TsukuBlog

A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Fruit Picking and Mysterious Rock Carvings Near Tsukuba (Chiyoda Town- Kasumigaura City)

Grapes ready for the picking in Chiyoda, Kasumigaura City.

By Avi landau

 

Ibaraki is famous for its fruit, and Chiyoda Town, now part of Kasumigaura City, with its myriad orchards of Japanese pear (nashi), persimmon, grape, and chestnut, is surely the fruitiest place in the prefecture. There are dozens of farms which offer (for a price) various fruit picking options, in addition to plain old fruit shopping (bo-ring!). The town itself and the surrounding countryside also offer several places worth checking out.

Picking grapes at the Shobei Farm in Chiyoda, Kasumigaura City

Picking grapes at the Shobei Farm in Chiyoda, Kasumigaura City

Today was a perfect, if slightly hot, autumn day. With a few morning hours to spare, I suggested some pear and grape picking, and a very short hike to commune with some mysterious Kamakura period Buddhist carvings known as the Kankyo-Zan MAGAI BUTSU (磨崖仏). This idea was received with enthusiasm.

From Tsukuba we got onto route 53 (by staying on Nishi-Odori and continuing straight on), going past Oda and heading towards the small mountain, half-eaten away by the ravages of a quarry. We drove past that monstrosity (with windows up, of course) and after a few km on this narrow, truck-filled road*, we entered a world of large traditional houses and plenty of greenery. High above, I noticed a soaring hawk. A little further on, the road was lined on both sides with fruit stands and farms offering fruit picking.

Many of the farmers’ houses in this area are inside compounds fronted by large gates.

There are MANY orchards to choose from, and making up your mind as to where to stop can put you in a flurry… But if you are making the trip all the way out to Chiyoda, there is ONE place that stands out high above the others, in that it offers a very special physical setting, a spectacular 200 year old house filled with interesting knick-knacks, and nearby historical sites. I’m talking about SHO-BEH KAJU-EN (庄兵衛果樹園).

It’s a little tricky to get there. From Route 53, you turn left at route 64 (県道64). This road, too, is lined on both sides with fruit picking orchards. You will soon see large signs for Shobeh Kajuen and will eventually turn left. Just to make sure you’d  better check the map on their website.

The store-house at Sho-beh’s is worth a peek, too, containing many curiosities

Just having the chance to walk around this neighborhood makes the trip worth it (for me). The gate and main house offer some interesting features and, if you are lucky, the proprietress will show you around. Also, near the house, next to a small shrine, are two rare stone pagodas (important cultural properties) and a memorial to the family’s war dead.

Shobeh’s offers chestnut, persimmon, pear, and grape picking. Today, we opted for grapes — KYOHO, my favorite. After paying a 900 yen per person entrance fee you can enter and eat as much as you like. There is no time limit. I would recommend bringing a picnic lunch and drinks with you.

A sign pointing the way up Mt. Kankyo, where you can find the Buddhist rock carvings.

After having our fill, we headed further towards Yasato, where we turned off towards the foot of Mt. Kankyo (閑居山). Kankyo means TO DWELL IN SECLUSION in Japanese, and according to legend, the great Buddhist Kukai (KOBO DAISHI 774-835), did just that on this mountain, more than 1000 years ago.

A sign notifying anyone thinking of climbing the mountain that there are men with rifles in the woods, as part of a program to cull the ever-increasing wild-boar population.

It is now the WILD-BOAR CULLING SEASON, and a sign warned us of hunters with guns and the presence of traps (we saw one at Shobeh’s). We were not going to be climbing very far though, so I suggested we forge on. A ten-minute hike brought us to scores of mysterious Buddha figures carved into rock. Exposed to the elements for centuries, most of them have been badly worn away. Still I find it a good place for a little peaceful contemplation. If you like, you can continue on for further hiking. (The SHOTS you hear are probably not hunters. Farmers use time released fireworks to scare off birds in this area).

Mysterious rock carvings (MAGAI BUTSU)

A closer look at some of the rock carvings (百体磨崖仏) found at Mt. Kankyozan in Kasumigaura City

A closer look at some of the rock carvings (百体磨崖仏) found at Mt. Kankyozan in Kasumigaura City

Time was short, so unfortunately we had to rush back to the Science City. I’d like to go back soon, though, and if YOU haven’t been to Chiyoda in autumn, you might want to check it out for yourself.

You can pick pears, grapes, and chestnuts until November and in winter (from the end of December) there is strawberry picking.

Mt. Kankyo-Zan`s Magaibutsu Buddhist rock carvings

Mt. Kankyo-Zan`s Magaibutsu Buddhist rock carvings

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*It happens to be that if you turn to the left  just past the entrance to the quarry(if you are coming from Tsukuba and headed towards Chiyoda) you will enter a ‘basin’ surrounded on three sides by low mountains. This is one of the most rustically beautiful and fascinating historical districts in the Tsukuba-Tsuchiura area (known as Mimura). It is worthy of several special trips in itself with its rare sutra-mound (KYOZUKA, 経塚), shrines, ancient temple (To-joji, 東城寺, founded in 796 under orders of the Emperor Kammu) and numerous sacred stones (some dating back to the 13th century!) – to be discussed it in another post.

Just past the quarry, on the left side of the road (heading towards Chiyoda on Rt. 53) stands this GORINTO, erected by the Tendai sect priest Zuhaku Sho-nin (in 1515) to console the spirit of his mother. There is a local legend attached to this stone which tells of how Zuhaku Sho-nin had been brought up by the ghost of his mother, who would buy DANGO (rice dumplings) everyday and present them to him.

The Kontake Jinja (金嶽神社) – along Rt 54 – which originally enshrined the spirit of Zao-Gongen, ceremonially brought over to this spot in the 1574 from Mt. Kinpusen in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture by a retainer of the Oda Family (which ruled from nearby Oda Castle). Zao Gongen was first worshipped by the 7th century mountain ascetic En no Gyoja, said to be the founder of Shugendo, which was practiced on the mountains in the Tsukuba area until the 1870s – when it was banned for being a “mixed-religion” adulterating the native Shinto. Since that time a (Shinto) Deity, Sukonabikona no Kami  (少彦名命) has been enshrined there.

Some of the old sacred stones found in the Miyama area.

Just past the quarry you will see this ‘basin’ to the left. This area is of great historical importance as it was once the base for Ninsho (1217-1303), an eminent priest of the Ritsu Sect of Buddhism who stayed for ten years in this area. The Ritsu Sect stressed good works, social welfare and caring for the sick, the poor and the invalid.

Just above the To-jo-ji Temple is the site where a rare Sutra Mound (Kyo-zuka) was discovered in 1890 and then excavated in 1902.Metal jars containing sutras and other Buddhist implements had been buried there in the early 12th century in the hope that they would be of use in the distant future (in accordance with the the End-of-the-World (Mappo) Thought, so popular in the late Heian and through the Kamakura Period)

 

Artifacts unearthed at the To-jo-ji Sutra Mound (and other sutra mounds around Japan) can be seen at the National Museum in Ueno, Tokyo.

A closer look

One of the most important sacred stones in the Tsukuba area – one of the four 13th century Kekkai Seki of To-jo-ji. Distinctive to the Shingon Ritsu shu Sect (which put great stress on restoring the older, already faded monastic traditions, these stones mark off the sacred boundaries of a temple.+



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