Mito Overview


2018.03.09

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

  • Riding JR East's Joban Line out from a central Tokyo station like Ueno, it can feel as if one is gliding through one seemingly endless grey conurbation. As Greater Tokyo has oozed across the Kanto Plain, disembarking in Mito City, the capital Ibaraki Prefecture, the immediate vibe of the city is not much different from other exurban outposts. Stepping out from Mito Station, the unique history and culture of the city quickly becomes apparent.

    Mito was the former capital of the Mito Domain, one of the daimyo ruled by a branch of the Tokugawa clan. One legacy of that feudal rulership is the gardens at Kairakuen, built for the pleasure of the local gentry but also to share some of that rarefied beauty with commoners. One of the finest of Japan’s public gardens, Kairakuen is also home to the Kobuntei, an Edo-period-style building that served as a getaway for the Mito Domain’s lords and ladies. The house was damaged by Allied air raids but has been restored and is now open to the public. Near the entrance to the gardens, Tokiwa Shrine honors Tokugawa Mitsukuni, following in the Shinto tradition of venerating worthy leaders. The gardens and the surrounding area are a must-visit during plum blossom season in the spring.

    A short walk north of Mito Station will bring you to the site of Mito Castle, what’s left of it now lying in Ozymandian repose in the center of town—even the ruins of Mito’s 12th century fortress are fairly old, as the castle was mostly destroyed by fire in 1764.

    Mito’s Tokugawa Museum is a storehouse of ancient treasures and is renowned for its modernist design. The angular lines of the modern structures provide an interesting contrast to the Tokugetsu-tei, a tea house in the traditional sukiya style. The Garden Terrace restaurant has a great broiled eel set menu when the slithery fish is in season.

    Art Tower Mito’s helix tower is a symbol of modern Mito. The complex includes a concert hall and gallery. Even if you’re not there to see a performance, make time to wander through the central plaza which is dominated by an avant-garde fountain: a massive rock suspended on steel cables is soaked by spray from below. If your appetite has been whetted for more bleeding edge art and architecture, the prefectural Museum of Modern Art is a short distance away.

    Mito has all the bells and whistles of a modern Japanese city but plenty of unique quirks, including its undisputed claim to being one of the capitals of natto, that slimy, aromatic marriage of soybeans and bacteria—start your natto tour at the Natto Pavilion or the Tengu Natto factory and finish up at the natto specialty shops at EXCEL Department Store South Building, right beside the station.

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