Friday, February 23, 2007

KEK Communication Plaza

KEK Communication Plaza is a science-related tourist attraction at the High Energy Accelerato Research Organization (also known as KEK, which comes from the initials of the organization's name in Japanese -- 高エネルギー加速器研究機構: kou enerugi kasokuki kenkyuu kikou). At the Plaza, you can learn how the accelerator works, discover subatomic particles, observe cosmic rays from space, see the cubic structure of proteins with your own eyes, and measure the amount of radiation in everyday objects, amongst other fun science-y things. You can also watch videos in the theatre corner. Some images of the Plaza can be seen on the KEK website.

The Plaza is open from 9:30am to 4:30pm every day, including Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays. There is no admission fee.

KEK is located in the Oho area of Tsukuba. Take Nishi Odori or Higashi Odori all the way to the northern end of Tsukuba where the two streets meet. (East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet... except in Tsukuba.) That intersection is called Nishi Odori Iriguchi. If you take Nishi Odori, turn left at that intersection (there is a McDonalds on the right). If you take Higashi Odori, keep going straight through the intersection past the McDonalds, which is on your left. KEK is just up that street a bit on your left. Address: Oho 1-1.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doll's festival in Tsuchiura!

Okay, so there are “hinamatsuris” in Tsukuba, Makabe, and in Kasama…. How about the one in Tsuchiura?

I didn’t know about this until today, but the Hina Doll’s Festival in Tsuchiura has started last Saturday. The dolls are on display in 45 businesses along the streets in front of the Tsuchiura Station, Kamitakatsu Kaizuka Furusato Rekishi Hiroba(historical park), and in Komachi no Yakata (park dedicated to the legends of Ono no Komachi).

Tsuchiura Hinamatsuri
Feb.17(Sat) to March 4(Sun)

The participating businesses besides Rekishi Hiroba and Komachi no Yakata are all within walking distance of JR Tsuchiura Station. There are only two free temporary parking lots, one with room for 20 cars (available only on weekdays) and the other with room for 15 cars (available only on weekends) during the festival, so try to get there extra early if you want to go there by car!

Tsuchiura Tourist Association
3rd Tsuchiura Hinamatsuri flyer/map(pdf)

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Ume in Umezono Park

Last Saturday was the first day of Ume (Japanese plum/apricot or ume apricot) Festival at Ume grove park in Mt. Tsukuba(34th Mt.Tsukuba Ume Festival), but I went to the nearby park called Umezono Park instead. Umezono literally means Ume Garden, and there are many beautiful Ume trees in Umezono Park. The ume blossoms weren't in full bloom yet, but I enjoyed the sweet smell of ume a lot!

If you visit this park on Sunday, you might also want to check out the thrift shop called "Umezono House" since it's open only on Sundays now. Please read my blog entry about Umezono House below if you are interested.
Umezono House's new store hours

Please note that there is no parking space for this park, but TsukuBus5 stops in front of Umezono Park/Umezono House!

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Doll's Festivals taking place in Tsukuba

It's Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival) season!

As RrFish and Shaney posted, big events are being held in Kasama and Makabe. If you feel they are a little bit far from Tsukuba, you have another option.

There is an old-fashioned Japanese house named "Sakura Minkaen" in Chuo park in the Tsukuba center area. Tsukuba city is displaying old traditional Hina dolls made from about 80 years ago at the Sakura Minkaen.

Period: From February 16(Fri) to March 4 (Sun) , 2007
Time: From 9:30 to 16:30
Closed: Wednesdays, National holidays
Website (in Japanese)

Sakura Minkaen is located behind the rest house in Chuo Park, near Azuma Elementary School. They hold tea ceremony events and exhibitions there sometimes.

Tsukuba Wiki
Google Map

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Old Tokyo maps online

Yahoo! Japan is featuring old Tokyo maps online (Japanese):

You can switch between maps of Tokyo from the Edo era (about 180 years ago), the Meiji era (about 120 years ago), the present, and satellite photos.

If you can read Japanese, it is amazing to discover what many famous places today were in the past. And you can understand that many mansions of daimyos (feudal lords) which were located in the center of Edo city were abolished at the end of the Samurai age and their lands were redeveloped into fundamental public facilities for a modern capital city such as government office buildings, military bases, universities, hospitals, business districts, parks and so on. It is one of the reasons why Japan could reform itself to a modern nation so quickly.

If you would like to know why there were so many daimyos' mansions in Edo city, see this wiki article.

FYI, the lot for the Tokyo campus of the University of Tsukuba, the former Tokyo Higher Normal School, was a mansion belonging to MATSUDAIRA Yorinobu who was president of a government bureaucrat training institution, and a descendant of TOKUGAWA Mitsukuni's younger brother. Tokugawa is also known as Mito Komon.

Enjoy some time travel!

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Friday, February 09, 2007

"Seishun 18 Kippu" JR Ticket 20th Anniversary Discount

Have you heard of the "Seishun 18 Kippu" JR ticket?

The JR group offers this special ticket for summer, winter, and spring vacation seasons. The ticket contains 5 spaces to put date stamps. It is effective until 12 pm on the night of the day a date stamp is entered by station staff or a train conductor. You can take all local JR trains but cannot take rapid or express services. It is not the best option for a quick trip, but it is good for people who have a lot of time but no money, so it is ideal for students.

You can use the ticket 5 times during the period or you can share it with some friends. For example, you can enjoy a 5-day trip for one person or you can enjoy a 2-day trip with a friend and 1 day trip for one person, etc.

For more information for the "Seishun 18 Kippu" JR ticket (English):
The usual fare for the "Seishun 18 Kippu" JR ticket is 11,500 yen, so it works out to 2,300 yen/day.

But for this spring vacation, as the 20th anniversary of the JR group, they are selling it only at 8,000 yen! (1,600yen/day!!)

Information for the 20 th anniversary discount (Japanese):

FYI, you can go to Kumamoto in Kyushu island from Tokyo with one ticket with the following plan.

There is a night train called "Moonlight Nagara" from Shinagawa station bound for Ogaki in Gifu prefecture during vacation seasons. It departs from Shinagawa at around 23:55. Just buy a normal ticket from Shinagawa to the first station where the train stops after 12 pm (Yokohama or somewhere). And ask the conductor to put a date stamp on the "Seishun 18 Kippu" in the train or when you go out from a gate. Then, you can use the "Seishun 18 Kippu" for 24 hours. You will get to Kumamoto around 11pm after 7 or 8 times transfers. Of course, it can be the cheapest way to get to Kyoto, Osaka or Nara.

Have a nice trip in early spring in Japan!!

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Two “one of a kind” Doll Festivals taking place in Ibaraki

March 3rd is the day of Hinamatsuri, or Doll(Girl)’ s Festival, and there are two very unique Hinamatsuris in Kasama City and in Sakuragawa City.

The one in Kasama City is called “
桃宴 or Touen ( Tou means peach and En means feast).” The dolls are all earthenware dolls created by local potters, and they are displayed in the pottery shops, galleries, and other local businesses. You are sure to enjoy the 雛人形 or Hina Dolls you've never seen elsewhere! Touen is from February 1(Thur.) to March 4(Sun.), and 32 businesses are participating this year. Many of these dolls are for sale, and participating local restaurants have special menu during Touen. You can go to the following websites for more information, or you can stop by at the tourist information office by the JR Mito Line Kasama Station. Kasama is only 30 to 60minutes away from Tsukuba by car, depending on the roads you are going to take, or about 1.5 hours by train. If you are going to take the train, get on the JR Joban Line train and switch to JR Mito Line train at the Tomobe Station. Kasama is about 10 minutes from Tomobe, and the cost is 820yen each way from JR Arakawaoki Station. There’s a free bus going around the central Kasama City, and it stops in front of the station.

Websites for Touen (Japanese)


list pf participating businesses (Japanese)

Another unique Hinamatsuri is in Sakuragawa City and is called “Kura no Machi, Makabe no Hinamatsuri,” since it’s been held in the former Makabe Town area of Sakuragawa City. It starts on February 4(Sun) and ends on March 3(Sat). I think the festival period’s been always from Feb.4th to March 3rd every year, regardless of days of the week. I hear some people visit the town early to catch a sneak preview of the dolls :-)

This event was originally started in 2003 to cordially entertain the visitors who come to the town in the cold weather to the see the ( kura), or the traditional warehouses Makabe is known for. This is only the 5th year of Makabe’s Doll’s Festival, but the festival has already become a huge success! People came in large tour buses last year and got very crowded on weekends, so I think it’ll be the same this year. Please note that you won't be able to see many Hina Dolls on display if you go there on Wednesday since many stores will be closed on Wednesdays.

Makabe is only 30 to 40-minute drive from Tsukuba, and there are many free parking lots in town if you don’t mind walking a little bit. There are some pay parking lots for this event, but I had a trouble parking there last year(My advice to you is “leave home early"). You can also take the bus from Tsukuba Center Bus Terminal. Buses to Makabe leaves from loading zone 1, and takes about 45 minutes to get to真壁町民体育館(Makabe Chomin Taiikukan) or真壁駅(Makabe Station). It costs 800yen each way.

Makabe no Hinamatsuri Official Website(Japanese)
Bus schedule from Tsukuba Center to Makabe(Japanese)

There are absolutely no public trash cans, so the visitors to the festival are asked to bring a bag to bring back the trash. Believe me, you will need a bag because you may choose to eat something there or your kid may keep blowing his/her nose!

The pictures from the last year's Hinamatsuri.
Click for a bigger image.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday at Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum was established in 1872. It is comprised of five buildings: Honkan (Japanese gallery, built in 1937), Hyokeikan (1908), Toyokan (Asian gallery, 1968), Heiseikan (1999), and Horyuji Homotsukan (1999). The collection includes more than 110,000 items including 88 national treasures and 610 important cultural properties (as of March 2006). Not all of these items are on display at once, of course. The focus of the collection is on Japan, but there are also many items from other parts of Asia.

I can't speak with any amount of authority on the entire complex because I ran out of steam after just seeing Honkan. I was in Tokyo for a wedding and I had intended to make a side trip to Hamarikyu (a garden near Shiodome station) on Sunday morning before heading back to Tsukuba. However, nature interfered with this plan, as it ended up being too cold and rainy to enjoy a walk through a park. I decided to leave Hamarikyu for another day. However, when I went for breakfast at my hotel on Sunday morning, I happened to start talking to another hotel guest who was a Canadian living in Hong Kong. She had come to Japan on business, but she had one day to explore Tokyo before heading back to Hong Kong and she thought that she might go to the National Museum. She said that she hated to travel alone, so I offered to join her. The problem was that I was rather tired from the wedding the previous night and really only had enough energy to walk through a park for about an hour (or two at the absolute maximum), not spend an entire day walking through a museum looking at little cards with cryptic descriptions of antiques. So, I fear I did not give the museum the attention it needs.

In any case, I should give the museum credit for doing what it sets out to do quite well. If you want to see the full range of Japanese art and antiquities, this is the place to go. At Honkan alone, you will get your fill of ceramics, lacquerware, swords, military costumes, kimonos, folding screens, paper doors, palanquins, hair ornaments, Buddhist images, scrolls, and much more. There are English explanations at the entrance to each room, and every item has a card with at least a name on it. Occasionally, a second card will be available with a more detailed description.

My only criticism of the gallery is that it doesn't do a good enough job of helping the average person understand these historical pieces in their greater context. The descriptions are riddled with the names of "famous" writers, actors, military figures, and imperial family members -- which I think probably helps Japanese people put the items into some sort of historical context, but the average foreigner is not able to glean very much information from these names alone. Reading these descriptions is like looking at snapshots of scenes from movies that you haven't seen. You can see who is involved and what seems to be happening in that instant, but you don't come away with a sense of the overall story that is being told. Don't get me wrong, after many years of visiting museums with no English titles let alone descriptions, I am thankful to have anything at all, but I do wish the museum would hire someone who could bring it all together for people who don't already have a highly developed sense of Japanese history. This is "the" national museum, after all.

My day ended after only seeing Honkan, so I hope to go back one day to visit the special exhibit and the remaining buildings. I think you have to go to this museum with the intent to make a full day of it. Also, to enjoy the museum to its full extent, I would recommend bringing along a friend who can fill in the gaps for you as you take in the collection.

Read the rest of this article on the Alien Times website.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Yukari no Mori

I have read the name "Yukari no Mori" in all kinds of documents related to Tsukuba, but until quite recently, I didn't really have a sense of what it was. I decided to take a trip up there on Sunday to see what all the fuss is about.

Yukari no Mori is a nature centre that has a variety of facilities for people who want to commun with the elements. There are barbecue facilities, camping grounds, and some treehouses. There is a little pond that has a little bridge for kids to play on and a big adult jungle gym area where you can test out your infantry skills. There is also a grandstand area, but it was rather unfortunately occupied by about 10 people who were holding a private party with impossibly loud dance music. That didn't really fit in with the rest of the park, and kind of ruined the atmosphere.

Pond with Bridge

It is possible to stay overnight at Yukari no Mori in a lodge called "Akamatsu". I didn't get a chance to see inside, but it describes itself as a Canadian lodge. I am from Canada, but I don't think I have ever been to a Canadian lodge. I am very interested to find out one day what classifies as a Canadian lodge. Perhaps it is like a cottage?

Insect Museum

These facilities were all kind of par-for-the-course -- meaning that they did what they were supposed to do -- but I was surprisingly impressed with the Insect Museum. It was a bit unfortunate that I visited this museum after my hyper-fun day at the prefectural nature museum on Saturday, but this little museum helds its own. There is a wide range of beetles and butterflies on the first floor, each painstakingly labeled by hand. Some of the butterflies were akin to works of art. On the lower level, there was a case that included some awfully scary bugs and a big spider. (I couldn't take a picture of any of these because I was afraid that they would show up on my "random pictures" screensaver one day and freak me out). The upper level housed a small book collection and an area for watching videos or holding small seminars. The museum also allowed people to take out some of the videos (one per family). Video subjects include fireflies, bees, beetles, and other insect. (I suspect the videos are only available in Japanese.)


It was a rather cold day, so I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked wandering around the park, but I was finally able to get a sense of this place. I would say that Yukari no Mori is a good place to bring kids who are able to run around and entertain themselves, or kids who would enjoy looking at the museum, and it is also a good place to have an outdoor barbecue. I'm not sure how good the accommodations are, but if you know of someone who is looking for a more rustic experience, this might be the place to recommend. The park is not really great for just going for a walk or a jog, but it is good for these kinds of specific activities.

More Photos...


A Trip to Ibaraki Nature Museum

You know you've found a great museum when your 30-something year old friend finds an exhibit and practically screams your name from across the room and shouts, "Come here!!" I had heard about Ibaraki Nature Museum from Alien Times and I sometimes noticed posters or banners advertising their exhibits, but I didn't really have a good sense of what it was all about.

The Ibaraki Nature Museum is all about science and nature. It has permanent exhibits that cover various topics (see below) such as dinosaurs, the senses, and geology. Rather than making you read boring panels about the exhibits, however, this museum lets you interact with almost everything you see. There is an exhibit that lets you pet a real (but stuffed) fox, one that lets you see the world through the eyes of a fish, a grasshopper, or a cat, and one that shows you a skull and lets you guess what animal it came from. One of my favourites showed a bat, a grasshopper, a dog, and a dolphin and then let you play a sound. When you increased or decreased the frequency, the animal would move if it could hear it and stop moving when it stopped hearing it. Dogs could hear a huge range beyond what humans could here, but bats couldn't really hear in our range, but had an impressive range above what we could hear. There are lots of buttons to press, videos to watch, and things to touch. It is even possible to take photos throughout the museum, since the exhibits are generally replicas rather than the real thing.

Also, they have good support for people who don't speak Japanese. There are pamphlets in several languages and an audio guide system that lets you listen to explanations based on where you are. The system uses a receiver rather than a cassette, so you don't have to listen to the explanations in order. The audio guide system was available in Japanese and English (and possibly one other language, but I forgot to check).

I went to the museum on a rainy Saturday afternoon, so I didn't get a chance to explore the outdoor part of the museum. As you can see from the list below, the outdoor exhibits cover a wide variety of topics and might even require their own trip.

I strongly and highly recommend a trip to this museum. It is a bit difficult to get there without a car, but it is worth the hassle. If you enjoy thinking about science, and especially if you want to expose your children to scientific concepts, this is a must-see place in Ibaraki.

See the full article on the Alien Times site.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tokyo Tourism: A Trip to Roppongi Hills

Roppongi Hills is a huge complex in Roppongi (funnily enough) that includes shops, restaurants, cinemas, an art museum, and an observation deck that offers a stunning view of the city. You can even get an English tour of the facilities (by reservation only). The construction of the complex apparently lastest 17 years, and it finally opened to the public in April 2003.

I went to Roppongi Hills for the first time this month. It was after a day spent wandering around Meiji Jingu and Harajuku and a dinner at Tony Roma's (famous for ribs), so there wasn't a lot of time to see the entire complex. I was able to see the observation deck and the art museum this time. I guess I will just have to make the trip down to Tokyo again sometime to see the rest.

The museum was showing a retrospective of a video artist named Bill Viola. I have to admit that my first impression of this show was "weird" and "I don't get it". I think I have a fairly open mind about art, but watching the initial pieces felt like a waste of my time. After a while, though, I found myself being drawn into the artist's world, and I felt like I didn't have enough time to enjoy the pieces fully. I had to get back to Tsukuba that night, so my nervousness about catching the last train out of Akihabara interfered with my appreciation of the artist's work. I ended up enjoying the show so much that I would even consider going back to the museum and paying the 1500 yen (which includes admission to the observation deck) to see it again at a more leisurely pace.

Bill Viola "Hatsu-Yume (First Dream)"
Venue: Mori Art Museum
Schedule: From 2006-10-14 To 2007-01-08
Open until 10pm on Tuesday 2nd Jan. 2007.
Address: Roppongi Hills Mori Tower (53F), 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-6150
Phone: 03-5777-8600

The concept of Roppongi Hills is that it is meant to allow people to "live, work, play, and shop in proximity". I'm not sure that many people will have enough money to live anywhere near Roppongi Hills, nor will many of us ever work for Goldman Sachs, TV Asahi, J-WAVE, or Yahoo! Japan, but there certainly are enough attractions for us to play and shop in proximity. I think a trip to Roppongi Hills should definitely feature into one of your jaunts to Tokyo during your time in Tsukuba.


See also...


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Experience Japanese Culture in Aizu Wakamatsu

My former office, the Aizu Wakamatsu International Association, is offering some interesting activities to foreign residents this month. As a part of their "Japanese Culture Month", you can try out judo, zazen (meditation), kyudo (archery), ikebana, and shodo (calligraphy).

Aizu Wakamatsu is a historical city located in the north west of Fukushima Prefecture (one prefecture north of here). To get there by public transportation, you could take the new Tsukuba-Omiya highway bus to Omiya (80 minutes, 1100 yen, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama (57 minutes, 6090yen), and then take the JR Banetsu Saisen to Aizu Wakamatsu (80 minutes, 1110 yen). The easiest way to get there by car is to take the Joban Highway from Sakura Tsuchiura to Iwaki and then the Banetsu Highway to Aizu Wakamatsu (about 3 hours, 5600 yen).

In fact, if you *really* like trains, you might want to take the Tsukuba Express down to Kita Senju or Asakusa (if you want to get on at the first stop to make sure you get a seat) and then take the VERY SLOW train from there all the way to Aizu Wakamatsu. (If you plan it right, you might be able to get one of the trains that actually goes all the way from Asakusa to Tajima, so you will only have to change trains once on the way from Asakusa to Aizu Wakamatsu). This should only be attempted by people who are SERIOUS train lovers and who really want to get a top-to-bottom look at Tochigi Prefecture (skirting, but not actually entering Nikko).

I believe that the fall colours should be on full display at this time of the year, and since Aizu Wakamatsu is nestled in a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by mountains, the scenery should be rather impressive.

Aizu Wakamatsu has a reconstructed castle (Tsurugajo), several sake museums, a samurai house (bukeyashiki), a samurai school (Nisshinkan), a herb garden (Oyakuen), and a tall statue of a female Buddha (Kannon at Aizu-mura). You can also see Iimoriyama, the site of the famous story of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Brigade, a group of young men who fought in the Boshin Civil War) and a temple shaped like a double helix, so you don't take the same path up as you do down (Sazaedo). You can also try kirie (silhouette art) at Nakafuji workshop. If you have a car, you might want to make side trips to the Hideo Noguchi museum, the Five Coloured Lakes, the glass blowing museum, or the brewery in Inawashiro (in the shadow of Mt. Bandai).

I used to give tours of Tsurugajo and Iimoriyama. The notes from my tours are available online (Tsurugajo, Iimoriyama).

Even if you don't make it to one of the cultural events this month, I highly recommend a trip to this historic area of Japan.

Here are some more details about the culture month events in Aizu Wakamatsu. If you do decide to join one of the events, be sure to say that Shaney sent you!


Aizu Wakamatsu International Association Japanese Culture Month

November is Japanese Culture Month at the Aizu Wakamatsu International Association (AWIA). We are providing opportunities for anyone interested to try a selection of Japanese culture activities with no strings attached. Look below for your favorite activity!

Be a samurai for an afternoon.

Judo, Zazen (meditation), and Kyudo (Japanese archery) at Nisshinkan in the former Kawahigashi Town.

November 12 (Sunday) from 1:30pm to 4:00pm. Fee: 1000 yen (fee includes the 600 yen entrance fee into Nisshinkan.) Please make your reservation before November 9th. (You can cancel for free before the 9th, after that a cancellation fee will apply. If we cannot get at least 10 people for this event, it will be cancelled.) Japanese people are also welcome, so invite your friends, girl/boy friends, and coworkers!

Ikebana: flower arranging

November 11th (Saturday) from 10:00am to 11:30am at the teacher's house (directions will be given to those who make a reservation). Money for flowers: 1000 yen. Please call the AWIA before November 9th (after the 9th, cancellation fees will apply).

Write beautiful calligraphy: Shodo!

November 19th (Sunday) from 2:00pm to 3:00pm at the AWIA.
Money: 300 yen. Please make your reservation before the 18th.

Come try a Japanese cultural activity this month!

For more information, see: Just the Fax (November 2006)


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fukuroda no Taki

I went to Fukuroda no Taki (waterfalls) today with some friends. The picture here really doesn't do it justice, but you can get the general idea.

Fukuroda no Taki is one of Japan's top three waterfalls. The other two are Nachi no Taki in Wakayama Prefecture and Kegon no Taki in Tochigi Prefecture (near Nikko). I have now seen two of them (Fukuroda and Kegon). Do I get some sort of prize if I see all three?

I think it is probably a bit difficult to get to the falls by train. If you go by car, it is probably best to take the Joban Expressway. I think it takes between an hour and a half and two hours to get there. (Hard to say because, for once, I wasn't driving!)

There isn't really much to do but look at the falls and then shop for omiyage afterwards, so it probably isn't the best place to bring kids. It is a beautiful sight, though, especially after the rainy season when there is a lot of water. I have heard that the best time to go is in the fall when the leaves have turned colour, but the winter waterfalls are also interesting because the whole thing freezes up and people apparently try to climb it (at least, there were some pictures of people trying to climb it).

I would recommend going to Fukuroda no Taki if you have a lazy Saturday or Sunday with nothing in particular to do. It's not overly exciting, but it's a good destination for a bit of a drive with friends.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Take Advantage of Annual Passes!

Rejoice ye parents! If you don't know this already, your kids can get in FREE* to many art, nature, and science museums in Ibaraki on Saturdays…, EXCEPT Saturdays during the long-term break like summer break. Oh, but do not worry! You can still enjoy your day off with your kid(s) with a small budget if you have annual passes.
 *Some places only give you 50% off or group discounts, but I still think it's a good deal!

Regular admission prices:
---1000yen for adults and 500yen for kids 4 to 6th graders
Annual pass prices:
---1500yen for adults & 1000yen for kids
Annual parking ticket:
---500yen per car

Potiron has fun events for kids and adults every weekend of August. The Potiron Festival is from August 12th-15th, and admissions will be free from 4PM during the Potiron Festival, so don't miss their fireworks!

Aqua World Ooarai
Regular admission prices:---1800yen for adults, 900yen for elementary and junior high school students, and 300yen for kids over 3 years old
Annual pass prices:

---4000yen for adults, 2000yen for students, and 700yen for kids

--- free

The aquarium started selling annual passes a couple of years ago, and I'd say it's worth buying because you can "just stop by" whenever you feel like it. In fact, I didn't need to "fight for" a parking spot the last time I went there in June because I got there around 3PM and many people were leaving! Having said that, I'm afraid the Ooarai Aquarium & beach areas are very crowded this summer since a new shopping mall Resort Outlets Oarai opened up near the Oarai Sun Beach.

This dolphin monument was unveiled on March 18th of this year.

Ibaraki Nature Museum(Museum Park)
This museum just recently started selling annual passes!!
Regular admission prices: --- http://www.nat.pref.ibaraki.jp/r/a/e_index.html#ny
Annual pass prices:
---1500yen for adults, 1000yen for high school & college students, and 300yen for elementary and junior high school students
--- free

I've come to realize that many kids refer to Ibaraki Nature Museum as "the museum with moving dinosaurs" :)

Hitachi Kaihin Park
Regular admission prices: ---400yen for 15 and up and 80 yen for kids
Annual pass prices:
--- 510yen or 400yen with an adult annual pass

You might want to avoid going there on August 4th to 6th because that's "Rock in Japan Festival 2006" weekend. Unfortunately, according to their website, all the tickets have been sold out, so you won't be able to buy tickets even if you go there.

Ibaraki Flower Park
Regular admission prices:---740yen for adults from Apr1-Nov30, 370yen from Dec1 to March 31 and 370(Apr-Nov)/190(Dec-Mar)yen for kids
Annual pass:
--- 2600yen per person
--- free

This place is more than just a "botanical park," it has a lot of places for kids to burn their energies! There are bobsleigh-style slide(does anyone know the official name for this thing?), a "flower-cycle" that you need to pedal on the rusty rails that are about 5-8 meters above the ground(I swear, I'll never ride that thing again!), and the athletic area on top of the mountain. Don't forget to go up the observation tower for a nice view!

I hope this helps :)