By Joe Peters
In late 2016, the Mt. Tsukuba area of Ibaraki was awarded Geopark status, gaining recognition for its diverse geological landscapes and cultural heritage, helping formalise its place on a prestigious list of nationwide Japanese Geoparks.
Mt. Tsukuba Area Geopark comprises the geological area surrounding central Ibaraki's Mt. Tsukuba and includes the cities of Sakuragawa, Kasama, Ishioka, Kasumigaura, Tsuchiura and Tsukuba itself. Mt. Tsukuba Area Geopark connects Mt. Tsukuba, one of the 100 Famous Mountains (hyakumeizan) of Japan, and Lake Kasumigaura – the second largest lake in Japan.
Visitors to this region can expect to amazed by the sheer breadth of natural environments and local heritage on offer in the Mt. Tsukuba area. From cultural highlights such as the stonework history of Inada and Makabe or the ceramic history of Kasama, to beautiful natural scenery including panoramic views of the Kanto Plain from the summit of Mt. Tsukuba or mesmerising sunsets over Lake Kasumigaura.
Highlights from across Mt. Tsukuba Area Geopark
Mt. Tsukuba (View from summit)
One of the 100 Famous Mountains in Japan, Mt. Tsukuba rises 877 meters above sea level (about 2,900 feet). It is especially known for its double peaks, Nyotai-san (877 meters) and Nantai-san (871 meters). Some call it the purple mountain as unlike well-known mountains in Japan, which are composed of volcanic matter, Mt. Tsukuba is made of plutonic rocks such as granite and gabbro, which are formed from magma. There are several hiking courses available throughout the year so you can enjoy the nature in all four seasons.
Lake Kasumigaura is the 2nd largest lake in Japan and is well known for its distinctive, traditional Hobikisen fishing boats that can occasionally be seen demonstrated even today throughout the year. Geographically, it was once a shallow sea. Smelt, icefish, and lotus root are some local specialties that can be enjoyed around the lake.
You will surely enjoy walking around the streets of Makabe as it is not only well known for its Hina Dolls Festival held every year from February 4 to March 3 but is also home to about 250 historic structures – 102 of them registered as national tangible cultural properties. The reason is that the city used to be a castle town and an encampment centered around the Makabe castle. The city of Makabe is also known for its production of Makabe stone from Mt. Kaba and Mt. Ashio – high quality granite the use of which flourished since the Edo period. You can see its implementation in the foundations of traditional architectures, not to mention the many stone works throughout the town.
Kasama ware is the local style of pottery in Ibaraki's Kasama – an area also famous for Kasama Inari Shrine, one of the big three Inari Okami shrines in Japan. Kasama gradually became a major ceramic production centre within Kanto, rivalling Mashiko ware in Tochigi's Mashiko city. Kasama-yaki is made using local clay made from weathered granite. Because the clay has a high iron content, when the pottery is fired it turns a pleasant brown color. Kasama pottery used to be heavily influenced by the Shigaraki style of pottery, but the artists today has the freedom to express their individuality through their works. You can also drop-in at a local pottery class and experience pottery yourself.
What is a Geopark?
A geopark is unified, geographical area whose sites and landscapes possess geological significance. The classification allows such regions to leverage their geological heritage and be managed holistically through enhanced pursuit and understanding of sustainable development, protection, education and promotion of geotourism.
Find out more about Mount Tsukuba.
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