The charming old castle town of Makabe is located in the foothills of Mt. Tsukuba, not far from Tokyo. It flourished as a regional cultural and industrial center from the Edo through Taisho periods. About 300 traditional storefronts, warehouses, and gates remain, as well as the original street plan from 400 years ago. The Makabe Denshokan, a former guardhouse, now houses a historical museum. Pick up a map there and stroll around town to take in the buildings registered as cultural assets. The Hina-matsuri (Hina Doll Festival) in Makabe is held annually from the beginning of February to early March. The old stores, and some homes, share their elaborate doll displays with visitors.
Address: 198 Makabe, Makabe Town, Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture
Traveler: Sarah Macdonald > More Info
Occupation:Actress / Narrator
Length of residence in Japan:About 6 years
Reason:To pursue a career I love while exploring a country I love.
For this, my first trip with Journeys in Japan, I visited the town of Makabe in Ibaraki prefecture. Ibaraki is just a stone's throw from Tokyo; it only takes an hour or so to reach the Tsukuba area by train. And yet, I have never had a chance to explore the region before now.
My journey started at the base of Mt. Tsukuba, one of Japan's 100 famous mountains. But I was first stuck by its small stature and gently sloping sides. Even surrounded by flat plains and rice paddies, it was not the awe-inspiring sight I expected.
But as I traveled through the expanse of plum trees, the ground dotted with mottled, moss-covered stones, and up to one of the paired summits, I found my perception changing. The mountain was not an imperious lord, but a gentle guardian of the Kanto plain. I began to understand why this mountain was so loved by residents of the surrounding areas.
Then I descended into the cozy town of Makabe. Once a castle town, its streets are somewhat labyrinthine, preventing easy passage of enemies. (I certainly found the map of attractions provided during the Hina Festival to be an essential item!) And each of these little streets was home to many kura, or storehouses, which still protect the history of the town. Countless Hina dolls, traditionally displayed in the home for the Hina festival each spring, have come out of these storehouses, telling stories from the Taisho, Meiji, Edo, and current Heian eras. Makabe was overflowing with Hina dolls and other colorful decorations. Everyone I met was eager to share their dolls, as well as the stories of their trade and their history of the town.
My original idea of the Hina Festival was of a very private celebration. And storehouses brought to mind images of things sealed away. But Makabe is, above all, open. It invites visitors to wander through the old streets, listening to stories that span hundreds of years. It seems to call out, "come again next year, and add to this history of ours."