Destination Spotlight

Fukushima x SIGMA: A Photographer's Paradise Route

Fukushima x SIGMA: A Photographer's Paradise Route

This route through part of Fukushima has it all, fantastic autumn views, history, and adventure! Follow the route that we took to produce our video, "Fukushima x SIGMA: A Photographer's Paradise." 

Grab your camera, and LET'S GO!

Tsurugajo Castle

First we went to the gorgeous and historic Tsurugajo Castle, a bright white castle that pops against the fall colors.

The high walls of the castle that once gave archers the strategic advantage against invaders, now provide fantastic angles for photographers. We walked along the castle walls and searched for the best angles of the bright white castle framed in the warm autumn leaves.

The castle tower is now a museum where visitors can view artifacts and learn about the history of samurai in the area. This castle was one of the final strongholds of samurai during the Boshin War and the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate. Something to think about as you photograph this historic location.

Be sure to check out the Rinkaku Tea Rooms on the castle grounds, it’s a great place to photograph some Japanese plants and a traditional garden atmosphere. Not only is the garden beautiful, but you can even enjoy traditional Japanese sweets and Matcha green tea if you have time.

(Read more about Tsurugajo Castle...)

Sazaedo Temple

Next, we arrived at Sazaedo Temple, a unique Buddhist temple that was built in 1796.  

When we first arrived, I was a bit confused. The entrance is a red tori gate that seems to be the entrance to a deep forest. After crossing under the gateway, we followed the stone path and suddenly the sound of a rushing river greeted us. A river surges through a curving canal and under a small bridge, then out of sight. Before even catching a glimpse of the temple we could feel the spiritual power of this place. To the right, a set of stairs and leads up to Sazaedo Temple. 

This architectural wonder is hexagonal in shape and has a unique double helix staircase. A must-see! The outside is beautiful, but the inside was what I looked forward to the most. We went inside to capture photos of the walls and ceilings that are plastered with the names of families who visited hundreds of years ago, an old Japanese tradition. Lit only by the natural night that streams in through the windows, this place truly felt like a step back into another time.

(Read more about Sazaedo Temple...)

Yunokami Onsen

Next we went to Yunokami Onsen, one of my favorite places to visit in Fukushima.

We searched ahead to find out what time the train would be coming and arrived just in time to capture photos of the train passing by. Watching the local train roll into this cozy countryside station was one of the highlights of my day! This place is truly special. The mountains around the station are small and cute, shaped like the triangular mountains that a kid might draw. In autumn when the autumn foliage gives the mountains their warmer colors, it provides a cozy backdrop to the thatched roof of the station.

The name of this station has the word onsen in it, and sure enough, there is a foot onsen to warm you up! A great way to spend some time while waiting to capture the perfect picture of the train rolling into the station. I get cold easily so this was a great place for me to warm up. Inside the station there are lots of old fashioned candies and snacks, I picked up a few to try and they were so delicious, I highly recommend checking that out.

(Read more about Yunokami Onsen Station...)

To-no-hetsuri Crags

Next we visted the To-no-hetsuri Crags, a beautiful and romantic place where huge cliffs overlook a gorgeous river.

The autumn leaves, white cliff faces, and turquoise water contrast beautifully making for great memories and photographs. We crossed the suspension bridge and wandered around the cliffs to find places to take some great photos. A narrow staircase leads to a viewpoint and a small shrine that is built into the rock face, that was an exciting surprise!

One of my favorite memories here was just standing at the bank of the river after crossing the bridge, autumn leaves gently falling from the cliffs above and landing delicately on the surface of the river. We explored here for a while and captured some really amazing photos, this is a great spot and felt like the kind of dramatic landscape that you might see in an old Japanese painting.

(Read more about the To-no-hetsuri Crags...)

Ouchi-juku

Arriving in Ouchi-juku felt like stepping back into the old world of samurai!

The historic post town, looked like an ancient village, and the coolest thing was that there were still traditional businesses run by families whose ancestors lived here since ancient times. There are tons of alleyways and old fashioned cafés to stop and take photos of. At the end of the road if the most popular photo spot where you can capture an image of the street that runs through the middle of town.

We explored the shops, and captured photos of the town and the unique alleyways. We stopped at one of the many noodle shops in town and tried negi soba (fresh buckwheat noodles eaten using a green onion), stick-roasted char fish, fire roasted rice cakes and more! My favorite memory here was holding up one of my snacks to photograph it against the blue sky. I got really excited when I noticed the warmly colored thatched roofs seemed endless as they blended into the warm colors of the mountains. Sitting down to enjoy my snack in one of the alleyway cafés was a nice way to spend the last moments of the day as the sun set behind the mountains.

After a long day of photography, it was nice to slow down in the evening and spent the night in one of the historic buildings that have been functioning as guesthouses for hundreds of years.

(Read more about Ouchi-juku...)

Lake Sohara

In the early morning light we drove to Lake Sohara for gorgeous views of the lake. We almost went paddling on the lake to see what kind of photos could be taken from the water, but ultimately we chose to move on to the next location. However, if you like paddling it seems like a lot of fun!

Bandai-Azuma Lake Line

Next we drove along the beautiful Bandai-Azuma Lake Line and enjoyed the excellent views.

But of course we didn’t just drive by, we stopped a few times for photos and these were two viewpoints that you should definitely check out!

Nakatsugawa Valley Viewpoint

First we stopped at the Nakatsugawa Valley Viewpoint, here we captured photos of the gorgeous view of the Nakatsugawa river winding through the autumn colored valley.

To access this viewpoint, you will want to park at the Nakatsugawa Keikoku Resthouse and walk to the viewpoint through a short path through the trees. The trees on this path were also very beautiful so be sure to have your camera out, but watch your step. I had a hard time focusing on the path as the wind through the trees along the path was truly enchanting.

Sanko Paradise Viewpoint

We continued driving along the Bandai Azuma Lake Line to reach the second viewpoint, the Sanko Paradise Viewpoint.

Sanko literally translated to “three lakes,” from this viewpoint you can enjoy the view of three lakes framed by autumn colored mountains. My jaw dropped at this view, the mountains and lakes were so beautiful. As we drove there were quite a few clouds forming in the sky that made me a bit nervous... However, as we pulled up to this viewpoint, the clouds made way for rays of sunshine that illuminated the mountains and valleys in a truly magical way.

Goshiki-numa Ponds

Next we visited the Goshiki-numa Ponds where the bright blue water contrasted with the warm autumn leaves and made for a fantastic sight!

Take a stroll around the lake and enjoy this spectacular view, while you pick out your favorite angles to take photos from. This unique lake was formed due to volcanic activity in the area, so it can change colors slightly depending on the time of day and the season, so you are sure to capture a unique photo. After taking a lot of photos outside, I was feeling rather chilly, so I quickly grabbed a cup of warm, non-alcoholic amazake, a popular cool weather drink in Japan.

Inawashiro Herb Garden

Next we headed towards Lake Inawashiro and stopped by the Inawashiro Herb Garden.

Here you can go inside and see beautiful collections of flowers, depending on when you visit, there may be an art installation as well. When we visited there was a beautiful exhibit that featured colorful umbrellas by the reflective pond. Research ahead of time when you visit to find out what art installation will be on display when you visit.

Outside there are huge fields of flowers, and depending on the season and what’s in bloom you can take some really beautiful photos. In autumn there are some very cute fluffy red plants called “kochia,” which look like a plant right out of a Doctor Seuss book! We couldn’t go outside when we visited due to the rain, but if you have nice weather, get creative and see what photos you can take here! Be sure to check Instagram for some photo inspiration as many talented photographer flock to this garden every autumn. There are delicious floral flavored ice creams and snacks to try here, I recommend the floral ice cream, despite the cold, it’s worth it!

Lake Inawashiro

As we headed towards the station to travel home, we drove around Lake Inawashiro and gazed out at the gorgeous water and fantastic views of Mt. Bandai in the distance.

If the weather is warm or you don’t mind the chilly weather, I recommend finding a spot along the lake shore to stop and relax under some trees. The rain was coming our way so we went to a café instead. There are lots of local coffee shops and cafes, there are many to choose from and they are quite popular among locals, so I recommend checking one out before heading home. I was nice to relax and drink some coffee and have a bit of cake before heading home.

This two day / one-night long photography tour of Fukushima was a really special way to visit these wonderful places in Fukushima. It was my first time seeing these places and I was in awe for two days straight. These have become some of my favorite places to visit and photograph in Fukushima, and even the whole of Japan.

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  1. Useful Information

    Guide to Visiting the Famous Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint

    Tadami Line has fully resumed operations on October 2022 after 11 years, and it’s only natural that the interest in seeing the world-famous Tadami River Bridge No. 1 Viewpoint (第一只見川橋梁ビューポイント), also known as Daiichi Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint, is rapidly increasing. Taking a look at the beautiful photographs that can be taken there, it is easy to understand why people all around the world have fallen for this picturesque area. Getting to the viewpoint can seem quite daunting, so we’ve created this guide on how and when to visit the Tadami River Bridge! VISITING VIA PUBLIC TRANSPORT The Tadami River Bridge No. 1 Viewpoint is a few minutes’ walk from Ozekaido Mishima-juku Michi-no-Eki (道の駅尾瀬街道みしま宿), a roadside station known simply as ‘Mishima-juku’ (みしま宿), which sells omiyage  (souvenirs), snacks, and light meals.  See here for a map of Mishima-juku. Mishima-juku opens daily at 8:00am.   1.) GET TO AIZU-MIYASHITA STATION To reach Mishima-juku, take the JR Tadami Line (JR只見線) from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (会津若松駅)  to Aizu-Miyashita Station (会津宮下駅): One-way costs ¥860 and is covered by the JR East Rail Pass. The train ride takes approximately one hour and twenty minutes. Get your camera ready because the views from the train are beautiful! See here for information on getting to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station from Tokyo, Sendai etc.   2.) TAKE THE BUS FROM AIZU-MIYASHITA STATION TO MISHIMA-JUKU A commuter bus leaves Aizu Miyashita Station Monday to Saturdays at 8:10 a.m., and arrives at Mishima-juku approximately 5 minutes later. The commuter bus doesn’t run on Sundays or Japanese National Holidays. No booking is necessary for this bus. Please pay the driver upon exiting the bus. The one-way fare is ¥500 for adults and ¥300 for children (under 12 years). You can also walk to Mishima-juku from Aizu-Miyashita Station (it’s approximately a 40-minute walk) but this route involves walking along roads without footpaths which can be dangerous so I highly recommend you take the bus or rent a car.   3.) WALK TO THE VIEWPOINTS & SNAP AWAY! The various viewpoints are all a short walk uphill from Mishima-juku. If facing Mishima-juku from the road, turn to the right and walk towards the tunnel. Before you get to the tunnel, take the foot path on the left-hand side (there should be a sign with an arrow on it to guide you up the foot path).   4.) TAKE THE RESERVATION-ONLY BUS BACK FROM MISHIMA-JUKU There are two buses a day that leave Mishima-juku, heading for Aizu Miyashita Station from Monday to Saturday (they don’t run on Sundays or Japanese National Holidays). These buses must be reserved, and there are strict time deadlines for the reservations (see below). To catch the bus that leaves at 10:20, you must reserve your spot by 9:00. To catch the bus that leaves at 13:20, you must reserve your spot by 12:00. You can make a reservation inside the Mishima-juku. Ask them for the bus reservation sheet  (In Japanese: Demando basu yoyaku moshikomisho onegaishimasu デマンドバス予約申込書をお願いします) and fill it in. Click here to see an application from previous years to give you an idea of what the form might look like (please note, it might have been updated). Make sure to arrive at the bus stop 5 minutes before the departure time. Hand this form in when you get on the bus. When returning to Aizu-Miyashita by bus, pay the driver upon exiting the bus. The reservation-only bus has the same fare as the commuter bus (¥500 for adults and ¥300 for children under 12 years). This bus takes between 5 to 10 minutes. Please be aware that neither the commuter bus to Mishima-juku, nor the reservation-only bus that leaves Mishima-juku run on Sundays or National Holidays. For more information on catching these buses, take a look at this information provided by Oku-Aizu.     WHEN TO SNAP YOUR PHOTOS The most famous pictures taken at the Tadami River Bridge No. 1 Viewpoint are those taken when the train carriage passes over the bridge. The train that you can see from afar is passing between Aizu Nishikata Station and Aizu Hinohara Station. Below I’ve listed the times that you can view the trains passing over the Tadami Bridge (Correct as of November 2022). Please note that the train only runs Monday to Friday, and doesn’t run on Japanese National Holidays, nor from December 30th to January 3rd. AIZU NISHIKATA STATION (会津西方駅) TO AIZU HINOHARA STATION  (会津桧原駅) (Passing from left to right as seen from the viewpoint) 06:03 - 06:07 07:39 - 07:43 09:18 - 09:22 13:01 - 13:05 16:06 - 16:10 AIZU HINOHARA STATION (会津桧原駅) TO AIZU NISHIKATA STATION  (会津西方駅) (Passing from right to left) 07:21 - 07:26 08:59 – 09:04 14:21 – 14:25 18:13 – 18:17 Please note: I haven’t listed trains that leave later than 19:00, as you wouldn’t get a good view of the train regardless of the season. The times listed above may change depending on the season or on weather conditions so please check an up-to-date timetable for the JR Tadami Line in winter through the official page (available only in Japanese) or call the JR infoline number to find out the latest information (English, Chinese and Korean support is available). As you can tell from the information above, the commuter bus arrives nearby the viewpoint at 8:15, which means you’d make it in time to watch the train passing from 8:59 to 9:04. However, passengers on the commuter bus cannot reach the viewpoint in time to see a number of the earlier trains passing over the tracks. For those who want to see these earlier trains (especially the extremely early 6:0 3 train which looks absolutely spectacular in the early morning summer mist), I recommend staying overnight in Miyashita Onsen town.   STAYING IN MIYASHITA ONSEN (宮下温泉) For those who would like to stay overnight in Miyashita in order to see the first train cross over the Tadami Bridge, take a look at the accommodation information listed below: Miyashita Onsen Eikokan Miyashita Onsen Furusato-so (website here) Oku-Aizu Nonbirikan (website here) Guesthouse Sokokashiko  (website here) These ryokan and guesthouses have some experience with guests from abroad. See Mishima’s Tourism Website for more information about local ryokan.   ABOUT THE JR TADAMI LINE The JR Tadami Line crosses approximately 135 km of beautiful Japanese countryside, passing through 36 stations along the way. See here for more information about the stops and timetable. Due to damage caused by heavy rains in 2011, service was suspended for certain parts of Tadami Line, but on October 1, 2022, the entire line resumed operations after almost 11 years. The Tadami Line is operated by JR East, so you can use the Tohoku JR East Pass (Tohoku Area) to ride on this line! If you’d like to know more about the many attractions along the Tadami line, there is an official guidebook in English available on the Tadami Line website. See below for an English-language tourist map we made of Mishima Town (三島町) (Miyashita Onsen [宮下温泉] and Hayato Onsen [早戸温泉]).

    Guide to Visiting the Famous Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint
  2. Useful Information

    Visiting the most Extreme Wild Onsen in Japan!

    The Extreme Onsen: Nakanosawa-numajiri Onsen Possibly the greatest wild onsen in Japan, or the world?  This massive onsen river in the mountains is the largest of its kind in all of Japan! With the help of a professional guide, visitors can traverse unique volcanic terrain to reach this extreme onsen river in the mountains. Bathing in the water here is thought to have many health benefits, as well.  Read more below for additional information about this experience!  Poisonous Volcanic Gasses and Safety (IMPORTANT!) First of all: SAFETY.  Completing this hike takes approximately two-hours roundtrip, it has several stretches of difficult and potentially dangerous terrain. The main danger is that this mountain is a volcano, so, it is constantly releasing poisonous gasses. These gasses sometimes accumulate to dangerous and deadly levels that can cause fainting and even death. Fortunately, professional guides are available and trained with the tools necessary to safely guide you on your journey. If you are interested in doing this hike, tours can be booked through Aizu Dream Development (ADD), and professional guides can be hired at the Café & Activity Nowhere. (Currently the website is only available in Japanese, so please use Google Chrome’s browser Google Translate extension) The approach The hike is beautiful, with views of a massive waterfall and the surrounding mountains. Tunnels of trees reminded me of the entry way to a mysterious world. As you get higher, the trail slopes downwards on either side so that there are panoramic views of the surrounding area. Suddenly, you can see the terrain has changed up ahead from green forest to white and red volcanic stones. This way once the setting of a violent volcanic eruption, and the thought of that feels outlandish as the mountain is peacefully quiet.  Descending into the volcanic valley The trail drops steeply into the valley, where shadows preserve small pockets of winter snow well into the spring months, something that is important to consider if you are visiting in spring. (Vising in winter would be extremely dangerous and is therefore prohibited.)  As you continue, the trail can be difficult to identify due to plant overgrowth, the remote nature of this trail and onsen can make it difficult to keep the path clear. When I visited, I was grateful for my guide who kindly helped me cross the large pockets of snow and ice as well as the sections where bamboo shoots had encroached on the trail, making it difficult to pass. As you descend deeper into the valley, you can appreciate the way the valley forms a bowl of reddish volcanic stone and soil. Unfortunately, this unique shape is what can contribute to the accumulation of fatal levels of poisonous gas! Our guide tested the air and conditions, and determined that we were safe to explore.  A river of warmth The blue river of onsen water contrasts sharply with the warm tones of the volcanic landscape. It felt like we had discovered water on mars. Steam rose from the water and it was amazing how warm the water stayed despite being so exposed to the cool spring air. Wooden channels split off from the river, this onsen water will flow through the wooden channels, to underground pipes and fill the baths at eleven different onsen hotels where it can be enjoyed by guests who want to experience the health benefits of this onsen water without the need to go hiking.   Bathing Bathing in the onsen water is thought to have medicinal benefits. The water has a pH of 2.1 that is comparable to lemons! It is unique in Japan as the largest amount of hot spring water to come from one source, the “Numajiri Motoyu,” which is inaccessible to humans. So if you choose to visit, I hope you will bathe in the water here and experience the refreshing effects of this onsen!  Disclaimer: We will not provide the exact trail information for this hike due to the dangerous nature of poisonous volcanic gasses in the area which have been fatal to some hikers. You may find information about the trail online, these the sources reference a different version of the trail that is illegal, and crosses over protected land. In order to experience this beautiful and unique environment in a safe and respectful way, we encourage visitors to hire guides or visit as a part of tours that include guides.  Unfortunately, some have chosen not to hire a guide, resulting in a number of casualties on the mountain. Please help us to avoid further tragedies and do not attempt this hike without an experienced guide or encourage others to do so. Thank you for your cooperation.    Extreme Onsen Experience Tour is available from here!     

    Visiting the most Extreme Wild Onsen in Japan!
  3. Useful Information

    Ouchi-juku Kimono Experience

    On a clear autumn morning, I stepped out in a bright purple kimono, tabi socks and wooden sandals, my hair up in a pink flower kanzashi hair pin and a cloth purse in hand. The sky looked sparkling blue in the quiet town of Ouchi-juku, located between the mountains of the Japanese countryside. What happened next was unforgettable. The Start of my Ouchi-juku Kimono Experience “Kimono is for everyone”, the kimono specialist, a middle-aged woman with a thick Aizu accent, reassured me. Few garments are as universal and inclusive as kimono. Sunlight was timidly spilling into the room through the translucent paper windows when my kimono experience began. We were in a wide room parched with tatami floors, warming up close to a heater. First, using a kanzashi hair pin, she quickly and effortlessly arranged my hair. Next, it was time for me to pick my kimono. Kimono means ‘a thing to wear’ in Japanese, and is a timeless item of clothing adaptable to different body types and designed to last for generations. I opted for a bright purple kimono that matched the fuchsia flowers on my hair. I put on white tabi socks and a black cloth bag with embroidered cherry blossoms. As a cat lover, I was delighted when the staff suggested I wear a white obi with pictures of cats. That same kimono must’ve been worn by many before me. Kimono has no sizes and is a timeless piece. In the face of ultra-fast fashion (and its subsequent toll in the environment), this sustainable and inclusive garment has stood the test of time and remains as relevant as ever. Welcoming as it is, kimono does have its intricacies—for one, you need someone to fit you into it. The kimono specialist will answer all the questions you may have, as well as teach you a few local secrets to make your visit even more memorable. Booking a kimono experience brings you closer to Japanese culture in more ways than one. Stepping into the Past: Picture-perfect Ouchi-juku Ouchi-juku is an old town preserved to look exactly the way it did 300 years ago. Rows of thatched roof handcraft shops and restaurants, no cars nor electricity poles on the streets and little streams shushing along the road, it’s a postcard-like gem hidden between the mountains of the Aizu region. Either people in Ouchi-juku are extremely welcoming or the kimono was truly special, because visitors and locals alike would go out of their way to compliment me or even ask to take my picture. Elderly ladies tending for the shops would greet me with a broad smile and a friendly “kawaii, desune!” (‘You look very cute!’). It was a lovely way to connect with everyone—the flowery kimono helped start many warm conversations. A Taste of Aizu Samurai’s Soul Foods It finally was time to sit down for a meal. If you visit Ouchi-juku, make sure to build up some hunger and indulge in local specialties. This is what I ordered and would recommend you try! Takatosoba (高遠そば) is Ouchi-juku’s signature dish: buckwheat noodles served with grated radish soup and eaten with a green onion. The radish used in this dish is called ‘azagi daikon’ and grows naturally in the Aizu mountains. It smells as tangy as it tastes. What makes this dish unique is that you eat it with a green onion instead of chopsticks or a spoon. You’re welcome to bite into the green onion, too, once you’re done.     Nishin no sanshosuke (にしんの山椒漬)is pickled herring with sansho (Japanese pepper). The herring was buttery soft and marinated in soy sauce. The Japanese pepper leaves on top had a strong but refreshing taste. Kozuyu (こづゆ) is a staple dish of the region, said to have been a favorite of the Aizu samurai. It’s made up of a hearty scallop broth, fish cakes, carrots, konjac noodles and gluten croutons. This delicately presented dish is the perfect way to warm-up during cold days. Sweet soybean flour-flavored tochimochi (栃もち・きな粉) was my personal favorite. These two chewy, warm and powdery mochi were arguably the best I’ve had in over four years that I’ve been living in Japan. Each bite had just the right amount of sweet, with the sweet soy flour kinako powder sprinkled on top leaving behind an almond-like aftertaste.   The Most Instagrammable View of Ouchi-juku The best view of Ouchi-juku can be found after a short walk through the main street towards the shrine. Climb up the stone stairs and you’ll find yourself in front of a famous photo spot overseeing the traditional minka houses, mountains stretching out in the background. In spite of its striking beauty, this town remains quiet and rarely sees crowds, making it perfect for visitors who enjoy taking their time to explore places off the beaten path. After looking through the pictures of that day, I noticed that the prints of kimono look even more vivid against the backdrop of Ouchi-juku’s earthy hues. Strolling through such a well-preserved historical site in a kimono was a one-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’d like to wear a kimono in Ouchi-juku, read more about the Ouchi-juku Edo Time Slip and Kimono Tour, which includes a two-hour stroll in a kimono, matcha and sweets at a traditional tea house, and entry to the townscape exhibition hall where you can learn more about the way of life way back then at Ouchi-juku.

    Ouchi-juku Kimono Experience
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