Aizu Area

Aizu Area

The Aizu area to the west of Fukushima Prefecture is the location of principal areas like Aizu-Wakamatsu City, home to Tsurugajo Castle. Tradition and samurai culture are deeply embedded in the region. Further afield, the Edo-era post town of Ouchi-juku can be found in Shimogo, in the southern Minamiaizu area. To the southwest, explore the Oze National Park area—a sweeping natural environment that reaches beyond Fukushima into Gunma, Niigata, and Tochigi too. Venturing north takes you to the ramen capital of Kitakata, also known for its sake and craft culture.

Attractions

Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence)
Historical Sites

Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence)

Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence) is an historical open-air museum where visitors can learn about the history of Aizu and sample some of the specialty products of Fukushima. Stroll around the residences to take in traditional Japanese architecture, including the residence of Tanomo Saigo, the Aizu Domain's chief retainer, a magistrate's office, a tea ceremony house, a rice mill, and a warehouse (resource center). Visitors can also enjoy local specialty food at the onsite Kuyotei restaurant, and find specialty products from Aizu and other parts of Fukushima at Sato-Kobo Kokon, as well as enjoying hand-painting traditional toys and practicing Japanese archery, which is perfect for young kids. Besides such cultural enjoyment, the natural beauty of the spring cherry blossoms and the autumnal foliage are a major attraction for tourists.

Lake Inawashiro
Nature & Scenery

Lake Inawashiro

Japan's fourth-largest freshwater lake, Lake Inawashiro is situated in Bandai Asahi National Park. It is also known as the “Heavenly Mirror Lake” and has a surface area of 104 square kilometers! The combination of Lake Inawashiro and Mt. Bandai form one of Aizu's representative landscapes. And being less than three hours from Tokyo by shinkansen and local train means that you have easy access from a major transport hub. The lake offers year-round fun. Enjoy cherry blossoms in spring at Iwahashi Shrine, one of Aizu’s five famous cherry trees. Summer at Lake Inawashiro is slightly cooler than the rest of Fukushima, so take advantage of camping by the lakeshore, and a wide variety of marine sports. Colored leaves and hikes are the popular thing to do in autumn, view the fiery hues and take in the crisp air. In winter, visitors can enjoy fresh powder snow and winter thrills in the form of skiing and snowboarding; and you can even catch a glimpse of migrating swans on the shores. It’s truly a beauty no matter when you decide to visit. There are also a wide range of scenic spots from where visitors can take photographs and soak in the view. It’s a great place to escape from the stress of work and life or just to experience Japanese nature and landscapes. Lake Inawashiro's size means that it is accessible from a number of sightseeing spot, including Tenkyokaku stately house and Hideo Noguchi Memorial Museum (a museum dedicated to the life and work of a Japanese scientist famous for his research on yellow fever). There’s plenty more to do nearby: view some amazing works by international artists at the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art, or visit the rainbow-colored Goshiki-numa Ponds.

Activities

Listel Ski Fantasia
Outdoor Activities

Listel Ski Fantasia

Despite its modest size, Listel Ski Fantasia - located within the grounds of Hotel Listel Inawashiro - has been a FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup host since 1988, and was chosen as the mogul and aerial venue for the 2009 FIS Freestyle World Championship. Listel Ski Fantasia's main ski slope has an average gradient of 8 degrees, making it popular with beginners and family skiers. The "Kids' Land" ski area for children, onsite nursing rooms, and ski lessons available for children, make Listel Ski Fantasia a great choice for families.  

Where to stay

Irori no Yado Ashina
Ryokan

Irori no Yado Ashina

Ashina is a Japanese-style inn that preserves an atmosphere of old-style living in the Tohoku Region. The facility used to be part of a 120-year-old private residence, which was taken apart, moved and then rebuilt at its present location. An overnight stay at this inn will allow guests to experience several different aspects of traditional Aizu culture, including local cuisine and local sake that can be enjoyed nowhere else. Dinner is served around an irori (sunken hearth), which is a very memorable feature of this inn.

Irori no Yado Ashina
Hotel

Villa Inawashiro

Villa Inawashiro is a hot spring resort hotel, located in Inawashiro Town, at the foot of Mt. Bandai. It's possible to bathe in the onsen baths at Village Inawashiro each day until midnight. The spring flows from Mt. Bandai, and is called a "beautifying hot spring" and a "fertility hot spring." In the winter, visitors can enjoy winter sports at the ski resort located next to the hotel. Visitors can dine on original dishes made from the best ingredients grown on Villa Inawashiro's private farm. Located less than one hour from Aizu-Wakamatsu and Kitakata, and close to Urabandai, Villa Inawashiro makes an excellent hub for sightseeing in the Aizu area.

Irori no Yado Ashina
Hotel

Hotel Listel Inawashiro

Hotel Listel Inawashiro is situated in Listel Park, a 700,000-square-meter property with its own herb garden, ski area, outdoor sports facilities, and more. This hotel offers a wide variety of enjoyment as an all-season destination resort. There are two types of accommodation within the hotel complex: the Wing Tower is an European-style, high-rise hotel, and the Main Building is a condominium hotel with a kitchen in each room. The spa facility is well-equipped with a number of onsen baths, including ones that guests can enjoy while wearing a bathing suit. An outdoor bath that commands a panoramic view of Lake Inawashiro is also located on site.

Posts about Aizu Area

  1. Destination Spotlight

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)

    A red Tori gate marks the forest trail that leads up through a dense forest where a shrine seems to hide among the rocks and trees. Here, in the Mitsuishi Shrine where three stones and three rituals wait for you to improve yourself and also wish for love or connection. Ichinoiwa (The First Stone) The first stone has a deep pit where, it is believed that sticking your head into the pit will actually improve your IQ! It can be a bit scary, but it’s definitely worth a try. Who knows, you might invent something spectacular with your new and improved high IQ level!  Ninoiwa (The Second Stone) A mysterious source of spring water drips down the side of this stone, making it seem as though the rock is crying real tears... Its waters have long been believed to improve eyesight. Long ago, people thought that touching the water from this stone to one’s eye would improve eye health and eyesight. However, this ritual may be best left in the past since it might not be 100% sterile. Still, it is interesting to visit, touch the water and think of the past. Saniwa (The Third Stone) The third and final stone is the connection or love rock. The stone is porous and full of holes; the trick is to find a set of holes that make a tunnel so that you can stick a string through. You can get strings from the visitors’ center or bring your own and try to find a place to tie up a 5-yen coin. Some single people who are looking for love or connections will come in the middle of the night with a flashlight and spend hours search for a place to tie their coin! If you are lucky you might discover an unclaimed tunnel in the stone where you can tie up a 5-yen coin for good luck in the love and connection department. Whether you are a believer or not, it’s a lot of fun to poke around looking for a place to tie your coin. If you fail to find a spot you can always tie in the same spot as someone else, or tie your coin on the shrine’s rope.  The short hike to and from the shrine is absolutely gorgeous, but a bit steep in places. Be sure to wear shoes that are easy to walk in. Through a clearing in the tree line you can look down and see the town below. If you time your visit right, you can even watch the small local train roll by.  Mino kasa Experience You can hike the trail in normal clothes, but, if you are feeling adventurous… I recommend renting a mino kasa, that is an old fashioned rain coat. Mino kasa like the one I am wearing in the photo are becoming increasingly rare in Japan. As craftsmen die out and no one takes their place, fashions like this risk fading into the panels of history. So I hope that when you visit you will rent one to take photos and walk to the shrine in. The people in the area are very friendly and if they see someone walking around in a mino kasa, you are sure to bring a smile to their faces! After all, the greatest joys of traveling are connecting with the local p Click here for more information on accessing this shrine.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  2. Useful Information

    5 reasons to go River Trekking in Tadami Town

    1. Safely explore the river and forest with a local guide! The river and trail are unmarked, but luckily there are local guides that are affordable and available to guide you! Even if you don’t speak Japanese, guides can help you through the trail with gestures and a little bit of English. Hiring a local guide is a really great way to support the community and meet some of the interesting people that live in this area. 2. Experience the Japanese tradition of forest bathing or forest therapy. The vibrant greenery, relaxing sounds of the river, and immersion and nature are sure to relax you. 3. You can see unique plants and fungi!  The forests and mountains of Tadami Town are home to an extremely diverse population of plants, animals and fungi. Some of the unique mushrooms are yet to be fully documented and studied so it is not uncommon for research group to visit this beautifully biodiverse environment!  4. Search for traces of the past…  On the trees you can find some graffiti from former students of the Mori no Bunko Fuzawa forest school who carved their names into the trees! Now those kids are a lot older, and the letters have been stretched out as the trees have grown. It’s fun to search the trees for these carvings. Even if you can't spot them yourself, your guide will be sure to point the carvings out to you! 5. Enjoy local produce cooled in the river! There are some natural pockets in the stone waterfall and river bed that are perfect for cooling a drink or snack. So, bring some local fruits or vegetables and let them cool while you take pictures, then enjoy a refreshing treat. We ate some locally grown tomatoes, they were so sweet and delicious!  You can experience river trekking by contacting the Mori no Bunko Fuzawa by phone(Japanese only) or email(Any language via Google Translate).

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  3. 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.   

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  4. Destination Spotlight

    Fukushima x SIGMA: A Photographer's Paradise Route

    This route through part of Fukushima has it all, fantastic autumn views, history, and adventure! Follow the route that we took to produce our video, "Fukushima x SIGMA: A Photographer's Paradise."  Grab your camera, and LET'S GO! Tsurugajo Castle First we went to the gorgeous and historic Tsurugajo Castle, a bright white castle that pops against the fall colors. The high walls of the castle that once gave archers the strategic advantage against invaders, now provide fantastic angles for photographers. We walked along the castle walls and searched for the best angles of the bright white castle framed in the warm autumn leaves. The castle tower is now a museum where visitors can view artifacts and learn about the history of samurai in the area. This castle was one of the final strongholds of samurai during the Boshin War and the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate. Something to think about as you photograph this historic location. Be sure to check out the Rinkaku Tea Rooms on the castle grounds, it’s a great place to photograph some Japanese plants and a traditional garden atmosphere. Not only is the garden beautiful, but you can even enjoy traditional Japanese sweets and Matcha green tea if you have time. (Read more about Tsurugajo Castle...) Sazaedo Temple Next, we arrived at Sazaedo Temple, a unique Buddhist temple that was built in 1796.   When we first arrived, I was a bit confused. The entrance is a red tori gate that seems to be the entrance to a deep forest. After crossing under the gateway, we followed the stone path and suddenly the sound of a rushing river greeted us. A river surges through a curving canal and under a small bridge, then out of sight. Before even catching a glimpse of the temple we could feel the spiritual power of this place. To the right, a set of stairs and leads up to Sazaedo Temple.  This architectural wonder is hexagonal in shape and has a unique double helix staircase. A must-see! The outside is beautiful, but the inside was what I looked forward to the most. We went inside to capture photos of the walls and ceilings that are plastered with the names of families who visited hundreds of years ago, an old Japanese tradition. Lit only by the natural night that streams in through the windows, this place truly felt like a step back into another time. (Read more about Sazaedo Temple...) Yunokami Onsen Next we went to Yunokami Onsen, one of my favorite places to visit in Fukushima. We searched ahead to find out what time the train would be coming and arrived just in time to capture photos of the train passing by. Watching the local train roll into this cozy countryside station was one of the highlights of my day! This place is truly special. The mountains around the station are small and cute, shaped like the triangular mountains that a kid might draw. In autumn when the autumn foliage gives the mountains their warmer colors, it provides a cozy backdrop to the thatched roof of the station. The name of this station has the word onsen in it, and sure enough, there is a foot onsen to warm you up! A great way to spend some time while waiting to capture the perfect picture of the train rolling into the station. I get cold easily so this was a great place for me to warm up. Inside the station there are lots of old fashioned candies and snacks, I picked up a few to try and they were so delicious, I highly recommend checking that out. (Read more about Yunokami Onsen Station...) To-no-hetsuri Crags Next we visted the To-no-hetsuri Crags, a beautiful and romantic place where huge cliffs overlook a gorgeous river. The autumn leaves, white cliff faces, and turquoise water contrast beautifully making for great memories and photographs. We crossed the suspension bridge and wandered around the cliffs to find places to take some great photos. A narrow staircase leads to a viewpoint and a small shrine that is built into the rock face, that was an exciting surprise! One of my favorite memories here was just standing at the bank of the river after crossing the bridge, autumn leaves gently falling from the cliffs above and landing delicately on the surface of the river. We explored here for a while and captured some really amazing photos, this is a great spot and felt like the kind of dramatic landscape that you might see in an old Japanese painting. (Read more about the To-no-hetsuri Crags...) Ouchi-juku Arriving in Ouchi-juku felt like stepping back into the old world of samurai! The historic post town, looked like an ancient village, and the coolest thing was that there were still traditional businesses run by families whose ancestors lived here since ancient times. There are tons of alleyways and old fashioned cafés to stop and take photos of. At the end of the road if the most popular photo spot where you can capture an image of the street that runs through the middle of town. We explored the shops, and captured photos of the town and the unique alleyways. We stopped at one of the many noodle shops in town and tried negi soba (fresh buckwheat noodles eaten using a green onion), stick-roasted char fish, fire roasted rice cakes and more! My favorite memory here was holding up one of my snacks to photograph it against the blue sky. I got really excited when I noticed the warmly colored thatched roofs seemed endless as they blended into the warm colors of the mountains. Sitting down to enjoy my snack in one of the alleyway cafés was a nice way to spend the last moments of the day as the sun set behind the mountains. After a long day of photography, it was nice to slow down in the evening and spent the night in one of the historic buildings that have been functioning as guesthouses for hundreds of years. (Read more about Ouchi-juku...) Lake Sohara In the early morning light we drove to Lake Sohara for gorgeous views of the lake. We almost went paddling on the lake to see what kind of photos could be taken from the water, but ultimately we chose to move on to the next location. However, if you like paddling it seems like a lot of fun! Bandai-Azuma Lake Line Next we drove along the beautiful Bandai-Azuma Lake Line and enjoyed the excellent views. But of course we didn’t just drive by, we stopped a few times for photos and these were two viewpoints that you should definitely check out! Nakatsugawa Valley Viewpoint First we stopped at the Nakatsugawa Valley Viewpoint, here we captured photos of the gorgeous view of the Nakatsugawa river winding through the autumn colored valley. To access this viewpoint, you will want to park at the Nakatsugawa Keikoku Resthouse and walk to the viewpoint through a short path through the trees. The trees on this path were also very beautiful so be sure to have your camera out, but watch your step. I had a hard time focusing on the path as the wind through the trees along the path was truly enchanting. Sanko Paradise Viewpoint We continued driving along the Bandai Azuma Lake Line to reach the second viewpoint, the Sanko Paradise Viewpoint. Sanko literally translated to “three lakes,” from this viewpoint you can enjoy the view of three lakes framed by autumn colored mountains. My jaw dropped at this view, the mountains and lakes were so beautiful. As we drove there were quite a few clouds forming in the sky that made me a bit nervous... However, as we pulled up to this viewpoint, the clouds made way for rays of sunshine that illuminated the mountains and valleys in a truly magical way. Goshiki-numa Ponds Next we visited the Goshiki-numa Ponds where the bright blue water contrasted with the warm autumn leaves and made for a fantastic sight! Take a stroll around the lake and enjoy this spectacular view, while you pick out your favorite angles to take photos from. This unique lake was formed due to volcanic activity in the area, so it can change colors slightly depending on the time of day and the season, so you are sure to capture a unique photo. After taking a lot of photos outside, I was feeling rather chilly, so I quickly grabbed a cup of warm, non-alcoholic amazake, a popular cool weather drink in Japan. Inawashiro Herb Garden Next we headed towards Lake Inawashiro and stopped by the Inawashiro Herb Garden. Here you can go inside and see beautiful collections of flowers, depending on when you visit, there may be an art installation as well. When we visited there was a beautiful exhibit that featured colorful umbrellas by the reflective pond. Research ahead of time when you visit to find out what art installation will be on display when you visit. Outside there are huge fields of flowers, and depending on the season and what’s in bloom you can take some really beautiful photos. In autumn there are some very cute fluffy red plants called “kochia,” which look like a plant right out of a Doctor Seuss book! We couldn’t go outside when we visited due to the rain, but if you have nice weather, get creative and see what photos you can take here! Be sure to check Instagram for some photo inspiration as many talented photographer flock to this garden every autumn. There are delicious floral flavored ice creams and snacks to try here, I recommend the floral ice cream, despite the cold, it’s worth it! Lake Inawashiro As we headed towards the station to travel home, we drove around Lake Inawashiro and gazed out at the gorgeous water and fantastic views of Mt. Bandai in the distance. If the weather is warm or you don’t mind the chilly weather, I recommend finding a spot along the lake shore to stop and relax under some trees. The rain was coming our way so we went to a café instead. There are lots of local coffee shops and cafes, there are many to choose from and they are quite popular among locals, so I recommend checking one out before heading home. I was nice to relax and drink some coffee and have a bit of cake before heading home. This two day / one-night long photography tour of Fukushima was a really special way to visit these wonderful places in Fukushima. It was my first time seeing these places and I was in awe for two days straight. These have become some of my favorite places to visit and photograph in Fukushima, and even the whole of Japan. For more on Fukushima, follow us on Instagram ( @rediscoverfukushima ) and Facebook ( Travel Fukushima Japan )!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  5. Useful Information

    [EVENT] Fukushima EXPO “FUKU-EXPO” 2020 in Aizu

    In Fukushima Prefecture, in the Aizu region, we are holding a tour-type expo event called [Fukushima EXPO “FUKU-EXPO” 2020 in Aizu] to promote traditional crafts and local industries in Fukushima! Here, guests can explore the history and development of traditional culture in Fukushima. The main venues are the four areas of the Aizu region (Nishiaizu Town, Aizuwakamatsu City, Aizumisato Town, and Oku Aizu), with the theme of traditional crafts, local cuisine, and the traditional lifestyle of each region. We will hold exhibitions that combine modern designs and new ideas in the form of mini-events such as talk shows and dining events. Experience the rich history and culture of Aizu in autumn with events running through to the end of November! [Fukushima EXPO "FUKU Expo" 2020 in Aizu] A tour-type expo where you can experience the history, culture, and traditional crafts of Aizu. ○ Schedule: October 31, 2020 (Sat) -November 30, 2020 (Mon) ○ Venues: Nishiaizu Town, Aizuwakamatsu City, Aizumisato Town, Oku Aizu (Mishima Town, Kaneyama Town) <Dedicated Homepage> https://fukushimaexpo-fukuhaku.com/ ※Information will also be posted on our SNS pages. Please access them from the links at the top of our Homepage. ※Event schedules vary depending on each area, so please check the website for details!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  6. Access

    Getting to Ouchi-juku

      Tokyo to Ouchi-juku (Via Shin-Shirakawa) Koriyama to Ouchi-juku Fukushima to Ouchi-juku Aizu-Wakamatsu to Ouchi-juku Please note that all times are rough estimations and do not include accurate waiting times between stops. All prices listed below should be treated as guides. Prices for visitors traveling by car do not include the cost of gas. TOKYO STATION TO OUCHI-JUKU Time taken (Approx.) Approx. cost p.p. JR Shinkansen, Local Trains & Taxi 3.5 hours 10,850 yen~ BY SHINKANSEN & LOCAL TRAIN: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Koriyama Station. At Koriyama Station, switch to the Ban-etsu West Line and take the train heading to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. From Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, take the Aizu Railway Line to Yunokami Onsen Station, and then take the Saruyu-go bus or taxi to Ouchi-juku. (See here for more details on reaching Ouchi-juku from Aizu-Wakamatsu.) KORIYAMA TO OUCHI-JUKU   Time taken (Approx.) Approx. cost p.p. Drive (Expressways and National Roads) 1 hour 35 min 1,490 yen~ Local Train & Bus 2.5 hours 3,170 yen~ Local Train & Taxi 2 hours 10 3,170 yen~ BY CAR (VIA EXPRESSWAYS): Take the Tohoku Expressway north towards Sendai. At Koriyama JCT, switch onto the Ban-etsu Expressway, heading west towards Niigata. Continue on this road and exit at the Aizu-wakamatsu I.C. Exit. Take local roads the rest of the way to Ouchi-juku. BY LOCAL TRAIN: Take the Ban-etsu West Line and get off at Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. From Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, take the Aizu Railway Line to Yunokami Onsen Station, and then take the Saruyu-go bus or taxi to Ouchi-juku. (See here for more details on reaching Ouchi-juku from Aizu-Wakamatsu.)   FUKUSHIMA TO OUCHI-JUKU Time taken (Approx.) Approx. cost p.p. Drive (Expressways & National Roads) 2 hours 2,310 yen~ Expressway Bus, Local Train & Bus 2.5 hours 3,830 yen~ Expressway Bus, Local Train & Taxi 2.5 hours 3,830 yen~ BY CAR (EXPRESSWAYS): Take the Tohoku Expressway heading to Tokyo. At Koriyama JCT (Junction), change onto the Ban-etsu Expressway, heading west for Niigata. Keep on this expressway until you get to Aizu-Wakamatsu I.C. Exit the expressway here. From here, take local roads to Ouchi-juku. BY EXPRESSWAY BUS & LOCAL TRAIN: Take the expressway bus from Fukushima to Aizu-Wakamatsu. From Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, take the Aizu Railway Line to Yunokami Onsen Station, and then take the Saruyu-go bus or taxi. (See here for more details on reaching Ouchi-juku from Aizu-Wakamatsu.) AIZU-WAKAMATSU TO OUCHI-JUKU Time taken (Approx.) Approx. cost p.p. Drive (National Roads) 55 min — Local Train & Bus 60 min 2,030 yen~ Local Train & Taxi 50 min 2,030 yen~ BY CAR (EXPRESSWAYS): It takes around 55 minutes to drive from Aizu-Wakamatsu to Ouchi-juku via the national roads. BY LOCAL TRAIN & BUS: Take the Aizu Railways Line train bound for Aizu Tajima. The first two stops will be on the Tadami Line, but then the train will change onto the Aizu Railways Line. There’s no need to swap trains as long as you’re on a train heading for Aizu Tajima. Please note, the Aizu Railways Line is not a JR train line. Get off the train after 30 minutes at Yunokami Onsen Station. From there, take the Saruyu-go Bus to Ouchi-juku.  SARUYU-GO BUS (YUNOKAMI ONSEN <-> OUCHI-JUKU) This bus travels between Yunokami Onsen and Ouchi-juku, stopping en-route at To-no-hetsuri Crags. There are 8 Saruyu-go buses traveling in each direction daily. The last bus in either direction tends to depart close to 4:00 PM.  The Saruyu-go bus service runs between April and late-November. A 1-day pass costs around 1,000 yen per person. Check out the Aizu Railway website about the Saruyu-go Bus. The bus takes you to the entrance of Ouchi-juku. To get to the Yunokami Onsen Station bus stop, step out of the station, turn left, and walk down the hill. (See here: Yunokami Onsen Station Bus Stop)   BY LOCAL TRAIN & TAXI: Take the Aizu Railways Line train bound for Aizu Tajima. The first two stops will be on the Tadami Line, but then the train will change onto the Aizu Railways Line. There’s no need to swap trains as long as you’re on a train heading for Aizu Tajima. Please note, the Aizu Railways Line is not a JR train line. Get off the train after 30 minutes at Yunokami Onsen Station. From Yunokami Onsen Station, call a taxi. You’ll arrive at Ouchi-juku in around 10 minutes. Check our guide about taking taxis in Japan.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  7. Access

    JR Tadami Line

    Station list and timetable for the JR Tadami Line (Updated April 2020) ABOUT SERVICE DISRUPTIONS Replacement bus service runs between Aizu-Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station. TIMETABLE (FROM AIZU-WAKAMATSU TO KOIDE, VIA TADAMI) Station name Aizu-Wakamatsu 6:03 7:41 13:09 16:56 17:40 19:40 21:47 Nanuka-machi 6:06 7:44 13:12 16:59 17:43 19:43 21:50 Aizu Hongo 6:16 7:55 13:23 17:13 17:53 19:59 22:00 Aizu Bange 6:47 8:25 13:48 17:36 18:14* 20:24 22:22 Aizu Yanaizu 7:04 8:42 14:05 17:53 20:41 22:39 Aizu Hibara 7:21 8:59 14:21 18:10 20:57 22:55 Aizu Nishikata 7:26 9:04 14:25 18:14 21:01 22:59 Aizu Miyashita 7:38 9:12 14:29 18:18 21:05 23:03 Hayato 7:47 9:21 14:38 18:27 21:15 23:12 Aizu Kawaguchi 8:06 9:40 14:58 18:46 21:34 23:31 *This train stops at Aizu Bange Station. Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Aizu Kawaguchi 8:15 10:25 14:10 15:35 17:25 19:00 Tadami 9:05 11:15 15:00 16:25 18:15 19:50 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Tadami 9:30 15:40 18:35 Koide 10:43 16:53 19:48   TIMETABLE (FROM KOIDE TO AIZU-WAKAMATSU STATION, VIA TADAMI) Station name Koide 7:58 13:11 17:10 Tadami 9:15 14:28 18:27 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Tadami 7:10 9:25 11:25 14:32 16:00 17:45 18:40 Aizu Kawaguchi 8:00 10:15 12:15 15:22 16:50 18:35 19:30 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Aizu Kawaguchi 5:32 7:06 8:41 12:31 15:29 19:09 Hayato 5:51 7:26 9:00 12:50 15:49 19:28 Aizu Miyashita 6:01 7:36 9:15 13:00 15:59 19:38 Aizu Nishikata 6:04 7:39 9:18 13:03 16:02 19:41 Aizu Hibara 6:08 7:43 9:22 13:07 16:06 19:45 Aizu Yanaizu 6:24 7:59 9:38 13:23 16:22 20:01 Aizu Bange 6:43 8:21 9:58 13:47 16:40 18:25* 20:22 Aizu Hongo 7:05 8:43 10:19 14:08 17:01 18:47 20:43 Nanuka-machi 7:18 8:53 10:32 14:18 17:15 18:58 20:54 Aizu-Wakamatsu 7:22 8:56 10:36 14:21 17:18 19:01 20:58 *Train starts from Aizu Bange   Timetable updated on April 1 2020. Please be aware that a winter timetable goes into effect every year so make sure to check the JR Tadami Line winter timetable if travelling in the winter months.   ALL STATIONS ON THE TADAMI LINE Main stations featured in the timetable above are highlighted in bold below. Underlined station names are stations where passengers must switch between train and replacement bus service. Station names written in italics, are stations where replacement bus services run. Aizu-Wakamatsu Station 会津若松駅 Nanukamachi Station 七日町駅 Nishi-Wakamatsu Station 西若松駅 Aizu-Hongo Station 会津本郷駅 Aizu-Takada Station 会津高田駅 Negishi Station 根岸駅 Niitsuru Station 新鶴駅 Wakamiya Station 若宮駅 Aizu-Bange Station 会津坂下駅 Todera Station 塔寺駅 Aizu-Sakamoto Station 会津坂本駅 Aizu-Yanaizu Station 会津柳津駅 Godo Station 郷戸駅 Takiya Station 滝谷駅 Aizu-Hinohara Station 会津桧原駅 Aizu-Nishikata Station 会津西方駅 Aizu-Miyashita Station 会津宮下駅 Hayato Station 早戸駅 Aizu-Mizunuma Station 会津水沼駅 Aizu-Nakagawa Station 会津中川駅 Aizu-Kawaguchi Station 会津川口駅 Honna Station 本名駅 Aizu-Kosugawa Station 会津越川駅 Aizu-Yokota Station 会津横田駅 Aizu-Oshio Station 会津大塩駅 Aizu-Shiozawa Station 会津塩沢駅 Aizu-Gamo Station 会津蒲生駅 Tadami Station 只見駅 Oshirakawa Station 大白川駅 Irihirose Station 入広瀬駅 Kamijo Station 上条駅 Echigo-Suhara Station 越後須原駅 Uonuma-Tanaka Station 魚沼田中駅 Echigo-Hirose Station 越後広瀬駅 Yabukami Station 藪神駅 Koide Station 小出駅

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  8. Destination Spotlight

    Making Awamanju in Yanaizu

    I got to try my hand at making awamanju (a local delicacy from Yanaizu Town, Aizu) and really enjoyed the experience! This activity is suitable for people of all ages, and staff can even instruct you in English! But first things first… WHAT IS A MANJU? Manju are a type of traditional Japanese confectionery that come under the broad title of 'wagashi'. There are many different types of manju (as shown above), but the standard ingredients shared across most varieties are flour, rice powder, buckwheat and some sort of bean paste filling. Like a lot of Japanese sweets, manju aren’t super sweet like chocolate, but have a delicate sweetness to them that matches really well with green tea. Simply put, they are sweet rice buns, which are either baked or steamed. Manju varieties originating from Fukushima Prefecture – including awamanju – tend to be steamed. I love the texture of the bun when you bite into it, and absolutely adore being able to eat freshly steamed ones – eating them when they’re warm is the best. CHARACTERISTICS OF AWAMANJU While many manju have a smooth texture to their buns, awamanju are made from millet, and have an uneven, slightly grainy texture. Their bright yellow colour is one of the easiest way to identify these buns! Due to the inclusion of millet in the bun mix, awamanju also tend to not have such a solid outside layer, but one that has a bit more moisture and elasticity to it. AWAMANJU AND YANAIZU Awamanju have been produced in Yanaizu Town since the late Edo Period (mid 19th century). One of the oldest awamanju speciality shops is Koike Confectionery Shop (pictured below). Like many traditional Japanese sweets and ornaments, the reason behind awamanju being produced in Yanaizu has a story to go with it. During the mid 19th century, Yanaizu Town, and specifically Enzoji Temple which sits at its center, fell victim to a number disasters, including damage from fire and flooding. The buns were originally made as a lucky item which could ward off future disasters. The word 'awa' (あわ) not only refers to the millet that is the main ingredient of the bun, but also to the wish “二度とこのような火災に「あわ」ないよう / Nido to kono youna kasai ni “awa” nai youni", which means “I pray that no more fires ravage our town”. It’s basically a pun which is hard to translate! Koike Confectionery Store, like other awamanju shops, have their shop located on the main street of Yanaizu Town. But they also have a small branch inside the nearby sightseeing facility 'Hot in Yanaizu'. It’s Hot in Yanaizu which provides awamanju making experiences, and these experiences are even taught by a member of the Koike family! MAKE YOUR OWN MANJU EXPERIENCE Location: Hot in Yanaizu is a short walk from Yanaizu Station (on the Tadami Line) Length of Activity: 30 min to 1 hour (including time spent steaming the buns!) Price: 1,200 yen per person Price Includes: 5 buns to taken home, 2 small souvenirs, and 1 drink Bookings: Please book in advance by email or phone (Mention if you need English or Chinese guiding when you make a booking). I recommend booking through emailing Oku-Aizu Tourism Association First I washed my hands and got ready to scoop up the mix which will make the bun. Next, Koike san gave me a rounded cup to place the bun mix into. I lightly filled the cup with the mix, making sure not to knock too much air out of it. After filling the cup, I used my finger to make a hole where the red bean paste would go. Again, it’s important not to press to hard when doing this, to avoid squeezing too much air out. Hot in Yanaizu prepared the red bean paste, so I didn’t have to worry about whether it was the right size! After I placed it in the hole, I tapped it gently to push it further into the mix. Next, I scooped up more of the mix and pressed it down very gently over the top of the red bean paste, to create a top layer. This was the hardest bit, as it was difficult to judge how thick a layer I had been able to fit around the red best paste. When I was happy with the bun, I placed my hand over the open end of the cup, tipped it upside down and placed the bun onto a wooden tray. They looked pretty good so far! I’m not going to lie, the photo above was what Koike san did as a demonstration… If you look closely, you might be able to see my buns on the left… I didn’t quite manage to get the amount of mix for the top layer quite right, so some of the red bean paste was visible through the outer-layer. After putting them in the steamer to cook them for 20 minutes or so, the buns were all ready! I then wrapped them (individually) in plastic – as is the tradition with small sweets in Japan – and places them in one of Koike Confectionery Shop’s own boxes. I’m very pleased to say that my manju tasted delicious! OTHER THINGS TO DO AT HOT IN YANAIZU Another activity you can try at Hot in Yanaizu is painting an akabeko lucky red cow! There are a number of places that offer this experience throughout Aizu area, but it’s quite a cool thing to do while your manju are steaming! There is also a small restaurant inside the facility, and shop selling local products which would make perfect gifts! As long as you get there pretty early, you might even be able to buy some freshly made manju produced by the experts! (They sell out fast). Make sure to check out the original Koike manju shop, and the fascinating Enzoji Temple, which is a beautiful, spiritual building with a range of of interesting areas to explore in the grounds.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  9. Destination Spotlight

    Trying Out Ramie Weaving in Showa Village

    I visited Showa Village, in the rural Oku-Aizu region, in autumn. One of the places I headed to was Michi-no-Eki Karamushi Ori-no-Sato (Roadside Station) – pictured below – where I was able to try traditional ramie weaving! From shirts to bags, decorations to mats, Showa Village has been producing items made of ramie fiber for around 600 years. Showa Village is the only place in mainland Japan where ramie (known as ‘karamushi’ in Japanese) is commercially cultivated. Textiles made from ramie are light-weight and strong, making ramie well-known among textile experts. Ramie weaving (karamushi-ori) has actually even been officially designated as a Japanese traditional craft. TRYING OUT RAMIE WEAVING Visitors to Orihime Koryukan (located inside Michi-no-Eki Karamushi Ori-no-Sato) are able to make their own ramie coasters with the help of staff. There are 9 looms, where you can try out traditional ramie weaving, so you can do the experience at the same time as your friends and family. The looms are pretty old, and new parts are no longer sold for these machines. This means that when parts need replacing, they are fixed up using whatever limited parts are available, meaning they all look a little different! When you arrive, the looms are already set up ready with the fibers of ramie separated into a top and bottom layer. You control the loom using pedals, which you alternately press down to bring the two layers of ramie fibers together to meet at the middle. Each thread is separated from its neighbour by fine wires, as you can see in the photo below. In order to build up the body of the coaster, you pass a block with ramie wrapped around it through the gap between the top and bottom layers of ramie. Once it has passed through, you pull it carefully so that it is bent over relatively tight at the edge. Then you press down with a foot pedal to bring the two layers together and ‘stamp’ the top and bottom layers together so that they create a sandwich around the middle thread you brought through the middle. Then you need to repeat the process from the other side, by passing the block through the gap between the top and bottom layers from the opposite direction, pulling it tight over the fold that has been created, and pressing down with the opposite foot pedal in order to stamp the three layers together. I repeated this process over and over to slowly build up the shape of the coaster. The more tight you can get the thread to bend at the corners of the coaster, the more neat the finished product will look. If you see below, I wasn’t great at the start, but got more and more used to it as I continued. Once your coaster becomes square in shape, your work for the day is done! Next you wait for staff to finish it off for you at a later time, after which they will send it in the post. Coasters can be sent throughout Japan, so as long as you’ll still be in Japan for a week or two after this experience, you should be able to receive your finished coaster! I received my coaster in the post about a week after I made it in Showa Village, and I’m super happy with how it turned out! I really like sewing and embroidery, so I’m thinking about sewing (or cross-stitching) some kind of design onto it. I’ve never done an experience like this before, but it was actually so much more fun and relaxing than I had imagined. It really wasn’t difficult either – I think the most difficult thing was initially trying to sit down on the little stall you need to perch on to operate the foot pedals. It was really fun to make my own coaster, and I think they’d make great souvenirs, especially since they’re so light and small. It’s also great knowing that taking part in this kind of experience is contributing to passing down this traditional craft for years to come. VISITING MICHI-NO-EKI KARAMUSHI ORI-NO-SATO This roadside station isn’t just home to weaving workshops, but also to a shop selling delicious, fresh, local vegetables, and the work of talented craftspeople who have made a huge variety of objects out of ramie. There is also a small restaurant, as well as tourist information center full of pamphlets about local sightseeing spots (most of which are in Japanese!). If you have more time, the building opposite the roadside station is a museum all about the village’s history of producing items from ramie. Location: Michi-no-Eki Karamushi Ori-no-Sato Opening Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Weaving Experience Price: 1000 yen (includes postage fee) Time Needed: 20 min When: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. (And National Holidays). Reservation: Please reserve for groups of 4 or more. You can reserve via the email address listed on their website. See our page about Michi-no-Eki Karamushi Ori-no-Sato for access information.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  10. Destination Spotlight

    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: 9:00-16:00. The museum is open all-year with the exception of the Japanese New Years Holidays. More Information here (Automated Translation Available) 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.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  11. Destination Spotlight

    Crossing Mugenkyo Ravine by Ferry (Mugenkyo no Watashi)

    I had seen some amazing photos of the Mugenkyo Ferry (夢幻峡の渡し)passing through the beautiful emerald water of the Tadami River, and was excited to go and experience the ferry ride for myself. So I headed off to Mishima Town to meet Hoshi san, who had kindly offered to show me around. MY EXPERIENCE OF THE MUGENKYO FERRY (MUGENKYO NO WATASHI) The ferry leaves from a tiny jetty from near the public hot spring facility called ‘Tsuru no Yu’. The jetty was a bit hard to see from the car park of Tsuru no Yu, but I spotted it when I walked to the back of the public hot spring, and followed some steps down to the water’s edge. From here, the jetty was easy to spot, because it was very close by to an onsen shrine (onsen jinja 温泉神社) that caught my eye. This has got to be one of the most picturesque shrines I’ve been to. After I took photos at the shrine, I continued on to a small building next to the jetty. This building was complete with an odd wooden structure, from which water was streaming. Upon closer inspection (and after getting our hands burned) my colleague and I deduced that this was in fact the source of the local hot spring water! It wasn’t long before Hoshi san made his dramatic entrance on his wooden boat. He looked really awesome in his sunglasses and happi robe (happi 法被). After getting kitted up with a life jacket, Hoshi took me across the ravine. It was so relaxing to be taken across the surface of the Tadami River. It struck me while taking the ferry across the ravine that I couldn’t hear any of the busy noises of the city that can make you feel stressed or distracted. In fact, the only sounds I could hear were the wind, the birds and the slow rhythmic paddling of Hoshi san’s oar gliding through the surface of the river. Hoshi san’s recommendation for enjoying the best Mugenkyo Ferry experience is to lie flat on your back in the middle of the boat and have a nap. I’m not sure whether his customers can actually do this, or if it’s just something he’s been able to try, but it sounds amazing! The journey to the other side of Mishima Town takes 30 minutes one way, during which time you get some great views. It was really cool to see buildings like the Tsuru no Yu onsen from such a different angle. The reflections looked amazing. Tsuru no Yu Onsen is a great hot spring in Oku-Aizu area of Fukushima Prefecture. Unfortunately, I have yet to take a dip, but I definitely want to go soon. Knowing how relaxing it was to be in the ferry, I can just imagine how amazing it would feel to chill out in the onsen looking out over the Tadami River. One thing that visitors should note about visiting Tsuru no Yu Onsen, however, is that the open-air baths (rotenburo 露天風呂)are totally exposed to the elements. Seeing as the only thing surrounding the onsen is a river, usually this isn’t an issue, but I can say first hand that people in the open-air baths can definitely be seen from the ferry! I actually had to edit the naked guys who were sitting on the edge of the bath out of the photo below… These sightseeing ferries are made from boats that were used by local people crossing between areas of Mishima area over 50 years ago. For Japanese people, riding in one of these boats is very nostalgic. The running of sightseeing ferries between the different areas of Mishima began in 2010, but was halted in 2011 when the Great East Japan Earthquake caused infrastructural damage to Mishima and surrounding areas. The ferry service was restarted in 2017. If you visit the area and travel on the Mugenkyo Ferry during the early morning in summer, you’re likely to get to see picturesque mist atop the Tadami River. This makes for some very beautiful photos. The Mugenkyo Ravine Ferries are operated by Kenko Hoshi, an extremely talented local photographer who specialises in capturing the beauty of Oku-Aizu and the Tadami Line. Kenko Hoshi has an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm for his hometown. Below are just a couple of photos taken of the Mugenkyo Ferry by Hoshi san. It’s quite possible that if you have seen photographs of the Tadami River No. 1 Bridge that they were probably taken by him. Hoshi san was brought up in Mishima Town, on the opposite side to where visitors start their journey. Hoshi san’s hometown area is now what is known as a ‘haison 廃村’ or ‘ghost town’. The ground on which the town was built is prone to landslides. As a result, the area has fallen victim to a number of related disasters over the centuries. A really intense landslide hit Mishima in 1964 and finally forced the local people to move to the opposite side of the Tadami River. Nothing was left behind, save for one traditional farmhouse built 300 years ago, a shrine, temple and Buddhist statue. I wholeheartedly recommend this experience as something to try out when traveling on the Tadami Line, as it is easily accessible from Hayato Station. It’s a must-visit for those hoping to see countryside Japan during their visit to the prefecture, as well as for those who are passionate about photography like myself. If you’d like to take a journey on the Mugenkyo Ferry, please take a look at the information below! BASIC INFORMATION* *Correct as of May 2018 Boats run throughout the day between late April and November. It takes 30 minutes for a 1-way journey or an hour for both ways. In summer, the boats run between 6:00 AM and sunset. If you’d like to see the picturesque Tadami River mist, it’s best to ask for Hoshi’s recommendation regarding the best day (and time of day) to visit. See more information (from Oku-Aizu Tourism) about the Mugenkyo (Mugenkyo no Watashi) here. Hoshi san can’t guide you in English, so he won’t be able to guide you around the deserted town on the opposite side of the river. HOW TO BOOK Reserve at least 1 week in advance via Oku-Aizu Tourism ( info@okuaizu.net ) PRICE: 5000 yen per boat (up to 4 people). If there are more than 4 people, then there will be an extra charge of 1200 yen per person. CHOOSE A MEETING POINT When you reserve, make sure to state whether you’d like to meet Hoshi san or his colleague at the main jetty near Tsuru no Yu (where I met him), or if you’d like him to come meet you at Hayato Station, on the Tadami Line. See here for the Tadami Line train schedule. If coming by train, make sure to tell the staff what time of day your train will arrive at. FINDING THE TSURU NO YU JETTY If you are driving, park at Tsuru no Yu Onsen. Walk down to the water’s edge. There will be a shrine nearby and a small wooden building near the jetty. OTHER INFORMATION FOR VISITORS As of summer 2020, there are a number of portable toilet facilities close to Tsuru no Yu, for customers of the Mugenkyo ferry. The ferry will run even in rain / windy(ask people to bring their own umbrellas) but may have to cancel appointments in the case of heavy rain.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  12. Destination Spotlight

    5 Reasons to Visit Mishima Town

    Mishima Town, in rural Oku-Aizu, is known for its beautiful scenery, historic craft techniques, delicious soba (buckwheat), and high quality Paulownia wood, known as ‘kiri’ in Japanese. Mishima has also been gaining attention in recent years for a less positive reason – the population of the town is shrinking, fast. Approximately 1700 people now live in Mishima; half of whom are over the age of 65 (Current as of Dec 2017). Although Mishima’s intricately woven baskets and everyday hand-made items have been growing in popularity, local people are starting to worry that the town’s traditions will soon become a dying art. I think that Mishima is a very special area, and hopefully you think so too by the time you have read this post! 1. TADAMI RIVER VIEWS One of the most well-known things about Mishima is that it is home to fantastic viewpoints of the stunning Tadami River, and the Tadami Line train that passes over it. The most popular view spot can be reached by foot from the Michi-no-Eki Ozekaido Mishima-juku (Roadside Station) in less than 5 minutes.  2. TRADITIONAL & HISTORIC CRAFTS Mishima is a town of historic craft techniques. Mishima – and by extension Oku-Aizu – techniques for creating woven products have been designated as Japanese Traditional Craft Properties. Historic ruins of dilapidated houses from the Jomon Era (14,000- 300BC) have provided evidence that hand-made items similar to those used today have existed in Mishima since ancient times. Mishima is one of the few places in Japan where handmade crafts that haven’t really changed since ancient times continue to play an integral part in everyday life – kitchen tableware, handbags, mats, chests of drawers… you name it, it can probably be made in Mishima. Since 1975, there has been a movement among people from Mishima to make the utmost effort to continue their town’s tradition of utilising the abundant natural resources around them to carry out their lifestyles, and to pass on this tradition to future generations. This movement’s focus on placing high value in Mishima’s traditional crafts was included in the town’s constitution. I’ve included it below, along with my own translation. 家族や隣人が車座を組んで 身近な素材を用い 祖父の代から伝わる技術を活かし 生活の用から生まれるもの 偽りのない本当のもの みんなの生活の中で使えるものを 山村に生きる喜びの表現として 真心を込めてつくり それを実生活の中で活用し 自らの手で生活空間を構成する Friends and family sitting in a circle, Making use of local materials, Using technology passed down by their grandfathers, Things born from the tasks of the everyday. Real things, not false things, Things everyone can use in their lives. They are expressions of our joy at living in a mountain village, The process of making full of devotion.  Make use of it in your everyday life, Organise your living space with your own hands. You can try getting hands-on with local craft techniques from centuries ago at the Craft Hall in Mishima Town, where you can try out making a range of items such as wooden dragonflies, for very reasonable prices! 3. EVERYTHING KIRI Kiri trees (Paulownia trees) have been cultivated in Mishima Town since the 17th century. They symbolize resilience, as they are the fastest-growing hardwood tree. Kiri is also particularly symbolic for the people of Mishima, as the area has a tradition of planting a kiri tree upon the birth of a daughter. When the girl grows up and her wedding day approaches, the same tree will be cut down and transformed into a dresser, which in turn will be presented to her as a wedding gift. Kiri is naturally insect-repellent, has moisture-repelling properties, and burns at a comparatively high temperature, making Mishima’s high-quality kiri a great material for construction. It’s especially well-known for being used in chest of drawers. The town is so proud of kiri wood that it is sometimes even incorporated into local cuisine in the form of Kirisumi Pasta – dark black pasta, made using the charcoal of kiri wood. 4. LOCAL FESTIVALS In February, a Snow & Fire Festival is held in each of the 13 areas of Mishima Town. It is held in order to pray for safety from illness and harm, as well as praying for a good harvest for the year to come. Large straw pillars known as Sainokami are set on fire during the festival, which looks spectacular when it contrasts against the bright, white snow which falls thickly in the winters. Another event held regularly in Mishima Town is the Kojin Festival. At this festival – usually held in June – craftsmen from 150 stores from across Japan gather in Mishima Town, and hold a craft market. Although Oku-Aizu is well-known for its woven products, the hand-made items on display are very varied, and include woodwork, pottery and glasswork. 5. FARMING EXPERIENCES The people of Mishima are proactive about finding a solution to the depopulation of the town, whilst simultaneously ensuring a future for the traditional craft culture so firmly rooted in the town’s identity. Mishima has done this by opening the Mishima Lifestyle Craft Academy. This academy offers participants from cities a chance to experience working on a rural farming community in Mishima Town for 10 months (participants must be able to communicate fully in Japanese!). As part of this farming lifestyle experience, participants learn farming techniques, cook local food, take part in festivals, study the town’s history, as well as improving vocational skills such as design and marketing. They also get experience with hands-on skills like weaving, woodwork and pottery. Participants take part in a homestay, the majority of their lifestyle cost, and receive a stipend every month. There are also a number of themed tours held annually to introduce some of the most special aspects of Mishima Town, including those themed around hiking, onsen, cooking, practicing sazen (Buddhist meditation), and snowshoe trekking. The idea is that people who come to Mishima via the farming lifestyle experience program or the tours will fall in love with this charming town, and consider a lifestyle change by moving to Mishima in the future. I certainly think there is a lot to love in Mishima. I hope you have begun to feel the same, and that you get a chance to visit this beautiful area – so rich with nature and tradition.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  13. Destination Spotlight

    Salvador Dali Art Museum in Stunning Japanese National Park

    When I’ve spoken to friends from around the world who have visited Fukushima about their favorite places in the prefecture, this museum’s name has been brought up time and time again. So what is so special about this museum? SALVADOR DALI GALORE The founder of Morohashi Museum of Modern Art donated his personal art collection upon the opening of the museum in 1999, and now the museum contains almost 400 pieces of art, 332 of which are works by Salvador Dali! It’s one of only a handful of museums in the world with a permanent Salvador Dali exhibition – and it’s tucked away in the middle of the Japanese countryside, in the heart of the stunning Bandai Asahi National Park. The museum’s grand architecture always catches my eye when I pass through Urabandai area, and I have had it stored on my list of places to go in Fukushima for a while. I was really happy to finally get to go! The museum contains numerous Dali paintings and sculptures which span his artistic career. Twice a year, the museum organizes themed exhibitions as a way of showcasing the connection between certain pieces of art. When I went to visit, the Gastronomy exhibition was underway. Designed in the image of an open-air gallery, the museum has very high ceilings, giving it a really open and light feel inside. There are a number of exhibition rooms to explore, and an English-language pamphlet available at reception gives visitors information on a number of the museum’s key pieces. UNIQUE DALI-THEMED GIFT SHOP & WORKSHOPS The museum also includes a café, where you can try out local delicacies like Yamajio Ramen (Mountain Salt Ramen), and a gift shop with lots of incredibly unique Dali-themed items! There are also number of workshops held at the museum over the course of the year. During the Gastronomy exhibition period, there were workshops on how to make your own Dali-themed “sample food”. Perhaps some readers are unfamiliar with Japanese sample food: in Japan, most restaurants display their menu outside the entrance – each piece a carefully crafted, incredibly accurate replica! At this workshop, you could make some fake toast, complete with Dali style melting-clock decorations. You definitely couldn’t experience that anywhere else in Japan! INCREDIBLE LOCATION I absolutely love Bandai Asahi National Park, and couldn’t think of a better – or more unusual – place for an exhibition of Dali art! Just a few minutes’ walk from the nearest hotels and the entrance to the beautiful Goshiki-numa Ponds trail, Dali fans shouldn’t definitely not miss this museum on their trip to Urabandai! MORE INFORMATION The museum is open between April and November every year. See here for more information LOCATION By bus: 25 minutes from Inawashiro Station. Take a bus heading to Goshikinuma / Bandai Kogen (五色沼・磐梯高原行) and get off at the stop Morohashi Kindai Bijyutsukan Mae (諸橋近代美術館前). The bus stops for Goshiki-numa Iriguchi (五色沼入口) and Urabandai Royal Hotel (裏磐梯ロイヤルホテル)are also very close to the museum. For more information on reaching this area by bus, please check out the access page I created here. By taxi : 20 minutes from Inawashiro Station By car: 20 minutes from the Inawashiro Bandai Kogen IC

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  14. Destination Spotlight

    Going to See Aizu-Tajima Gion Festival

    WHY IS THERE A GION FESTIVAL IN AIZU-TAJIMA? The most famous Gion Festival takes place every year in Gion, Kyoto. Hundreds of years ago, elite families were moved to various areas around the country. One of these areas was Aizu-Tajima, in Minamia Aizu, Fukushima. The families that moved from Kyoto to Aizu-Tajima had young children who were heartbroken at having to leave their hometown and extended family. Torn about how to appease their homesick, sad children, families decided to hold a traditional Kyoto festival - the Gion festival - in their new town. Advisors were sent to Kyoto to learn the ins and outs of holding a Gion Festival (as well as to receive permission to hold it). After being granted permission and studying up, they returned to Aizu-Tajima, having been promised after Kyoto’s annual Gion Festival that real Kyoto Gion golden crowns would be brought to Aizu-Tajima for use in their own festival. These crowns were to be used in the Aizu-Tajima children’s procession every year. Kyoto’s Gion Festival is earlier than Aizu-Tajima’s, so there was time for the transferral of these crowns. Although not considered a particularly special item in Kyoto, for the people of Tajima, these crowns were incredibly precious, because they signified the authenticity of their festival. WHAT ARE FESTIVAL YATAI? Each of the 4 areas of Aizu-Tajima owns their own festival stall, known as yatai (屋台). The stall of the west area is the oldest, dating from earlier than the 1830s, and is the only yatai to survive terrible fires that occurred in 1772 and 1774. These stalls are considered to be spiritual, having the power to bless their area during festival time. They are used as stages for kabuki performances and play an integral part in the yatai ruckuses which occur between areas on the evening of July 23. The west area’s yatai has beautiful architecture and carvings on the body of the stall. The children of the town can ride on their own area’s yatai during the start of the festival, as their neighbours push it around. Older kids are given the responsibility of calling out festival chants from a megaphone in the back of the stall. It is a great honour for kids to be given the responsibility of shouting festival chants, and younger kids feel jealous over being too young to do this! CHANGING TRADITIONS In days gone by, girls could not touch the shrine or be involved in kabuki performances, and only local people were allowed to participate in the festival, but these rules have been relaxed over time. However one rule hasn't changed: it used to be thought of as bad luck to look down at yatai from a 2nd floor window, as this would equate to looking down on the gods. Even now, this is really frowned upon! MY FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS KID’S KABUKI BY NIGHT Children as young as elementary school year 2 perform in kabuki on top of yatai stands during the afternoon and late into the evening. Before the performances start, performers wait in the back of their respective yatai. I was amazed at how confidently the kids performed. NANAHOKAI PROCESSION I was really excited to see this procession and it did not disappoint! The Nanahokai Procession (七行器行列) takes place early on the morning of July 23. Beautiful women dressed in kimono are accompanied by men in kamishimo. The women accompany 7 offerings to the main shrine in the town, including sake, fish and rice. Unlike the kabuki, which is voluntary, the women to join the Nanahokai Procession are called upon in accordance with a rota of all the families in the area. Even if relatives move away, they are encouraged to return (with their spouses) to participate in the festival. Married women wear black kimono, and unmarried women have bold, bright patterned kimono. It was raining when I visited, but this didn’t impact the enchanting atmosphere of the procession. In years gone by, only women from the town were allowed to join the Nanahokai Procession, but as a result of slow and steady depopulation, all are welcome to apply to walk in the procession – even English teachers who live in nearby towns! It wasn’t just the adults who shone during this procession. Have a look at the very cute kids in the photos below! There were many photo opportunities, as the women walked slowly, and posed for photos after finishing taking the offerings to the shrine. CHILDREN’S PROCESSION As I wrote above, the children’s procession that takes place after the Nanohokai Procession includes replicas of crowns originally brought from the Kyoto Gion Festival every year for Tajima’s children to wear. CHILDREN’S TAIKO DRUMMING Local children perform in front of hundreds of people that gather to see the festival. Their drumming was really good and they were all adorable! VISITING THE SHRINE It is traditional to visit the shrine to pray, and drink doburoku to celebrate. Doburoku is a type of unfiltered sake, which continues to ferment upon drinking! Farming families used to make doburoku at home, but it became illegal due to taxing issues. Being able to drink it at festival festival time is an important tradition for local people! Due to driving, I couldn’t try doburoku unfortunately, but some Brits traveling through Japan really enjoyed it! MIKOSHI PROCESSION The mikoshi (portable shrine) of the town is brought out of the shrine after offerings are brought inside. This shrine blesses the areas it passes through, grants local people with good health, and wards off natural disasters. Aizu-Tajima’s Gion Festival was a fantastic two day trip for me! I didn’t get to see the full 3 days, but maybe I can next year! I definitely recommend it!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  15. Destination Spotlight

    Stumbling upon Traditional Japan in Nanokamachi-dori

    Dotted around Nanokamachi-dori Street (Aizu-Wakamatsu City) stand a number of extremely old buildings. Coming to this area of the city feels like stepping back in time, especially at quieter times of day. Many of the warehouses and factories that stand on Nanokamachi-dori are still used to this day, and some allow visitors in for a tour. During my visit to Aizu-Wakamatsu City, I visited two of these factories. 1. YAMADA ORIMOTO COMPANY When I saw this written on my itinerary, I wasn’t sure I would find it interesting. But on approaching the factory, I realized my assumptions had been hasty. Yamada Orimoto’s main office is tucked away down a long alley. When we first arrived, I couldn’t believe we were in the right place. The main office space looks like an old Japanese house, and even includes a small shop in it, where you can view and buy products made at the factory. YAMADA ORIMOTO’S HISTORY The Yamada Orimoto Company dates back to the start of the Edo Period (1603-1868), meaning that cotton has been produced by Yamada Orimoto for over 400 years. Aizu momen (Aizu cotton) products are still greatly valued for their high quality and their traditional manufacturing techniques. Everything produced at Yamada Orimoto is made using the same techniques that have been practised here for over 100 years, and the machinery is also old. I asked the owner whether it would be more efficient to use newer machines for weaving. He told me that it would, and that present day technology would reduce the need for so many people to work at the factory at one time. But the traditional way Yamada Orimoto’s products are made are one of the things that give them their charm and high quality. VISITING THE FACTORY We were allowed to take a look at the factory unsupervised by the owner. What we found left me speechless. Around five women were working at the time of our visit, each women devoted to her task and part of the production process. Unlike any shop or office I have visited in Japan, there were no calls of “irasshaimase” (welcome) as we entered. It was like being a fly on the wall. For fear of breaking their concentration, I didn’t interview the workers, but I spent a lot of time watching them go about their daily tasks. It was a really fun experience and completely different from anywhere I had been before. 2. SUEHIRO SAKE BREWERY The second factory that we visited was Suehiro Sake Brewery, which was just around the corner from Yamada Orimoto. One of the largest and most well-known sake producers in Tohoku, Suehiro’s sake is of such a high quality that it has been designated the official sake of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, and has won numerous national and international awards over the years. The brewery was founded in 1850 and has been passed down from generation to generation. Suehiro Sake Brewery’s traditional method for sake-making by slow, open fermentation is called ‘yamahai’. At Suehiro Sake Brewery certain sakes are stored for longer than the traditional period (1 year), allowing them to age and mature. The brewery produces a range of interesting sake-based products, including sparkling sake, spicy sake, bath lotion containing sake extract, and curry sauce made with sake. There is even a cute little café by the brewery’s entrance which sells small meals, coffee and desserts, nearly all of which have sake incorporated into the recipes! GUIDED TOUR There are guided tours around the brewery and old residential building attached to it. These run every half an hour, but are only in Japanese. Please note that you can’t view the factory unaccompanied. I didn’t understand much of the technical details of the brewing process explained during the tour, because of my lack of booze and fermenting-related vocabulary, but seeing the different areas of the factory were enjoyable all the same. SAKE TASTING After the tour, you can do a sake tasting experience – refills allowed! The sake-tasting takes place in the shop section of the building, giving you ample time to browse gifts you could take home, whilst your friends are getting drunk with the rest of the tour group! I enjoyed visiting these two factories to see how cotton and sake have been made for hundreds of years. It made me reflect back to my own country, where businesses that specialize in one single trade are becoming more and more difficult to find…

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  16. Destination Spotlight

    Ouchi-juku Snow Festival

    Ouchi-juku, Minamiaizu, is a town with a rich history, and is well known having been used as a ‘post-town’ for travellers during the Edo period. The area includes 33 buildings which have been painstakingly preserved as they were hundreds of years ago. Ouchi-juku’s breathtaking snow festival is held on the 2nd weekend of February every year. Most of the buildings that make up the main street of Ouchi-juku now operate as gift shops, but visitors can still stay the night in 3 traditional minshuku in the town. These houses have access to electricity and the internet, but Ouchi-juku still manages to feel like it exists in a whole world of its own. One of the best parts of visiting Ouchi-juku is taking a trip up to the view point that overlooks the beautiful thatched houses. I headed there early upon arrival, in the hope of getting a good photograph, but the snow was so strong that I ended up getting more snow in my lens than anything else! I have seen photographs of Ouchi-juku in the snow on the internet before, so I was really happy to have the chance to go and see this view for myself, and take my own photographs. It definitely didn’t disappoint. Ouchi-juku Snow Festival takes places over the space of a weekend. There are a number of events over the two days that visitors of all ages can enjoy. One of the events that took place on the Saturday was a “mochi pick-up” event. This event is where mochi (glutinous rice balls enjoyed as a sweet treat) are thrown from the roofs of buildings. Visitors can compete with each other to see how many they can collect! Even if you miss the mochi pick-up event like me, visitors can appreciate the hand-made mochi as a beautiful decoration displayed on the trees around the area. The bright and bold colours of the mochi were really beautiful against the snow. Another event during the weekend is call Maruta Kiri Competition (丸太切り競争). This involves trying to saw through a small section of tree trunk faster than the other competitors. I was invited to take part in this competition! It was so much more difficult than it looked and I think that it took me about 3 minutes to cut through the wood, which was a bit embarrassing! However, it was also really fun, because the men in charge of the competition kept teasing me about how bad I was and insisted on showing me how to do it properly. I got to take back my bit of wood as a souvenir. I asked the volunteer what I should use it for. Despite it being twice the diameter of a map, he suggested that I use it as a coaster. I took it around with me for the rest of the event! If you don’t feel like performing yourself, visitors can watch performances of traditional performing arts. The photo below is from the Sanshi Kagura performance that took place on Sunday. These performances were very important hundreds of years ago, when they were most often performed around the start of the new year, as a way of warding off bad luck and evil throughout the year. Other events included a soba noodle eating competition, a dance performance by the area’s local yokasoi dance team, and a group effort to try and make Japan’s longest dango mochi (Mochi skewered on a stick). Between events, it was nice to check out the local cuisine. The food stalls aren’t only for the festival, but are open to visitors throughout the year. Traditional grilling techniques are used to make well-known local delicacies like senbei (rice crackers). There are also many other things to explore with your friends and family, such as a number of different igloos, some of which actually function as makeshift shrines, whereas others make good rest spaces. As the sun went down, I decided to go back to the viewpoint and see what Ouchi-juku looked like at night. It was absolutely amazing, especially because the lighting of the lanterns – which are also made of snow – had already started to take place. Certain parts of the staircase and path to the viewpoint became slippery as the temperature dropped, so I would advise visitors to take care. I have never seen so many people slipping over during just one day. When I reached the bottom, I decided to have a look at some of the local shops before the firework display of the evening started. I fell in love with these cute hand-made ornaments – each of which has their own meaning and importance. I bought some of the chillies, which were used centuries ago to ward off spirits. Another highlight of the Ouchi-juku Snow Festival was the firework show. The heavy snowy, strong wind made a really beautiful foreground for the 100 fireworks set off on Saturday evening. This is the most stunning location that I have ever seen a firework display. I loved watching the faces of the locals as they enjoyed the views of the night sky. I had an absolutely amazing trip to Ouchi-juku Snow Festival, and I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in traditional Japanese culture and local festivals. I would be very interested in coming back next year ACCESS Ouchi-juku can be accessed by taxi or bus from Yunokami Onsen station, which is on the Aizu Railway line. It can become very crowded during festival time, so if coming by taxi, I would suggest booking both journeys of your taxi in advance, and preparing for congestion upon entering the area. If coming by rental car, make sure to prepare yourself for long queues to get into and out of the car parks.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  17. Destination Spotlight

    5 Reasons to Visit Sazaedo Temple

    Sazaedo is a very special Buddhist temple. Constructed in 1796 entirely from wood, Sazaedo has a double-helix structure, meaning that those who enter Sazaedo will leave the temple without encountering anybody traveling in the opposite direction. The one-way route of Sazaedo was introduced to avoid worshippers being disturbed during prayer. Originally there were 33 Buddhist statues (known as 'kannon') dotted around the temple, which designated the decided places to stop and pray. Although sadly none of the kannon statues are still in place, the fact that Sazaedo has not been rebuilt or drastically renovated since it was built is sure to leave a deep impression on visitors. The temple even stood strong during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Here are 5 reasons why I fell in love with Sazaedo. 1.) IT'S ONE OF A KIND Sazaedo is the only wooden building with double helix structure in the world. There are other buildings named “sazaedo” dotted around Japan, but none that are constructed completely from wood. 2.) ITS ARCHITECTURE IS BREATHTAKING No two supporting beams in the temple are identical. Each beam that makes up the ceilings of Sazaedo is a unique length and shape, and – although they may look it – the beams are not straight. All of them are ever-so-slightly warped in shape, so that they can twist around the centre of the temple to create the double-helix shape. It must have been difficult for the monks and architects who took on this project hundreds of years ago to precisely carve and shape the beams. It’s hard for me to imagine how anybody ever worked out how to create the structure. It’s like an Escher drawing! Inside the entrance of Sazaedo, there is a diagram of the double-helix structure. It’s a little difficult to see from the diagram above, but at a select number of places within the temple, you can peak right through to the other side. If you are entering the building, you can see through to those who are on their way out, and vice versa, which gives visitors the feeling as if they are not only looking at, but playing a part in, an optical illusion. 3.) TOURISTS HAVE BEEN VISITING SINCE THE EDO PERIOD Although it may be a little different from the style of tourism we have today, visitors have been coming to Sazaedo since the Edo period (1603-1867) to pray at the 33 kannon statues. As proof of their visit, visitors would stick their own personal label on the walls or ceiling of the temple. This label would usually have the visitor’s family name imprinted on it in beautiful calligraphy. This is the Edo period equivalent of writing ‘Emily woz ere 03/01/2004’. The tradition of leaving proof of your visit is still carried out today, although nowadays the religious labels are made from slightly stronger paper than their Edo period equivalents. The manager of Sazaedo urges tourists not to write their names on the walls though, as this may lead to them having to paint over the original wooden panels, undeniably damaging the charm of Sazaedo. The number of tourists coming to Sazaedo have been gradually increasing over the last forty years, with a recent boom in international visitors due to Sazaedo being featured in many travel guides, such as the Michelin Green Guide. 4.) NO JAPANESE NECESSARY Unlike many sightseeing spots in Japan, visitors can experience traditional Japanese history and culture without the need to understand any Japanese at all. Exploring the building in itself is really fun and can be enjoyed by all ages. That being said, Sazaedo can be appreciated on a number of levels (no pun intended!). The more you know about Sazaedo, the more intriguing it becomes. 5.) IT’S CLOSE TO OTHER SIGHTSEEING SPOTS Sazaedo is incredibly close to Mt. Iimoriyama, a place known throughout Japan for its tragic and moving history. This is the spot where the Byakkotai group of teenage boys that took part in the Boshin War committed suicide in 1868 upon seeing Tsurugajo Castle burning. As you may have guessed, Tsurugajo Castle is also nearby to Sazaedo Temple. The castle is beautiful in any season, and has a museum about samurai history inside. If castles aren’t your thing, there are also a number of places where you can design and paint your own Akabeko lucky cow. See our page on Sazaedo Temple for more information

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  18. Useful Information

    Guide to Visiting the Famous Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint

    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 it received during the 2011 earthquake, there is a replacement bus that runs between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station (correct as of April 2020). Holders of the JR Rail Pass can ride on both the Tadami Line and the replacement bus service! See below for an English-language tourist map I made of Mishima Town (Miyashita Onsen & Hayato Onsen). 

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  19. Destination Spotlight

    Historic Maezawa Farmhouses In Rural Japan

    Constructed at the end of the 16th century, the thatched roof farmhouses of Tateiwa Village are a hidden gem, buried deep in the heart of Minamiaizu, Fukushima Prefecture. L-SHAPED FARMHOUSES One of the first things I noticed upon arriving at Maezawa Village was the huge size and odd shape of its buildings. 13 of the farmhouses still standing are L-Shaped – a shape known as ‘magariya’ in Japanese. The farmhouses also have distinctively long corridors and tall ceilings. During my tour of the village, I was told that having long corridors to connect the entrance way to living quarters was necessary in centuries gone by. First and foremost, this was because people lived with their horses. Minamiaizu winters are so cold that keeping horses in outdoor stables would be cruel! As a result, the people of Tateiwa (known as ‘Maezawa’) have a long history of sharing their homes with their horses – a tradition that continued up to the 1960s. Additionally, long corridors helped villagers reach the main road. Overnight in winter, 1 m of snow often falls in Maezawa, so having the front of the house far from the main road would mean a lot of manual work shifting snow would be necessary everyday just to leave the house. Having the corridor connect directly to the main road solved this problem. HISTORY Isolated from surrounding towns for months every year due to heavy snowfall, the people of Maezawa have had to adapt their lifestyles to the harsh conditions of the region. Producing much of their own daily necessities, Maezawa was largely a self-sustaining community of agricultural workers. Winter months, when farming was impossible to conduct, offered time for farming silkworms and making linen. The shape and style of the architecture of town has changed gradually over the centuries due to damage from heavy winters, and fire-related incidents, the biggest of which occurred in 1907, which badly damaged all but 4 farmhouses. Local efforts to actively preserve the area have been taking place since 1985. Much of this work involves maintaining and replacing thatching on rooves; an activity carried out using traditional techniques, as far as it is possible. Those involved in preserving Maezawa’s L-Shaped Farmhouses – many of whom are volunteers – do so to demonstrate the relevance of local traditions in modern life, and to pass on their community’s local history to future generations. THINGS TO DO 1. VISIT THE MUSEUM Maezawa Shuraku Museum (資料館) was definitely the highlight of my visit. The museum has been converted from one of Maezawa’s old farmhouses to showcase folk traditions and local lifestyles, and its layout has been preserved and put on display for visitors to see. Visitors can explore the whole house – including a loft area only accessible by a slightly wobbly staircase! Whether sitting at a traditional irori fireplace, standing on a bearskin throw, exploring intriguing Buddhist altars, or gazing at the gorgeous houses lining the streets outside, I found myself captivated by the feeling of being somewhere incredibly historic. 2. CHECK OUT THE VIEW POINT Across the road from the entrance to the hamlet is a footpath which leads to an amazing view point. The scenery is especially spectacular in early November, when the autumn leaves are in full glory. The footpath up to the view point was a rather steep 10 minute walk, so please bear this in mind when visiting! 3. SEE SEASONAL FLOWERS Seasonal flowers including hydrangea, iris, rhododendron and Chinese peony can be enjoyed at Furasato Park if you plan your visit carefully! 4. EXPLORE THE AREA There are many interesting places dotted around this beautiful village, including spots where fresh water from the mountains can be collected. Visitors can also buy hand-made crafts from a local shop, and try locally-harvested soba. Landmarks to search for include an ancient pine tree, a watermill, and a Buddhist statue thought to be the god of horses. As horses were so important for the town, it was vital for the people of Tateiwa to pray for the strength and well-being of these animals. For information on opening hours, entrance fees, and how to reach Maezawa, see here!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  20. Destination Spotlight

    Nicchu Line Weeping Cherry Blossom

    Yesterday I ticked one place off of my Fukushima bucket-list: the cherry blossom along the Nicchu Line in Kitakata City. It definitely did not disappoint, and I am so glad I got to go. The Nicchu Line is an old railway line that used to run between Kitakata City & Atsushio Onsen town. The railway line was over 13 km long, and 3 km of this has been changed into a cycling & walk path, which looks absolutely fantastic in cherry blossom season. Usually the cherry blossom at Nicchu Line come into full bloom around Golden Week – a string of national holidays in Japan that take place in late April / the start of May – but when I visited in April 2018, the cherry blossom across Fukushima are all blooming really early! One thing that is really great about the Nicchu Line being 3 km long is that even if some areas along the path are a bit crowded, there will be areas that are less busy so you can take some really nice photos. Not only were the cherry blossom fantastic, but I loved being able to see them against Mt. Bandai in the distance. It was also really relaxing to walk along a path surrounded by local houses, rice fields, and farmland for as far as the eye can see. At around the midpoint of the Nicchu Line stands an old steam train that used to used on the Nicchu railway line. The pinker cherry blossom to the left of the train in the photo above weren’t blooming very much, but if I took the same photo in a couple of day’s time, it would look even more impressive! It was really nice seeing lots of different varieties of cherry blossom all in one place. It was really, really relaxing to walk along the line. I saw the women in the photo below and felt a little jealous – it would be lovely to sit under the weeping cherry blossom with a book and just chill out and read for a few hours! After a bit of time, I joined the many of the other visitors and decided to take some selfies too! TIPS 1.) BRING SUN CREAM! The road is pretty long, which means you might be outside under the sun for quite a long time! Make sure to put on protective sun cream. 2.) BRING A PICNIC! As above, during the 3 km walk, it’s likely you’ll get pretty peckish. There are some festival stalls at a couple of points during the walk, but it’s worth bringing some snacks (and water), and having a picnic under the cherry blossom. There were quite a few people doing this when I visited. 3.) CHECK THE SIGNS ON THE NICCHU LINE This map shows where you as well as where how much cherry blossom is blooming at different points along the path. This can help you prioritise which areas you visit during your visit! Below are some words to help you understand the map. 現在地 Current Location 咲き始め Just started blooming 三分咲き30% in bloom 五分咲き 50% in bloom 七分咲 70% in bloom 満開 Full bloom This sign means ‘Weeping Cherry Blossoms Road this way’ – useful to know if you’re coming by car or walking from the station. There are no big signs point out the start and end of the Nicchu Line. But when you come to an intersection where you have to cross the road and join a perpendicular path (as shown above), this signifies you’re nearly at the end (or the beginning!) of the road. 4.) RENT A BIKE AT KITAKATA STATION There are 2 shops outside Kitakata Station where you can rent a bike for a couple of hours. This means you can see the whole of the Nicchu Line without getting tired out from all the walking! 5.) VISIT NEARBY SIGHTSEEING SPOTS Kitakata has some amazing sightseeing spots, such as the red brick warehouse district, a Ramen Museum, Shingu Kumaho Shrine Nagatoko temple, traditional shops, and much more. Make the most of your trip to Kitakata by exploring some of these places! You can find more information on their locations on this English map. GETTING TO NICCHU LINE BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT The most southern point of the Nicchu Line is only a 7 minute walk from Kitakata Station!  There are Burarin sightseeing loop buses that take you a bit further up the Nicchu Line. Read more here. BY CAR For those travelling by car, there are a number of temporary car parks set up around Oshikiri Park during cherry blossom season, so please use these! MORE INFORMATION See here for more information on reaching the Nicchu Line.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  21. Destination Spotlight

    Yunokami Onsen In Spring

    I visited Yunokami Onsen during the cherry blossom season! We visited the station in late April – which just so happened to be perfect timing! We were greeted with blue skies and sakura in full bloom. YUNOKAMI ONSEN STATION Yunokami Onsen Station is a very picturesque local station on the Aizu Railway Line that connects Aizu-Wakamatsu City with Aizu-Tajima, and further on to Asakusa Station in Tokyo. This beautiful thatched-roof station must be one of my favourite stations in the prefecture – it’s got a public foot bath just outside so you can treat your feet to natural hot spring water before catching your train, there’s a traditional Japanese stove to warm yourself up with in winter, there’s a range of souvenirs on sale, and it’s extremely photogenic – what’s not to love?! There are many cherry blossom trees surrounding the station, which had caught the attention of quite a few tourists, who were busy snapping photos with the blossoms. If you look directly at the front of the station, turn right and walk down the hill, you’ll reach the bus stop for Ouchi-juku. It’s the dark green bus in the photos below. We took photos outside of the station while we waited for the prime time to take a photo of the moment when the local train passes in front of Yunokami Onsen Station. (You can check when the train will pass in front of the station by checking the timetable listed inside the station.) In order to take the best photo, you have to pass through the barriers in the station. It’s necessary to buy a ticket that will let you access the train platform. Once we passed through the barriers, we walked onto the platform, then crossed over onto the other side of the tracks, where there were a number of reporters and photographers waiting. Taking a photo of the train passing in front of the station was harder than I was expecting! After I got home, I looked back at the first photo and realised that the angle I had taken my photos from wasn’t quite right for including as much sakura in one shot as possible. It’s good to know this for next time! At the tourist information desk at Yunokami Onsen Station, the staff let me know that the cherry blossom at Nakayama Fuketsu were also in full bloom, so we decided to go check it out. This viewpoint is 2.5 km away from the station and much of this is up a steep hill with no footpath, so you may be difficult to reach if you aren’t travelling by car. We were travelling by car so it wasn’t a problem for us. NAKAYAMA FUKETSU VIEWPOINT I had never been to this view point before. It was a bit of an adventure getting to the viewpoint, because it involved driving up quite a narrow mountain road. But it was worth it for the beautiful views, especially ones of the snow-topped mountains behind pale pink cherry blossom. LUNCH AT MOTHER LIP After we had explored the cherry blossom spots, we went to Mother Lip Café for lunch. I’ve wanted to go to this café for ages! Mostly because of its intriguing name. The coffee was delicious and the spaghetti was really nice. I chose “Napolitan”, which is actually a Japanese spaghetti recipe originating from Yokohama. We had to head back to work after our trip to Minamiaizu, but there is plenty to do near Yunokami Onsen – both the To-no-Hetsuri rock formations and the Edo post-town of Ouchi-juku are very close. I really recommend you visit this area in late April when you get the chance. It’s really beautiful and makes for a very pleasant drive. I’ve included Ouchi-juku, To-no-Hetsuri, as well as the places mentioned in this post, in the Google Map below.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  22. Useful Information

    6 Reasons To Go Skiing In Fukushima (& Where To Go)

    I’m going to jump right into it: 6 Reasons to Go Skiing in Fukushima this winter! 1) ACCESS FROM TOKYO Some of Fukushima main ski resorts can be reached in just 2.5 hours by train (shinkansen and local) & bus 2) LONG SKI SEASON Being the third largest prefecture in Japan makes for a varied climate across Fukushima Prefecture – this means Fukushima Prefecture’s ski season is comparitively long, lasting up to the end of April in some regions! 3) POWDER SNOW Sheltered by mountains, Aizu region’s inland location blesses its ski slopes with low humidity and a high snow quality that is fine and dry, which is comparable to that of the top-class snow in Hokkaido. 4) HAVE THE SLOPES TO YOURSELF Fukushima’s ski resorts are yet to be widely discovered by international tourists. You can enjoy skiing in Aizu without feelings like you’re at just another international tourist resort. 5) CLOSE TO SIGHTSEEING DESTINATIONS Many ski resorts are located in or near Bandai, Inawashiro, Oku-Aizu and Minamiaizu Areas, which are close to some of Fukushima’s most impressive sightseeing spots including Tsurugajo Castle and Tadami River No.1 Bridge Viewpoint. 6) GOOD DEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL TOURISTS Great deals (such as cheap ski passes and car rentals) are often available to international tourists. See Aizu Ski Japan's website for more information. FUKUSHIMA’S SKI RESORTS Hoshino Resorts’ Alts Bandai, Hoshino Resorts’ Nekoma, and Grandeco Resort are 3 of Fukushima’s most popular ski resorts amongst international tourists. They each have their own English websites, but here’s a little summary: HOSHINO RESORTS’ ALTS BANDAI English Homepage:  https://www.alts.co.jp/en/ Fukushima.Travel Page: Here No. of Ski Courses: 29 Level: Suitable for all levels Getting There: 1.5 hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama Station. Then a 50 minute train to Bandaimachi Station on the Ban-etsu West Line. 20 minute shuttle bus from Bandaimachi Station to Alts Bandai. This shuttle bus needs to be booked in advance There are also buses from Koriyama Station to the resort. Hoshino Resorts’ Alts Bandai is the biggest resort in Fukushima Prefecture’s Aizu region, boasting 29 ski courses which provide great skiing and snowboarding for all ages and abilities. Alts Bandai is located on the slopes of Mt. Bandai, and is split into two main skiing areas. The northern area is known as Nekoma Bowl and home to the more advanced ski courses; the lack of sunlight the area is exposed to meaning that the snow is not compacted and therefore offers a challenging ride to more experienced skiers. Another interesting feature of Alts Bandai is the chance to ride a snowmobile to the top of a slope closed off during the week. If you take the snowmobile to the top, you’ll be able to ski down over one week’s worth of soft, untouched snow! (You have to book in advance). HOSHINO RESORTS’ NEKOMA English Homepage: https://www.nekoma.co.jp/en/ Fukushima.Travel Page: Here No. of Ski Courses: 10 Level: Beginner to Advanced Getting There: 1.5 by Shinkasnsen from Tokyo to Koriyama Station. Then a 50 minute train to Inawashiro Station on the Ban-etsu West Line. There's a shuttle bus service from Inawashiro Station to Nekoma Resort. (Need to book in advance) Nekoma Resort, located close to Alts Bandai, is known for the incredibly micro-fine, powdery quality of its snow. The micro-fine powder snow is made possible because of  how cold the area gets; often reaching -15 degrees in winter. Nekoma Resort’s northern slope is shaped liked a funnel, which helps stop the snow from becoming icy. Nekoma Resort, like Alts Bandai, is operated by Hoshino Resorts, so visitors holding a ski pass for Alts Bandai will also be able to utilize the slopes and gondolas at Nekoma Resort. There is also a free shuttle bus between these two ski slopes which are perfect for skiers who want a bit of variety. GRANDECO RESORT English Website: https://www.grandeco.com/english/snow.html Fukushima.Travel Page: Here No. of Ski Courses: 7 Level: More aimed at beginners Getting There: 1.5 hours by shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama Station. Transfer to the Ban-etsu West Line. Shuttle buses run from Inawashiro Station (45 min train ride from Koriyama Station on the Ban-etsu West Line). Unlike the 2 Hoshino Resorts’ ski resorts, Grandeco has lengthy, uninterrupted ski runs rather than having a number of gondolas split ski runs into many ski courses. There are a few routes aimed at experienced skiers, but most of the slopes at Grandeco are gentle, making it perfect for families, those just starting skiing and those, like myself, that have totally forgotten how to ski at all. Grandeco is also one of the ski resorts in Fukushima Prefecture where it is not unheard of for slopes to remain open until Golden Week at the end of April. Alts Bandai, Nekoma Resort and Grandeco Resort are all located close to one another, and are neighbours to many more of Aizu area’s ski resorts. Fukushima is full of amazing winter scenery and there are many spectacular views to be seen from Fukushima Prefecture’s many ski resorts. The number of slopes, difficultly level, and range of non-skiing snow activities (i.e. tobogganing, snowmobiling etc.) depends on the resort, so make sure to check out the Snow Japan website for information to help you compare resorts. To give you an idea of the feeling of a few of these ski resorts, I’ve gathered some photos of a variety of Fuksuhima’s ski resorts, which I’ll list below along with the name of the ski resort. Check out their location on the map below too! AIZU AREA This area is near Lake Inawashiro & Tsurugajo Castle. URABANDAI SKI INAWASHIRO SKI RESORT Fukushima.Travel Page: Here LISTEL SKI FANTASIA Fukushima.Travel Page: Here MINOWA RESORT Fukushima.Travel Page: Here OKU-AIZU AREA Near Enzoji Temple & Tadami River No. 1 Bridge Viewpoint. FAIRYLAND KANEYAMA RESORT TADAMI SKI SANNOKURA RESORT MINAMIAIZU AREA Near Hinoemata Onsen & Ouchi-juku. AIZU KOGEN NANGO SKI AIZU KOGEN TAKATSUE SKI Fukushima.Travel Page: Here For up-to-date information on all the ski resorts in Fukushima, including information on how to reach them and on prices etc, please see Snow Japan’s website and Aizu Ski Japan. See more ski resorts here

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  23. Destination Spotlight

    Goshiki-numa’s Breathtaking Blue Lakes

    Summer is the perfect time to take a hike around the incredible the Goshiki-numa Ponds in Urabandai. The range of colours which can be seen in the water of the picturesque lakes and ponds of this area has given it the name ‘Goshiki-numa’, meaning ‘Five Coloured Ponds’. The area is most well-known for its bright blue ponds, which contain the mineral allophane (made up of aluminium and silicic acid), which is thought to have been released into the water by the nearby Mt. Bandai after its eruption in 1887. The reddish colour of other ponds is caused by a mixture of iron oxide and algae. The surface of the lakes here appears to change colour depending on the time of day, and the season. Although the cobalt blue water looks amazing under a bright blue summer sky, the red maple leaves of autumn look sublime against the bluest of the lakes. Springtime offers visitors milder temperatures, and winter allows for a very different way of experiencing the lakes: by snowshoe! I have done snowshoe trekking around the Goshiki-numa Ponds, but I think I prefer seeing it surrounded by lush greenery. SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO AT GOSHIKI-NUMA? 1. TAKE A WALK The most well-known walking route is 3.6 km long, and takes around 70 minutes to complete. It begins from the Urabandai Visitor Information Centre, and is a course suitable for those without experience of hiking. This scenic route takes you all around the main ponds and lakes of the area, including Bishamon-numa, Aka-numa (the red pond), and Yanagi-numa (especially beautiful during Autumn time). The route finishes up near Urabandai Kogen Station, from where you can take a bus back to the entrance of Goshiki-numa (or walk back!!). Check out the map below for more information on the walking route. The walk begins at the right-hand side, where there is a pin labelled 'Goshiki-numa Iriguchi'. 2. RENT A BOAT Boats can be rented near the Urabandai Visitor Information Centre, on the edge of Bishamon-numa. Renting a paddle boat is the perfect way to enjoy the calm atmosphere of Goshiki-numa and a great way to take in the amazing scenery. 3. LOOK FOR THE HEART KOI CARP Spotting this special koi carp supposedly means that you’re lucky in love! Unlike the other kois in the Goshiki-numa Ponds, the Heart Koi has the shape of a heart on the side of its body. See if you can spot the koi during your visit! If you fancy even more of a challenge, try and take his picture! (Hint: he likes hanging around the boats at Bishamon-numa, near the start of the hiking route) 4. CHECK OUT LAKE HIBARA Lake Hibara is a large lake very close to the Goshiki-numa Ponds. You can hire a pedalo or kayak, or stop for a bite to eat at one of the nearby restaurants. VISITING THE GOSHIKI-NUMA POND See here for information about reaching the Goshiki-numa Ponds

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  24. Destination Spotlight

    5 Reasons To Visit Tadami Line’s Yanaizu Town

    Yanaizu Town lies west of the historic city of Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. It’s a perfect destination to include in a day trip from Aizu-Wakamatsu City, or as part of the journey to Kaneyama or Miyashita, where you can stay the night before venturing out to see the No. 1 Tadami River Bridge View Spot in the morning! The best part? The scenic JR Tadami Line local railway line connects all of these places! Here are some of my favourite things about visiting Yanaizu during the winter months. 1) ENZOJI TEMPLE Originally constructed in the year 807, Enzoji Temple is a remarkable and historic temple in Yanaizu Town. Although damaged heavily and repaired in the 17th century, the temple still feels extremely old, and bears the scars of historic events such as damage to the wood caused by the fighting that took place during the Meiji Restoration. This temple looks absolutely magical in winter time, as there is heavy snowfall in Aizu area each year. The temple is just a 9 minute walk from Aizu Yanaizu Station on the JR Tadami Line, or you can drive here easily from Aizu-Wakamatsu City. Enzoji Temple is most famous for being the birthplace of the legend of the lucky red cow of Fukushima known as the ‘Akabeko’. This cow supposedly played a vital role in the construction of the temple nearly a millennium ago. 2) THIS VIEW I never get over how beautiful the view from the steps leading up to Enzoji Temple is. Every time I drive past here, no matter the season, I can’t help but park my car and snap a photo or two. 3) STEAMED BUNS Yanaizu Town is known within Fukushima Prefecture for its really tasty sweet steamed buns known as ‘Awa Manju’, which are filled with a variety of flavours. Made from millet and pounded mochi rice, and filled with red bean paste, these buns have been loved in this town for almost 200 years. They’re especially delicious enjoyed with hot green tea! There are a number of shops that sell them along the quaint roads that surround Enzoji, so please take a walk around and choose your favourite! I’ve included the main manju shops in the map to the top of this post. 4) KIYOSHI SAITO MUSEUM OF ART, YANAIZU Just a 12 minute (1 km) walk from Enzoji Temple, this museum of art displays the work of Kiyoshi Saito, an internationally famous artist who was born in nearby Aizu-Bange Town. Inspired by traditional woodblock print, Saito produced many beautiful block prints during his life which have been exhibited in countries including the US, Australia, India and Czechoslovakia. Over the decades, the subject of Saito’s prints developed and changed, and range from animals and vegetable motifs to landscapes and portraits. For the town of Yanaizu, arguably the most important prints produced by Saito were his Aizu Series, made in 1940. Saito left Aizu in 1911 when he was 4-years-old to move to Hokkaido due to his father’s job transfer. He returned to Aizu for the first time in 1937 to visit his Aunt in Yanaizu Town. He was really moved by the beautiful scenery and created prints to capture the atmosphere and magic of rural life. He became a honorary citizen of Yanaizu Town years later and retired there at the age of 80. The museum has a great English website so please check it out here. The museum is located close to Michi-no-Eki Yanaizu (Roadside Station) and Hot in Yanaizu, where you can buy souvenirs and local food (and even a steamed bun or two if you get there before they all run out!) so be sure to check these shops out too. Images ©Hisako Watanabe 5) NAKED MAN FESTIVAL This festival is officially known as ‘Nanokado Hadaka Mairi‘, which translates as ‘Naked Temple Visit’. On the evening of January 7th every year, crowds of men dressed in fundoshi loincloths (which you read about last week!), get ready for this festival, which takes place in Enzoji Temple. Participants cleanse their bodies, and march through the streets of Yanaizu to Enzoji Temple, almost completely exposed to the elements.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  25. Destination Spotlight

    Hiking Mt. Bandai

    Mt. Bandai is one of the most recognizable of Fukushima’s landmarks. It towers in the background of many scenic places and is located in a super picturesque area right next to Lake Inawashiro. Mt. Bandai is situated in Bandai-Asahi National Park, and is the focal point of the gorgeous sightseeing roads Bandai-Azuma Skyline and Bandai-Azuma Lake Line. No matter what the season, Mt. Bandai is truly a sublime sight to behold. I started my climb at the Happodai Trailhead, which is the most commonly used route up Mt. Bandai and the easiest to hike! There are 2 pretty wide car parks at this trailhead so it is easy to park there even on more popular hiking days. I created a map of the hiking trail, so please make sure to check it out. I hope it’s of some help! It takes around 2 hours to hike from the Happodai Trailhead to the main rest station which is situated at Koboshimizu Mountain Hut. At this rest stop, you can buy souvenirs such as Mt. Bandai pins and badges, bells to ward off bears, postcards, etc. But the thing I appreciated being able to buy at this rest stop was a cold bottle of coke. It’s a good idea to have a good rest at this stop because the final 20 minutes to the summit of Mt Bandai is pretty steep compared to the rest of the hike. I’m glad I took my time before facing the final part of the hike. I was really impressed by how scenic this hike was – especially once we got to the top and the clouds started to clear up, finally letting us see amazing views all the way down to Lake Inawashiro. I’ve been to Lake Inawashiro a number of times and seen photos of the lake from lots of angles, but it was really awesome to see it from above. Our walk back down had much clearer skies, meaning that we could take some good photographs of the views! We walked past a large field that becomes filled with flowers a number of times over the course of the year, so I recommend taking this route on the way back. Going back via the flower field also cuts out some of the steeper climb between the trailhead and Koboshimizu Mountain Hut. Climbing Mt. Bandai was a great experience, and definitely something I am proud to tick off my Fukushima bucket list! Make sure to try this hike if you have a chance! TIPS It is possible to get to the Happodai Trailhead by public transport, but only if you take a taxi from a nearby station, which can be pretty expensive (up to 10,000 yen from the closest train station). I recommend renting a car in the prefecture and driving to the trailhead for a relaxing start to your hike. The best and safest time of the year to hike Mt. Bandai is between late April and early November. This area has heavy snowfall in the winter though, so you can enjoy snowshoe trekking in other areas of Urabandai instead of climbing Mt. Bandai. Take walking poles to help you balance when going up or down some of the steeper areas of the route. Make sure to bring plenty of water, food, snacks, and sunscreen! Make sure to use the toilet at the Happodai Trailhead before setting off, as there isn’t a toilet on the hiking course. Before you start hiking, make sure you have a bell on your bag to scare away any bears that might be lurking around. Also, make sure that any food you carry is wrapped up nice and air-tight so as not to attract any wildlife. On your way down, you’ll come to a fork in the road at Nakanoyu Seki, from where you can choose to go to Urabandai (裏磐梯) or Happodai (八方台). Make sure you go in the direction of Happodai, as the Urabandai direction will take you all the way to Bandai Kogen Station!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  26. Destination Spotlight

    Tsurugajo Castle & the Meiji Restoration

    Tsurugajo Castle is a popular spot to visit among tourists coming to Fukushima. Whether you’re discovering the samurai history of Aizu-Wakamatsu City in the castle museum, relaxing while taking a sip of freshly-prepared matcha at Rinkaku Tea Rooms, or snapping some photos from the observatory on the top floor of the castle, Tsurugajo is an epic destination for visitors to Japan, and an absolute treasure trove for history buffs. WHAT MAKES AIZU-WAKAMATSU CITY SPECIAL? Aizu-Wakamatsu City, surrounded on all sides by mountains, has been a bustling, scenic castle town for centuries. The region’s climate is thought to have enabled regional agricultural prosperity, which led to rich cultural developments. From the Sengoku Period (1467 – 1568) right up to the end of the Edo Period (1868), Aizu – with Aizu-Wakamatsu City at its heart – was ruled by successions of powerful warlords who revered Aizu for its strategic location as the gateway to the Tohoku Region. As the Sengoku Period came to a close, Aizu was blessed with a 225 year period of relative peace and stability, allowing for the flourishing of the arts and culture (like tea ceremony and martial arts) to take place. Aizu-Wakamatsu City became a hub of Japanese culture – and this can be still be experienced today. WHEN WAS TSURUGAJO CASTLE BUILT? Tsurugajo Castle was originally built as a palace in 1384 and underwent key structural changes in the centuries that followed as ruler succeeded ruler. Probably the most important structural change was the construction of a seven-story castle tower at the request of Sengoku Era Feudal Lord Gamo Ujisato in the 2nd half of the 16th century, which gave Tsurugajo its recognizable form of a Japanese castle. The castle tower was reduced to a five-story tower sometime after the conclusion of Ujisato’s feudal rule. For 225 years, starting from 1643, Aizu was held and ruled by the Matsudaira Clan from 1643. The castle was destroyed by the Meiji Government in 1874 in response to the castle’s role in fighting to keep the old regime in power. HOW OLD IS THE CASTLE YOU CAN VISIT TODAY? The castle was reformed in 1965 and had its signature red tiles replace in 2011. That being said, the stone walls that made up the base of the castle area and moat remain from the original castle. WHY IS TSURUGAJO CASTLE SO IMPORTANT? 1) THE CASTLE IS A SYMBOL OF SAMURAI LOYALTY AND COURAGE Throughout the Boshin War of 1868 (during which loyal followers of the Tokugawa Regime fought against Imperial forces, which eventually led to the Meiji Restoration), Tsurugajo Castle gained a reputation as being an impregnable fortress. At the peak of the war, Tsurugajo Castle withstood over a month of heavy fire from the forces of the would-be Meiji Government. In 1868, Tokugawa forces (including Aizu) lost to the imperial faction – signifying the end of the Boshin War and the end of the age of samurai. The battle at Tsurugajo Castle is thought to have been one of the very last big battles leading up to the conclusion of the Tokugawa Era. 2) WITHOUT TSURUGAJO CASTLE THERE MIGHT NOT BE ANY TEA CEREMONY. Feudal Lord Gamo Ujisato took the son of the 16th-century tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu under his wing and brought him to Aizu, where he was raised. The tea rooms at Tsurugajo Castle are thought to have played an important role in the continued development of Japan’s school of tea ceremony. The son of Sen no Rikyu built the tea house Rinkaku that stands on the grounds of Tsurugajo Castle. This tea house was actually moved and hidden during the period of political unrest that occurred during the fired decades of the Meiji Restoration, in order to avoid its destruction alongside the castle. If this tea house had been destroyed, it might have had a catastrophic effect on the expansion and development of the tea ceremony practice prevalent in Japan today. 3) IT’S DEEPLY CONNECTED WITH THE LEGACY OF THE BYAKKOTAI Everyone in Fukushima Prefecture knows the legacy of the Byakkotai – a group of 20 young samurai warriors who had trained at the prestigious samurai school Aizu Hanko Nisshinkan. At the height of the Boshin War, the Byakkotai warriors fled to the top of Mt. Iimoriyama. From the top of Mt Iimoriyama, the Byakkotai boys saw Tsurugajo Castle in flames. Assuming this meant the loss of the war, the boys attempted ritual suicide there on top of the hill. Of the 20 that attempted seppuku, 1 boy survived to tell the tale. The 19 boys who died on top of Mt. Iimoriyama were buried there and became legendary, hailed as heroes for their bravery and loyalty. 4) IT’S THE ONLY CASTLE IN JAPAN WITH RED ROOF TILES This reason is a little simpler than the others. The red roof tiles are really iconic and look beautiful when they contrast against the white snows of winter. WHAT’S INSIDE THE CASTLE? Tsurugajo Castle tower is laid out like a museum. As you move up the floors, you are gradually led through the history of the city, leading right up to and beyond the fall of the Aizu Clan. Many interesting artefacts, including historic scrolls and katanas, are displayed in the museum. There are no elevators in the castle, but you are rewarded for your climb up the flights of stairs that make up the castle tower when you reach the panoramic view waiting for you at the top. On the way back down, there’s an area on the ground floor where kids can dress up like samurai! See here for information on entrance fees, opening hours and more.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  27. Destination Spotlight

    To-no-hetsuri Crags: Spectacular Natural Rock Formations

    Tucked away in Shimogo Town, Minamiaizu, stand the To-no-hetsuri Crags – an area of magnificent and other-worldly rock formations carved away from years of natural erosion. Shimogo is the same town where Ouchi-juku – the old post town popular with visitors to Fukushima Prefecture – is located. It may seem difficult to remember the name of this area, but don’t worry, it’s difficult even for Japanese people, as ‘hetsuri’ is a colloquial word used by locals in Aizu. ‘To-no-Hetsuri’ can be translated as ‘the carved pagoda overlooking the river’, or ‘the pagoda’s slope facing the river’. Just one look at these rocks and it becomes clear why this area might have been thought of as being a pagoda or tower, as the shapes of the cliffs really do look as if humans have carved them, perhaps for religious purposes. However, the cliffs began to shape a long time before humans even existed. The cliffs are thought to have been formed by wind and rain over the past 28 million years! Local people have given each cliff a different name, depending on its shape. The names include Hawk Tower, Sumo Arena Rock, and Eboshi Rock. An Eboshi is the name of a style of tall hat worn by aristocrats in the Heian period (794 – 1185), which gives you some idea of how long people have been visiting these rocks! It could be said that these rocks are not particularly ‘Japanese’ and therefore not worth visiting on a trip to Japan. However, the careful naming of the rocks and proximity of shrines and a really cute, tiny rail station (not to mention Ouchi-juku) means it is impossible to forget that you are in Japan. Tips for visiting: The suspension bridge leading up to the crags is very picturesque against the water of the river. The bridge does wobble a bit, so be prepared for that! There is a gift shop, and a viewing platform nearby upon leaving the main area of To-no-Hetsuri, so be sure to take a look. To-no-hetsuri Crags in Deep Winter To-no-hetsuri Crags in Summer To-no-hetsuri Crags in Autumn ACCESS See here for information on how to get to the To-no-hetsuri Crags

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  28. Destination Spotlight

    Visiting Inawashiro in Summer

    Yesterday I traveled to Inawashiro Town and nearby Kitashiobara Village to check out some of the best places to visit in the area. Here is my list of recommended sightseeing spots in – and around –  Inawashiro Town. 1. TSUNODA LACQUER ART STUDIO(漆芸工房 角田) Yesterday was the first time I’d been to a lacquer art studio. As well as the typical usage of lacquer for coating and decorating wooden tableware, Tsunoda san uses lacquer to create beautiful paintings with breathtaking and contrasting colors. Not only can you view Tsunoda san’s art when you visit his studio, but you can also try out makie painting (painting with lacquerware) or chinkin painting (‘sunken gold painting’). Although there are a number of places to try makie painting on Aizu Lacquerware, this is the only place in Fukushima Prefecture I know where you can try sunken gold painting. I tried out sunken gold painting yesterday (photos below!). Experience prices range from 1000 yen upwards. Check out their website for more details (Japanese language only) Reserve in advance via the online application form (You can write in English!) (お名前 = Name.  メールアドレス = Email address. メッセージ:Message) 2. HANITSU SHRINE (土津神社) A feudal lord of the Aizu Clan is thought to have been deified at this shrine. Hanitsu Shrine was opened following his death in 1672. Like much of Japan’s wooden architecture, the shrine has been badly damaged by fire. The shrine that stands here today was built in 1880. One of the highlights of the shrine is a really cool stone monument with a huge tortoise at its base. Hanitsu Shrine is also a popular place to visit in autumn, due to the bright red color of its leaves. 3. TENKYOKAKU Tenkyokaku is a Meiji Era former villa that was opened in 1907. Tenkyokaku was built as a result of the captivation Imperial Prince Arisugawa Takehito felt regarding the beauty of Lake Inawashiro during a visit to Tohoku. The former villa got its name when Crown Prince Yoshihito described the villa as 'The Palace of Heaven’s Mirror' – referring to the beauty of the sky’s reflection on the surface of Lake Inawashiro. In 1952, Tenkyokaku was granted to Fukushima Prefecture, and it is now open for the public to visit to get a glimpse at the glitz and glamour of the villas of the Japanese elite in the Meiji Era! 4. LUNCH IN INAWASHIRO Inawashiro area is well known for its delicious soba (buckwheat flour), so I recommend having soba noodles for lunch. Inawashiro area is also becoming known for its craft beer brewery! The brewery is on-site at the Inawashiro Beer Hall. You can have German-style (beer hall) lunches here and try out Inawashiro’s own beer on tap. (Please note: You can’t eat soba noodles at Inawashiro Beer Hall!) 5. WORLD GLASSWARE HALL (世界のガラス館) Opened around 20 years ago, you can see an incredible variety of items and pieces of art made from glass. Most of these pieces are for sale, giving the World Glassware Hall the atmosphere of both a museum and shop! My favorite thing about the World Glassware Hall is that you can try out glass-blowing or glass-etching! The glass you personalize during the glass-etching experience can be taken home with you once you’re happy with the design! However, glass made during the glass-blowing experience can take up to one month to be completed, and needs to be sent to an address within Japan, which makes it harder for international tourists! 6. SWIMMING IN LAKE INAWASHIRO, CAMPING, SIGHTSEEING DRIVE There are plenty of beautiful natural landscapes around Lake Inawashiro that visitors can enjoy without spending any money at all! These campsites often have designated areas where you can go swimming. Even if you don’t fancy camping, the scenery of the town is so beautiful, it’s worth it just to take a drive around and take in the views of the lake and the surrounding soba fields. One of the places you should definitely check out if visiting Inawashiro in summer is the Nunobiki Kaze-no-Kogen Wind Farm on the outskirts of nearby Koriyama City. This area becomes packed with sunflowers in August! I hope you get a chance to visit Lake Inawashiro and the countless amazing places close by!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  29. 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 part of the railway line being damaged by the earthquake of 3.11, part of the Tadami Line route has been replaced by a bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station. But the buses leave from outside their respective stations, and the bus drivers announce their arrival clearly – so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong bus! MORE INFORMATION: JR Tadami Line Timetable English Pamphlet Provided by Oku-Aizu

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  30. Destination Spotlight

    2 Days in Aizu-Wakamatsu

    Here is an example of the kind of trip you could do in two days in Aizu-Wakamatsu City. Of course, all of the places mentioned below could be fitted into one day – but it might be a bit of a squeeze! DAY 1 1. JR KORIYAMA STATION Travel to Aizu-Wakamatsu either via the JR Ban-etsu West Line, or by expressway bus. See here for more information. 2. TSURUGAJO CASTLE Tsurugajo Castle  is one of the most famous castles in Japan, with a long and exciting history. This re-constructed castle has a museum about local history inside, and beautiful grounds surrounding it. Contact them in advance to book an English tour guide! 3. TSURUGAJO KAIKAN Choose from a number of western and Japanese style restaurants, buy gifts for friends and family and try your hand at painting traditional Aizu crafts, like the lucky, red akabeko cow at Tsurugajo Kaikan! 4. SAZAEDO TEMPLE Buddhist temple built in 1796 with an extremely unique shape, like that of a seashell. Definitely worth exploring! 5. MT. IIMORIYAMA The burial place of 19 boys who took their lives whilst watching Tsurugajo Castle being lit in flames by their enemy. Out of the 20 warriors, only 1 survived and told their tale. 6. HIGASHIYAMA ONSEN (ACCOMMODATION) Stay overnight at one of the lovely ryokan in this picturesque onsen town. DAY 2 1. AIZU HANKO NISSHINKAN Established in 1803 by the Aizu Clan in order to supply the highest level of education possible for children of samurai, Nisshinkan is a really interesting place to come to learn about samurai history and what schools were like hundreds of years ago in Japan. Also, you can try out Japanese archery and painting local crafts here! 2. YAMADA ORIMOTO AIZU MOMEN FACTORY A cotton-weaving factory with a history stretching back to the beginning of the Edo Period! At Yamada Orimoto’s factory, old machinery is used in order to carry out the same traditional techniques as were used decades ago. You can come and see a tour of the factory! 3. SUEHIRO SAKE BREWERY The Suehiro Sake Brewery was founded at the end of Japan’s Edo Period. It has been chosen as an important historical building by Aizu-Wakamatsu City. Here, visitors can take a guided tour of the sake-brewing process, and try out some samples.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  31. Destination Spotlight

    1 Day in Kitakata

    Here is an example 1 day intinerary for a trip to Kitakata City! 1. KITAKATA STATION Start your trip at Kitakata Station. Kitakata Station can be reached from Aizuwakamatsu Station on the JR Ban-Etsu West Line heading from Niitsu (新津). It takes around 20 minutes from Aizuwakamatsu Station. If you are wandering how to go about getting to Fukushima Prefecture, check out this guide on accessing Fukushima. 2. KURA-NO-MACHI Kitakata City has a wealth of beautiful old warehouses built over hundreds of years in a variety of styles. The warehouse-lined streets are definitely worth exploring. There are a number of different areas where warehouses can be found. I marked them with a yellow star on the map at the top of this page. You can also see a map here of where they are located. It is all in Japanese, but if you use this map in combination with your own map phone application, you should be able to find them! The longest street filled with warehouses is approximately a 1 km walk from the station. Depending on how far you would like to walk, you can adapt the length of your route. In the map at the top of this page, I have only included warehouses within walking distances of Kitakata Station. However, the Mitsuya district and Sugiyama areas of Kitakata City, which are known for their characteristic Meiji and Taisho style of architecture, can be accessed by bus from Kitakata Station. The bus apparently takes 15 minutes (approx. 6 km), but may be difficult to find and/or understand. There are cars available to rent near the station, so that might be the best bet for visiting these slightly further-away warehouses. The locations of these further-away warehouses can also be seen here, on the 3rd page (on the right hand side of the page). Tip: Rather than walking to see the closer-by warehouses, you could rent a bicycle at a shop near the station! 3. KITAKATA RAMEN With over 100 ramen establishments filling Kitakata City, it would be a shame to miss out on trying this local dish! Kitakata ramen is one of the three most famous types of ramen in Japan (The other two being local to Sapporo and Fukuoka). The high quality water in the area and the long-stretching tradition of making ramen means that Kitakata is a haven for foodies. For up to date information on the location and prices of a variety of ramen restaurants, please inquire at the Kitakata Tourism Association (located inside the station) upon arriving. Tip: If you’re brave, you can try asara (short for asa ramen) which is a ramen eaten for breakfast!  4. LOCAL SHOPS The central area of Kitakata City has many quaint and traditional shops waiting for your visit. During my recent trip, I visited Okuya, a specialist bean shop, to try peanut ice cream. Why not give Okuya a visit? One of my favourite shops in Kitakata City is Kurosawa Kirizaiten geta shop, which sells traditional wooden shoes worn throughout the year in Japan. These shoes are lightweight, super comfortable, and there are lots of designs to choose from. They would make a great souvenir to take back home for yourself or friends. While there used to be many geta stores in town, Kurosawa Kirizaiten is the last one standing.  5. SHINGU KUMANO SHRINE No matter the time of year, this 1000 year old shrine, and the equally old tree that stands next to it, are majestic. I received an English-language explanation sheet about the shrine when I visited it, which was helpful. There is a small museum and gallery on the premises with ancient artefacts available to view. Unfortunately, this is all in Japanese, so you may be at a loss for how old the artefacts are unless you whip out Google Translate. That being said, even without understanding the little museum, the shrine is really a stunning place to visit and spending some time exploring.  6. KITAKATA STATION Finish off your day trip back at Kitakata Station, where you can take a train to your next destination! Bonus: If you happen to visit Kitakata in spring, make sure to check out the beautiful waterfall-like cherry blossoms of the Nicchu Line cherry trees. Just a short walk from the station, they truly are a sight to behold.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  32. Destination Spotlight

    2 Day Road Trip to Oku-Aizu

    Aizu is a very large area of Fukushima Prefecture, so it may be difficult to decide whereabouts to go! I have created a model 2 day itinerary which you could follow as part of your visit to Fukushima Prefecture. Renting a car is necessary for this suggested itinerary. DAY 1 1. AIZU-WAKAMATSU STATION Aizu-Wakamatsu City is a good starting point for visiting Fukushima Prefecture, as it is a city with a lot of history and culture. 2. ENZOJI TEMPLE Built around 1300 years ago, Enzoji Temple is a beautifully crafted Buddhist temple that looks down over the Tadami River, surrounded by trees that turn bright colors in the autumn. Reach Enzoji Temple in 30 minutes from Aizu Wakamatsu. 3. NO. 1 TADAMI RIVER BRIDGE VIEWPOINT The No. 1 Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint is one of the most famous photo spots in the whole of Fukushima Prefecture, offering stunning views no matter the season or weather. This viewpoint is 15 minutes away from Enzoji Temple. 4. HAYATO ONSEN Whilst you’re in the area, I recommend taking a dip in the relaxing waters of Tsuru-no-yu Onsen. This bath facility that is open to the public for many hours a day, and looks out over the beautiful, blue Tadami River. See here for the location of Tsuru-no-yu. It takes 15 minutes to drive here from the viewpoint. 5. WONDER AROUND MISHIMA TOWN Mishima is a quaint town, voted as one of the most picturesque in Japan. It's well worth exploring on foot. Central Mishima Town is a 10 minute drive from Tsuru-no-yu. 6. ONSEN TOWN Stay the night in an onsen town such as Mishima Town or Kaneyama Town. Take a look at Oku-Aizu's website for inspiration.  DAY 2 1. OUCHI-JUKU This village was one of the post towns established under the post station system during the Edo Period. The buildings still stand as they have for hundreds of years. There is a great viewpoint from where you can see the rows of houses and there are also a number of restaurants that sell delicious local food, such as the famous local dish 'negi-soba'. Ouchi-juku is a 75 minute drive from Kaneyama Town. 2. TO-NO-HETSURI A national natural monument, To-no-Hetsuri consists of cliffs overlooking a river, which have been slowly eroded away to create an extremely unique cliff-face. It takes around 20 minutes to reach To-no-Hetsuri from Ouchi-juku. 3. YUNOKAMI ONSEN STATION Check out the foot bath outside Yunokami Onsen Station, or step inside to browse some souvenirs. If you visit in winter, you'll be able to heat yourself up by the traditional irori sunken hearth. Yunokami Onsen Station is a 10 minute drive from To-no-Hetsuri. 4. ASHINOMAKI ONSEN STATION Ashinomaki Onsen Station is one of the one train stations in Japan to have a feline station master! He finishes work at 4 pm, so be sure to get there before then, and (if you can) check with him in advance to make sure he hasn’t changed his working hours recently! Ashinomaki Onsen Station is a 20 minute drive from Yunokami Onsen. 5. AIZU-WAKAMATSU Finish your trip back in Aizu-Wakamatsu, or perhaps start the next part of your journey here. Aizu-Wakamatsu is a 30 minute drive from Ashinomaki Onsen Town.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  33. Useful Information

    Ryokan Hotels and Local Cuisine

    You can often see Japanese traditional inns, known as 'ryokan,' in towns which have hot springs. Most of these inns have rooms with beautiful tatami mats and futons, accompanied by scenic views of mountains, forests or a calm and relaxing hot spring town across a river. What’s more, these inns often house restaurants that serve amazing Japanese cuisine. Their chefs provide fresh, delicious and outstanding dishes, made using seasonal local ingredients.   The rooms in ryokan hotels often have their own names. Each ryokan is quite unique, and may have some aspects that make your stay there unforgettable. In fact, each room can be an attraction by itself! Once you stay in one of these rooms, you may feel like spending your whole stay just in your room! We strongly recommend that you endeavor to experience this small part of Japanese culture. Seiryunoyado Kawachi (Yanaizu Onsen) Yanaizu Onsen, surrounded by mountains, is not a flashy onsen town, but is known for its abundant hot spring water. The inside of Seiryunoyado Kawauchi ryokan is bright and clean, and a friendly landlady will welcome you at the entrance. The inn lies alongside the Tadami River, and offers splendid views of the sun setting over the mountains in the evenings. The river, and the beautiful nature around it, changes appearance according to the season. Seiryunoyado Kawauchi is located close to a historical shop that serves awamanju, a local speciality, and a temple called Enzoji, which has been standing for more than twelve hundred years! This is an idyllic place for a relaxing walk down a mountain valley after you enjoy a hot spring bath. Harataki (Higashiyama Onsen) The historical hot spring town Higashiyama Onsen, founded about 1300 years ago, is located about ten minutes away from central Aizu-Wakamatsu City. Harataki, a hotel located next to a pleasant river, amazes people with its riverside balcony and outdoor bath. The shared balcony is called Kawadoko, and has a foot bath that you can enjoy while taking in the wondrous nature all around you. Just outside the lobby, there is a small, beautiful ravine that you can see through a huge window. The beautiful nature of Aizu invigorates you, with its fresh green leaves in spring, rich green forests in summer, red autumn leaves in fall, and snowy landscapes in winter. Regarding food, there is a popular charbroiled dish in this area called sumibiyaki. It is a local delicacy that, when you eat it, you will feel the warmth and hospitality that this place has to offer. Harataki has English-speaking staff members who are on hand to help put you at ease and enjoy your Japanese ryokan experience. Enjoying Ryokan to the Full Experiencing hot springs and ryokan hotels in Fukushima is a quintessential experience that you do not want to miss on a trip to Japan. It may change some misconceptions or impressions that you previously had of Japanese culture. Please enjoy our way of life, food, hospitality, style and, of course, hot springs while you stay in Japan. Since Japan has four beautifully distinct seasons, seasonal food is one of the attractions of Japanese ryokan hotels. During fall, you will be able to enjoy meals decorated with colorful ingredients and leaves, with colors such as red, green, orange and yellow.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  34. Destination Spotlight

    Feel the Samurai Spirit at Nisshinkan & Aizu Bukeyashiki

    Experience for yourself what the training of real samurai was like in Fukushima. During 1868, the Aizu region of Fukushima was the site of the final prolonged battle of the Boshin civil war, which was held between the supporters of the shogunate, and the newly formed government forces. Aizu was home to the Bushido spirit of loyalty to one’s lord without fear of death despite assured defeat. For this reason, the culture and spirit of the samurai still deeply color the region to this day. Visit the study halls where samurai gathered and the homes where they lived, and become a modern day samurai yourself. From the age of ten, boys of Aizu’s samurai families would attend Nisshinkan, a school for cultivating their minds and bodies through academic and martial studies. Countless Nisshinkan graduates became important figures in Japan. You can visit the Aizu Hanko Nisshinkan, a faithful recreation of the original facility, which is still used as a place for educational activities, including martial arts. Entering through the impressive gate, you will be greeted by a magnificent example of Edo period architecture which recreates scenes of students carrying out their studies. Take a tour around Nisshinkan to learn about the training required to become a samurai and try your hand at the archery and Zen meditation too – both of which were practised by samurai-in-the-making. As you learn of the samurai lifestyle, be sure not to miss the Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence) collection of historical buildings. This is an outdoor museum lined with structures of great import in describing the history of the region. At the center is the residence of Saigo Tanomo, chief senior councilor of the Aizu clan during the Edo period, which features 38 rooms. Mannequins are used to recreate scenes from the lives of the family members. You will also find exhibits of actual weapons, kimonos, and other items used by the samurai in their daily lives, giving you an even more direct sense of their lives. The Japanese archery which you can try at Nisshinkan is a martial art requiring concentration and willpower. While similar in appearance to western archery, it uses a unique style in which a large bow is held to the right of the body. The arrows are small, making it possible for even children to try. There are instructors standing by at each location, so you can try even if it is your first time. If you release the arrow with controlled breath and the correct posture, you will enjoy a sense of having taken a step closer to becoming a samurai yourself. If booking as part of a group day tour, you may also experience Zen meditation at Nisshinkan. Here, you can hear lectures on basic methods and even how to live one’s life from the standpoint of Zen meditation. Try to grasp a sense of the state of mind valued by the Samurai. Please bear in mind that this activity is conducted in Japanese, so you need to book as part of a tour to ensure English support. After immersing yourself in the samurai spirit through Japanese archery and Zen meditation, why not try dressing up like a samurai too? Change into period garb at Aizu Bukeyashiki’s photo corner and have your picture taken. Pick out the costume you like and remember to strike a samurai pose for your photograph! The participatory samurai activities tend to be popular, so it is recommended that you contact the facilities in advance with the size of your group and your arrival time. Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence) also features a restaurant where you can dine on local cuisine. Tasting the local cuisine which samurai likely enjoyed will perfectly complete the experience. Read more about samurai spirit on our blog here.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  35. Useful Information

    Discover Samurai History

    Japan is a land where samurai walked the streets with swords at their hips as recently as 150 years ago. However, those samurai disappeared into the annals of history as the country modernized. The Aizu region in Fukushima is known as the home to samurai who held out to the very end against the new westernized government army during the civil war that triggered the modernization of Japan. Follow in the footsteps of these true ‘Last Samurai’ through the numerous surviving sites in Aizu and feel for yourself the samurai spirit that Aizu still embodies today. Aizu was the site of the final large scale battle as part of the resistance to Japan’s revolution of modernization known as the Meiji Restoration. Countless samurai from Aizu gave their lives in battle despite having full knowledge that the war would soon be lost. The history of this civil war, known as the Boshin War, describes how not only the young men, but also the elderly, women, and children gave their lives in battle as samurai. Among them, one battle unit called the Byakkotai, or ‘White Tiger Force,’ formed of the teenage sons of samurai became legendary during the Boshin War. The boys committed seppuku (ritual disembowelment) together after observing what they believed to be the sight of their castle burning from their vantage point on Mt. Iimoriyama to the east of their town. If you visit Mt. Iimoriyama today, try and spot the castle that those young warriors watched from the same viewpoint. Tsurugajo Castle, located in central Aizu-Wakamatsu City, was rebuilt after the war. The seven storied central structure of the castle is one of the largest in Japan, and the red roof tiles further accent the beauty of its white walls. It is difficult to describe the beauty with words, particularly during the winter snowfall and when the cherry blossoms bloom in springtime, making Tsurugajo Castle a rare example of medieval Japanese architecture that is both impressive and beautiful in form. It may be possible to begin to understand the samurai spirit of self-sacrifice as you . Looking down on Tsurugajo Castle from Mt. Iimoriyama through the eyes of the young men of the White Tiger Force, and pondering what they must have felt when they decided to take their lives, visitors can begin to understand the samurai spirit of self-sacrifice. You can further deepen your knowledge of the White Tiger Force through the many historical records and videos available at the nearby Byakkotai Memorial Hall. Within walking distance, you will find the Former Takizawa Honjin, a building which served as a rest stop for feudal lords and was used as a headquarters during the Boshin War. Here you can still find bullet holes and damage left by swords, evoking the raw violence of the battle fought there. After seeing Tsurugajo Castle from your vantage point on Mt. Iimoriyama, head straight to the castle keep. The castle features many exhibits including suits of armor and katana swords, and there is a lot of English-language information available about the history and lifestyles of the people of Aizu. By learning of the traditions and culture from the age of the samurai, you will be able to understand more about the samurai spirit that still lives on today in the Fukushima Prefecture’s Aizu region. Inspired by that spirit, next climb to the observation deck on the top floor of the castle to enjoy an uninterrupted 360 degree view of the city. What will your thoughts be as you take in the view once observed by the feudal lord who lived in this castle? The Tsurugajo Castle grounds also feature a tea house and Japanese garden that provide yet a deeper sense of Japanese culture. Sipping green tea accompanied by Japanese sweets as you view the seasonal trees decorating the garden will likely sooth your mind and body of the fatigue of your journey, while giving you a taste of the times in which the samurai lived. Guides can sometimes be found dressed in samurai armor near the main tower of Tsurugajo Castle. If you see them, it is a great opportunity to have your picture taken with a samurai, so don’t hesitate to ask. And if you ask nicely, they may even strike an impressive Samurai pose. There’s no doubt that the photo will make your trip all the more memorable!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
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    Yuki-Matsuri: Fukushima’s Snow Festivals

    In the Aizu region located in the mountainous part of Fukushima, many festivals are held weaving together the beautiful contrasts of fire and snow during the coldest part of the winter season. The snow serves as a pure white molding material that projects the feelings of the people of Aizu, themselves shaped by the beauty and severity of winter. The shimmering flames that decorate the tranquil frozen towns gently warm hearts and bodies while bringing a deep sense of mystery to the wintery night. Together with the crisp winter air, this otherworldly scene of wonder will form an indelible memory for couples for many years to come. The people of the Aizu region spend much of the winter in a deep layer of snow. While they are snowed in, they wait for the distant arrival of spring engaged in crafts such as basket and textile weaving and candle making. The simplicity of the diverse handiwork speaks of the overflowing vitality of the people. That spirit is very much alive today and deeply colors the mood of the festivals that continue to be celebrated in the towns of Aizu. Through these festivals that pray for good health and abundant harvests, you will experience a sense of the spirit of Japanese culture that has long respected the power of nature and given thanks for the changes of the seasons. Ouchi-juku Snow Festival In the second week of February every year, a magical snow festival is held in the town of Ouchi-juku which once prospered as a post station on the road to Edo (Tokyo), and where one can still see traditional thatched roofs lining the streets. Men of the village, adorned in white wraps sanctified at the Shinto shrine, wield torches that burn with flames lit by the chief priest of the shrine as they run through the main street of Ouchi-juku. The village becomes embraced in a gentle light as each of the snow lanterns that line the streets are lit with that same flame. Great fireworks are set off when the last snow lantern is lit, creating an impressive climax as the colorful light of the fireworks is reflected off the snow. Mishima no Sainokami Festival In Mishima, a town that often experiences over two meters of snow, a sacred tree is stood in the snow as dwellings for the gods, and then burned as a bonfire, along with the Shinto New Year’s decorations, in the Mishima no Sainokami Festival held on January 15. Trees are prepared especially for the festival. The flames that reach up to great heights serve to light up the charcoal black skies of winter. Tips Another thing you will encounter in the snow festivals of this snow-bound country is the many snow huts. The snow huts serve as camping tents constructed by piling up snow thickly and then digging out the interior. While they may look cold, in fact they stop the wind blowing in and can be quite comfortable. The light of the candles within reflects off the snowy walls, filling the interior space with soft luminance. If you discover a snow hut on your journey, please join the other people within. Share a cup of sake or amazake (sweet sake) made at one of the many breweries in this snow country, and enjoy your time together with your family, friends, or partner. The Oku Aizu region, where many of the snow festivals take place, is an area with limited access. While additional shuttle buses and special trains are operated during the period, make sure to research your journey there and back before leaving. Further, temperatures drop to the freezing point at night in the Aizu region. Make sure to adequately prepare for the cold. It is a good idea to purchase hokkairo (disposable heating pads) in advance and not only put them in your pockets but in the bottom of your shoes as well. Fukushima's Other Snow Festivals Aizu Painted Candle Festival (Second Friday & Saturday of February) Tadami Snow Festival (Second Saturday & Sunday of February) Nakayama Setsugekka Snow Festival (Third Saturday of February)

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
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