Destination Spotlight

Goshiki-numa’s Breathtaking Blue Lakes

Goshiki-numa’s Breathtaking Blue Lakes

Summer is the perfect time to take a hike around the incredible the Goshiki-numa Ponds in Urabandai. The range of colours which can be seen in the water of the picturesque lakes and ponds of this area has given it the name ‘Goshiki-numa’, meaning ‘Five Coloured Ponds’.

The area is most well-known for its bright blue ponds, which contain the mineral allophane (made up of aluminium and silicic acid), which is thought to have been released into the water by the nearby Mt. Bandai after its eruption in 1887. The reddish colour of other ponds is caused by a mixture of iron oxide and algae.

The surface of the lakes here appears to change colour depending on the time of day, and the season. Although the cobalt blue water looks amazing under a bright blue summer sky, the red maple leaves of autumn look sublime against the bluest of the lakes.

Springtime offers visitors milder temperatures, and winter allows for a very different way of experiencing the lakes: by snowshoe! I have done snowshoe trekking around the Goshiki-numa Ponds, but I think I prefer seeing it surrounded by lush greenery.


SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO AT GOSHIKI-NUMA?

1. TAKE A WALK

The most well-known walking route is 3.6 km long, and takes around 70 minutes to complete. It begins from the Urabandai Visitor Information Centre, and is a course suitable for those without experience of hiking.

This scenic route takes you all around the main ponds and lakes of the area, including Bishamon-numaAka-numa (the red pond), and Yanagi-numa (especially beautiful during Autumn time).

The route finishes up near Urabandai Kogen Station, from where you can take a bus back to the entrance of Goshiki-numa (or walk back!!).

Check out the map below for more information on the walking route. The walk begins at the right-hand side, where there is a pin labelled 'Goshiki-numa Iriguchi'.

2. RENT A BOAT

Boats can be rented near the Urabandai Visitor Information Centre, on the edge of Bishamon-numa. Renting a paddle boat is the perfect way to enjoy the calm atmosphere of Goshiki-numa and a great way to take in the amazing scenery.

3. LOOK FOR THE HEART KOI CARP

Spotting this special koi carp supposedly means that you’re lucky in love! Unlike the other kois in the Goshiki-numa Ponds, the Heart Koi has the shape of a heart on the side of its body. See if you can spot the koi during your visit! If you fancy even more of a challenge, try and take his picture!

(Hint: he likes hanging around the boats at Bishamon-numa, near the start of the hiking route)

4. CHECK OUT LAKE HIBARA

Lake Hibara is a large lake very close to the Goshiki-numa Ponds. You can hire a pedalo or kayak, or stop for a bite to eat at one of the nearby restaurants.


VISITING THE GOSHIKI-NUMA POND

See here for information about reaching the Goshiki-numa Ponds

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  1. Useful Information

    Fukushima’s Soma Nomaoi Festival!

    Soma Nomaoi Festival is a horse centric samurai festival that dates back to over 1000 years ago! The festival honors and celebrates the tradition of raising horses for military strength and as a part of life for people in the area. Although the festival has changed over the years (for instance allowing women to participate and adding new events!), the original feeling of the festival is still strong and alive. The history and heart of the region shines through at this incredible Japanese festival that you won’t want to miss!   Day one (Saturday): The Local Favorite Day I reached out to my friend, Satou Shouko, who is from Kashima-ku, an area that is a part of the region that was ruled by the Soma clan. She offered to take me and my coworker Rin around to see the events on Saturday. Ecstatic, we gathered our cameras (and a small gift for Satou-san of course) and headed off. Satou-san was incredibly kind and explained the events that we would be seeing that day. I was surprised to hear from her that Saturday is the favorite day for most locals, so much so that many will enjoy the festival on Saturday but skip out on Sundays celebrations!   The Festival Begins! We watched as a screen showed live footage from around Soma clan. The events of the day are separate but occur simultaneously across the areas. So, depending on which town’s festivities you choose to see, you can witness a variety of events. 2022 was the first year that they were able to conduct a livestream of the event on this scale, and it was absolutely incredible. Once you finish reading, go check it out.  Thanks to the livestream we got a close look at the home of the Supreme Commander where pre-departure ceremonies were taking place. The live feed showed us as prayers and toasts at three shrines: Soma Nakamura Shrine, Soma Ota Shrine, and Soma Odaka Shrine. One toast I saw on screen was followed by a smashing of the glass sake cup, an action that is intended to bring good luck supposedly. The breaking of glass, shouting in tough sounding samurai words, and the sounding of conch shell horns is an intimidating series of sounds to take in. How terrifying it must have been to face a samurai warrior on the battle field!   Soutaishou-omukae (Reception of the Supreme Commander) Warriors on horseback marching through the town and racing down narrow paths through the rice field travel back and forth, announcing updates to the leaders who are already seated, waiting to receive the Supreme Commander. This year, the Supreme Commander role was filled by the first born grandson of the reigning Supreme Commader! At 14 he has now reached the historical age of manhood, his debut at the festival was only days after his coming of age ceremony. Next year his grandfather will return to the position where he will stay until his son will permanently take over. While waiting, there are dance performances, conch shell blowing, and warriors on horseback rushing in to provide information. There was a short break in the action, and suddenly visitors were permitted to enter the square and mingle with the Samurai leaders, warriors, conch shell horn bearers and more. Taking photos with them as they sat in character was so much fun. I turned to thank one of the leaders for the photo when he suddenly offered me some sake and a snack from his tray of traditional snacks (umeboshi and cucumbers!) which was a big surprise. It was so much fun to connect with such a high ranking warrior and glimpse behind the character and see he is actually a really nice old man! When the break time ended, the tough shouting and samurai acting began again! Suddenly the conch shell horn bearers stood to attention and sounded their horns to announce the arrival of the Supreme Commander. Flanked by more tough looking men on horses, the procession was impressive! More dancing, toasts, and speeches ensued! My favorite part? When they begin to sing the ancient anthem of the Soma clan, the same song that their ancestors sang, the crowd joined in. It was absolutely magical to be in the midst of a community that retains such strong links to their history and culture. As the group began to prepare for their march through the streets, people rushed off to find the ideal place to view the parade from. As the procession of samurais on horseback marched down the street.   Gyouretsu (Samurai Procession) We rushed down the street to a little intersection in the road and waited with others to catch a glimpse of the parade. The parade here is a small version of the parade that happens on Sunday when all the districts of the Soma Clan join together in a massive procession of roughly 350 horses! (Not including the many more people who join the procession on foot.) The ornate decorations on the horses and the beauty of each set of armor is amazing to view from up close. Various flags represent the family crests or different subgroups of the Soma clan and are carried proudly through the streets. Every once in a while you will notice the procession come to a halt, and the sounding of the conch shell horns as well as the occasional sound of a drum. The intricate historic style of the procession provides a stark contrast to the telephone lines and traffic lights that look so modern it feels almost alien. This parade really gives you a feeling of Japan’s wonderful way of preserving history so that ancient cultural traditions can exist among the modern culture, a perfect blend of the old and new.   Shinki-soudatsusen (Flag Competition) After the parade, the horses are transported to a large open field on a hill overlooking the sea. In the field samurai warriors sit with their families (who look strange in comparison in the modern clothes) to enjoy a snack and drink. Watching moms pull out homemade rice balls (onigiri) and Fukushima peaches to feed to their little warriors was extremely cute. The horses were relaxing nearby their families, munching on some tall grasses. Once all of the horses and participants have arrived, the game can begin! The sounding of the conch shell horns is followed by a loud BANG as fireworks are launched into the sky and colorful flags fall slowly dancing through the sky. The explosions sound like what I imagine a battle field may have sounded like. Some horses naturally got spooked, while other were braver, heeding the commands of the riders and rushing into the thick of battle to capture the quickly falling flag. In some cases, the spooked horses launched their riders into the air sending them tumbling across the grass. Those who were ejected from their seat seemed to be okay, however I quickly became aware of the ambulance and health professionals who were standing by onsite - just in case! What a relief. The joy on their faces as their successfully captured a flag was really beautiful, as the families of the riders cheered from the sidelines. The close & intimate setting of Saturday’s event was wonderful and there were a lot of opportunities to chat with people, take photos, and witness these incredible events up close. Sometimes too close! At one point I had to dash away from the sidelines as one nervous horse stomped a little too close. In a moment of panic, I dropped my GoPro camera a little too close, fortunately it wasn’t stomped into oblivion! So please be cautious when experiencing the event up close on Saturday and be prepared to dash away with your equipment in case a nervous horse wanders into your personal space.   Day two (Sunday): The Main Event Despite the heat and exhaustion of Saturday, I went to Sunday’s event as well! Unfortunately, Satou-san and Rin couldn’t join me, but I set out with some other friends to check it out. This is the day when all of the Soma clan gathers to compete against each other in large scale versions of events that took place on Saturday! This event is more tourist friendly with food stalls, souvenirs stands. Plus, it is pretty easy to know where to go as all you need to do is follow the crowd! A huge parade marches through the streets, this year there were around 350 horses participating- and even more human participants of course! The parade ends at a large arena and amphitheater with many seats of the horses gather at the end of the parade. Dance performances, a horse race, and a massive capture the flag event takes place here and it is absolutely incredible. Flanking either side of the seating area are shaded horse stables where horses are brought to relax and wind down if they get too hot and stressed, or if they just need a rest. I was able to chat with the owners of the horses and find out a bit more about these sweet babies. One three-year-old horse I met was going to be in the racing event later, so it was a lot of fun to meet him and then later recognize him by his flag. Like cheering for a friend, I was so happy to see him win third place in his race. What a champion! Due to the large number of horses the falls were a bit more intense on this day creating an exciting atmosphere similar to a rodeo. Everyone on the edge of their seats to see what would happen! Shocked and amazement echoes across the audience, especially in one instance where a rider was tossed off his horse but he managed to hold onto the reigns and calm the horse down all on his own! Now that is some next level horse whispering. The area is so much bigger, some spooked horses would race by at jaw dropping speeds to the edges of the area or to the area where they knew they could get water and snacks while their rider frantically held on. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any injuries that were too bad, but there were definitely some limping samurai warriors by the end of the day!   Day three: Nomakake (The Ancient Horse capturing ritual) I wasn’t able to make it to the third and final day of the festival but I imagine that it is smaller and more intimate like the first day. On this day the event takes place where people capture a wild horse without using any tools and then take the horse to the shrine as an offering. This event is the most ancient and traditional event of the festival, existing since ancient times. I hope that you will go experience this incredible festival for yourself! This was Reagan from the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism and Local Products Association, thank you for reading and joining along on this story. Please contact us if you want to visit or have any questions about the festival or visiting Fukushima. Want to experience a horseback ride through the region that was ruled by the mighty Soma Clan? Click here for tour information.

    Fukushima’s Soma Nomaoi Festival!
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    Visiting Marusei Orchard

    Satou Yukie, a staff member from Fukushima City’s Marusei Orchard is passionate about what she does, and it shows. Pulling up in her bright pink mini truck, wearing her bright pink staff shirt she made quite the entrance. We were ushered in to sit in her office to talk a bit about the orchard before we went to take photos and videos. The office space only had a few chairs so we sat scattered across the room. We might’ve moved the chairs closer, but one staff member was dozing off in a chair and we couldn’t disturb them. Said staff member sleeps throughout most of the work day but management lets it slide because they’re so cute. This is Umemiyatamasaburou, or Tama-chan for short, the name comes from the story of a wandering samurai of the same name. This little cat wandered up to the orchard one day a few years ago and has stuck around ever since, so now they are treated just like any other member of the staff. In the afternoons she likes to wander the orchards, and has been known to sneak onto tour busses… So keep an eye out for her mischief! Satou-san showed us a map which revealed the size of the orchard to be a total of 10 hectares! The largest in Fukushima. 5 hectares are dedicated solely to peach production, in case you didn’t know, Fukushima peaches are quite famous in Japan for being incredibly delicious. The U.S. Olympic soft ball coach, Ken Erikson, couldn’t get enough of these during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and that not only made national news but caused peaches to sell out in record time due to a record number of orders being made. “Fruit is meant to be enjoyed with your eye, and then your taste buds!” She said with a smile. So, she led us off to the orchards to enjoy some peaches with our eyes and taste buds! The peaches are beautiful bright reds and pinks, looking like beautiful decorations. She told us the peaches that get ripe and delicious sooner are those close to the trunk, next thing we know she is on a ladder and handing us a few peaches. One peach had a tiny bite mark from a bird. Satou-san said that that one would be the sweetest, the birds know these things! After washing, peeling, and cutting off the area where the tiny bite had been taken, we got our first taste. It was incredibly soft and sweet. The birds really do know what’s up! The other peaches had no tiny bite marks, but they were just as delicious! They were a bit firmer and the taste was again, incredible. When you visit Marusei orchard you can eat as many fruits as you like in the set time, I managed to eat two! I definitely could’ve eaten more, but I was saving space for something special... On site there is a little café called Mori no Garden where you can try incredible parfaits made with fresh, seasonal fruit. The peach parfait was absolutely incredible, and I now have unrealistic expectations for fruit eating. It will be hard to beat the level of amazing that is Marusei Orchard’s fruits.   Walking through the orchards, it’s fun to take a look at the fruit trees that are out of season, it’s so cute to see the tiny baby fruits that will soon grow into something delicious! The area of the orchard is designed to hard something to see no matter the season with a variety of fruits and flowers that make a visit here truly exceptional. After eating your fill of the delicious fruits, you can stroll around the grounds and relax. At the front desk were you rented your buckets and knives for fruit picking, you also need to return them. You can buy any fruits that picked but couldn’t eat, and you can also buy some already picked fruits. There are some really funny warning signs to remind you to keep your hands to yourself, but it goes without saying don’t touch or squeeze the fruits! The orchard has such a fun atmosphere where you can tell how much the staff really enjoy working there, staff members have even DIYed little fruit parfait models, and they also collect the beetles they find in the orchard and save them for children to adopt as pets. Much kinder than getting rid of bugs with pesticides that’s for sure. Click here for more information about fruit picking in Fukushima!

    Visiting Marusei Orchard
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    Hinoemata Kabuki : A Hidden Gem of Japanese Folk Culture

    The Hinoemata Kabuki theatre is a slice of living history, carrying on a tradition that began in the 1600s.   Charming thatched roof buildings, rice fields, and country forest roads add an extra layer of charm. Rural Fukushima really feels like a story book destination, a place where Japanese folk culture still feels alive and strong.   A remote village surrounded by nature Surrounded by gorgeous nature, the village is incredibly picturesque. Before modern roads and forms of transportation were developed, Hinoemata village was cut off from civilization each year for a number of months due to heavy snow fall in the area that made travel impossible or extremely dangerous. People in the village developed unique ways to survive and live amongst nature. The spectacular Byoubu Boulders are a quick stop on the drive into the village.   The village has a population of just over 500 today that is mostly made up of the descendants of three groups of people who settled here. The first to arrive was those with the surname “Hoshi”, who arrived in 794. Next was those with the surname “Hirano” whose exact arrival period is unknown, however what is known is that they were fleeing from some conflict. Leading to the village being known as a place where people ran away to. Finally, those with the surname “Tachibana” arrived in 1569. The village has a strong sense of community which makes sense, as the population has survived and endured for hundreds of years together!    The Origins of Hinoemata Kabuki Let me transport you back in time to the 1600s, before modern technology, way before smart phones and computers. Before electricity!! The villagers in Hinoemata lived a life surrounded by gorgeous nature on the outskirts of a vast wilderness, modern day Oze National Park. Nearby Oze National Park is a wonderland of hiking trails…   Although they were surrounded by beautiful nature, they had few creative outlets. Villagers needed to focus on farming, fishing and hunting to keep the village strong and survive the cold winter months. The already remote village became a fortress in winter when paths were covered in heaps of snow, locking everyone either in or out of the village for several months each year. Some villagers travelled south for work or trade, and they discovered something magical: Kabuki theatre shows!   Mesmerized by the costumes and storytelling, those villagers brought home tales of what they had seen. Local villagers soon began putting on their own shows. Practicing in the fields and in their homes, and hand painting or crafting the elaborate costumes and sets to put on several spectacular shows to put on in the warmer months. Soon, the rich tradition of Hinoemata Kabuki was born!   Theatre for all Kabuki theatre is thought to have originated in Japan early on in the Edo period that lasted from 1603 to 1867. Originally female and male actors graced the stages, however, in 1629 women were officially banned from the stage. This was only ten years before the start of Sakoku (1639-1853) when Japan isolated itself by closing the borders. Since 1629, all characters male or female had to be played by men. I was surprised to here that even today, women are forbidden from performing in official Kabuki performance. Despite this, Hinoemata Kabuki includes female kabuki actresses! Cast of both male and female kabuki performers taking their final bow of the evening.   Hinoemata Kabuki is not official Kabuki theatre, despite being heavily inspired by Kabuki shows. This allows that to bypass strict rules that other Kabuki theatres have to observe, allowing for a unique take on this staple of Japanese culture.   A community dedicated to carrying on tradition We learned that the female actor who was meant to portray the grandmother character in last week’s performance suffered an injury that left her unable to perform! Everyone was worried now, with one character short. So, one senior actor from the village, a 72-year-old man, recognized the dilemma and decided to step up to help. He had actually retired some time previously do to joint pain in his knee. So, in order to perform to the best of his ability, this 72-year-old man did daily stretches and strengthening exercises to prepare for the performance. In the end, he managed to beautifully portray the sweet grandmother. Through the dedication of this remote community, their traditions have been preserved for hundreds of years, and hopefully, for hundreds more to come.    Hinoemata Kabuki Today Thanks to the creation of new roads and tunnels access to this remote village has improved, but the village still retains its own unique culture. People in Hinoemata village take a lot of pride in their traditions and history, passing on this tradition to each new generation, they have been able to preserve something that is truly special. Some time ago, the stage was designated as a National Important Tangible Folk Cultural Property, and the shows have been designated as an important intangible folk cultural asset. Although the original purpose of Hinoemata Kabuki was entertainment by locals for locals, today anyone is welcome to attend. Despite the small population, the town has an active and cheerful atmosphere that is very welcoming. The over 100 year old thatched roof of the stage had flowers growing out of the top The curtain used durng the show we saw was hand sewn and painted over 100 years ago by women in the village   Visiting Hinoemata village was absolutely incredible, and I can't wait to visit again someday. For a village of just over 500, I didn't expect to find such a warm and lively environment. This is a community the supports eachother, and they really seem to love their home and what they do.  For information on how to visit click here, or contact us via email or social media and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.  

    Hinoemata Kabuki : A Hidden Gem of Japanese Folk Culture
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