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Fukushima's Top Cherry Blossom Spots

Fukushima's Top Cherry Blossom Spots

Fukushima Prefecture is blessed with lush nature and dramatic scenery. As the third-largest prefecture in Japan, the climate, seasons and landscapes differ vastly by area. However, there is one season that is spectacular no matter where you may be in Fukushima – spring! Blossoms start to bloom from the south-east of Fukushima, where the temperature is warmest, and flower the latest in the west. This means that if visitors come to Fukushima during April and May, it is very likely that cherry blossom will be in full bloom somewhere in the prefecture!

OGAWASUWA SHRINE

The beautiful weeping cherry blossom tree at Ogawasuwa Shrine has been standing strong in Iwaki City for over 500 years. The branches gracefully stretch across the main area of the shrine, providing a stunning foreground against the red torii gates. The blossom is illuminated by traditional Japanese campfires every night of the cherry blossom season. 

See here for information on visiting Ogawasuwa Shrine

NATSUI SENBON-ZAKURA

'Senbon-zakura' translates as '1000 cherry trees'. As its name suggests, this area is well known for the 1000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees that line both sides of the river. Natsuigawa River is a wonderful location for taking photos or going on a peaceful walk. 

See here for information on visiting the Natsui Senbon-Zakura

HANAMIYAMA AREA

The Abe family opened their stunning garden to the public as a park in 1959 to allow visitors to enjoy their flowers. In the springtime, over ten types of blossom bloom together, enveloping the park in bright, beautiful colours. The white of the often snow-clad Azuma mountains contrasts sublimely with the flowers, giving visitors the impression of having accidentally wandered into paradise.

When I visited Abe-san, he spoke about how Hanamiyama Park can be enjoyed with all five senses – the sound of water from rock garden, the feel of the breeze on your skin, the sight and sweet smell of the flowers, and the taste of the fresh spring air. When I asked him where his favourite spot in the park was, he told me that he had too many to count, and it depended on the weather, the season and the time of day.

Visitors can enjoy finding their own favourite spot or ask for suggestions from the volunteer guides, who can guide visitors in English, Chinese and Korean.

See here for information on visiting Hanamiyama.

MIHARU TAKIZAKURA

One of the three great weeping cherry trees in Japan, the Takizakura tree in Miharu is truly breathtaking. It is estimated to be around 1000 years old and has been designated as a national treasure. Around 12 metres high, the flowers of the cherry blossom cascade down for metres around the magnificent tree, enveloping visitors in bright flowers. It’s no wonder that its name translates into English as ‘Cherry Blossom Waterfall’. 

See here for information on visiting the Miharu Takizakura.

TSURUGAJO CASTLE

The light colours of the castle walls are complemented by around 1000 cherry blossom trees that decorate the castle and its surrounding park in the springtime. The blossoms can be appreciated from up close, or from above – a sight you can gain access to from the viewing platforms at the top of Tsurugajo Castle. Relax at the traditional Japanese tea house inside the castle walls, or take a walk through the picturesque park before entering the castle and learning about Aizu-Wakamatsu City’s rich and interesting samurai history. Free English guided tours are available at the castle if booked 2 weeks in advance through the Aizu-Wakamatsu City International Association (Website here). You can also rent bicycles at the castle. 

See here for information on visiting Tsurugajo Castle.

NICCHU LINE

Nicchu Line is the name of the train line that used to run at this site. The train tracks have been closed and converted into 3 km long cycling paths, but you can still see the steam train which used to run on this line. 1000 weeping cherry trees stand tall along the Nicchu Line, their branches stretching as far down as the feet of visitors that pass by. There are 'cherry blossom walks' held along the Nicchu Line in late April.

See here for information on visiting the Nicchu Line.

KANNONJI-GAWA RIVER

During springtime, a 1 km path along the banks of the Kannonji-gawa river becomes lined with Yoshino and weeping cherry tree blossom. Visitors walking along the river banks may feel like they are passing through a tunnel of blossom. On a bright and sunny day, a visit to Kannonji-gawa River is a must. That being said, it is worth it to hang around until the evening, when the branches and flowers are lit up with the setting sun, and later with stunning light displays.

See here for information on visiting Kanonji-gawa River

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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
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    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!
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    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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