Japan City Guides: Mito
Mito Guide 水戸
Mito was the power base of the Mito clan during the Edo Period (1603-1867), one of the three main families of the Tokugawa regime that dominated Japan during this time.
Mito is famous for its natto - fermented soy beans and Ibaraki Prefecture for its production of strawberries and grass turf.
Mito's main tourist attraction is Kairaku-en Garden designed by the ninth feudal lord of Mito, Tokugawa Nariaki (1800-1860). Kairaku-en, considered one of Japan's top three gardens, was made in the 1840s for the enjoyment of the general public (meaning at that time the samurai class) not just the lord and his family, thus effectively making Kairaku-en one of Japan's first ever truly public gardens. The name Kairaku-en translates as a "park that can be enjoyed together" or "a garden for everyone's pleasure." Regular buses run out to Kairaku-en from bays 4 and 6 outside the south exit of Mito Station.
If Kairaku-en was laid out with enjoyment and literary relaxation in mind, Kodokan Hall (Tel: 029 231 4725) built in 1841 by Nariaki was one of the largest domain schools in Japan, where the sons of prominent samurai were educated in astronomy, Confucian studies, mathematics, medicine and martial arts so they could later appreciate the relaxation and repose of Kairaku-en.
The two entities Kairaku-en and Kodokan are to be seen as two parts of the whole needed for a full and complete life as a samurai leader and administrator. The Kodokan is a 15-minute walk from Mito Station uphill past the Mito Keisei Hotel and is opposite the remains of Mito Castle. Kodokan is surrounded by a white, plastered clay wall and contains over 800 plum trees in its grounds as well as a number of original wooden buildings including the Main Gate, the Main Hall and the Hall of Supreme Good. The last shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa was placed under house arrest here for a time in 1867-1868 after the Tokugawa regime was overthrown.
The old Mitsukaido Elementary School in the grounds of the Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History and a thatched gate at Kairaku-en Garden
Yakuimon Gate of the former Mito Castle and the statues of Mito Komon, Suke-san and Kaku-san outside Mito Station
Little remains of Mito Castle, which was badly damaged during the Boshin War (1868-1869), further during the Meiji Period and again damaged during World War II. On the Ote Bridge, dating from the 1930s across the street from Kodokan, are miniature statues of Nariaki and Torifusa Tokugawa and walking east brings you to the Yakuimon Gate in the grounds of Mito Daisan High School, which has survived from the original structures of Mito Castle.
Mito City Museum (Tel: 029 226 6521) and Central Library and Art Tower Mito (Tel: 029 227 8111) are a twenty minute walk west from the Kodokan. Art Tower Mito (ATM) is a spectacular, modern cultural complex built in Mito in 1999. Crowned with a spiraling, 100 meter high titanium tower, ATM includes an art gallery, a church-like Entrance Hall with a massive pipe organ, an acoustically fine-tuned Concert Hall for classical music performances, the ACM Theater, a Contemporary Art Gallery, a Conference Hall, "Centerpoint" Museum Shop, restaurant "Vert et Blancher (11:30am-3pm - last order 2.30pm; 5-10pm - last order 9pm)", and a coffee lounge. Art Tower Mito is closed on Mondays and admission is 200 yen. Take a bus bound for Daikumachi Keiyu from bays 4 or 7 from Mito Station and get off at Izumicho 1-chome.
Kairaku-en is famous for its over 3,000 ume (plum) trees, which draw large crowds when they blossom in early spring
Mito City Museum is free to enter and includes exhibitions of the archeology, art, nature and history of Mito. The Mito City Museum is closed on Mondays.
Close to Mito Station is the birthplace of Mito Komon (aka Mitsukuni Tokugawa; 1628-1701) which is now a Shinto shrine. Mito Komon is considered an Edo period gourmet having sampled such exotica as wine and yogurt in his time and was responsible for commissioning an early history of Japan known as Dai Nihonshi.
Heading the other way out of Mito Station brings you to Toshogu, built in dedication to Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founding father of the Tokugawa dynasty, by Yorifusa Tokugawa, who is also enshrined here. Toshogu is a popular local place for Shichi-go-san festivities in November along with Tokiwa Shrine near Kairaku-en.
Heading south west towards Kairaku-en is the impressive Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History (Tel: 029 225 4425; closed Monday), the large grounds of which contain the old Mitsukaido Elementary School built in 1881 as well as other historic buildings relocated to the site. The Hitotsubashi Tokugawa Memorial Hall building displays items related to Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the last shogun.
Crossing the railway line from Kairaku-en brings you to the pretty Meiji-era Gokoku Shrine with its large grounds and walkways and farther up the road the Tokugawa Museum, (Tel: 029 243 2721; closed Monday; admission 1100 yen). The Tokugawa Museum contains priceless heirlooms in three exhibition rooms from the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as well as scrolls, furniture, firearms and lacquerware from the possessions of the following Tokugawa dynasty.
Kairaku-en Garden in Mito is considered one of the top three gardens in Japan
Adjacent to the East Gate of Kairaku-en is the Tokiwa Shrine (Tel: 029 221 0748), another popular place for the Shichi-go-san Festival and dedicated to Nariaki and Mitsukuni Tokugawa. The Giretsukan Museum on the grounds of Tokiwa Shrine has a number of historical exhibits including an original war taiko drum.
Senba Lake is a favorite spot for cherry blossom viewing and its shores include the Kobun teahouse, a cafe, the D51 Steam Locomotive Exhibition and a couple of places to hire bicycles. The Big Fountain spouts from the western side of the lake. Senba Park on the south side of Senba Lake also houses the Museum of Modern Art (Tel: 029 243 5111), with works by European and Japanese artists including Rodin's The Three Shades and pieces by Taikan Yokoyama.
To the south east of Mito city is the Bizenbori irrigation canal built for irrigation and flood prevention by Tadatsugu Ina in the early Edo era and is still in use today. To get to Bizenbori take a bus from bay 3 from Mito Station bound for Honcho keiyu and alight at Honcho 1-chome.
Gokoku Shrine and the Tokugawa Museum, Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture
The white plastered walls of Kodokan and an interior building
From Tokyo and Ueno Station take the Joban Line to Mito (1 hour, 5 mins) on the Super Hitachi express. Local trains take over 2 hours but you don't have to pay the express supplement. During the Mito Plum Festival at Kairakuen, Joban Line trains stop at the temporarily open, one-platform Kairaku-en Station. From Tsukuba take a bus from outside Tsukuba Station to Tsuchiura (about 30 minutes) and then a train to Mito which is also about 30 minutes by the Super Hitachi express or an hour by local train.
The Oarai-Kashima Line runs from Mito Station to Kashima Stadium and Kashima Jingu from Mito Station via oarai and Taiyo.
Mito's Tourist Information Center is located at the south exit of Mito Station on your right.
Getting Around Mito
It's easy to get around Mito by bus or hire a bicycle at the south exit of Mito Station on weekends and public holidays (Tel: 029 224 510) or every day from West Lake Senba Rentals (Tel: 029 241 1251).
Take a Super Hitachi Express from Ueno Station in Tokyo to Mito
View Tsukuba Map in a larger map