Useful Information

Discover Samurai History

Discover Samurai History

Japan is a land where samurai walked the streets with swords at their hips as recently as 150 years ago. However, those samurai disappeared into the annals of history as the country modernized.

The Aizu region in Fukushima is known as the home to samurai who held out to the very end against the new westernized government army during the civil war that triggered the modernization of Japan. Follow in the footsteps of these true ‘Last Samurai’ through the numerous surviving sites in Aizu and feel for yourself the samurai spirit that Aizu still embodies today.

Aizu was the site of the final large scale battle as part of the resistance to Japan’s revolution of modernization known as the Meiji Restoration. Countless samurai from Aizu gave their lives in battle despite having full knowledge that the war would soon be lost. The history of this civil war, known as the Boshin War, describes how not only the young men, but also the elderly, women, and children gave their lives in battle as samurai.

Among them, one battle unit called the Byakkotai, or ‘White Tiger Force,’ formed of the teenage sons of samurai became legendary during the Boshin War. The boys committed seppuku (ritual disembowelment) together after observing what they believed to be the sight of their castle burning from their vantage point on Mt. Iimoriyama to the east of their town.

If you visit Mt. Iimoriyama today, try and spot the castle that those young warriors watched from the same viewpoint. Tsurugajo Castle, located in central Aizu-Wakamatsu City, was rebuilt after the war. The seven storied central structure of the castle is one of the largest in Japan, and the red roof tiles further accent the beauty of its white walls. It is difficult to describe the beauty with words, particularly during the winter snowfall and when the cherry blossoms bloom in springtime, making Tsurugajo Castle a rare example of medieval Japanese architecture that is both impressive and beautiful in form.

It may be possible to begin to understand the samurai spirit of self-sacrifice as you .

Looking down on Tsurugajo Castle from Mt. Iimoriyama through the eyes of the young men of the White Tiger Force, and pondering what they must have felt when they decided to take their lives, visitors can begin to understand the samurai spirit of self-sacrifice. You can further deepen your knowledge of the White Tiger Force through the many historical records and videos available at the nearby Byakkotai Memorial Hall. Within walking distance, you will find the Former Takizawa Honjin, a building which served as a rest stop for feudal lords and was used as a headquarters during the Boshin War. Here you can still find bullet holes and damage left by swords, evoking the raw violence of the battle fought there.

After seeing Tsurugajo Castle from your vantage point on Mt. Iimoriyama, head straight to the castle keep. The castle features many exhibits including suits of armor and katana swords, and there is a lot of English-language information available about the history and lifestyles of the people of Aizu. By learning of the traditions and culture from the age of the samurai, you will be able to understand more about the samurai spirit that still lives on today in the Fukushima Prefecture’s Aizu region.

Inspired by that spirit, next climb to the observation deck on the top floor of the castle to enjoy an uninterrupted 360 degree view of the city. What will your thoughts be as you take in the view once observed by the feudal lord who lived in this castle?

The Tsurugajo Castle grounds also feature a tea house and Japanese garden that provide yet a deeper sense of Japanese culture. Sipping green tea accompanied by Japanese sweets as you view the seasonal trees decorating the garden will likely sooth your mind and body of the fatigue of your journey, while giving you a taste of the times in which the samurai lived.

Guides can sometimes be found dressed in samurai armor near the main tower of Tsurugajo Castle. If you see them, it is a great opportunity to have your picture taken with a samurai, so don’t hesitate to ask. And if you ask nicely, they may even strike an impressive Samurai pose. There’s no doubt that the photo will make your trip all the more memorable!

Latest posts

  1. Useful Information

    Heroes and Kaijyu Adventures in Japan

    Inside each of us there is a struggle. Call it what you want: Light vs. Dark... Good vs. Evil... Hero vs. Kaijyu... There comes a day when you must decide, which are you? I visited Sukagawa City in Fukushima prefecture to delve into this concept a bit more. Why Sukagawa City? Sukagawa City is the home town of Tsuburaya Eiji, the creator of Ultraman and a co-creator of Godzilla. He came to be known at the “Father of Tokusatsu,” or, the “Father of Japanese special effects.” His post war work on the Godzilla film of 1954 brought him international success which allowed him to create more science fiction films featuring different monsters, or kaijyu, as well as the internationally popular Ultra-series! Today, Tsuburaya Eiji’s legacy lives on in his hometown where his heroes and monsters roam the streets! With this in mind we set off on our adventure! Eating our heroes... You are what you eat? Or are you conquering the enemy by eating them? You decide… My first stop was the Tamakiya Bakery in Sukagawa City where you will find a wonderful family owned and operated small business. Decorated with Ultraman related memorabilia. The creativity of the (now adult) kids of the family shines through in the various Ultraman and Kaijyu related breads and cookies! Each one is absolutely delicious. I recommend stocking up for your adventure, if there is one thing that heroes and kaijyu have in common, it is that they must eat to stay strong and battle ready! I ate a Kanegon chocolate bread, and suddenly the money in my pocket started looking like a.. snack?? Kanegon is a kaijyu who is known to eat money! Oh no, have I absorbed his powers? It’s impossible to say. Somehow, I managed to contain my dark urges.   Doing some research Suddenly it became clear that there was a lot that I still don’t know about Ultraman and Kaiju. So, I walked over to the Eiji Tsuburaya Museum to conduct some important research.  The museum has a lot of interesting information about Eiji Tsuburaya’s life and accomplishments, various kaijyu, heroes, and the filming of classic sci-fi and kaijyu related movies. There is even an original Godzilla suit on display! As you walk around the room, you may feel the eyes of Godzilla following you. Perhaps he is eyeing you up, trying to decide if you are an ally, or a delicious snack. Please tread lightly. There is a video exhibit and an interactive exhibit that turns you into various Kaijyu and heroes. There is also a station where you can create your own original Kaijyu, unfortunately this exhibit is temporarily suspended, however, it will hopefully be up and running again soon.   Having important discussions with IRL heroes and Kaijyu When you walk the streets of Sukagawa, you’ll never walk alone. Kaijyu and Heroes line the streets causing trouble and cleaning up said trouble. I recommend stopping and having a chat with these monsters and heroes to get some diverse perspectives on good and evil. I sat and spoke with Kanegon for quite a while, and we even discussed our struggles with wanting to eat money.   Channeling my hero energy Next we stopped by the Sukagawa Enobori Yoshinoya Workshop to create an Ultraman banner. It was so cool to experience the use of these traditional banner making techniques in a place with so much historical significance. As I admired my new Ultraman banner, I thought, maybe I am a hero after all.   The final test Next we headed over to the Sukagawa Tokusatsu Archive Center! Succumbing to my true nature and terrorizing a small town. Ultimately, the sight of an unprotected town brought out my worst instincts. I almost went full KAIJYU mode. Fortunately, my coworker is a hero, and he saved the town! After our battle, we explored the various miniature exhibits and classic special effects tools on display. We were also able to watch a short film and then a video about the special effects that were used to create that short film. It was really incredible, and made me want to try to make my own miniatures at home. If you are interested in sci-fi or classic special effects, then I highly recommend checking out the Sukagawa Tokusatsu archive center! You won’t be disappointed. Contact us through email or through our social media channels if you have any questions or need help planning a trip here! ©円谷プロ Published 2022/06/10

    Heroes and Kaijyu Adventures in Japan
  2. Useful Information

    5 things to do in Aizu Misato Town

    1. Try out an Aizu Hongo pottery workshop! After all, Aizu Misato Town is best known for its pottery culture! I’ve never used a pottery wheel in my life, but the kind staff at Irori Pottery house was so helpful. The way to use the wheel was not only thoroughly explained to me, but he also gave me a full demonstration! It was so much fun making a cup on the pottery wheel! The staff made it look so easy, however it was much harder than it looks! The shop is filled with beautiful pieces.   https://fukushima.travel/destination/aizu-hongo-pottery-workshops/322 2. Investigate the local pottery culture Be sure to stop by the visitors’ center to learn more about the town and admire a variety of pottery that is on display in the museum area. The town has a rich history in pottery that dates back to the Warring States Period (1467 – 1615)! Aizu Hongo pottery is a local treasure and although it may not be a house hold name, pieces of Aizu Hongo pottery (known in Japanese as 'hongo-yaki') can be found in museums around the world! Some pieces are more affordable and available for sale while some pieces are priceless, however, all are beautiful. During the warring states period, the leader of the Aizu Clan, Ujisato Gamo, ordered renovations be made to the nearby Tsurugajo Castle. The need to quickly produce a large number of ceramic tiles for the castle roof led to a surge in pottery production in the area with more than 100 kilns and craftspeople producing the tiles. Along with tiles, potters also crafted a wide variety of products and wares, honing their skills after years of training. Today there are only 13 kilns left in the area, and they are still producing ceramics and porcelain products today to preserve the oldest tradition of pottery in the Tohoku region.   3. Explore the area on a free rental bike! There are actually rental bikes here that you can use for up to 4 hours, for FREE! One of the bikes is an electrical assist bike, so if you are super interested in biking but your travel buddy is less so, then you can put them on the electrical assist bike and go exploring together! The bikes can be rented at the visitors’ center.   4. Check out the the Isasumi Shrine. The history of this shrine is thought to be connected to a 2000 year old legend, detailed on the Isasumi Shrine page. The grounds of the shrine are shaded with large trees and quiet mossy paths. When I visited, the classic wooden structure was so beautiful against the summer greenery. There is a large Koi pond nearby that is also very relaxing to visit. I had a nice time feeding the koi fish.   5. Enjoy local cuisine The area is particularly famous for having delicious soba noodles and sauce Katsudon dishes! I ordered the sauce Katsudon at a local diner and it was absolutely delicious.

    5 things to do in Aizu Misato Town
  3. Useful Information

    Fishing at Aquamarine Fukushima

    I know what you’re thinking... Fishing?? At an aquarium? Well, this isn’t a typical aquarium. Aquamarine Fukushima is an Environmental Aquarium focused on research and providing educational information about sustainability and conservation. The aquarium is most well-known for its triangular tunnel that separates two large tanks that represent the part of the sea where two currents meet. The Oyashio current (home to a high degree of diversity and reef environments) and the Kuroshio current (home to fast moving fish and wide open sea environments). This was my first time seeing large schools of fish moving together, and it was really mesmerizing! After getting hypnotized by the swirling school of fish, we headed over to the fishing pond to catch some lunch! At the fishing area I was handed a rod and some bait. You pay (1000 yen) to use the rod, and then it is a small fee (100 yen) per fish you catch. The fish in the pond were really cute, so I was nervous about eating them. I love eating sushi but when confronted with a cute little fish swimming around, I start to think less with my stomach and more with my heart. I’ve never successfully caught a fish on my own, so I was shocked when I almost instantly felt a tug on the fishing pole. I pulled the rod up and suddenly there was a flopping fish in my hands! In the same way, I was able to quickly catch two more fish. So, one for me and each of my coworkers. You aren’t allowed to return any fish to the water, so be careful not to catch more fish than you can eat. Catching the fish here is pretty easy, so I think this is a great activity to try! Most of us have very little experience with fishing or hunting. When you source all of your food from the local grocery store, it can be hard to remember or come to terms with the fact that the meat we eat was once alive. Faced with a living fish, some visitors (mostly children) have broken the rules and released what they caught once no one was looking! However, rather than feeling sad about the fish, I channeled the mindset of gratitude towards the fish for providing me with life-sustaining nourishment. Thankyou fish friend! We carried the fish friends over to the cooking area, said a little goodbye, and handed them over to the chef. Quickly, the fish were swiftly prepared in front of us and cooked. A few minutes later, we were handed a plate of hot fish fry. They smelled really good. We said a heartfelt thank you, “itadakimasu,” and ate. The taste was so fresh and delicious. I have never eaten such fresh fish before, my coworker and I agreed that the meat almost tasted more like fried chicken than fish. It felt good to know exactly where our food had come from. In order to consume consciously, it is good to remember to value the life of the creatures that we eat. By keeping our oceans clean, we can honor the lives of sea animals. After we ate, we walked around a bit more and took a look at some of the exhibits. One had a lot of information about beach cleanups and efforts that the aquarium is making to stay environmentally conscious which I hope you will check out if you visit! It was a lot of fun visiting Aquamarine Fukushima, and I hope that you will consider visiting!

    Fishing at Aquamarine Fukushima
Top