Destination Spotlight

Iizaka Onsen & Kenka Matsuri Autumn Festival

Iizaka Onsen & Kenka Matsuri Autumn Festival

WHERE IS IIZAKA ONSEN & WHAT IS A ‘KENKA MATSURI’?

Iizaka Onsen is a quaint town built around the sources of the Iizaka Onsen hot springs. Iizaka Onsen hot spring water has been loved for over a millennium, and is well-known in Japan. Residents of Tokyo often pop up on the Shinkansen to take a dip in the relaxing waters of Iizaka Onsen!

One thing that onsen-lovers should know about Iizaka Onsen is that the hot spring water is very hot. I visited the oldest public bath in the town called ‘Sabako-yu’ on my first day in Fukushima. I’d read the English information pamphlet that said that the water was hot, but I thought “Well, I’ve been to onsen before – how hot can it be?!” Spoiler alert: hotter than you can imagine! (Around 46 degrees Celsius!)

There are plenty of onsen you can take a dip in even if you’re not a fan of hot springs that are super hot. The further away from the source you get, the cooler the water gets. Guess where Sabako-yu is? About 200m away from the source… The being said, as long as you let your body get used to the temperature gradually, it's possible to enjoy the super hot onsen too!

HOW CAN I EXPERIENCE A HOT SPRING IN IIZAKA ONSEN?

PUBLIC ONSEN

There are 9 public hot springs in Iizaka Onsen that you can try out for a small fee. Many of them sell small towels that you can use to dry off after bathing, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own towel! Public onsen in Japan are almost always separated by gender – unless very clearly specified! – and are open to anyone (with the exception of people with tattoos in some cases).

Local people from Iizaka Onsen start visiting the public baths when they are very young, and visit regularly with family and friends until they are old enough to have a family of their own. They will then bring their own children to the public baths, and the cycle of onsen appreciation continues!

Public onsen are great places to meet and chat with local people and immerse yourself not only in Japanese culture but in local history and traditions!

ASHIYU (足湯)- FOOT-BATHS

There are also 3 public foot-baths in Iizaka Onsen, which are free to use, and can be visited by anyone. One of the biggest foot-baths in Iizaka Onsen is in Kyu-horikiri Tei – a traditional residence that dates back over 500 years ago.

You can find out about the names and locations of some of these public hot springs and public foot-baths on Iizaka Onsen Tourism Association’s website here!

HIGAERI NYUYOKU (日帰り入浴) – DAYTIME ONSEN

One more way to enjoy hot springs in Iizaka Onsen is to visit ryokan (traditional Japanese inns).

Many ryokan in Iizaka Onsen offer visitors the chance to take a dip in their onsen, even if you’re not staying the night.

Daytime onsen visits are available at a number of Iizaka Onsen’s many ryokan, including Hotel Juraku  & YoshikawayaCheck out this website to see which ryokan hotels English-speaking staff.

The price of a trip to a daytime onsen ranges depending on the establishment, but tend to cost between 300 yen to 1400 yen. The more expensive the day onsen, the bigger the establishment and the better the range of baths.

Please note that many higaeri nyuyoku onsen only offer this daytime onsen option before 14:00 or 15:00.

Hotel Juraku is the exception to this rule, as it is open most days until 21:00.

Many ryokan in Japan have a “no tattoo” policy. If you have a tattoo, you can still enjoy onsen, but you’ll need to reserve a private bath as opposed to bathing with the locals. See this post on reserving private baths.

HIGHLIGHT OF IIZAKA ONSEN – KENKA MATSURI

As well as its amazing, relaxing hot spring water, Iizaka Onsen is also known for Kenka Matsuri (translates as ‘fighting festival’!), which is one of three main fighting festivals in Japan. The festival is always held on the first weekend of October.

Fighting festivals make up just one of the types of festival held in autumn in Japan. There are many shinto festivals held in autumn, after the rice harvest has taken place, as a way of thanking the gods for that year’s harvest, and to pray for the prosperity of local people who worship at the shrines.

During Iizaka Onsen’s Kenka Matsuri, 6 portable shrines (mikoshi) and 6 festival floats (yatai), are paraded around town before being brought to Hachiman Shrine in the center of Iizaka Onsen.

Each yatai represents one area of Iizaka Onsen Town, and each mikoshi belongs to one of these various areas.

The climax of the festival is reached at around 20:00 on the second day of the festival, when the yatai are brought to Hachiman Shrine – and the fighting begins.

Yatai festival stalls are decorated with lanterns, and are accompanied by the omnipresent beat of the Japanese taiko drum. The sound of the taiko drum actually reverberates from inside the yatai – where the drummer ferociously smashes at the drum for the duration of the festival.

Once these yatai reach the grounds of Hachiman Shrine, they crash into one another at great force. The reason for this is that each area of Iizaka Onsen, represented by their yatai, is trying to stop another area’s mikoshi from entering the grounds of Hachiman Shrine. Only one mikoshi can enter the shrine first, and receive good luck for the year to come.

Once the mikoshi reaches the back of the shrine, the festival is over.

WHY SHOULD I GO TO SEE IIZAKA’S KENKA MATSURI?

This festival is super exciting, and I love the atmosphere.

The evening air carries the beat of the taiko drum – which persists for the entire festival – the smell of yummy festival foods, and the surprised gasps of onlookers at the sight of floats toppling over, yatai set on first from their lanterns, and men making a narrow escape from underneath them.

I’ve never been to a Japanese festival as absorbing, exciting and lively as Kenka Matsuri.

All the participating locals involved in the festival – from young kids in school to teenagers chanting and following their respective yatai float, to grandpas passing on their traditions – truly put their hearts into the evening, which makes it extra special.

I love wandering around Iizaka Onsen on the night of main Kenka Matsuri event. It’s a great opportunity to soak up the amazing atmosphere of a town which is usually so quiet and sleepy.

Hachiman Shrine, which becomes the main stage for Kenka Matsuri, is less than a 10 minute walk from Iizaka Onsen station, meaning that even if you have a wander through the streets, it won’t take you long to get back to the action.

Unlike other festivals in Japan, Iizaka Onsen’s Kenka Matsuri is relatively unknown amongst visitors from abroad, meaning that you can have an authentic Japanese festival experience, and get to interact with the locals.

The crashing of the yatai at Hachiman Shrine usually begins at 20:30, but because it gets crowded on festival days, I recommend you get there early and visit with friends who can save your spot when you go to the loo or go to grab a beer at the food and drink stalls.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN IIZAKA ONSEN?

Aside from the festival, Iizaka Onsen is absolutely worth visiting for the excellent onsen, its picturesque streets, adorable cafés and kind local people.

Iizaka Onsen is also home to the Buddhist temple known as Nakano Fudoson Temple, which really leaves an impression on visitors with its mysterious cave and beautiful waterfalls.

Iizaka Onsen’s central location also lends itself to including it as part of an itinerary for a weekend away in Fukushima City. Onsen lovers can even try and compare its waters to those of Tsuchiyu Onsen or Takayu Onsen.

WHY NOT MAKE A WEEKEND OF IT?

Here’s an idea for a way to spend your weekend in Iizaka Onsen & other areas of Fukushima City during festival time!

SATURDAY OCTOBER 6

  • Travel to Iizaka Onsen from Fukushima Station via the Fukushima Transportation Iizaka Line.
  • Take the bus to Nakano Fudoson Temple and spend some time exploring the caves and waterfall!
  • Travel back to Iizaka Onsen and check in at your ryokan for the night.
  • Wander the streets in the evening during festival time.
  • Make sure to walk over to Hachiman Shrine by 20:00 (the main event of the festival begins at 20:30).
  • Enjoy the festival, try the local delicacy Enban Gyoza for dinner, and stay at a ryokan overnight.

SUNDAY OCTOBER 7

  • Spend some time exploring Iizaka Onsen by day (check out the Kyu-horiki Tei former residence, foot-baths, day onsen and cute shops).
  • Take the Iizaka Line back to Fukushima Station.
  • Have lunch in Fukushima (Ideas for restaurants here!)
  • Check out the Fukushima City Inari Shrine Autumn Festival in the afternoon and evening. See here for the location of Inari Shrine!

MORE INFORMATION

  • Check out this website for a list of places to eat in Iizaka Onsen.
  • Fukushima City’s Convention Association has prepared a decent list of restaurants and izakaya in central Fukushima City. Check it out here!

ACCESS

Iizaka Onsen can be reached in about 2 hours from Tokyo. Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Ueno Station or Tokyo Station to Fukushima Station (90 min), and from there take 25 min train. (See here for info about reaching Fukushima Station)

Latest posts

  1. 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!
  2. 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
  3. Useful Information

    Guide to Visiting the Famous Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint

    We're currently working on updating this entry, as some of the information may not be up to date, . We apologize for the inconvenience. (2022-11-16)   I am often asked about how to reach the No. 1 Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint (also known as Daiichi Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint) which has become the focus of spotlights across the world. 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. When you begin to Google it, getting to the viewpoint can seem quite daunting, so I decided to make a guide on how & when to visit the Tadami River Bridge. VISITING VIA PUBLIC TRANSPORT The Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint is a few minutes’ walk from Ozekaido Mishima-juku – a roadside station (known as ‘Michi-no-Eki’ in Japanese), 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, travel to Aizu-Miyashita Station, on the JR Tadami Line from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station to Aizu-Miyashita Station. 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 every day at 8:10 am, and arrives at Mishima-juku approximately 5 minutes later. No booking is necessary for this bus. Please pay the driver upon exiting the bus. You can also walk to Mishima-juku from Aizu-Miyashita Station (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 2 buses a day that leave Mishima-juku, heading for Aizu Miyashita Staiton.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. 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 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 Hibara Station. Below I’ve listed the times that you can view the trains passing over the Tadami Bridge (Correct as of April 2020). AIZU NISHIKATA STATION TO AIZU HIBARA STATION (Passing from left to right as seen from the viewpoint) 06:04 - 06:07 07:39 - 07:42 09:18 - 09:21 13:03 - 13:06 16:02 - 16:05 AIZU HIBARA STATION TO AIZU NISHIKATA STATION (Passing from right to left) 07:21  - 07:25 08:59 – 09:03 14:21 – 14:24 18:10 – 18:13 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. Also, there is a separate Winter Timetable so please check an up-to-date timetable for the JR Tadami Line in winter. As you can tell from the information above, the commuter bus arrives nearby the viewpoint at 8:15. However, passengers on the commuter bus cannot reach the viewpoint in time to see a number of the trains passing over the tracks. For those who want to see these earlier trains (especially the extremely early 6:04 train which looks absolutely spectacular in the early morning summer mist), I recommend staying overnight in Miyashita Onsen town. STAYING IN MIYASHITA ONSEN 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: (These ryokan and guesthouses have some experience with guests from abroad) Miyashita Onsen Eikokan Miyashita Onsen Furusato-so Oku-Aizu Nonbirikan (website here) Guesthouse Sokokashiko  (website here) See Oku-Aizu’s 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 for the first time in almost 11 years. Holders of the JR Rail Pass can ride on the Tadami Line! See below for an English-language tourist map I made of Mishima Town (Miyashita Onsen & Hayato Onsen). 

    Guide to Visiting the Famous Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint
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