Last, but not least, on this Ibaraki travel itinerary is Mito, the prefectural capital.

Known to those who watch Japanese television as the home of Mito Komon, the leading character in Japan's eponymous and longest-running TV series, which has been aired continuously since 1969, the city with a population approaching 300,000 also figures prominently in Japanese history. Not only did its lords support the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo Period (1603-1867), but their forces also played an important role in bringing about the defeat of the ruling Tokugawa clan, which ushered in the restoration of the Emperor in 1868 and the advent of the modernizing Meiji Era (1868-1912).

But before delving further into Mito's history, there's the marvelous Mito Plum Blossom Festival to consider. This annual event is held from Feb. 20 through March 30 at the city's Kairakuen Park — whose name means "to share pleasure with the people" — which is today one of the nation's most famous. Built by Nariaki Tokugawa (1800-60), the ninth daimyo (feudal lord) of the Mito clan, the park opened in 1842 and rapidly became popular with both the common people and the nobility. Nowadays, visitors in late February and throughout March can feast their senses on some 3,000 plum trees, representing 100 varieties, as they come into bloom across the park's 13 hectares graced by many other attractive features.