Useful Information

Learn how to make Japanese sweets!

Learn how to make Japanese sweets!

“Wagashi” (和菓子),or traditional Japanese sweets, look more like works of art than snacks!

 

Wagashi are not a daily snack, but more of a special treat that is often eaten during Japanese tea ceremonies and presented to guests. That being said, it is definitely okay to enjoy these snacks in a casual setting as well!

 

 

There are so any kinds of Wagashi, and they often reflect the different seasons. Tea ceremonies will often choose the most unique designs to enjoy and celebrate the coming of each season.

In spring time it’s common to see pastel colored sweets representing flowers that are in bloom. I have also seen some spring sweets that appear to be white, however, beneath the white is a layer of green that represents green spring grass that is waiting for the snow to melt away. A great deal of detail is taken into consideration while crafting the designs of different sweets! So, while you are in Japan, be sure to explore the Wagashi designs for whatever season you visit during.

In my Wagashi class we got to make two types of sweets!

First we made a type of Wagashi that are called Namagashi (生菓子)! Namagashi are made using a rice flour dough with a sweet bean paste as filling. They are delicately shaped, often by hand, to reflect the changing of the seasons. They can be shaped like seasonal fruits and vegetables, animals, or more abstract shapes.

 

 

We made a multicolored pastel design that looks like a little flower! What a perfect design for spring.

The second sweet the we made is a type of Wagashi that are called Ichigo-Daifuku (苺大福)! Ichigo is the Japanese word for strawberry, so this sweet contains one large strawberry! Daifuku is a type of Japanese sweet that is usually a mochi stuffed with a sweet filling, in this case it is anko (sweet bean paste) and also the strawberry.

 

 

This is a special design that is made by a sweet shop in Fukushima! The strawberry is so big that it is impossible to close the daifuku, so they added two little sesame seeds for eyes to make it look like a cute face. So cute!

This was my first time making Japanese sweets and it was so much fun! I hope that I can try it again in other seasons as well. I highly recommend taking one of these classes! Thank you to the expert confectioners at Ichimian Sweets Shop in Iizaka Onsen Town in Fukushima Prefecture. If you would like to try some of their delicious treats, pay them a visit. Founded in 1923, the shop is a local favorite! For more information, visit their website (Available only in Japanese or Google Chrome translation extension):

https://www.iizaka-ichimian.com/%E4%BC%9A%E7%A4%BE%E6%A6%82%E8%A6%81/

If you are interested in trying out a Japanese sweets making class when you visit Fukushima, please contact us for more information.

If you are interested in trying out a tea ceremony experience, here are a few options for tea ceremony experiences in Fukushima:

Suirakuen Garden inside Nanko Park

https://fukushima.travel/destination/green-tea-experience-at-suirakuen-garden/94

Rinkaku Tea Ceremony Room inside the Tsurugajo Castle grounds

https://fukushima.travel/destination/relaxing-tea-ceremony-at-tsurugajo-castle/89

 

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  1. Useful Information

    Wearing Kimono in Ouchijuku

    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 Ouchijuku, located between the mountains of the Japanese countryside. What happened next was unforgettable. The Start of my Ouchijuku 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 Ouchijuku Ouchijuku 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 Ouchijuku 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 hearty meal. If you visit Ouchijuku, 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 Ouchijuku’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 Ouchijuku The best view of Ouchijuku 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 a 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 Ouchijuku’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 Ouchijuku, read more about the Ouchijuku 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 Ouchijuku.

    Wearing Kimono in Ouchijuku
  2. 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
  3. Destination Spotlight

    Tadami Line: 5 Sights You Shouldn't Miss

    The Tadami Line is an incredibly scenic railway that runs across Aizu. Connecting the bustling samurai city of Aizu-Wakamatsu with the serene, gorgeous countryside of Oku-Aizu, this route is definitely one to try out if you want a chance to see rural Japan at its best. The Tadami Line is great because it provides a way for visitors to see areas of this beautiful prefecture basically undiscovered by tourists. Riding the train is a fun experience in itself, as is the fact you can hop off and on at any stations you’re interested in visiting. While being a passenger on the train means you’ll be provided with fantastic, panoramic views of the historic towns which lie on the Tadami Line, getting off at Aizu Miyashita Station, and catching the bus to Mishima Town’s observation points means you can see the train in action, passing over the stunning No. 1 Tadami River Bridge. No matter what the season, the views along the Tadami Line are absolutely breathtaking.   TOP SIGHTSEEING SPOTS ON THE TADAMI LINE 1. AIZU WAKAMATSU: TSURUGAJO CASTLE Fukushima’s most well-known castle. Destroyed at the climax of the Boshin War, this reconstruction of the castle serves as a reminder to the people of Fukushima of their history, and the code of honor that has been at the heart of Aizu samurai society. See more here 2. YANAIZU: HISTORIC ENZOJI TEMPLE Enzoji is a stunning temple with a legendary history, which has sat majestically on top of a cliff edge for over 1300 years. The temple is where the story of the akabeko – the symbol of Fukushima Prefecture began. A red cow is said to have appeared out of nowhere to assist with the building of the temple when all hope seemed to be lost. See more here 3. MISHIMA: NO. 1 TADAMI RIVER BRIDGE VIEW SPOT The famous viewpoint of Tadami Bridge that crosses over Tadami River. This viewpoint is accessible from a stairway that begins outside Michi-no-Eki Mishima-juku (Roadside Station). See more here 4. KANEYAMA: OSHI VILLAGE LOOKOUT Known for being one of the only places in Japan where carbonated water occurs naturally, Kaneyama Town is home to not only amazing onsen, but also fantastic view spots, like this one looking out over Oshi Village. See more here 5. TADAMI: BEAUTIFUL SCENERY Oku-Aizu is definitely the most rural area I’ve been to in Japan. The sight of farmers going about their daily tasks makes you realize that although we get pretty tied up in our fast-paced lives, there is something really special about being surrounded by nature. See more here (Change the language to ‘English’ from the pull-down list on the top right) ACCESS The first stop on the Tadami Line is Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, easily accessible from Tokyo or other areas in Fukushima Prefecture. See here for details about reaching Aizu-Wakamatsu. 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.

    Tadami Line: 5 Sights You Shouldn't Miss
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