Just outside Tokyo lies one of Japan’s best-kept secrets, waiting to delight visitors at every turn.
On the east coast of Japan, nestled between Tokyo and the Pacific Ocean, is Ibaraki Prefecture. Easily accessible from the Japanese capital and wonderfully diverse in its charms, the area has something for everyone and offers the chance to learn, explore and unwind to your heart’s content.
Like much of Japan, the area has four distinct seasons—and while there’s no wrong time to visit, there is something to be said about the beauty of fall throughout Ibaraki Prefecture. So if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Japan during the autumn months, hop on the rapid train from Tokyo and get ready to embark on a vibrantly colourful adventure.
Your first stop will likely be Tsukuba, so close to Tokyo it’s practically a satellite city. Dubbed Japan’s Science City, Tsukuba is renowned for its devotion to all things tech. Here you’ll find the country’s foremost university for robotics, an expo centre housing interactive science displays and a space centre offering exhibits on space exploration. But be sure to venture just 30 minutes outside of the city and soak up the natural and manmade charm of Ushiku Daibutsu. At an impressive 120 metres tall, the world’s tallest Buddhist statue stands surrounded by thriving gardens in spring and summer and by beautiful foliage in fall.
From Tsukuba, head northeast to Mito, the capital city and geographical heart of the prefecture. It’s easy to see that one attraction in Mito stands out above all others: Kairaku-en (literally “a park to be enjoyed together”). One of Japan’s three most celebrated gardens, the park dates back to 1842 when it was established by a local lord for both his personal enjoyment and public use. Famous for its 100 varieties of ume (plum) trees—there are 3,000 of them throughout the gardens!—Kairaku-en extends into cedar woods and bamboo groves and effortlessly draws large crowds.
Finally, north of Mito, two of the area’s most scenic destinations await: Hananuki Valley and Fukuroda Falls. A 45-minute train ride from Mito, located by Takahagi Station, Hananuki Valley beckons autumn visitors with its postcard-perfect views—the most celebrated being the suspension bridge that runs across the valley with a plethora of red, orange and yellow leaves leaning in from both sides. Japanese maples abound in the valley, which is at its best in autumn; the peak of the changing leaves tends to be around November each year, so plan your visit accordingly.
The view from the bridge is undoubtedly a must-see, but don’t forget about the rest of the valley—while there can be crowds at the suspension bridge, Hananuki is full of peaceful, less-travelled trails for visitors to explore. You can buy hot food and cold beer from local vendors, hike as much as you like and even bring a tent and set up camp for the night.
Fukuroda Falls is another easy trip from Mito, located an hour and a half north by train. Or, for those travelling by car, make a day of it and take country road 461 between Hananuki Valley and Fukuroda Falls. This beautiful country road links to other attractions in the area, like the famous Tenryuin cottage and the breathtaking Ryujin suspension bridge.
When you reach the falls themselves, you’ll see why this is a top attraction in the area. Standing 120 metres tall and 73 metres wide and flowing over four distinct drops, this stunning waterfall has been ranked the third most beautiful in the whole country and is the perfect way to cap off your adventure through this area of Japan.
So whether it’s mountains and valleys that put a skip in your step or rushing water that makes you fall head over heels, there’s no denying Ibaraki Prefecture is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s a sight to behold year-round, but especially so in fall. And if you’d rather get techy and geek out over science and robotics, this is the place for that too. Like I said—there’s something for everyone!