Mito city is around 1.5 hours north of Tokyo and is the capital of Ibaraki prefecture.
The city is known for its historical significance during the Edo period, and the long-run TV period drama called ‘Mitokomon‘. It is about Tokugawa Mitsukuni who was a daimyō of the Mito Domain.
It is known for being the birthplace of Othello (strategy board game) and Natto! Natto is fermented soybeans, a typical side dish for a traditional Japanese breakfast.
However, I wanted to find out more and get a local perspective. So I contacted the city hall who taught me a few things I didn’t know previously about Mito.
Please find my interview below, to help you learn from locals.
Ume (Plum) blossom festival at Kairakuen Park
Mito is a city rich in history and tradition. It once prospered as the castle town of the Mito Domain (one of the three Tokugawa clans with a total of 350,000 goku).
The ninth lord of the Mito Domain, Nariaki Tokugawa, founded one of Japan’s largest domain schools, Kodokan (弘道館). This greatly influenced the end of the Edo period, as well as Kairakuen Garden （偕楽園), known as one of the three most famous gardens in Japan. Koudoukan and Kairakuen are recognized as Japanese Heritage sites and part of the educational heritage of early modern Japan.
In 2020, the main gate of the Castle, “Mito Castle Otemon,” which was torn down in the Meiji period, was restored. Because of this the area surrounding the ruins of Mito Castle and Koudoukan, is a place with a unique historical atmosphere.
Photo: The main gate of Mito Castle, “Mito Castle Otemon,”
Some may say Sprig, but we’d like to recommend Autumn!
You’ve probably heard of Mito’s famous Plum Festival held in the spring, but the Hagi Festival held in the fall (September) is also a very good attraction.
It is said that Nariaki Tokugawa, the ninth lord of the Mito Domain, planted the bush clovers in Kairakuen (the site of the festival), when he created the park.
About 750 Hagi plants of various kinds are in bloom in the garden, and September is when you can enjoy viewing them.
Photo: Hagi flowers in bloom
It’s hard to pick just three. However, here are three places we think people would enjoy when they visit for the first time.
1. Kairakuen Garden
Kairakuen Garden has been ranked as one of Japan’s finest landscape gardens. In Japanese, Kairakuen “偕楽園” means “park to be enjoyed together” and it is especially famous for its more than 3000 plum trees and its Plum blossom Festival held every year in early spring.
Kodokan “弘道館” was founded in central Mito in 1841. It was a school for the children of the local samurai. These days visitors can explore the old school and its traditional classrooms as well as see an old edition of the Dai Nihonshi. This is one of the most important collections of history books from pre-modern Japan.
3. Mito Castle Main Gate
The Ōtemon gate of Mito Castle is one of the largest wooden castle gates in Japan. The castle was destroyed a few times and has been rebuilt many times over the centuries. The gate itself with its latest reconstruction was revealed in 2020
Our city has a lot to offer and we hope this interview helps more people to discover Mito. We are looking forward to seeing more people visiting in the future.
Photo: Kairakuen Garden (Ume flowers), Koudoukan, Mito Castle Main Gate
Mito city’s tourism department helped me understand Mito’s significance during the Edo period. This city north of Tokyo (the North East part of Ibaraki prefecture) may not be on most traveler’s radar, but if you are in Japan in February before the sakura season) or in September (just before the autumn leaves) you may want to check Mito out!
And as you are here, why not also visit the Hitachinaka Seaside Park (only 30min away) and combine the two?
If you are coming from Tokyo, train is the easiest and quickest, but car or bus is also a fairly easy way to get to Mito.
It’s about 75min from Tokyo. Take the Hitachi or Tokiwa Express on the JR Joban Link to Mito station.
It’s about 2 hours by highway bus from Tokyo station buts terminal.
It’s about 2 hours drive from Tokyo. Drive to Mito IC on the Joban Expressway .
I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.
To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.
Contributor: Angus Miyaji
Founder of Nearby Tokyo and Japan World Link, Angus helps visitors discover off the beaten track destinations in the North Kanto regions (Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki & Saitama north of Tokyo). He regularly travels between Japan and the UK promoting tourism and Japanese sake.