers in the cabin toiling and sweating, smell the coal, and be deafened when the train takes off. The station itself is designed in the shape of a steam locomotive. If you are too early or too late, drop by the Steam Locomotive Hall or the indoor climbing gym not far from the east exit. The station offers rental bicycles for adults.
- Moka cotton was known all over Japan during the Edo period. Try your hand at weaving or dying cotton using indigo (costs a small fee) at Moka Cotton House, open 10-5. Admission is free.
- The immense Igashira Park is part of Moka. A paved, shaded pedestrian and cycling course circles a lake and covers 3.1 km. Facilities are generally open 9–4:45. Bird watchers, dog-walkers, families with young kids, fishers, sports enthusiasts conglomerate here to enjoy the stocked fishing pond (Y500 kids, Y1,200 adults), tennis courts, rental bicycles (Y400 for adults including bicycles with child carriers, Y200 for kids’ bikes), huge outdoor summer pool with waterslides (Y1,100 adults, Y400 kids), rose garden, irises, golf putting, tropical greenhouse with tropical birds (Y400 adults, Y300 kids), field athletic (obstacle course through the woods Y150 for kids, Y300 for adults), pedal boats (2 people allowed Y500/30 minutes, and row boats 3 people maximum, Y250 for 30 minutes).
- Moka Igashira Onsen and Pool - The pool, like an onsen, is for relaxing not swimming. The main pool is relatively warm, not so deep, round with a fountain in the middle; the kid’s play pond is to one side, there’s a Jacuzzi hot tub to the other side, and a second Jacuzzi pool outside. Swim hats are required and available at the front desk. There are also three different saunas in the pool area. Both pool and onsen have outdoor areas, though the outside pool area only opens in the summer months.
- Moka hosts at least seven matsuri (celebrations usually involving a parade) in any given year. One summer, I followed the Moka matsuri to Oosaki Jinja, a scenic little riverside shrine.The largest Ebisu god ever, holding a golden fish, stands over the shrine. At night, in firelight, it seemed to be magical, a kind of "power" spot. Another time, in late summer I enjoyed perusing the Otakara Antique Market held the second Sunday of every month in front of the shrine (3rd Sat in Nov).
Moka is within 100 km of Tokyo.You need a car to enjoy the area fully. These are places in Moka I have visited and revisited because I found them appealing. You can also find a Squirrel Park (petting zoo), sword museum, motor park, golf course, and numerous fruit picking opportunities here.
We recently visited downtown Moka to get a free repair on a handmade wooden flying toy at Hanamuguri, a little shop shared by a number of artisans. There we picked up a Tamachi neighborhood map of cafes and small shops. After having lunch at 02 Café, the Italian café across the street from the artisan shop, we found a shaded walkway along a canal below Moka Elementary School - I recommend this stroll; it's pretty in May, under cherry blossoms and inJune, when the hydrangea are blooming.