Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture 土浦
As a place to live, work or commute to Tokyo, historic Tsuchiura is seen as competing and rather losing out to the more contemporary charms of nearby Tsukuba.
History of Tsuchiura
Human settlement in the area around Lake Kasumigaura goes back to the hunter gatherers of the Stone Age. The Hitachi Fudoki no Oka museum of reconstructed Jomon, Yayoi, Asuka, Heian and later period dwellings gives an interesting insight in to the area's early history and its people.
Before and during World War II, Tsuchiura was the site of a Navy Air Service training center for air cadets. It remains an important Self Defence Force base today. The Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum, just outside Tsuchiura city in Ami, is a modern museum dedicated to the lives and experiences of the young boys aged around 15-17 who became Japanese navy pilots and ground support crew in the 1930's and 40's.
Since the creation of Tsukuba Science City in the 1960's, on the back of large government subsidies for its research centers and university, Tsuchiura has seen its upstart rival overtake it and grow to a population of over 220,000.
The railway line that once linked the two cities no longer exists and has been replaced by the pleasant cycle path, the Rin Rin Road.
However, Tsuchiura does have its charms, and its location on Lake Kasumigaura, the annual Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition and a number of interesting tourist initiatives, make the town a worthwhile visit from either Tokyo or Tsukuba.
Tsuchiura's historic heart is centered around Tsuchiura Castle, a reconstructed castle which now forms part of Kijo Park (亀城公園), a pleasant green spot just 15 minutes walk from Tsuchiura Station.
Remaining from the Edo era is the small but impressive Taiko Yagura Mon, built in 1656, which gives access to the heart of Kijo Park. The two reconstructed turrets (yagura): the East Turret and the West Turret, were both rebuilt in the 1990's.
Nowadays Kijo Park is a favorite of dog walkers, mothers with children and people who come to appreciate the cherry blossoms in season.
On the edge of Kijo Park is the modern, concrete Tsuchiura City Museum with exhibits on the history and culture of Tsuchiura as an Edo Period castle town under the rule of the Tsuchiura clan on the well-traveled Mito Kaido route to Mito from Tokyo.
The walk to Kijo Park takes the visitor past a number of historic buildings including four old storehouses or kura and adjacent dwellings dating from the end of the Edo Period, which have been converted into cafes, curry houses and small museums in the Tsuchiura Machikado Kura Daitoku area. The four storehouses that make up the Tsuchiura Machikado Kura Daitoku are: Mise Kura, Sode Kura, Moto Kura and Mukai Kura.
The electric cables have been largely buried in this district to preserve its historic atmosphere. You can also rent a bicycle here.
Other historic buildings here include the Yaguchi Family Residence and the Nomura storehouses (Tsuchiura Machikado Kura Nomura), the latter the home and business premises of the Nomura family of local merchants.
Ryotei Kagetsuro is an old Japanese restaurant built in 1889 which was visited by such famous people as Yamamoto Isoroku, the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet of the Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor, the aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife and the former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru. The establishment has an number of historical documents in its care relating to the landing of the Graf Zeppelin in 1929 and World War II.
Togakuji Temple is also nearby and contains a 13th century copper bell designated as an Important Cultural Property and a familiar sound at New Year. Tokoji Temple, virtually next door, is believed to be beneficial to people with eye problems. Beyond the castle is Jinryuji Temple, the family temple of the Tsuchiura clan.
Another historic structure is the surviving gate to the former Ikubunkan Han School, which dates from 1839 and once provided entrance to this former Edo Period center of Confucianist learning.
Tsuchiura's major festival is the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition held in early October. The festival began in 1925 and is one of the largest of its kind in Japan.
The second Sunday in April sees a yabusame (mounted archery) festival at Hie Shrine to the north east of the city. Also in April is the annual Kasumigaura Marathon and International Blind Marathon - the largest citizens' marathon in Japan run on the shores of Lake Kasumigaura. There are three courses: a full marathon, 10 miles (16.09 km), and 5 km.
The Tsuchiura Kirara Festival on the first weekend of August features a Tanabata "Star Festival" dance, parades of floats and portable shrines and lots of food stalls and events for kids.
Dining Out in Tsuchiura
As well as the aforementioned Ryotei Kagetsuro, Tsuchiura is blessed with a number of historic eating places. Azumaan Sohonten in the Machikado Kura Daitoku area has been serving delicious soba noodles since 1905, nearby Hotate is even older, beginning in 1869, and specializes in tempura.
Near Tsuchiura Station, Komatsuya (1916) offers fish from Lake Kasumigaura preserved in soy sauce (tsukudani) and eel. Minowa Meisanten (1920) also offers tsukudani. Kobayashi Bakery in Otemachi is the town's oldest bakery and there are three other notable and historic bakeries serving such local delicacies as lotus-root curry doughnuts and black candy: Chikatsudo Honten (1920), Maejima Saeka (1903) and Tanaka Seigetsudo (1927). See our map of Tsukuba & Tsuchiura to locate these attractions.
Tsuchiura's connection with the navy has also had an influence on its cuisine. The Japanese navy adopted the British navy's tradition of eating curry on Fridays and now curry shops abound around town. There is even an annual Curry Festival and the local "Zeppelin Curry" is a popular souvenir.
Accommodation in Tsuchiura
The 3-star Bell's Inn is close to both Tsuchiura Station and Tsuchiura Castle. Also close to the east exit of Tsuchiura Station are the Toyoko Inn Tsuchiura-eki Higashi-guchi, Hotel Aqua and Hotel Alpha The Tsuchiura. Other possibilities are the Marroad Tsukuba or the Business Hotel Kohoku. Chisun Inn Tsuchiuraami is closer to JR Arakawaoki Station.
From Tsukuba Station in Tsukuba Kanto Tetsudo buses take about 30 minutes and cost 570 yen as of the time of writing.
From Mito to Tsuchiura is 30 minutes by Limited Express (Tokkyu) or 45 minutes by local train on the Joban Line.
The Tsuchiura Tourist Information Office is to your left as you exit the ticket gates inside Tsuchiura Station. There is a bank of coin lockers opposite the office.