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Life on the Lake - Kasumigaura -

Erin Fowler harvesting lotus root

Hobiki-sen: traditional fishing boat

Ice fish

Kasumigaura is the 2nd largest lake in Japan. For generations, people around the lake have made a living from fishing its abundant waters and farming the fertile soil to produce crops such as lotus root. Just an hour and a half by train from central Tokyo, Lake Kasumigaura is also considered one of the 100 most beautiful places in Japan.
Erin Fowler came to Japan from the US 3 years ago, and works as an English teacher at an elementary school in Ibaraki Prefecture. On this episode of Journeys in Japan, Erin visits the Kasumigaura area for the first time. She meets with fishermen and farmers who live there, and connects with the people whose lives are so deeply rooted in the water and land around Lake Kasumigaura.

Hobiki-sen
One of the attractions of Lake Kasumigaura is the sight of graceful sailing boats gliding across the surface. Known as hobiki-sen, these vessels were originally used as fishing boats, from the end of the 19th century. Thanks to their distinctive shape and beautiful appearance, these hobiki-sen are a symbol of Kasumigaura.
Visitors can go out on boats to view the hobiki-sen as they sail on the lake. There are 3 locations where the boats are operated: Tsuchiura, Kasumigaura and Namegata.

From Tsuchiura:
Boats operate on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through Oct. 21.
Address: Port of Tsuchiura, Kawaguchi 2-chome, Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture
Hours: 1-3 p.m. Sat., Sun. and holidays from the end of July to mid-October.
Fare: "The White Iris" 1,500 yen (children 750 yen)
"The Jet Wheel Tsukuba" 1,680 yen (children 840 yen)
Access: 7 minutes walk from Tsuchiura railway station; by car, about 15 minutes from the Tsuchiura IC on the Joban Expressway.
Contact: Tsuchiura Tourism Assn.

From Kasumigaura:
Boats operate on Sundays through Nov. 25.
Address: 4784 Saka, Kasumigaura City, Ibaraki Prefecture
Ticket office: Jiyu-hiroba, Ayumizaki Park, Kasumigaura City
Hours: From 2 p.m. through October; from 4 p.m. in November
Fare: 2,000 yen (elementary/junior high school students 1,000 yen)
Contact: Kasumigaura City Tourism Section

From Namegata:
Boats operate on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 9.
Address 1: Aso Hot Spring Shiraho-no-yu, 421-3 Aso, Namegata City, Ibaraki Prefecture
Address 2: 1963-5 Tamatsukurikou, Namegata City
Hours: 1:30 & 3:30 p.m.
Fare: 2,000 yen (elementary/junior high school students 1,000 yen)
Contact: Namegata City Tourism Assn.

Tokiwa Shoten (Freshwater Fish Wholesaler)
Address: 747-2 Okijuku Town, Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture

Suzuki Noen (Lotus Root Farm)
Address: 842 Okijuku town, Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture

Choshiya Ryokan (Traditional Inn)
Address: 2614 Nagayama, Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture
Accommodation: From 8,000 yen per person per night (including dinner & breakfast)
Access: Nearest railway station is Itako Station (JR Kashima Line), then 10 minutes by taxi
The Myogi-no-hana wetland, an important habitat for migratory water birds, are close to the inn (about 5 minutes by car).

Access:
It takes about 1.5 hours by train to Tsuchiura via Ueno Station, or 1 hour by limited express.

Getting around:
The best way to explore the area is by car. There is also a road that runs for about 120 kilometers around the lake, so it's a great place for exploring by bicycle too.

Travel Log - Traveler:

Travel Log

Traveler:Erin Fowler (English teacher)
Date :Aug. 21-26, 2013

Seeing Lake Kasumigaura for the first time reminded me of the lake near my hometown in Montana. The tranquility of the water and the lovely sound of birds chirping in the reeds caused me to reflect on the harmony of nature.

The Suzuki family was so kind to provide me with once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of trying to extract lotus roots from the ground. I was very surprised that you have to wear so much protective gear before entering the water-filled lotus field. It was really difficult to walk in the mud while keeping balance so as not to fall over! After this experience, I have even more respect for the farmers who do this everyday for a living, because they need to have incredible strength and willpower.

Boarding the hobiki-sen (a sailboat made of bamboo), I was excited to embark on an adventure. One of the sailors told me that the boat was built by hand, so it must have taken an extraordinary amount of time to finish. The hobiki-sen relies entirely on the wind. Working together, the sailors used all their strength to raise the sail high up into the sky. Seeing the wind rustle the giant white sail of the hobiki-sen sailboat left me awestruck. The huge white sail reminded me of a white cloud trying to engulf the blue sky on a summer day.

After visiting the fisherman, Ebisawa-san, he took me on a boat to the edge of the lake where he and other fishermen had built bamboo dams in order to protect the reeds. He told me that some of the fish live in those reeds and without them cannot survive. He was very humble about it, saying that even though it isn't much, it is something that he can do to help. I was deeply moved by how much he cares about the future of the environment in Lake Kasumigaura.

Everyone is striving towards a balance, not only in their own lives but also in the lives of the plants and animals of the lake. On this journey, I was reminded of how precious the balance of life is, and how a small community can help protect this harmony.