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Tue, Apr. 10, 2018 Makabe: A Promise of Spring
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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.

Mt. Tsukuba
Mt. Tsukuba
Mt. Tsukuba, famous for its double peaks of Nantaizan and Nyotaizan, has long been a mountain of worship. More than 1,000 plant species grow on the mountain, attracting researchers. The mountain is popular with hikers for its easy access from Tokyo and its year-round climbing. For those who prefer the easy way up to the summit, they can take a cable car or ropeway.
Kawashima Bookstore (the storehouse: registered cultural asset)
Kawashima Bookstore (the storehouse: registered cultural asset)
Around the end of the Edo Period, the Kawashima family ran a drugstore. After switching their business to household goods, they now run a bookshop. During the Hina Doll Festival they open the old storefront and exhibit dolls according to the age they were made.
Former Makabe Post Office
Former Makabe Post Office
Built originally as a bank it went on to become a post office and finally a community space. It displays dolls and paper-cutting artwork during the Hina Doll Festival. Residents cherish this Makabe landmark.
Kotabe Foundry
Kotabe Foundry
Just seven foundries in Japan still make temple bells. Kotabe Foundry in Makabe is the only one in the Kanto region, and boasts a history of 800 years. The characteristic of its bells is a natural finish, which is implemented by hand without coating. These days, wind-bells in the shape of temple bells are gaining popularity. During the Hina Doll Festival, the factory displays their precious dolls on two occasions and holds bell ringing events.
Nishioka Honten (the store and the rice storehouse: registered cultural assets)
Nishioka Honten (the store and the rice storehouse: registered cultural assets)
This brewery was established about 230 years ago. It uses Mt. Tsukuba's fresh underground water and carefully selected rice for its sake. Local high school students collaborate on a special brand of sake. They do all aspects of sake brewing from rice production through to distribution. During the Hina Doll Festival period the warehouse is open to the public and features doll installations.
Iseya Ryokan (the main building and storehouse: registered cultural assets)
Iseya Ryokan (the main building and storehouse: registered cultural assets)
Iseya was once the most famous ryotei restaurant in Makabe. The reception desk and oblong brazier still remain from those days. Now an inn, it serves a special meal during the Doll Festival period. Reservations required.
Yakuo-in Temple
Yakuo-in Temple
Yakuo-in Temple is located halfway up Mt. Tsukuba and has a history of 1,200 years. It has been known from ancient times as a sacred place that cures people's illnesses. The temple grounds are home to registered cultural assets, such as the three-storied pagoda and the Nio-mon gate. The temple bell was made by the local Kotabe Foundry, which visitors can toll with prior permission. A three-kilometer trekking route leads from Yakuo-in to Mt. Tsukuba for those who want to hike up to the summit.
Makabe Denshokan
Makabe Denshokan
This museum features displays and information on the town's history and castle. It also organizes special, seasonal exhibitions. It's a great starting point for touring the city.
Address: 198 Makabe, Makabe Town, Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture
Phone: 0296-23-8521
Closed: 12/29-1/3
The Hoshino Family Store and House
The Hoshino Family Store and House
The Hoshino family once ran a dried goods store under the name of Morokawaya. The building has now become a gallery and exhibits century-old hina dolls during the Doll Festival.
Access
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From Tokyo by car it takes about two hours using the freeway. If you're coming by train, take the Tsukuba Express from Akihabara Station and get off at Tsukuba Station, which is about a 40-minute ride. It takes another 50 minutes to reach Mt. Tsukuba. To Makabe, change to the Sakuragawa City bus from there for the 20-minute ride to Makabe. This trip also takes about two hours.
Travel Log

Traveler: Sarah Macdonald > More Info

Nationality:USA

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."

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