Destination Spotlight

Oku-Aizu Museum & Sannojaya Tea Room

Oku-Aizu Museum & Sannojaya Tea Room

I recommending a visit to the Oku-Aizu Museum to anybody traveling around Aizu-Tajima area, especially to those who might have visited the Aizu-Tajima Gion Festival. It takes 15 minutes to reach Oku-Aizu Museum from Aizu-Tajima Station if travelling by car, and 30 minutes if using public transport.

OLD JAPANESE-STYLE HOUSES

Like Fukushima City Minka-en Open Air Museum in Fukushima City, Oku-Aizu Museum is home to a number of kominka (古民家) – which translates as ‘old Japanese-style houses‘ – which, over the years, have been brought to and maintained at the museum.

These houses are spread out across a small park – all of them a short walk away from the main museum building. The park is really scenic, especially at the end of July when I visited, which is when the hyacinth were in bloom.

A majority of the buildings that stand in the grounds of Oku-Aizu Museum are former residences of local farming families. Here’s some information about a majority of the buildings on display, as well as ideas for how to spend your time at the museum.


FORMER IMATA FAMILY FARM HOUSE

The Former Imata Family Farm House is the oldest residential building at Oku-Aizu Museum, dating back to the early 18th century. If you step inside, you’ll see that half the flooring is covered in tatami, while half is laid bare. This is because the house was used as both a home and also a workspace, and therefore there need to be an area to do farm-related duties. Due to the incredibly heavy snowfall in winter, it was important for as much work as possible to be done inside the house.

DYE WORKSHOP (FORMER SUGIHARA FAMILY FARM HOUSE)

The Dye Workshop at the Former Sugihara Family Farm House is probably my favourite old Japanese-style building at the museum. This dye workshop dates back to the late 18th century. It was used as a place for dyeing fabric from the mid-Edo Period (1800s) through to 1965. Visiting this house, you can really get a feel for how it must have been to work here hundreds of years ago.

Aizu is particularly well known for its Aozome 藍染め, or ‘indigo dye’. The dye was often used on Aizu Momen (the name used to refer to cotton made in Aizu) and other locally-produced fabrics. The dye was also used for dying banners to be used at the nearby Gion Festival.

One very special thing about Oku-Aizu Museum is that visitors actually get a chance to try out traditional techniques for dyeing fabric with indigo in this very building! You can do a tie-dye experience  or – if you’ve got a bit more time – try out stencil dyeing (which has to be done over 2 days). Visitors coming in a group of 5 or more people can take part in these activities from May to October every year.

I’d recommend contacting the museum in advance in order to increase the chances of staff being present on the day who’ll be able to help explain the process to visitors who don’t understand Japanese.


WOODCRAFTSMAN HUT

This hut was built in the late 17th century, and was used by wood craftsmen travelling in local woods in order to gather materials for producing their products. Many wood craftsmen from Oku-Aizu would craft and shape their wood so that it could be used as Aizu Lacquerware in the future. See here for more about Aizu Lacquerware!

I really loved the ‘hairy’ look of this hut, so I had to include this photo in this article! I’m guessing the thatched roof and sides of the building were covered in straw to prevent damage from heavy snow that falls during this area in winter.


SANNOJAYA TEA ROOM

One of the things that makes the Oku-Aizu Museum really stand out for me is that visitors can have lunch (or cake & a coffee) in one of the old Japanese-style houses! Sannojaya Tea Room was originally used as a tea room before being moved to the museum and it continues to be used to entertain guests to this day.

I love the open-plan design of the building – it’s very easy to relax here, sitting on the tatami, gazing out at the museum park. The food and drink is really yummy. I’ve been twice now, and in particular, I recommend the sake lees cheese cake! Please check Google Maps for the cafe's opening hours.


INSIDE THE MAIN EXHIBITION HALL

It’s not just the old Japanese-style houses outside that are fascinating, there are also so many interesting artefacts to see inside the main exhibition hall. Over the years, the museum has collected over 24,000 items – over 5,000 of which are considered as Nationally Important Cultural Items – and there are 3,000 on display to visitors.

The main exhibition hall gives visitors the opportunity to learn about life in Oku-Aizu. The items on display really help make everything come to life – from the important roles that wood craftsmen and merchants played in local society and they went about their daily lives, to the ways that the people of Oku-Aizu have adapted to the harsh winter conditions of living in Oku-Aizu / Minamiaizu.

Even though there are no English signs at the museum as of yet, a lot can be picked up from taking your time to look around the museum and looking at the items on display.

VISITING OKU-AIZU MUSEUM

Opening Hours:

Access:

  • 15 minute (Approx. 1km) walk from Aizu Sanson Dojo Station on the Aizu Railways Line. This train station can be directly reached by Asakusa Station, Aizu-Tajima Station and Aizu-Wakamatsu Station.

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  1. Useful Information

    Guide to Visiting the Famous Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint

    Tadami Line has fully resumed operations on October 2022 after 11 years, and it’s only natural that the interest in seeing the world-famous Tadami River Bridge No. 1 Viewpoint (第一只見川橋梁ビューポイント), also known as Daiichi Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint, is rapidly increasing. Taking a look at the beautiful photographs that can be taken there, it is easy to understand why people all around the world have fallen for this picturesque area. Getting to the viewpoint can seem quite daunting, so we’ve created this guide on how and when to visit the Tadami River Bridge! VISITING VIA PUBLIC TRANSPORT The Tadami River Bridge No. 1 Viewpoint is a few minutes’ walk from Ozekaido Mishima-juku Michi-no-Eki (道の駅尾瀬街道みしま宿), a roadside station known simply as ‘Mishima-juku’ (みしま宿), which sells omiyage  (souvenirs), snacks, and light meals.  See here for a map of Mishima-juku. Mishima-juku opens daily at 8:00am.   1.) GET TO AIZU-MIYASHITA STATION To reach Mishima-juku, take the JR Tadami Line (JR只見線) from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (会津若松駅)  to Aizu-Miyashita Station (会津宮下駅): One-way costs ¥860 and is covered by the JR East Rail Pass. The train ride takes approximately one hour and twenty minutes. Get your camera ready because the views from the train are beautiful! See here for information on getting to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station from Tokyo, Sendai etc.   2.) TAKE THE BUS FROM AIZU-MIYASHITA STATION TO MISHIMA-JUKU A commuter bus leaves Aizu Miyashita Station Monday to Saturdays at 8:10 a.m., and arrives at Mishima-juku approximately 5 minutes later. The commuter bus doesn’t run on Sundays or Japanese National Holidays. No booking is necessary for this bus. Please pay the driver upon exiting the bus. The one-way fare is ¥500 for adults and ¥300 for children (under 12 years). You can also walk to Mishima-juku from Aizu-Miyashita Station (it’s approximately a 40-minute walk) but this route involves walking along roads without footpaths which can be dangerous so I highly recommend you take the bus or rent a car.   3.) WALK TO THE VIEWPOINTS & SNAP AWAY! The various viewpoints are all a short walk uphill from Mishima-juku. If facing Mishima-juku from the road, turn to the right and walk towards the tunnel. Before you get to the tunnel, take the foot path on the left-hand side (there should be a sign with an arrow on it to guide you up the foot path).   4.) TAKE THE RESERVATION-ONLY BUS BACK FROM MISHIMA-JUKU There are two buses a day that leave Mishima-juku, heading for Aizu Miyashita Station from Monday to Saturday (they don’t run on Sundays or Japanese National Holidays). These buses must be reserved, and there are strict time deadlines for the reservations (see below). To catch the bus that leaves at 10:20, you must reserve your spot by 9:00. To catch the bus that leaves at 13:20, you must reserve your spot by 12:00. You can make a reservation inside the Mishima-juku. Ask them for the bus reservation sheet  (In Japanese: Demando basu yoyaku moshikomisho onegaishimasu デマンドバス予約申込書をお願いします) and fill it in. Click here to see an application from previous years to give you an idea of what the form might look like (please note, it might have been updated). Make sure to arrive at the bus stop 5 minutes before the departure time. Hand this form in when you get on the bus. When returning to Aizu-Miyashita by bus, pay the driver upon exiting the bus. The reservation-only bus has the same fare as the commuter bus (¥500 for adults and ¥300 for children under 12 years). This bus takes between 5 to 10 minutes. Please be aware that neither the commuter bus to Mishima-juku, nor the reservation-only bus that leaves Mishima-juku run on Sundays or National Holidays. For more information on catching these buses, take a look at this information provided by Oku-Aizu.     WHEN TO SNAP YOUR PHOTOS The most famous pictures taken at the Tadami River Bridge No. 1 Viewpoint are those taken when the train carriage passes over the bridge. The train that you can see from afar is passing between Aizu Nishikata Station and Aizu Hinohara Station. Below I’ve listed the times that you can view the trains passing over the Tadami Bridge (Correct as of November 2022). Please note that the train only runs Monday to Friday, and doesn’t run on Japanese National Holidays, nor from December 30th to January 3rd. AIZU NISHIKATA STATION (会津西方駅) TO AIZU HINOHARA STATION  (会津桧原駅) (Passing from left to right as seen from the viewpoint) 06:03 - 06:07 07:39 - 07:43 09:18 - 09:22 13:01 - 13:05 16:06 - 16:10 AIZU HINOHARA STATION (会津桧原駅) TO AIZU NISHIKATA STATION  (会津西方駅) (Passing from right to left) 07:21 - 07:26 08:59 – 09:04 14:21 – 14:25 18:13 – 18:17 Please note: I haven’t listed trains that leave later than 19:00, as you wouldn’t get a good view of the train regardless of the season. The times listed above may change depending on the season or on weather conditions so please check an up-to-date timetable for the JR Tadami Line in winter through the official page (available only in Japanese) or call the JR infoline number to find out the latest information (English, Chinese and Korean support is available). As you can tell from the information above, the commuter bus arrives nearby the viewpoint at 8:15, which means you’d make it in time to watch the train passing from 8:59 to 9:04. However, passengers on the commuter bus cannot reach the viewpoint in time to see a number of the earlier trains passing over the tracks. For those who want to see these earlier trains (especially the extremely early 6:0 3 train which looks absolutely spectacular in the early morning summer mist), I recommend staying overnight in Miyashita Onsen town.   STAYING IN MIYASHITA ONSEN (宮下温泉) For those who would like to stay overnight in Miyashita in order to see the first train cross over the Tadami Bridge, take a look at the accommodation information listed below: Miyashita Onsen Eikokan Miyashita Onsen Furusato-so (website here) Oku-Aizu Nonbirikan (website here) Guesthouse Sokokashiko  (website here) These ryokan and guesthouses have some experience with guests from abroad. See Mishima’s Tourism Website for more information about local ryokan.   ABOUT THE JR TADAMI LINE The JR Tadami Line crosses approximately 135 km of beautiful Japanese countryside, passing through 36 stations along the way. See here for more information about the stops and timetable. Due to damage caused by heavy rains in 2011, service was suspended for certain parts of Tadami Line, but on October 1, 2022, the entire line resumed operations after almost 11 years. The Tadami Line is operated by JR East, so you can use the Tohoku JR East Pass (Tohoku Area) to ride on this line! If you’d like to know more about the many attractions along the Tadami line, there is an official guidebook in English available on the Tadami Line website. See below for an English-language tourist map we made of Mishima Town (三島町) (Miyashita Onsen [宮下温泉] and Hayato Onsen [早戸温泉]).

    Guide to Visiting the Famous Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint
  2. 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!
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    Ouchi-juku Kimono Experience

    On a clear autumn morning, I stepped out in a bright purple kimono, tabi socks and wooden sandals, my hair up in a pink flower kanzashi hair pin and a cloth purse in hand. The sky looked sparkling blue in the quiet town of Ouchi-juku, located between the mountains of the Japanese countryside. What happened next was unforgettable. The Start of my Ouchi-juku Kimono Experience “Kimono is for everyone”, the kimono specialist, a middle-aged woman with a thick Aizu accent, reassured me. Few garments are as universal and inclusive as kimono. Sunlight was timidly spilling into the room through the translucent paper windows when my kimono experience began. We were in a wide room parched with tatami floors, warming up close to a heater. First, using a kanzashi hair pin, she quickly and effortlessly arranged my hair. Next, it was time for me to pick my kimono. Kimono means ‘a thing to wear’ in Japanese, and is a timeless item of clothing adaptable to different body types and designed to last for generations. I opted for a bright purple kimono that matched the fuchsia flowers on my hair. I put on white tabi socks and a black cloth bag with embroidered cherry blossoms. As a cat lover, I was delighted when the staff suggested I wear a white obi with pictures of cats. That same kimono must’ve been worn by many before me. Kimono has no sizes and is a timeless piece. In the face of ultra-fast fashion (and its subsequent toll in the environment), this sustainable and inclusive garment has stood the test of time and remains as relevant as ever. Welcoming as it is, kimono does have its intricacies—for one, you need someone to fit you into it. The kimono specialist will answer all the questions you may have, as well as teach you a few local secrets to make your visit even more memorable. Booking a kimono experience brings you closer to Japanese culture in more ways than one. Stepping into the Past: Picture-perfect Ouchi-juku Ouchi-juku is an old town preserved to look exactly the way it did 300 years ago. Rows of thatched roof handcraft shops and restaurants, no cars nor electricity poles on the streets and little streams shushing along the road, it’s a postcard-like gem hidden between the mountains of the Aizu region. Either people in Ouchi-juku are extremely welcoming or the kimono was truly special, because visitors and locals alike would go out of their way to compliment me or even ask to take my picture. Elderly ladies tending for the shops would greet me with a broad smile and a friendly “kawaii, desune!” (‘You look very cute!’). It was a lovely way to connect with everyone—the flowery kimono helped start many warm conversations. A Taste of Aizu Samurai’s Soul Foods It finally was time to sit down for a meal. If you visit Ouchi-juku, make sure to build up some hunger and indulge in local specialties. This is what I ordered and would recommend you try! Takatosoba (高遠そば) is Ouchi-juku’s signature dish: buckwheat noodles served with grated radish soup and eaten with a green onion. The radish used in this dish is called ‘azagi daikon’ and grows naturally in the Aizu mountains. It smells as tangy as it tastes. What makes this dish unique is that you eat it with a green onion instead of chopsticks or a spoon. You’re welcome to bite into the green onion, too, once you’re done.     Nishin no sanshosuke (にしんの山椒漬)is pickled herring with sansho (Japanese pepper). The herring was buttery soft and marinated in soy sauce. The Japanese pepper leaves on top had a strong but refreshing taste. Kozuyu (こづゆ) is a staple dish of the region, said to have been a favorite of the Aizu samurai. It’s made up of a hearty scallop broth, fish cakes, carrots, konjac noodles and gluten croutons. This delicately presented dish is the perfect way to warm-up during cold days. Sweet soybean flour-flavored tochimochi (栃もち・きな粉) was my personal favorite. These two chewy, warm and powdery mochi were arguably the best I’ve had in over four years that I’ve been living in Japan. Each bite had just the right amount of sweet, with the sweet soy flour kinako powder sprinkled on top leaving behind an almond-like aftertaste.   The Most Instagrammable View of Ouchi-juku The best view of Ouchi-juku can be found after a short walk through the main street towards the shrine. Climb up the stone stairs and you’ll find yourself in front of a famous photo spot overseeing the traditional minka houses, mountains stretching out in the background. In spite of its striking beauty, this town remains quiet and rarely sees crowds, making it perfect for visitors who enjoy taking their time to explore places off the beaten path. After looking through the pictures of that day, I noticed that the prints of kimono look even more vivid against the backdrop of Ouchi-juku’s earthy hues. Strolling through such a well-preserved historical site in a kimono was a one-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’d like to wear a kimono in Ouchi-juku, read more about the Ouchi-juku Edo Time Slip and Kimono Tour, which includes a two-hour stroll in a kimono, matcha and sweets at a traditional tea house, and entry to the townscape exhibition hall where you can learn more about the way of life way back then at Ouchi-juku.

    Ouchi-juku Kimono Experience
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