Destination Spotlight

Spending A Winter Day In Tsuchiyu Onsen

Spending A Winter Day In Tsuchiyu Onsen

Tsuchiyu Onsen has been a well-loved kokeshi-producing onsen town for over 170 years. Kokeshi are painted wooden dolls, which have been produced in Japan since the late 18th century in onsen towns in Tohoku (the eastern region of Japan).

Kokeshi were originally made and sold in onsen towns as souvenirs for visiting guests to take home to their friends and families. Throughout the 6 prefectures that make up Tohoku, there are 11 distinctive styles of kokeshi. This being said, the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi is ranked among the ‘top 3’ of the Tohoku Kokeshi.

Tsuchiyu Onsen is a lovely place to visit for a day trip. Since there are lots of onsen that you can visit for the day, it is particularly nice to visit at this time of year, so that you can get yourself warmed up after exploring the town.

So what can you do in Tsuchiyu Onsen?

1. STRIKE A POSE WITH A KOKESHI!

Try and find the 3 large kokeshi doll sisters scattered around the town! The kokeshi in the photograph below is 2 metres in height and weighs 500 kilograms!

Each kokeshi stands in a really scenic spot where you can enjoy beautiful views overlooking the charming onsen town.

2. PAY A VISIT TO THE 6 JIZO

Start your walk around Tsuchiyu Onsen to the 6 Jizo. You might have seen similar groups of statues in other areas of Japan. These 6 Boddhisatva figures, known in Japanese as jizo, represent 6 roads in life (hell, hungry ghosts, animals & beasts, carnage & battle, man, heaven), and are thought to protect children and travellers from life’s hardships.

After the start of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Buddhist statues and places of worship were destroyed in an attempt to centralize power and worship around Shintoism. These particular statues in particular were hidden during this period to avoid their destruction. They were rediscovered in 1971. The original statues have now been relocated, and replacement statues placed in their original spot.

3. TAKE SOME PHOTOS FROM TAKINOTSURI BRIDGE


A little further from the 6 Jizo statues in Takinotsuri Bridge. The bridge is less than a 5 minute walk from the main street of Tsuchiyu Onsen town. This being said, standing on the top of the bridge, it is hard to believe that the town is close – you feel as if you’re in the middle of a forest!

The views from the top of the bridge are very beautiful, and make the bridge well-worth visiting.

4. WARM UP AT TSUCHIYUKKO FOOT-BATH

The foot-bath that you can see from the top of Takinotsuri Bridge is Tsuchiyukko foot-bath. Surrounded by nature and the calming sound of the waterfall, it is a great place to relax, regardless of the time of year – although I personally love going in the winter to warm up.

Tip: Remember to bring towels with you so you can dry your feet afterwards!

5. LEARN ABOUT TSUCHIYU’S HISTORY AT SHOTOKU TAISHI-DO

Shotoku Taishi-do’s history stretches back to the 7th century, when a man named Hatanokawa Katsu was given the task of visiting eastern Japan in order to pray for teh recovery of the Crown Prince Shotoku – who had taken ill – and to carry out Buddhist missionary work.

It was during his time in Fukushima that Hatanokawa also became ill. His illness did not respond to treatment he was given by doctors at the time. He had basically all but given up, but one day, upon fall asleep in bed, and had an intense dream during which he was informed to dig up a bath in the area, which had healing, spiritual waters that would heal him.

Upon awakening, he dug up a pool of onsen water, bathed and was completely cured of his illness. Believing this to be a sign, he created the Buddhist temple, which he dedicated to Crown Prince (Taishi) Shotoku. This area became known as Tsukiyu (meaning lunging water) from that date, and the name gradually morphed into Tsuchiyu over the centuries.

The Shotoku Taishi-do is now visited to pray to a guardian deity, who is thought to have influence over safe childbirth, and the good education for children. The temple is complete with English-language information boards. The current body of the temple was rebuilt in 1726.

Inside the temple grounds stands the Yakushi kokeshi do – a unique temple which is dedicated to the god of protecting onsen (pretty standard) and also kokeshi-making technology (very unique). It is a symbol of technological advances and mental coordination.

Tip: A kokeshi festival is held on the first Sunday, and 3rd Saturday of April every year at Yakushi Kokeshi-do.

6. SPOT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KOKESHI AT TSUCHIYU DENSHOKAN

Visit the Denshokan to view a huge selection of kokeshi dolls, and see to how the Tsuchiyu style has changed over the years, as well as learning about the different styles of the various Kijiya (woodworkers) who have made them for generations.

Tsuchiyu Kokeshi have a number of unique features. Their faces feature a little black fringe covering their forehead, a long, thin nose, and rounded eyes. Their slender body is usually striped and is painted by gently running a brush over the wood while it is spinning the kokeshi on a potter’s wheel. Tsuchiyu Kokeshi also have black hair on the crown of their heads.

I personally think that their long noses are their most easily-identifiable feature!

If you have extra time, have a wander around the town and visit some of the workshops of the town’s kijiya. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see them in action!

7. SAMPLE TSUCHIYU’S OTHER FOOTBATHS

After wandering a little further, it’s the perfect time to take another dip in a footbath to warm up before moving on to lunch, such as Tsuki no Yubuje (月のゆぶじぇ)and Omoi no Yu (偲いの湯).

8. CHOW DOWN ON A TASTY LUNCH

There are a couple of great places to eat lunch in Tsuchiyu Onsen. Check out Tsuchiyu Onsen Tourism Association's list of places to eat here.

9. ONSEN TIME!

There’s nothing better after lunch than going to an onsen – and you really are spoiled for choice in Tsuchiyu. There are over 10 ryokan, many of which extend the offer of bathing in their on-site onsen to visitors who are not staying overnight.

The 10 varieties of hot spring water which flow from the source at Tsuchiyu Onsen will enable you to find a bath that is perfect for you!

Outside of the main onsen town, there are also other ryokan nearby, such as Noji Onsen & Shinnoji Onsen, which can be reached by bus. I recommend any of the onsen for visiting in the winter, but especially if they have rotenburo (outside, open-air baths).

Being able to bathe in an onsen outside whilst surrounded by snow is truly an incredible experience and one of the really special things about visiting Japan.

See Tsuchiyu Onsen Tourism Association's English homepage for more information.

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  1. Useful Information

    2023 Cherry Blossom Full Bloom Forecast & Spots in Fukushima

    Update (2023/03/14): This article was originally published in February 2023. Cherry blossoms are blooming earlier than expected this year, so most of the dates that were originally included in this article are inaccurate as per current predictions. Please find the updated dates (as of March 14, 2023) in red. Fukushima prefecture is the ultimate cherry blossom destination—home to Miharu Takizakura, said to be one of the oldest waterfall sakura trees in Japan, and the idyllic Hanamiyama Park in Fukushima City, a park on a hill with countless varieties of flower trees and shrubs, to name only two of its most famous spots. Miharu Takizakura in Miharu Town. Photo: (株)三春まちづくり公社 When to See Cherry Blossoms in Fukushima Hanamiyama Park in Fukushima City You may have heard (or experienced) that the cherry blossom season is painstakingly short. The blooming period typically lasts for about two weeks—flowers usually reach full bloom about a week after blossoming and keep blooming only for an additional week. Ozawa Sakura in Tamura City Fukushima prefecture boasts a long sakura season, however, with flowers sprouting along the prefecture from late March to early May. How Cherry Blossoms Bloom in Fukushima Cherry blossom tunnel at Sakura Hill in Dake Onsen Although the exact dates vary by year, cherry blossoms are known to bloom in an ‘m’ shape across Fukushima prefecture.  The coastal area, on the east side, sees the first blossoms between late March and early April, going from South to North. Next, flowers start sprouting in the central and western areas from North to South. The last blossoms can be seen sometime up until mid-May in South-West Aizu. Sakuratoge Pass in Kitashiobara Village For more information about how sakura blooms in Fukushima, please refer to this guide. Because it is best to see sakura in full bloom (or near full bloom), we recommend picking destinations according to the dates you have available.  2023 Forecast Dates Per Area Yonomori Sakura in Tomioka Town It is difficult to predict the exact date when cherry blossoms will bloom, as weather conditions in the prior weeks and months directly affect when the blooming starts and for how long it lasts. But there are ways to know a rough estimate. The following information is based on the website of the Japan Meteorological Corporation “Sakura Navi” (please note, however, that this is simply a forecast and actual blooming dates may vary).   As of February 2023, here are the projected dates for cherry blossoms in different areas of Fukushima in 2023 (Dates in red are as of March 2023): Coastal Area Iwaki City: Early April (Late March) Soma City: Early to Mid-April (Early April) Central Area Fukushima City: Early to Mid-April (Early April) Koriyama City: Mid-April (Early to Mid-April) Shirakawa City: Mid-April (Early to Mid-April) Aizu Area Aizu-Wakamatsu City: Mid to Late April (Mid-April) Yanaizu Town: Mid to Late April Full Bloom Forecasts Per Area The flowers are most beautiful when in full bloom, and for a few days to a week later. Cherry blossoms in Inawashiro Town Here are the Japan Meteorological Corporation's 'Sakura Navi' estimated dates for full bloom in Fukushima in 2023 (forecast as of mid-February; actual blooming dates may vary depending on future temperatures and the weather). Coastal Area’s Sakura Spots Full Bloom Forecast for 2023 (Dates in red are updated as of March 2023) Iwaki Flower Center (Iwaki City): April 5 (March 30) Miyukiyama Park (Iwaki City):  April 5 (March 29) Matsugaoka Park (Iwaki City): April 7  (April 1) Soma Odaka Shrine (Minamisoma City): April 8 (March 31) Tenjin Misaki Sports Park (Naraha Town): April 11 (April 5) Baryo Park (Soma City): April 11 (April 3) Cherry blossoms at Soma Odaka Shrine in Minamisoma City Central Area’s Sakura Spots Full Bloom Forecast for 2023 (Dates in red are updated as of March 2023) Hanamiyama Park (Fukushima City): April 9* (April 3)* Kasumigajo Castle Park (Nihonmatsu City): April 12 (April 6) Komine Castle (Shirakawa City): April 12 (April 6) Kaiseizan Park (Koriyama City): April 12 (April 6) Fujita River Fureai-Zakura (Koriyama City): April 14 (April 7) Natsui Senbon-Zakura (Ono Town): April 20 (April 16) Although it is difficult to predict the exact date as of yet, Miharu Takizakura is expected to be in full bloom in early to mid-April.  *Hanamiyama Park has different varieties of cherry blossom trees, each blooming at different times. More information here. Heidodan Cherry Tree in Miharu Town Aizu Area’s Sakura Spots Full Bloom Forecast for 2023 (Dates in red are updated as of March 2023) Tsurugajo Castle (Aizu-Wakamatsu City): April 16 (April 11) Miyagawa Senbon-Zakura (Aizu-Misato Town): April 17 (April 13) Yunokami Onsen Station (Shimogo Town): April 19 (April 15) Enzoji Temple (Yanaizu Town): April 20 (April 17) Kannonji-gawa River (Inawashiro Town): April 27 (April 24) Tenkyodai Showa-No-Mori Park (Inawashiro Town): May 7 (May 5) Although it is difficult to predict the exact date as of yet, the Nicchu Line Weeping Cherry Blossom is expected to be in full bloom around mid-April. Nicchu Line Weeping Cherry Blossoms in Kitakata City For information about hanami spots, itineraries, and more visit our section Spring in Fukushima. Cherry blossoms at Yunokami Onsen Station in Shimogo Town (close to Ouchi-juku) The information contained in this post is a rough forecast based on the information provided on the Japan Meteorological Corporation’s website ‘Sakura Navi’ as of February 2023 (dates in red are updated as of March 2023). Actual blooming dates may vary depending on future temperatures and the weather. To access the latest information about the status of cherry blossoms in Fukushima in 2023, visit Japan Meteorological Corporation’s website Sakura Navi (the website is in Japanese but you can change the language to English from the drop-down menu).   Arakawa Sakura Tsuzumi River Park in Fukushima City

    2023 Cherry Blossom Full Bloom Forecast & Spots in Fukushima
  2. Destination Spotlight

    Following Fukushima’s Footpath in Katsurao Village

    Japan is blessed with plenty of green areas where clear rivers and pristine forests are everyday sights. Such is the case of Katsurao (葛尾村), a rural mountain village in the coastal area of Fukushima prefecture, located between Namie Town and Tamura City. Traversed by gushing rivers and gentle slopes, this village was the location of a footpath event held on a breezy day in early February, 2023. I joined the event, along with +70 participants, and I’d like to share how it went! But first… What’s a footpath event, you may ask? As part of something called the ‘Reconstruction Exploration Project’, Fukushima prefecture is developing footpaths (hiking trails) in towns and villages that were severely affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in 2011. These trails are designed alongside residents, who include some of their favorite local spots that they’d like visitors to see. By following footpaths, visitors and locals can come together to experience firsthand the reconstruction and revitalization of Fukushima, as well as discover the beautiful sights that each area has to offer! Katsurao Village’s Evacuation & Revitalization Due to the nuclear accident, Katsurao village had to be entirely evacuated in 2011. Five years later, following decontamination work, the evacuation order was lifted for most of its districts, and in 2022, the entire village saw the end of the restrictions. As of today, over four hundred residents live in Katsurao. There is a restaurant, a convenience store, a traditional Japanese-style inn and other services, although businesses in the village remain few and far between, with dense woodlands and wide roads dominating the landscape. Katsurao’s Footpath We began our walk under the early afternoon sun, our boots crunching on the snow-covered roads. At one point, the slope became steep and slippery, but we persisted all the way up to a beautiful shrine, which was well worth the climb.  Myoken Shrine This is Myoken shrine (妙見神社). Its light wooden structure contrasts beautifully against the dark woodlands in the background. Some participants stopped to pray at the shrine, while others rested or had some water. There was also a picnic table nearby where participants could sit and catch a break while breathing in the cool mountain air. Among the participants were some local celebrities and influencers, as well as editors from travel magazines. Katsurao Village Reconstruction Exchange Center Azalea  We descended the slope and after a bit of walking came across a big, modern building that, in spite of looking strikingly new, seemed to fit its surroundings perfectly. This, I learned, is Katsurao Village’s Reconstruction Exchange Center Azalea. And it looks as beautiful and cozy inside as it does from outside! Here, you will find a souvenir shop that sells local crafts and snacks, and a cafe, as well as a vending machine for… sheep meat! (Katsurao’s specialty). That day, they were having a big Valentine’s Day sale for knitwear made in Katsurao. Lunch Time! We finally returned to the starting point, the lobby of “Midori-no-Sato Seseragi-So” (みどりの里せせらぎ荘) a Japanese-style inn and onsen resort.  We were welcomed back with a warm homemade curry prepared by local chefs using herbs from the area. Needless to say, it was delicious, and the perfect way to end the hike. Itadakimasu! Shimi-Chan: The Star of the Village I must admit that at first I thought Katsurao village’s mascot, ‘Shimi-chan’, was modeled after a peach, but it turned out I was very mistaken! (To my defense, I live in Fukushima City, and peaches are kind of a big deal here). ‘Shimi-chan’, which you’ll see all over Katsurao, both in crossings, as well as in souvenirs, is modeled after... Shimi-mochi! a.k.a., the area’s delicacy.  Shimi-mochi, as the name indicates, is a kind of ‘mochi’ (Japanese rice cake), but it is unique both in flavor and in the way it is prepared.  First, the mochi is hung outdoors during the winter months, so that it freezes and dries up (‘shimi-mochi’ means ‘frozen mochi’ in Japanese). The mochi is then soaked in water so that they regain moisture. The water is then drained, and the mochi rice cakes are cooked in a pan. Shimi-mochi is usually served warm and topped with a sauce. This time, we got to try shimi-mochi with a sweet soy sauce which was absolutely delicious! The texture and flavor of the mochi was unlike any other I’ve tasted before. I’d recommend trying it yourself during your next visit to Katsurao village! Participants were given this towel. This deep green shade is dubbed ‘Katsurao green’, and it has an illustration of Akabeko (Fukushima prefecture’s folk red cow) drawn by ‘Meli et Malice’, a French illustrator based in Fukushima. I was thrilled that I got to keep it as a souvenir!  If you’re interested in following this footpath, check out the following link where you can find more information. If you’re interested in knowing more about Fukushima’s footpath, check out this post about hiking in the Miyakoji area of Tamura City.

    Following Fukushima’s Footpath in Katsurao Village
  3. 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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