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Ideas for Winter Trips in Fukushima

Ideas for Winter Trips in Fukushima

I decided to write a bucket list of things to try out in Fukushima during the winter months!

 

1) TAKE IN THE VIEWS OF BEAUTIFUL OKU-AIZU

 

The Tadami Line train connects Aizu-Wakamatsu City with Niigata Prefecture via some of Fukushima’s most beautiful rural towns and villages. The route of this train ride is breath-taking throughout the year, and winter is no exception.

I especially want to check out the view of Oshi Shuraku Hamlet (大志集落) in Kaneyama Town, which you can see in the photo below. This view spot is located at Kaneyama Fureai Hiroba (かねやまふれあい広場 – Map), which is a 10-minute walk from Kaneyama Station on the Tadami Line.

 

 

 

2) ATTEND SNOW FESTIVALS (AIZU, MINAMIAIZU)

 

Most of the snow festivals held in Fukushima take place on the same weekend of the year, meaning that it’s pretty difficult to visit more than one per year! I have attended both Ouchi-juku and Tadami Snow Festivals (mentioned below) in the same day, but I would recommend taking your time at each festival instead of rushing between them.

 

 

 

AIZU PAINTED CANDLE FESTIVAL

 

Aizu Painted Candle Festival is when Oyakuen Garden really comes into its element, as the garden becomes 1 of 2 main stages during the 2 day festival period. The other stage is at Tsuruagajo Castle.

Oyakuen Garden often hosts live performances of traditional Japanese music during the evening during the festival. Tens of thousands of candles illuminate the castle and the garden over the 2 day festival period, creating absolutely stunning scenes as the sun sets.

This festival is held to celebrate the traditional craft of Aizu’s painted candles, which have been produced in the region for 500 years.

  • DATE: Second Friday and Saturday of February
  • LOCATION: Tsuruga-jo Castle Venue (Map) & Oyakuen Venue (Map)

 

 

HIGASHIYAMA ONSEN CANDLE FESTIVAL

 

Every evening from Christmas until around the end of February (depending on the amount of snow), Higashiyama Onsen town is filled with the lights of candles.

The lighting of these candles usually occurs between 16:00 to 18:00, so if you are staying in this onsen town during the winter, be sure to check it out.

  • DATE: Late December – Late February
  • LOCATION: Higashiyama Onsen, Aizu-Wakamatsu City (Map)

 

 

OUCHI-JUKU SNOW FESTIVAL

 

Ouchi-juku’s Snow Festival features traditional Japanese performances, an incredible firework show, and a town that feels like it still exists in the Edo Period, illuminated solely by the light of lanterns made of snow. There are plenty of nearby onsen ryokan where you can warm up & stay overnight at the end of the evening. Not much beats that for a snow festival, does it?

  • DATE: Second weekend of February
  • LOCATION: Ouchi-juku, Shimogo Town

 

TADAMI SNOW FESTIVAL

 

This snow festival is the largest in Fukushima Prefecture. Often welcoming special guests (such as Kumamon) this snow festival features snow sculptures, igloos, places for kids to play, and lots of traditional crafts and tasty food to check out. Oh, and also a fantastic fireworks show.

  • DATE: Second Saturday and Sunday of February
  • LOCATION:Tadami Eki Mae Hiroba (JR只見駅前広場) (Map)

 

3) PICK-YOUR-OWN STRAWBERRIES IN SOMA (SOMA CITY)

 

Soma area is well known for its bright-coloured, juicy strawberries. I’ve been lucky enough to try some in my office when visitors have brought them as gifts for my colleagues, but I really want to go to Soma and pick some strawberries of my own!

 

4) ATTEND CRAFT FESTIVALS (SHIRAKAWA CITY, IWAKI CITY)

 

 

SHIRAKAWA DARUMA MARKET

 

Daruma are good luck charms originating from Buddhism. It is a common new year’s traditional in Japan to buy a daruma soon after the start of the new year. After purchasing a daruma, you should think carefully and decide on 1 wish or goal that you want to achieve during the year. Then, draw in the daruma’s left eye (or right eye if you are facing it), and then draw in the other eye when your wish or goal is completed.

700 stalls selling daruma standing along a 1.5km long street in central Shirakawa City during the Shirakawa Daruma Market. There are 18 different varieties of daruma to choose from, all looking for a loving home and an owner to give them a goal or wish to look after!

  • DATE: Held annually on February 11
  • LOCATION: The main street in front of Shirakawa Station that runs parallel to the train line.

 

 

IWAKI TSURUSHI BINA FESTIVAL

 

This festival was started in recent years as a way of celebrating the Nakanosaku district of Iwaki City, and rejuvenating the area. During the festival, hundreds of decorative items hand-made by local people from chirimen fabric – the fabric used to create kimonos – are displayed and sold over a period of 2days.

These Tsurushi Bina decorations are traditionally given to young girls on Girls’ Day, in March. They come in all shapes and sizes, but in Fukushima I have seen lots of decorations shaped like animals and vegetables.

This festival represents a rare opportunity to see so many of these beautiful, painstakingly handmade decorations in one place, so I really want to go check it out next year.

  • DATE: Early February
  • LOCATION:清航館, Nakanosaku, Iwaki City (Map)
  • ENTRANCE FEE:100 yen

 

 

5) HIT THE SKI SLOPES

 

This year I really hope I get to try out skiing in Fukushima Prefecture.

There are so many different ski areas spread all over the huge prefecture, from the relatively temperate slopes in Inawashiro, where skiiers are blessed with a view of Lake Inawashiro as they descend down the slopes, to the deep snow country of Hinoemata.

Aizu Ski Japan is a really good English-language website to use as a resource for getting to grips with the type of ski areas available in the prefecture.

 

 

 

6) GO WAKASAGI (SMELT) FISHING

Rent out a tent at the centre of Lake Hibara in Urabandai, make a hole in the ice in front of you, and try out smelt fishing this winter!

There are a number of different companies that take visitors out onto the lake during the winter months, when smelt fishing is allowed to take place, but it may be a little difficult to try this out if you don’t speak Japanese. Rental costs all depend on the individual company or organisation.

  • LOCATION: Lake Hibara (Map)

 

 

 

7) WATCH THE SUN RISE ON NEW YEAR’S DAY

This beautiful spot on the coast of Iwaki City is a very special place for local people, especially fisherman, who visit Hattachi Coast on New Year’s Day to show their faith to the Buddha of Hattachi Yakushi.

The Hattachi Coast is one of many places on the coast of Fukushima that was devastated by the 2011 tsunami, and is therefore a very bittersweet place for many locals. It has not lost its spiritual hold over visitors though, or its breathtaking scenery.

A seriously beautiful spot for those who like photography, and those who would like to make connections with local folk from Iwaki during the early hours of the new year.

  • LOCATION: Hattachi Coast, Iwaki City (Map)

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  1. Destination Spotlight

    Drift Taxi Experience at the Ebisu Circuit

    Nihonmatsu, a charming city in central Fukushima Prefecture, is known for its cultivation of rice and chrysanthemums, a famous lantern festival, and its thrilling motorsports scene. Many racing and drifting enthusiasts visit the Ebisu Circuit, a racing and drifting circuit tucked in the mountains of Nihonmatsu, to experience the adrenaline rush of drifting with a professional racer— a thrilling experience known as Drift Taxi.Experience OverviewDuring the Drift Taxi Experience, participants get to enjoy a thrilling ride while a pro driver drifts a few laps through three of the circuit courses. Although this might seem extreme at first, you can trust that your safety is in good hands with knowledgeable drivers who are experienced drifters. Since they are the ones who do the drifting, those who do not have a driver’s license can also participate.©JNTOWhat is Drifting, and What Does it Involve?Drifting is a motorsports technique in which a driver approaches a curve by oversteering the vehicle, causing it to glide sideways with the wheels facing the opposite direction to the turn. When drifting started growing in popularity in Japan during the 1980s, there were no closed courses where to practice, which meant that drifters would do it on public roads in the mountains at night, for which drifting gained a reputation for being dangerous. Nowadays, however, drifting has evolved into a widely recognized motorsport, with safety standards in place and thousands of enthusiasts and apprentices worldwide. Facilities like the Ebisu Circuit provide a safe space to enjoy and learn about drifting (the circuit also has a drifting school!).Driving and drifting safely is a top priority at the Ebisu Circuit. Apart from basic measures like fastening seat belts and wearing helmets, rest assured that drivers have a deep understanding of cars, oversteering, and drifting techniques.Meet Your Drivers“I am sometimes told that I have the best job in the world”, says Naoto Suenaga of his role driving for the Drift Taxi Experience at the circuit. Since first picking up an interest in cars decades ago, Suenaga has been an active member of the racing and drifting scene in Japan and is one of the salient members of Team Orange.So is Nobushige Kumakubo, the managing director of the Ebisu Circuit, who, after winning the D1 Grand Prix International Drift Championship in 2006, established himself as one of Japan’s legendary drifters and also travels the world connecting with others who share his passion for drifting.Although Kanta Yanaguida is among the youngest at the circuit and at Team Orange, his age should not be mistaken for a lack of experience. He is, in fact, a skilled and confident driver who has been honing his drifting abilities for over 10 years and frequently participates in racing and drifting events around the world.Cars Used for Drifting at the Ebisu CircuitCar manufacturers are making it increasingly difficult for drifters: new cars are anti-drifting by design. So, the drivers at the Ebisu Circuit tuned their vehicles for drifting. The two drift taxis used at the circuit are modified cars: a Toyota Chaser and a Toyota Mark II with above-average horsepower and bucket seats.Fasten Your Seatbelt for a Crazy Ride!Once the experience starts, the driver will drive you through the complex towards the drifting course. You will be required to wear a helmet and fasten your seatbelt. The driver will let you know once the drifting is set to begin. Whether you choose to sit on the passenger or the back seat, enjoy the electrifying halts, twists and turns as you dash through each of the three courses.BookingYou can book Ebisu Circuit’s Drift Taxi experience in English through this link.FAQs About the Drift Taxi Experience Are there any restrictions on who can participate? Participants must be over 140 cm tall to ride. Those with heart conditions or other health afflictions should ask their doctor before drifting. Do I need a driver’s license for this experience? No, you do not need to have a driver’s license to be able to participate in the experience. A professional driver from the Ebisu Circuit will be the one doing the drifting. Are there any requirements for participants? Participants are required to purchase insurance for an additional 500 yen. It is mandatory to ride with a helmet on and with the seatbelt fastened. How much does the Drift Taxi Experience cost? The experience is offered at a flat fee of 50,000 yen per vehicle.The price includes drifting several laps on three courses in one car with up to three passengers per car ride. For four participants or more, you can either take turns riding three at a time or book an additional car (up to two cars with a maximum of three passengers per car).The tires of the car wear off almost entirely after each Drift Taxi Experience. The price is calculated to cover the change of tires, as well as the cost of the gas and the expertise of the professional driver.If you go with a group, you will pay less per person than if you are going individually.  Can the drivers speak English? The drivers can speak basic English and are used to foreign visitors. How much time does the experience take? The experience takes approximately 45 minutes. How do I get to the Ebisu Circuit from Tokyo? Check the final section of this page for information about different ways of accessing the circuit from Tokyo.If you have any other questions, send them our way and we will do our best to assist you!Useful LinksEbisu CircuitEbisu Circuit: A Drift ParadiseEbisu Drift Matsuri (Ebisu Drift Festival)

    Drift Taxi Experience at the Ebisu Circuit
  2. Useful Information

    2023 Autumn Festivals in Fukushima: Dates & Times

    As the heat of summer fades and the cool autumn breeze sets in, Fukushima Prefecture is energized with its autumn festivals. Travelers who visit from late September to Mid-November get to enjoy both breathtaking foliage and rich cultural festivities. Here are some of the festivals scheduled for the fall of 2023:Aizu Festival (Aizu-Wakamatsu City)This is one of the main events in the Aizu area. It features a procession of horseback riders dressed in samurai attire, parades, sword performances, and more. In Japanese: 会津まつり Place: Tsurugajo Castle & other locations in Aizu-Wakamatsu City. Date: September 22 (Friday), 2023: Lantern Procession, Aizu-Mt. Bandai Dance September 23 (Saturday), 2023: Thanksgiving Ceremony for Ancestors, Procession of Aizu Domain Lords, Aizu-Mt. Bandai Dance September 24 (Sunday), 2023: Nisshinkan Children’s Parade, Drum and Fife Corps Parade Time: Varies depending on the event Tickets/Cost: Free to attend, but there might be a parking feeIf you are interested in participating in the parade, consider trying the SAMURAI CITY AIZU Special Program: Aizu Clan Lord Procession & Samurai Experience. The Kengido Samurai Experience is also scheduled for the same weekend as the Aizu Festival. Iizaka Kenka Matsuri (Fukushima City)Iizaka Onsen Town’s main yearly event is an exciting ‘fighting’ festival! Apart from taiko drums and food stalls, what makes this festival unique is the 'yatai' festival stalls that are fiercely pushed against each other as contending groups (each representing a different area of the town) try to get their mikoshi (portable shrine) into the Hachiman Shrine grounds first. More information about this festival and travel ideas in Iizaka Onsen. In Japanese: 飯坂けんか祭り Place: Hachiman Shrine. Click here for directions to Iizaka Onsen by train from Fukushima Station Date: October 6 (Friday) to October 8 (Sunday), 2023. Time: Varies depending on the event. The main event will be on October 7 (Saturday) at around 19:15. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Nihonmatsu City)With a history spanning back over 350 years, this vivid festival is a highly anticipated event in the central area of Fukushima! Large floats as tall as 11 m are lit up with over 300 paper lanterns and paraded to the beat of traditional music. In Japanese: 二本松の提灯祭り Place: Nihonmatsu Shrine Date: October 7 (Saturday), 8 (Sunday), and 9 (Monday). Held every year on the first Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of October. Time: Depends on the event Tickets/Cost: Free Nihonmatsu Chrysanthemum Doll Festival (Nihonmatsu City)In Nihonmatsu City, autumn brings beautiful flowers! The city prides itself on its cultivation of chrysanthemums, the National Flower of Japan, which bloom spectacularly in the fall. Each year for a month, from Mid-October to Mid-November, the Kasumigajo Castle Park Grounds are enlivened with a colorful display of chrysanthemum flowers and decorated dolls. In Japanese: 二本松の菊人形 Place: Kasumigajo Castle Park Grounds (Nihonmatsu Castle) Date: October 10 (Tuesday) to November 19 (Sunday), 2023 Time: From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets/Cost: General entry is 800 yen; 600 yen for those with disabilities, and free for middle-school-aged students and younger. Discounts may be applicable for groups of 20 people or more. Aizu Shiokawa Balloon Festival (Kitakata City)This local festival in Kitakata City is incredibly picturesque! Riding on one of the balloons requires a fee and previous registration, but spectators can enjoy the sight of balloons rising into the crisp autumn skies for free. In Japanese: 会津塩川バルーンフェスティバル Place: Nippashi-gawa Green Park Free Plaza (日橋川緑地公園自由広場) in Shiokawa-machi, Kitakata City Expected Date: October 8 (Sunday) and 9 (Monday) [to be confirmed] Time: TBD Tickets/Cost: Previous application (in Japanese) is required to fly, for which there is a fee. Please check the event's website (in Japanese) for more information. Hinoemata Kabuki (Hinoemata Village)This traditional art form passed on through generations is a fundamental tradition for the inhabitants of Hinoemata Village. There are typically three kabuki performances held each year, the last of which will be on September 2nd this year. For more information, please check our blog post 'Hinoemata Kabuki: A Hidden Gem of Japanese Folk Culture'. In Japanese: 桧枝岐歌舞伎 Place: 670 Idaira, Hinoemata Village, Minamiaizu District Date: September 2 (Saturday), 2023 Time: Venue opens at 18:00, performance starts at 19:00 Tickets/Cost: 1,000 yen per person (free for guests staying at the village) Taimatsu Akashi Fire Festival (Sukagawa City)A spectacular fire festival in Sukagawa City, the Taimatsu Akashi Fire Festival has a history stretching back 400 years. As the evening grows darker, the glowing fire and the rhythm of the taiko drums will make you feel as if you were transported to a different era. In Japanese: 松明あかし Place: Mt. Gorozan in Midorigaoka Park, Kuriyasawa, Sukagawa City Date: November 11 (Saturday), 2023 Time:  Main torches (Hon-taimatsu) Procession: 2:00 p.m. Big torches (Dai-taimatsu) Procession: 3:00 p.m. Main Event of lighting up the big torches (Dai-taimatsu): 6:30 p.m. Tickets/Cost: FreeUseful LinksTop 10 Places to See Autumn Leaves in Fukushima5 Ginkgo Tree Spots To Visit In Fukushima This AutumnAutumn Colors of Fukushima

    2023 Autumn Festivals in Fukushima: Dates & Times
  3. Destination Spotlight

    Fukushima’s ‘Miracle’: A Visitor’s Guide to Ukedo Elementary School

    Step inside Ukedo Elementary School, and you’ll find dark walls, hanging cables, and rubble scattered across cracked floors. Yet, many call this place miraculous. While the building itself reflects the painful story of a disaster, it also stands as an enduring symbol of hope and unity.After a tsunami warning on March 11, 2011, teachers and principals at the Ukedo Elementary School, located 300 meters from the ocean in the coastal area of Fukushima, swiftly evacuated all students before the towering waves engulfed the area. All lives were saved. The school building sustained great damage, but it did not collapse. In the following years, residents asked for the building to be preserved as a testimony of the destructive force of the 2011 tsunami.Ukedo: A Fishing Area With Close Ties to the SeaUkedo Elementary School is located in Namie, a town in the Northern coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture. Today, the school is surrounded by flat fields and construction sites, but not long ago the area was a bubbly district made up of houses by the ocean where families enjoyed sea festivals, sailing, and going to the beach in the warmer months.The 2011 Earthquake and TsunamiStudents at Ukedo Elementary School were attending classes as usual when the earthquake hit on March 11, 2011. A few minutes later, a tsunami warning was issued for the area. The teachers and principals promptly urged everyone to evacuate to Mt. Ohira, located approx. 1.5 km away.A Hasty but Successful EvacuationStudents had no time to take their belongings, or even put on their coats. The cold wind blew strongly as they escaped inland, guided by their teachers.Once they reached the foot of the mountain, one of the students led the group, and everyone climbed to the other side toward safety. They reached a main road, where a truck driver picked them up and took them to an evacuation center.Upon arrival at the center, students and teachers could ascertain that no one was missing or had been left behind. Even though everyone from the school survived, the tragedy brought by the triple disaster changed their lives forever.The Area’s Aftermath & ReconstructionIn Ukedo, the tsunami resulted in the loss of over 120 lives, and many people went missing. A total of 402 houses in the district were destroyed. People’s hometown as they knew it was lost forever.To make matters worse, the area had to be evacuated due to the nuclear accident at the nearby TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. This meant that search parties couldn’t enter for weeks; and residents, who initially thought the evacuation would only last a few days, could not fully return home for several years.Once rescue and recovery personnel were allowed back into the area, many houses and buildings started being demolished as part of the decontamination efforts. Devoid of vitality, the wrecked town looked nothing like the cheerful locality it had been only months ago. For about six years, residents had to be granted permission to return, and could only do so for a few hours at a time due to radiation concerns. Knowing that some returning residents may also visit the school on their way to or from their houses, rescue personnel left encouraging messages and wishes for the area’s recovery on the school blackboards. Those who stopped by the school, in turn, replied. Soon, the blackboard was filled with cute drawings and kind interactions between both strangers and lifelong friends. The blackboard and the messages were preserved and are on display at the school today.When the evacuation order for the Ukedo area was lifted in 2017, the Ukedo Elementary School building was one of the few left standing, although it was utterly devastated. With time, more and more people expressed their wish to make the school building a memorial site to pass on the lessons of the tsunami, honor the Ukedo community, and let visitors see firsthand how disaster preparedness can save lives.In October 2021, the school opened for visitors and has since then become one of the flagship facilities where visitors can learn about Fukushima’s recent history and revitalization.After the disaster, a sakura tree began inexplicably growing from the asphalt by one of the old school entrances. The tree blooms beautifully each spring.Flow of the visitYou will begin your visit on the ground floor, with an exhibition showing life in Ukedo before the disaster.Next, you will enter the main school building, where you will grasp the scope of the destruction of the tsunami. You will see what the classrooms, staff rooms, kitchen, dining room, and school gymnasium look like now, alongside photographs showing what they used to look like.After walking in and around the first floor, you will head to the second floor, where you will learn more about the impact of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear accident. There is information about the area, a model of the town, as well as images of the blackboard with support messages.Advice for Visitors Scan the QR code at the entrance to access the English translation of the explanation panels. As you walk inside the school, look for the corresponding number for each panel on the website to read the explanations in English.   When looking at the building from the outside, notice the blue panels showing the height of the tsunami.   Because this area has undergone extensive reconstruction, sometimes car navigation systems cannot accurately guide you to the school. If you notice your car GPS trying to take you down a road that is no longer there, we recommend using your phone navigation system instead, which might be more updated.   There is a toilet and a vending machine at the site, but no convenience stores, supermarkets, or restaurants are nearby, so consider eating or buying snacks before your visit.   After visiting the school, we recommend walking to the Ukedo Port to see what the area looks like today.AccessBy Train, Bus & Bicycle From the JR Futaba Station (JR Joban Line), take the shuttle bus from Futaba Station to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum. Take one of the free rental bicycles at the museum and ride to Ukedo.By Car Approx 1 h 45 min from JR Koriyama Station [郡山駅] via National Road 288. Approx 1 h 29 min from Sendai Station [仙台] via the Joban Expressway. There is a parking lot available at the site.By Train & TaxiAbout 15 min. by taxi from Namie Station [浪江駅] (JR Joban Line). Please note, though, that there are no taxis at the station, so please make your travel arrangements in advance.Useful LinksThe Remains of Ukedo Elementary School in Namie TownFukushima’s Revitalization Educational One-Day TripThe Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial MuseumNamie Roadside Station

    Fukushima’s ‘Miracle’: A Visitor’s Guide to Ukedo Elementary School
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