Central Area

Central Area

The Naka-dori (central) area lies at the heart of Fukushima Prefecture. It is home to the principal cities of Koriyama and Fukushima City, both prominent stops along the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line. The Naka-dori region serves as the most common entry point to Fukushima, with the bullet train bringing visitors from Tokyo to the south and Sendai to the north. A number of sightseeing spots can be found here, from the Nihonmatsu area to the cherry blossom discoveries of Miharu.

Featured Spots

Kyu Horikiri-tei
History & Culture

Kyu Horikiri-tei

Kyu Horikiri-tei is a property steeped in history. Built in 1775, the building has been preserved since the Edo Period thanks to wealthy farmers and merchants. The property contains a large kura (storehouse), called Jukken Kura, as well as a traditional Japanese manor house.There is a public footbath located onsite. Use of the public footbath - which gets its water from the nearby onsen hot spring source - is accessible for wheelchair users. Japanese-speaking volunteer guides, knowledgeable about the history of Kyu Horikiri-tei and the rest of Iizaka Onsen, are available upon request. 

Hanamiyama
Nature & Scenery

Hanamiyama

Hanamiyama Park is a privately-owned field for flowering and ornamental trees, in southeast Fukushima City.The park is located within a satoyama-type landscape i.e. managed woodland hill country close to human habitat. What originally began more than 60 years ago with local farmers planting flowers and trees, has grown into a beautiful scene. The landowner generously turned the area into a park in 1959 to allow visitors to enjoy the beautiful flowers there.Hanamiyama Park, and the wider Hanamiyama area, is now visited by thousands of admirers every year!Springtime visits see cherry, plum, and forsythia trees paint everything in vivid colors. A gentle pink and purple landscape waving in the breeze with the picturesque snow-capped Azuma Mountains in the distance makes for an amazing sight.The riot of spring colors is spectacular enough to merit calling this park Fukushima's very own paradise.The flowering landscape moves all who see it and has been preserved through the cooperation of the local residents. Enjoy a leisurely one-hour stroll that will take you from the foot of the hill to the summit. Travel through groves of flowering trees and other vibrant flowers in full bloom.Hanamiyama is the perfect getaway for a day for nature lovers, hikers, or people trying to escape for a short time.The best part is that spring isn’t the only beautiful time to visit. Marvel in wonder during the lush green summer foliage or the dappled colors of autumn. When you visit this fairytale-like wonderland, it is recommended that visitors wear comfortable walking shoes as the terrain includes graveled paths, steep slopes, and slippery areas. Mid- through late April is the peak season, so ready your camera and your heart for the beauty that awaits.

Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival
Events

Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival

The Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival is held yearly on the first Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of October. The highlight of the festival is the procession of festival floats during the first evening. Seven large festival floats adorned with lanterns and filled with locals playing taiko drums make their way through the streets of Nihonmatsu City, filling the streets with festival music as they move.  The final destination for the floats is the Nihonmatsu Shrine.Don't miss the breathtaking sight of 3000 lanterns attached to the floats, burning against the night sky.

Fukushima City Minka-en Open-Air Museum
History & Culture

Fukushima City Minka-en Open-Air Museum

Traditional structures from northern Fukushima built between the Mid-Edo to Meiji era (1700 – 1912) – including restaurants, private houses, storehouses, and even a theater – have been relocated to Fukushima City Minka-en Open-Air Museum.At Minka-en these buildings are restored and displayed to the public, along with a range of artefacts and tools used in daily life in years gone by.Also, a number of special events, such as sword-smithing demonstrations, are held every year to celebrate and promote traditional folk crafts and skills.

Attractions

Grandee Hatoriko Ski Resort
Snow Activities

Grandee Hatoriko Ski Resort

Grandee Hatoriko Ski Resort offers many runs with relatively gentle slopes allowing beginners and families to safely ski down from the top of the mountain. The main slope also has a snow park, allowing visitors to show off their best tricks and jumps. Waves, mini-kickers and other equipment can also be found on the courses letting you get a bit of practice during your runs. Grandee also offers two conveyor belt lifts, so even ski and snowboard beginners can improve quickly. The beginner area is also separated with a net, making it safe even for small children.

Shirakawa Daruma Market
Events

Shirakawa Daruma Market

Shirakawa Daruma Market is held annually on February 11. On this date, the streets become lined for 1.5 km with stalls selling Daruma of all shapes and sizes. This lively, exciting market celebrates the culture and history of Shirakawa Daruma – a traditional doll which is characterised by having cranes for eyebrows, a tortoise for a moustache, beard made of bamboo, and pine and plum branches for cheeks, all of which make it a very auspicious item to keep at home.

Hanamomo-no-Sato Park
Nature & Scenery

Hanamomo-no-Sato Park

From early April right up to the start of May, 40 varieties of blossoming peach trees present a feast for the eyes for visitors to Hanamomo-no-Sato Park. There are over 300 peach trees spread across the 8,000 square meters of land. From blossoms with a single layer of petals, to the elaborate Yae-zakura and Kikuzaki Sakura flowers, there is a huge variety in the shapes and colours of cherry blossoms to be discovered and enjoyed at Hanamomo-no-Sato Park. As well as being free to visit, Hanamomo-no-Sato Park is conveniently located; just 20 minutes on foot from Iizaka Onsen Station.

Where to stay

Posts about Central Area

  1. Destination Spotlight

    Drift Taxi Experience at the Ebisu Circuit

    Nihonmatsu, a charming city in central Fukushima Prefecture, is known for its cultivation of rice and chrysanthemums, a famous lantern festival, and its motorsports scene. Many racing and drifting enthusiasts visit the Ebisu Circuit, a racing and drifting circuit tucked in the mountains of Nihonmatsu, to experience the adrenaline rush of drifting with a professional racer— a thrilling experience known as Drift Taxi.Experience OverviewDuring the Drift Taxi Experience, participants get to enjoy a thrilling ride while a pro driver drifts a few laps through three of the circuit courses. Although this might seem extreme at first, you can trust that your safety is in good hands with knowledgeable drivers who are experienced drifters. Since they are the ones who do the drifting, those who do not have a driver’s license can also participate.Please note that the Drift Taxi Experience is available from April to November, and is unavailable during the winter months (December-March) due to snowfall.©JNTOWhat is Drifting, and What Does it Involve?Drifting is a motorsports technique in which a driver approaches a curve by oversteering the vehicle, causing it to glide sideways with the wheels facing the opposite direction to the turn. When drifting started growing in popularity in Japan during the 1980s, there were no closed courses where to practice, which meant that drifters would do it on public roads in the mountains at night, for which drifting gained a reputation for being dangerous. Nowadays, however, drifting has evolved into a widely recognized motorsport, with safety standards in place and thousands of enthusiasts and apprentices worldwide. Facilities like the Ebisu Circuit provide a safe space to enjoy and learn about drifting (the circuit also has a drifting school!).Driving and drifting safely is a top priority at the Ebisu Circuit. Apart from basic measures like fastening seat belts and wearing helmets, rest assured that drivers have a deep understanding of cars, oversteering, and drifting techniques.Meet Your Drivers“I am sometimes told that I have the best job in the world”, says Naoto Suenaga of his role driving for the Drift Taxi Experience at the circuit. Since first picking up an interest in cars decades ago, Suenaga has been an active member of the racing and drifting scene in Japan and is one of the salient members of Team Orange.So is Nobushige Kumakubo, the managing director of the Ebisu Circuit, who, after winning the D1 Grand Prix International Drift Championship in 2006, established himself as one of Japan’s legendary drifters and also travels the world connecting with others who share his passion for drifting.Although Kanta Yanaguida is among the youngest at the circuit and at Team Orange, his age should not be mistaken for a lack of experience. He is, in fact, a skilled and confident driver who has been honing his drifting abilities for over 10 years and frequently participates in racing and drifting events around the world.Cars Used for Drifting at the Ebisu CircuitCar manufacturers are making it increasingly difficult for drifters: new cars are anti-drifting by design. So, the drivers at the Ebisu Circuit tuned their vehicles for drifting. The two drift taxis used at the circuit are modified cars: a Toyota Chaser and a Toyota Mark II with above-average horsepower and bucket seats.Fasten Your Seatbelt for a Crazy Ride!Once the experience starts, the driver will drive you through the complex towards the drifting course. You will be required to wear a helmet and fasten your seatbelt. The driver will let you know once the drifting is set to begin. Whether you choose to sit on the passenger or the back seat, enjoy the electrifying halts, twists and turns as you dash through each of the three courses.BookingYou can book Ebisu Circuit’s Drift Taxi experience in English through this link.FAQs About the Drift Taxi Experience Are there any restrictions on who can participate? Participants must be over 140 cm tall to ride. Those with heart conditions or other health afflictions should ask their doctor before drifting. Do I need a driver’s license for this experience? No, you do not need to have a driver’s license to be able to participate in the experience. A professional driver from the Ebisu Circuit will be the one doing the drifting. Are there any requirements for participants? Participants are required to purchase insurance for an additional 500 yen. It is mandatory to ride with a helmet on and with the seatbelt fastened. How much does the Drift Taxi Experience cost? The experience is offered at a flat fee of 50,000 yen per vehicle.The price includes drifting several laps on three courses in one car with up to three passengers per car ride. For four participants or more, you can either take turns riding three at a time or book an additional car (up to two cars with a maximum of three passengers per car).The tires of the car wear off almost entirely after each Drift Taxi Experience. The price is calculated to cover the change of tires, as well as the cost of the gas and the expertise of the professional driver.If you go with a group, you will pay less per person than if you are going individually.  Can the drivers speak English? The drivers can speak basic English and are used to being around international visitors. How much time does the experience take? The experience takes approximately 45 minutes. How do I get to the Ebisu Circuit from Tokyo? Check the final section of this page for information about different ways of accessing the circuit from Tokyo. Is this experience available year-round?This experience is typically available from April to November and is unavailable during the winter months (December to March).If you have any other questions, send them our way and we will do our best to assist you!Useful LinksEbisu CircuitEbisu Circuit: A Drift ParadiseEbisu Drift Matsuri (Ebisu Drift Festival)

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

    Exploring Minka-en, Fukushima City’s Architectural Garden

    Architecture and history enthusiasts can easily spend an entire afternoon exploring Minka-en (民家園) in Fukushima City, a charming garden with traditional buildings originally built between the 18th and 20th centuries which were relocated from different parts of Northern Fukushima prefecture.A Green Realm Awaits by the CityOnly 2.5 hours from Tokyo station by shinkansen and local bus, Minka-en is located in the vast Azuma Sports Park, a former Olympic site with many sports facilities. The park, albeit a year-round attraction, sees many of its crowds in early November, when its yellow ginkgo trees make for an unforgettable sight. During spring, May’s rose festival envelopes visitors in the fragrant smell of flowers.The area has a peaceful atmosphere with spectacular views of the surrounding mountain range; its serenity is perhaps best reflected in the cats often found snuggling under the sunlight along the paths leading up to the Minka-en.What Does ‘Minka-en’ Mean?Minka (民家) means ‘people’s houses’. Minka-en has several old Japanese-style buildings known as kominka, a term used mostly to refer to former residences of farmers, artisans, and merchants built before the influence of Western architecture permeated Japan during the 19th and 20th centuries. En (園) is the term for ‘garden’. Minka-en, therefore, is a term that describes open-air architectural parks where visitors can explore traditional Japanese buildings.Basics of Traditional Kominka ArchitectureTraditional kominka epitomize the harmony with nature that Japanese architecture is famous for. Some of the distinctive features of kominka include: Locally-sourced natural materials like clay and wood. Built without nails or concrete. Thick thatched roofs. Tatami floors (tatami is a thick straw mat widely used as flooring) Slightly curved pillars that follow the natural shape of the wood. Shoji, door or window frames paneled with translucent paper. Irori, a sunken hearth used for heating and cooking that can be usually found in the center of the main room.From Humble Homes to Glamorous Stages: The Buildings of Minka-enFukushima City’s Minka-en houses a variety of buildings, from former residences of upper-class families to farmhouses, granaries, and even toilets. Visitors can freely step inside each and take a close look at the details of the construction, as well as discover the artifacts developed and used back in the day.There is also an exhibition building with plenty of household items on display, which sometimes hosts special events.The thatched-roof theater is perhaps the most spectacular building in Minka-en. Constructed in 1887, it is one of the oldest theaters of its kind in Japan and remains in strikingly good condition.There is detailed information on display in five languages (English, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese & Korean) about each building and the families who inhabited them.Here you can find a detailed account of all the buildings at Minka-en.Greenery & Events: Minka-en in Every SeasonAlthough buildings are the main attraction, there is something to be said about Minka-en’s pristine gardens.Each season brings out the beauty of the traditional buildings in a different light. Towards late October, fallen leaves make the place look like a fairytale cottage town. During cold winters, visitors get to experience the warmth of the sunken irori hearth. The park is adorned with cherry blossoms and irises in the spring, while hydrangeas bloom during Japan’s rainy summer. The spectacle of the changing seasons is not limited to nature. Minka-en celebrates different events such as Lunar New Year, rice field flooding, planting, and harvesting, an autumn festival, and more. Event updates are posted on the Minka-en website (in Japanese).Other Kominka Destinations in FukushimaOuchi-juku in Shimogo town (left) and Maezawa L-Shaped farmhouses in Minamiaizu town (right) are other popular kominka destinations in Fukushima prefecture.A big difference, however, is that Ouchi-juku and Maezawa are inhabited, and both of them are over an hour away from the closest JR or shinkansen station. Because of that, they make great destinations if you would like to take your time exploring off the beaten path and learn how locals preserve their heritage and traditions.On the other hand, because no one lives in any of the buildings at Minka-en, you can go inside each one and explore at your own pace. The open-air museum is located only 30 minutes away from the shinkansen/JR Fukushima Station, making it a good option for visitors with only a few hours to spare who want to learn about the traditional way of living in rural Northern Japan.The Leisurely Allure of Fukushima City’s Minka-enBuildings at Minka-en retain their original structures and are carefully preserved, both inside and out. Seeing how cohesive they look now, it is difficult to believe that they were originally built apart from one another.Muroishi, the cafe at Minka-en, goes in line with the traditional atmosphere of the other minka buildings. After exploring the park, it is a lovely place to wind down over lunch or coffee while contemplating the relaxing landscape outside.For information about how to access Minka-en, please see this page.

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

    Following Fukushima’s Footpath: Miyakoji Area in Tamura City

    Miyakoji (都路) is a peaceful village located in the Eastern part of Tamura City (田村市), in the central area of Fukushima prefecture. It is said that walking in nature helps you feel more relaxed, and walking around Miyakoji in early January definitely had that effect.The charms of Tamura CityOzawa Sakura in Tamura City. Photo credit: Tamura City, 田村市Once the snow melts, what is known as the ‘green season’ begins. That is when the cherry blossom trees and flower fields in Tamura City see most of their yearly visitors. Lavander in Takine area, Tamura City「Photo credit: Tamura City, 田村市」Tamura City is also home to the Abukuma Cave, said to have the greatest variety and the largest number of stalactites in the whole of Asia.The Miyakoji area in Tamura is lush with vegetation. In the past, the silkworm industry flourished in Miyakoji. As a remnant of this, mulberry trees remain.Mt. Gojyunin-yama, Miyakoji area. Photo credit: Tamura City, 田村市In Miyakoji, particularly, there’s a famous tall weeping tree called “akimoto no shidare-zakura”.Cherry blossom trees can also be found along the main street, and, in spring, visitors can enjoy both the green mulberry trees and pink cherry blossom trees.Miyakoji’s EvacuationLocated about 40 km away from the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Miyakoji became the only area in the city of Tamura that had to be evacuated following the nuclear disaster in 2011.The evacuation order was lifted on April 1, 2014. Among the towns in Fukushima that had to be evacuated, Miyakoji is one of the few where most of the original residents have returned. Over ten years after the 2011 disaster, today Miyakoji has over two thousand residents, a convenience store, a hotel, and a few restaurants. A Picturesque Red-Roofed TownThe first thing that caught my eye about Miyakoji are its red-tiled Japanese-style houses. Is it a coincidence, I wondered, that there are so many buildings with glossy dark red-tiled roofs in Fukushima, something I had rarely seen in other areas of Japan? (By the way, Tsurugajo Castle in the Aizu area is the only red-tiled roofed castle in Japan.)Although I haven’t found a conclusive answer to the mystery of the red-tiled roofs in Fukushima, the widespread theory I found online is that the red color is due to a glaze applied on the tiles to prevent them from freezing and cracking when snow piles up during winter.Little Beautiful Sights in MiyakojiA Buddhist temple, statues and a large bell. The bell is a replica, as the original one was apparently lost during World War II.Jizo, affectionately called ‘ojizo-san’ in Japanese, are stone Buddha statues dressed in red bibs and caps. These statues are believed to be guardians of children and travelers, and can often be found even in remote rural locations.An unattended vegetable stand is one of the sights truly unique to rural Japan. You can buy local vegetables and pay the fee by leaving the money in the designated area.Miyakoji is rural and tranquil. The air is pure and the river flows bright blue.The Mysteriously Beautiful Okame ShrineJapan has countless shrines; some of them see crowds of visitors from all over the country and overseas, while others are visited mainly by locals. Okame shrine (大亀神社), despite its incredibly photogenic and mysterious appeal, falls in the latter category; it is a place of worship that remains quiet and undisturbed.The shrine is located on a hill in the heart of a forest of Japanese cypress trees called Thujopsis. Both the shrine and the trees are believed to be over 400 years old. To reach the shrine, you have to climb up the stairs and venture into the fragrant forest. You’ll notice birds chirping and beams of light coming through the tall tree trunks. The roof of Okame shrine is red but it looks beautiful covered in snow.This shrine is said to worship Princess Tamayori, the daughter of a sea goddess. Why is a sea goddess enshrined in the middle of a forest, considerably far from the ocean, you may ask?That is one of the many mysteries of this shrine.Fostering Community Bonds: Yoriai-dokoro Hana Community Center & CafeYoriai-dokoro Hana (よりあい処 華) was opened in June 2014 after the evacuation order for Miyakoji was lifted. At the time, there were no other restaurants in Miyakoji, so this cafe and community center quickly became a place for returning residents to gather and a pillar of support for the community.Yoriai-dokoro Hana is located at a traditional Japanese house, and it serves warm meals using local ingredients. This seems like a great place to bond with the locals. When I visited, there was an exhibition of handicrafts made by townspeople. Yoriai-dokoro Hana is open from 11:00 to 14:00 only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.Photo credit: Tamura City, 田村市Curious about visiting Miyakoji? Would you like to see more beautiful sights in this area?Traveling to Miyakoji by carIt takes approximately an hour to reach Miyakoji from Koriyama station (see route).Traveling to Miyakoji by public transportationFrom Koriyama Station, take the JR Ban-etsu East Line train bound for Iwaki, and get off at Funehiki Station (approx. 25 minutes). From the bus stop in front of Funehiki Station (船引駅前) take a “Furumichi” (古道) bus and get off at Miyakoji Administrative Bureau (都路行政局) (approx. 52 minutes). There are only a few buses a day, so be sure to check the bus schedule before your visit.<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d50697.2045773572!2d140.7509628626667!3d37.42351238629868!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x6020f3c6946beca7%3A0xa477d29a6d2f3782!2sMiyakojimachi%20Furumichi%2C%20Tamura%2C%20Fukushima%20963-4701%2C%20Japan!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1692338315197!5m2!1sen!2sus" width="600" height="450" style="border:0;" allowfullscreen="" loading="lazy" referrerpolicy="no-referrer-when-downgrade"></iframe>

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

    Visiting Marusei Orchard

    Satou Yukie, a staff member from Fukushima City’s Marusei Orchard is passionate about what she does, and it shows. Pulling up in her bright pink mini truck, wearing her bright pink staff shirt she made quite the entrance. We were ushered in to sit in her office to talk a bit about the orchard before we went to take photos and videos.The office space only had a few chairs so we sat scattered across the room. We might’ve moved the chairs closer, but one staff member was dozing off in a chair and we couldn’t disturb them. Said staff member sleeps throughout most of the work day but management lets it slide because they’re so cute. This is Umemiyatamasaburou, or Tama-chan for short, the name comes from the story of a wandering samurai of the same name. This little cat wandered up to the orchard one day a few years ago and has stuck around ever since, so now they are treated just like any other member of the staff. In the afternoons she likes to wander the orchards, and has been known to sneak onto tour busses… So keep an eye out for her mischief!Satou-san showed us a map that revealed the size of the orchard to be a total of 10 hectares! The largest in Fukushima. 5 hectares are dedicated solely to peach production, in case you didn’t know, Fukushima peaches are quite famous in Japan for being incredibly delicious. The U.S. Olympic softball coach, Ken Erikson, couldn’t get enough of these during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and that not only made national news but caused peaches to sell out in record time due to a record number of orders being made.“Fruit is meant to be enjoyed with your eye, and then your taste buds!” She said with a smile. So, she led us off to the orchards to enjoy some peaches with our eyes and taste buds! The peaches are beautiful bright reds and pinks, looking like beautiful decorations. She told us the peaches that get ripe and delicious sooner are those close to the trunk, next thing we know she is on a ladder and handing us a few peaches. One peach had a tiny bite mark from a bird. Satou-san said that that one would be the sweetest, the birds know these things!After washing, peeling, and cutting off the area where the tiny bite had been taken, we got our first taste. It was incredibly soft and sweet. The birds really do know what’s up!The other peaches had no tiny bite marks, but they were just as delicious! They were a bit firmer and the taste was again, incredible. When you visit Marusei orchard you can eat as many fruits as you like in the set time, I managed to eat two! I definitely could’ve eaten more, but I was saving space for something special...On site, there is a little café called Mori no Garden where you can try incredible parfaits made with fresh, seasonal fruit. The peach parfait was absolutely incredible, and I now have unrealistic expectations for fruit eating. It will be hard to beat the level of amazing that is Marusei Orchard’s fruits. Walking through the orchards, it’s fun to take a look at the fruit trees that are out of season, it’s so cute to see the tiny baby fruits that will soon grow into something delicious! The area of the orchard is designed to hard something to see no matter the season with a variety of fruits and flowers that make a visit here truly exceptional. After eating your fill of delicious fruits, you can stroll around the grounds and relax.At the front desk where you rented your buckets and knives for fruit picking, you also need to return them. You can buy any fruits that picked but couldn’t eat, and you can also buy some already picked fruits. There are some really funny warning signs to remind you to keep your hands to yourself, but it goes without saying don’t touch or squeeze the fruits!The orchard has such a fun atmosphere where you can tell how much the staff really enjoy working there, staff members have even DIYed little fruit parfait models, and they also collect the beetles they find in the orchard and save them for children to adopt as pets. Much kinder than getting rid of bugs with pesticides that’s for sure.Click here for more information about fruit picking in Fukushima!

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

    Heroes and Kaijyu Adventures in Japan

    Inside each of us, there is a struggle.Call it what you want:Light vs. Dark... Good vs. Evil... Hero vs. Kaijyu...There comes a day when you must decide, which are you?I visited Sukagawa City in Fukushima prefecture to delve into this concept a bit more.Why Sukagawa City?Sukagawa City is the hometown of Tsuburaya Eiji, the creator of Ultraman and a co-creator of Godzilla. He came to be known as the “Father of Tokusatsu,” or, the “Father of Japanese special effects.” His post-war work on the Godzilla film of 1954 brought him international success which allowed him to create more science fiction films featuring different monsters, or kaijyu, as well as the internationally popular Ultra-series!Today, Tsuburaya Eiji’s legacy lives on in his hometown where his heroes and monsters roam the streets!With this in mind, we set off on our adventure!Eating our heroes...You are what you eat? Or are you conquering the enemy by eating them? You decide…My first stop was the Tamakiya Bakery in Sukagawa City where you will find a wonderful family-owned and operated small business. Decorated with Ultraman-related memorabilia. The creativity of the (now adult) kids of the family shines through in the various Ultraman and Kaijyu-related breads and cookies! Each one is absolutely delicious.I recommend stocking up for your adventure, if there is one thing that heroes and kaijyu have in common, it is that they must eat to stay strong and battle ready!I ate a Kanegon chocolate bread, and suddenly the money in my pocket started looking like a.. snack?? Kanegon is a kaijyu who is known to eat money! Oh no, have I absorbed his powers? It’s impossible to say. Somehow, I managed to contain my dark urges. Doing some researchSuddenly it became clear that there was a lot that I still don’t know about Ultraman and Kaiju.So, I walked over to the Eiji Tsuburaya Museum to conduct some important research. The museum has a lot of interesting information about Eiji Tsuburaya’s life and accomplishments, various kaijyu, heroes, and the filming of classic sci-fi and kaijyu-related movies.There is even an original Godzilla suit on display! As you walk around the room, you may feel the eyes of Godzilla following you. Perhaps he is eyeing you up, trying to decide if you are an ally, or a delicious snack. Please tread lightly.There is a video exhibit and an interactive exhibit that turns you into various Kaijyu and heroes. There is also a station where you can create your own original Kaijyu, unfortunately this exhibit is temporarily suspended, however, it will hopefully be up and running again soon. Having important discussions with IRL heroes and KaijyuWhen you walk the streets of Sukagawa, you’ll never walk alone.Kaijyu and Heroes line the streets causing trouble and cleaning up said trouble. I recommend stopping and having a chat with these monsters and heroes to get some diverse perspectives on good and evil.I sat and spoke with Kanegon for quite a while, and we even discussed our struggles with wanting to eat money. Channeling my hero energy Next, we stopped by the Sukagawa Enobori Yoshinoya Workshop to create an Ultraman banner.It was so cool to experience the use of these traditional banner-making techniques in a place with so much historical significance.As I admired my new Ultraman banner, I thought, maybe I am a hero after all. The final testNext, we headed over to the Sukagawa Tokusatsu Archive Center!Succumbing to my true nature and terrorizing a small town.Ultimately, the sight of an unprotected town brought out my worst instincts. I almost went full KAIJYU mode. Fortunately, my coworker is a hero, and he saved the town!After our battle, we explored the various miniature exhibits and classic special effects tools on display.We were also able to watch a short film and then a video about the special effects that were used to create that short film. It was really incredible, and made me want to try to make my own miniatures at home.If you are interested in sci-fi or classic special effects, then I highly recommend checking out the Sukagawa Tokusatsu archive center! You won’t be disappointed.Contact us through email or through our social media channels if you have any questions or need help planning a trip here!©円谷プロPublished 2022/06/10

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

    I joined a Bicycle Race in Japan! (And You Should Too!)

    I joined a cycling event/road race in Fukushima, Japan and cycled the popular hill climb course up the Bandai-Azuma Skyline to the Jododaira Visitors Center.  I was super nervous; I have been cycling for several years but this was my first road race ever. The other cyclists were all so friendly and encouraging! Some cyclists were dressed very unique as there is a completion category specifically for “cosplayers” so I met cyclists dressed as a squid, a minion, and even a skinny sumo wrestler!  Into the Clouds... From the start of the course, we were already in the clouds. Thick fog made it difficult to see far ahead, fortunately the course is straight forward and the other cyclists helped to show me the way. The dense forest looks unreal in the mist, and it was very exciting to be traveling through the mist with a whole herd of cyclists! As challenging as the course was, whenever I felt like giving up, I would hear an encouraging voice from another cyclist that pushed me to keep going!  Entering the Volcano-Zone! Suddenly the dense trees disappeared and through the mist I could see that the surrounding terrain changed to volcanic rocks that look pale orange and red. Turning a corner, the mist had cleared and I could see the volcano, blue sky and felt a surge of energy! Volcanic lakes and ponds scatter the are actually small crater that were formed from the impact of boulders that were blown into the sky during an eruption that took place many years ago. Although the scenery is unique and it is tempting to stop and explore, it’s best not to linger for too long! Volcanic gasses can collect here and prolonged exposure could lead to fainting. Views of Fukushima city below are beautiful, and there is a better place to stop for photos at the top of the hill, at the Jododaira Visitors Center! Reaching the Finish Line! Finally, we reached the Jododaira Visitors Center! There were trays or healthy snacks and food to recharge after the long climb! It was a lot of fun chatting with the other cyclists after sharing this experience together. I hope that I can join another cycling event in Fukushima soon, and I hope that hearing about my experience encourages you to try a cycling event when you visit Fukushima.  I raced in the 17km Hill Climb cycling event on the Bandai-Azuma Skyline.. However, if that is a bit intimidating, worry not! Fukushima has routes for cyclists of all levels!

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

    Experience Rice Planting in Fukushima, Japan!

    A land of mirrors... Driving around Fukushima in the springtime, you might think you’ve wandered into a world of mirrors. Vast rice paddies flooded with water reflect the mountains, sky, and any cars that travel by creating a beautiful scenery. Due to the hills and valleys, its common to see tiered rice paddies, something I never experienced in America!    What is rice farming REALLY like in Fukushima? Curious about the state of rice farming in Fukushima, I decided to visit a small rice farm run by Masakazu Suda in Iino-machi in Fukushima city to learn a bit more! Upon arrival Mr. Suda, Suda-san, took us into his conference room to talk a bit about his farm. He showed us several bags of rice that his farm had produced the previous year and told us a bit about his rice paddies.    Japanese style vs. American style Most of his rice paddies grow rice the ‘Japanese way’ by first growing the rice to a certain size, then removing and replanting that rice into neat, symmetric rows. This is a practice that takes some extra time and effort, but it allows rice farmers to produce large quantities of rice in smaller rice paddies. Apparently, rice farms in larger countries, like America, that have more space don’t bother with the removing and replanting step, but with this style the quantity of rice produced in only 60% of the quantity produced the Japanese way, but it takes a lot less time and effort for farmers.   I found it really interesting that despite the typically lower yield of American-style rice planting, Suda-san had one of his paddies set aside to experiment with American-style rice planting! He said his neighbors thought he was crazy, but he respects the easy-going style of America and wanted to give it a try.  Safety first! It felt really nice to meet a rice farmer who was so passionate and interested in trying various styles of farming. Suda-san is a really dedicated farmer who strives to produce safe and high quality rice! Following the nuclear disaster, he spent years taking care of the soil and farm, and it was several years before he could continue rice farming, but he never gave up!   Suda-san was one of the first rice farmers in Fukushima to return their fields to safety levels that qualified his farm to earn a FGAP safety certification. The FGAP is a strict certification that is awarded to farms in Fukushima that meet their high standards for safety and Good Agricultural Practices! If you would like to read more about this check out their website (available in English): https://gap-fukushima.jp/en/  Planting rice the old-fashioned way! After our chat, Suda-san handed me and my boss each a pair of crocs and said it was time to plant some rice! Most of his farm is planted using a special tractor-type of machine, but he left some space for us to plant rice the old-fashioned way. Showing us how to take little rice plants and replant them into the flooded, rice paddy soil in a way that it won’t sink too deep or float away. Slipping, barefoot, into the water and soft mud of the rice paddies was a shock at first. Then, it was a comfort. The soft soil was well taken care of and monitored, no sharp stones or surprises, very high quality soil. The music of the frogs filled the air even at mid-day, Suda-san said that when the sun sets their chorus will be even more impressive. Setting into the rhythmic pattern of replanting the small rice plants was therapeutic. The most difficult part was achieving straight lines and adequate spacing, but we tried our best for nearly an hour! The lines and spacing was far from even or straight, but Suda-san encouraged us anyways.  More than rice!  Rice may be most commonly eaten during meals, but rice can also be used to create many other things, my favorites being sake and mochi (a chewy dessert rice cake) sweets.   Suda-san grows a variety of rice types, including mochi rice! After a hard day of rice planting we relaxed a bit and enjoyed some locally made mochi sweets at Suda-san’s farm. It was so good! Hearing Suda-san describe the various types of rice that he grows had me really excited for harvest season, it would be so interesting to try the different varieties that he produces here. Aliens? Yeah that's right.   After bidding farewell to Suda-san, we headed up the hill in town to have lunch at the UFO restaurant. The mountain here is thought by locals to be shaped like a UFO landing pad, and many locals have their fair share of stories about UFO sightings and even encounters with visitors from the stars. There is even a UFO museum where visitors can take a look at photographs, stories, and records of the town’s history with UFOs. The townspeople here were very kind and welcoming to all kinds of people, even aliens! So, it’s definitely a unique place that I would recommend visiting. Next time we visit Suda-san we will ask him if he has seen any UFOs visit his rice paddies!  Interested in a rice planting experience? There are several options for farm stays in Fukushima, you may get to try out rice planting if you visit in the spring! Read more here or contact us about farm stays and experiences in Fukushima.    Visiting Iino-machi? You can catch a UFO, I mean... bus, outside of Fukushima station and it’s about a 40-minute ride to Iino-machi!     

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

    Exploring the Kasumigajo Castle Park!

    When we arrived at the Kasumigajo Castle Park (Nihonmatsu Castle) I immediately felt drawn in by the sweet smell of the blooming sakura trees. The whole park is full of sakura trees, making this a great place for cherry blossom viewing (Hanami, in Japanese)!  Before you walk in through the front entrance you will notice some bronze statues that depict the samurai warriors who once defended the castle. If you look closely you will notice that these warriors seem to be a bit young. These statues honor the Nihonmatsu Youth Corps, also known as the Shonentai, who were boys between the ages of 13 to 17 who lost their lives during the Boshin War in order to protect their hometown. The youngest Shonentai warrior may have been 12 years old, although he sustained injuries, it is thought that he survived the war. Typically such young boys would not fight in wars, however, as the war waged on and troops were diminished, many young boys and elderly men volunteered themselves to join the fight.  The tragedy of the loss of such young lives is honored by these statues. Behind them the statue of a woman mourns the boys as a representation of the boys' mothers and families who were left behind.  With this history in mind, I walked toward the entrance and passed under the castle gate, intrigued to see what kind of a place these soldiers were defending.  Inside the walls there is a large clearing where cherry blossoms spread out. Around the trees hang paper lanterns that illuminate the cherry blossoms at the night. There is a small waterfall in the corner of the main square and a pond, adding to the atmosphere with the sound of flowing water and the chirping of little frogs. In the spring time there are some food vendors set up so you can enjoy something to eat under the cherry blossoms. There are lots of benches and picnic tables so this is a great place to come and relax and have something to eat outside. I didn't have time to eat anything this time, but the mochi (sweet rice cakes) drew my attention, so I will have to go back and try it next time I visit. After exploring this area and photographing the cherry blossoms, when I realized I hadn't even been up to where the castle was! The park grounds are dotted with with castle ruins, some dating back to the 1500s! Unfortunately much of the castle was burned down at the end of the Boshin War, officially, the castle fell on July 29, 1868.  The castle ruins at the top of the hill are worth checking out and offer a great view of the area. The climb is a bit of a work out, so I kept thinking about how great the defense was as it would be quite the challenge for invaders to climb up the hill in their heavy samurai armor!   It would have been nice to visit here before the war, during a time of peace to see how beautiful this castle parks and the surrounding town must have been! If you are interested in Japanese history, and especially Samurai history, I definitely recommend visiting. Even if you aren't a history buff, this is a great place to visit and enjoy some nature in Japan.  Thankyou for reading, if you enjoyed this article please be sure to check out more of our articles and blogs. Click here for information on visiting the Kasumigajo Castle Park (Nihonmatsu Castle)!

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

    The Sake Brewing Process at Niida Honke

    Niida Honke Sake BreweryFounded in 1711, Niida Honke has seen eighteen generations of master brewers, each bringing their own personality and subtle changes to the company and its sake. The current head brewer is Yasuhiko Niida, an incredibly nice person with an awe-inspiring passion for making Sake.Under Mr. Niida’s supervision, Niida Honke has seen many changes. In 2011 the brewery celebrated its 300th anniversary and the achievement of using 100% natural rice in its brewing process. Unfortunately, this was the same year as the Great East Japan Earthquake and the following nuclear disaster. Despite the difficulties, Niida Honke worked hard to return the health of the rice fields.After the fields were cleaned and returned to their healthy status, a decision was made to move the company into a more sustainable and natural direction with the goal of creating its sake with 100% natural and organic ingredients. They currently grow much of the rice used to create their sake in the fields that surround the brewery. Working with local farmers to create healthy, high-quality rice that is grown without the use of pesticides or harmful chemicals.In the future, Niida Honke aims to brew all of its sake in natural wooden tanks, switch entirely to solar power, and grow 100% of its own rice. For each bottle that you buy, Niida Honke takes one step closer to these goals.

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

    Mt. Iwatsuno’s Gankakuji: Amazing Buddhist Mountain Temple

    I discovered Mt. Iwatsuno by accident. I did a farmstay in Motomiya City, and when I asked my farmstay host about her favourite place in Motomiya, she told me about Mt. Iwatsuno. My farmstay host described Mt. Iwatsuno as a mountainside scattered with huge rocks that had either been etched with beautiful carvings, or moluded into statues. She told me how it had been used by Buddhist monks as a training retreat for centuries. I was keen to go, but what I found at Mt Iwatsuno far exceeded my expectations. WHAT IS GANKAKUJI? Gankakuji Temple is the main temple located on Mt. Iwatsuno, and was founded in 851. Both Gankakuji and Mt. Iwatsuno share the same kanji (岩角), even though they are pronounced completely differently. Mt. Iwatsuno is a place of religious training for Buddhist monks from the school of Tendai. Tendai Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 8th century by a Japanese monk called Saicho, who founded the spectacular Enryakuji Temple at Mt. Hiei, Kyoto, after bringing Tendai Buddhist texts from China. The Tendai Buddhist school is centered around the practice of Shugendo, a Heian era religious practice that includes elements of Shintoism, Taoism, and pre-Buddhist mountain worship, as well as other forms of Buddhism. As well as being a place of mental and physical Buddhist training, Gankakuji Temple is actually designated as the main home of the 一隅を照らす運動 ‘Ichigu wo Terasu Undo’ Buddhist movement, which was started at Kyoto’s Enryakuji Temple as a way of keeping Tendai Buddhist teachings relevant to current generations. HIGHLIGHTS OF MT. IWATSUNO Mt. Iwatsuno is a huge Buddhist complex. It takes quite a while to explore on foot, and has a lot to see, as you can see from the illustrated map posted below: TEMPLES & SHRINES Mt. Iwatsuno is home to numerous temples and shrines, including the beautiful Nachi Kannon Pagoda. The Nachi Kannon Pagoda stands three-quarters of the way up the mountainside and was unfortunately badly damaged during the earthquake of March 11, 2011. It was subsequently knocked down and rebuilt. Other structures on the mountainside have managed to stand strong for a lot, lot longer. For example, the Okunoin Temple at the very top of Mt. Iwatsuno is thought to have been built in the Kamakura Era, and Bisshamondo was rebuilt in the mid 19th century. The carvings and statues aren’t the only old aspects of Mt Iwatsuno – there are also huge, ancient cedar trees on Mt. Iwatsuno, including this giant cedar, which is over 800 years old! STATUES & CARVINGS There are over 800 carvings and statues at Mt. Iwatsuno, each of which has its own meaning and relevance as a place of worship. If you’re interested in reading more about this (and you can read Japanese!) please take a look at this link. Many of Mt Iwatsuno’s rock carvings, including the 33 carvings of kannon (Goddess of Mercy), were made in the Edo period. The Jundei Kannon, pictured below, is known as a place to worship for those hoping to become pregnant, and for those praying for the perpetuation of their family line. Other carvings are known for their matchmaking properties. POWER SPOT The 落ちない石, or 'the Stone That Never Falls', is a giant granite rock that towers over the edge of Mt. Iwatsuno. Despite experiencing 3 major earthquakes since the Heian Era, this rock has never shaken or shifted, and is now recognised as a power spot. It is a popular place to pray for the realisation of dreams and wishes. PLACES TO EXPLORE The winding path up to the top of Mt. Iwatsuno is flanked with naturally-forming rock pools, tunnels and pathways to explore. I found myself surprised time and time again by the sheer scale of the area. The variety of foliage on the mountainside also really impressed me. To top it all off, when I reached the top of Mt. Iwatsuno, I was greeted by a lovely panoramic view of the surrounding area. Although the weather wasn’t amazing on the day of my visit, the view still stretched out before me. On a clear day, you can apparently see Adatarayama, the Azuma Mountains, Ryozen, Zao and Nasu! ZAZEN MEDITATION EXPERIENCE Another sight towards the top of Mt. Iwatsuno is the Zazen Meditation ‘Tatami Rock’ (photo below), which was used as a place of meditation until the Meiji era. Although it is no longer used for meditation, visitors can try out Buddhist meditation at Mt. Iwatsuno 4 times during the year on decided dates. Read here for more information (Japanese language only). It is also possible to have private or group experiences, but reservations have to be conducted in Japanese. ACCESS Mt Iwatsuno lies on the border between Nihonmatsu City and Motomiya City in Fukushima Prefecture. You can reach Mt Iwatsuno from Motomiya Station via a 15 min taxi ride. For those driving, Mt Iwatsuno is a 15 min drive from the Motomiya IC off of the Tohoku Expressway. The sign below marks the entrance to the temple complex.

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

    Making Bamboo Lanterns in a Temple

    I discovered an awesome temple in Fukushima City! I’ve known that Ioji Temple existed for a long time, so I was really happy to finally get to visit. The architecture and traditional garden in the temple grounds make a visit to Ioji Temple worthwhile in itself, but what makes Ioji really special is the fact that you can make bamboo lanterns here! Before I write about my experience making a lantern out of bamboo, let me introduce a little bit about Ioji Temple. IOJI TEMPLE ABOUT IOJI TEMPLE Ioji Temple was founded as a Buddhist place of worship in the year 826. A statue of the Yakushi Nyorai (Buddha of Medicine) stands in the temple grounds, which might explain the temple’s name (医王寺 features the kanji “医” which means “medicine”, or “the healing art”.) It’s thought that the statue was carved by the founder of a sect of Buddhism called Shingon Buddhism. In the late Heian Period (794-1185), the temple was used by the Sato family, who were very important in Fukushima City and worked as administrators of the city's Shinobu district. During this period of time, the Sato household expanded the temple grounds so that the feudal lord of Otori Castle could look down from the castle in appreciation at the temple. It’s possible to visit the nearby site where Otori Castle used to stand in Tatenoyama Park in Iizaka Onsen. A more recent claim to fame for Ioji Temple is that it was visited by Matsuo Basho in 1689, whose name ranks among those of the most famous Japanese poets. BAMBOO LANTERN MAKING EXPERIENCE A local group from Iizaka Onsen in Fukushima City started running classes on making lanterns out of bamboo at Ioji Temple over the last few years. I was really excited to attend one of these classes and experience it for myself. 1. CHOOSING A DESIGN First I had to choose what pattern I wanted to carve into my bamboo. There were many preset patterns to choose from. The more dots include in the design, the more complicated it is, and the more time it takes to carve. I chose a pattern which included two goldfish swimming about. 2. CHOOSING YOUR BAMBOO I got to choose from a variety of cuts of bamboo, which ranged in size and colour. 3. FIX YOUR PATTERN IN PLACE Next I checked that the pattern I had chosen fit onto the bamboo and stuck it down with clear tape, making sure to avoid any pockets of air being trapped under the tape. 4. DRILL YOUR PATTERN After taking a seat (well, sitting on a cushion), I used a hand drill to make holes in the bamboo. The holes on the pattern sheet were colour-coded so it was easy to know which size drill to use on which size holes.† I had never used a hand drill before, but the teachers helped me work out how to use it, and held the bamboo steady for me while I opened up the first holes, since I was a bit nervous. By the end of the experience, I felt like I had been drilling for years! I found this activity really fun and actually very relaxing! The teachers advised me to open up the largest holes first, and the smallest holes last. I think this is partly because drilling the large holes took quite a bit of effort, and so you get pretty tired by the time you get to the small holes! Some other tips they told me were: Drilling becomes so much easier if you drill straight down onto the face of the bamboo instead of at an angle. If your drill gets stuck in the bamboo after making a hole, press the trigger gently while raising it up slowly until you are able to pull it out. The smaller the holes, the easier and quicker it is to drill them. 5. ADMIRE YOUR WORK It took me about an hour to complete the design of my lantern. After I opened up the last holes, I used a brush that was available to brush away the sawdust (not sure if it’s still sawdust if it’s bamboo…), peeled away the tape that was holding the pattern sheet onto the face of the bamboo and took a good look at my finished design. Some other visitors actually started working on their second design of the day at this point. They had stronger hands than me! 6. PUT A LIGHT IN IT Putting a candle in the lantern would be quite the fire hazard, but LED candles are a great alternative. On the day of my visit, I could buy a short string of battery-powered LED lights in either orange or white. I chose a warmer orange colour and admire the lantern as I placed it inside and switched it on. There were a number of other participants on the day of my visit. It was awesome to see the different designs we had made all lined up next to each other. I think my favourite design is the one on the left with the 3 circles. This one was actually made by my colleague. I think it took quite a lot of arm-power to make, because of the number of larger-size holes, but it looked amazing with the light inside it. 7. TURN OFF THE LIGHTS It’s hard to see the full impact of the lantern’s light with the lights on. Later on in the day, we turned off the lights and were rewarded with a beautiful sight. One thing to be aware of is that since the lanterns are made of bamboo, they begin to wither after 2-3 months. So it’s necessary to make the most out of the lanterns during their prime! Also, visitors from abroad may not be able to take the lanterns back home depending on the customs regulations at your countries’ airports. TIPS FOR DOING THIS EXPERIENCE Wear something which is easy to move in Don’t grip the drill too tightly! Tie your hair up if you have long hair! HOW TO DO THIS EXPERIENCE There is an English speaking member of staff. Run by: Take-toro no Kai (“Bamboo Lantern Group”) See their homepage here (Japanese only). When: Classes are held a number of times a month. Please inquire via the Take-toro no Kai Facebook page. Time taken: Around 2 hours. But in that time, you could make 2 lanterns. Who can do it: Elementary school children can also do this experience with adult supervision. Price: 2000 yen for adults, 1000 yen for children Booking is necessary. How to book: Send the Take-toro no Kai via their Facebook page. VISITING IOJI TEMPLE Entrance fee: 300 yen (Free for small children) Opening hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm* *Closes early during winter. See here for English-language information about Ioji Temple. GETTING TO IOJI TEMPLE 20 minute walk from Ioji-Mae Station on the Iizaka Line, which can be accessed from Fukushima Station. See here for information on taking the Iizaka Line train. 15 minute cycle from Iizaka Onsen Station on the Iizaka Line. (You can rent bicycles for free at Iizaka Onsen Station.)

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

    Iizaka Onsen & Kenka Matsuri Autumn Festival

    WHERE IS IIZAKA ONSEN & WHAT IS A ‘KENKA MATSURI’? Iizaka Onsen is a quaint town built around the sources of the Iizaka Onsen hot springs. Iizaka Onsen hot spring water has been loved for over a millennium, and is well-known in Japan. Residents of Tokyo often pop up on the Shinkansen to take a dip in the relaxing waters of Iizaka Onsen! One thing that onsen-lovers should know about Iizaka Onsen is that the hot spring water is very hot. I visited the oldest public bath in the town called ‘Sabako-yu’ on my first day in Fukushima. I’d read the English information pamphlet that said that the water was hot, but I thought “Well, I’ve been to onsen before – how hot can it be?!” Spoiler alert: hotter than you can imagine! (Around 46 degrees Celsius!) There are plenty of onsen you can take a dip in even if you’re not a fan of hot springs that are super hot. The further away from the source you get, the cooler the water gets. Guess where Sabako-yu is? About 200m away from the source… The being said, as long as you let your body get used to the temperature gradually, it's possible to enjoy the super hot onsen too!   HOW CAN I EXPERIENCE A HOT SPRING IN IIZAKA ONSEN? PUBLIC ONSEN There are 9 public hot springs in Iizaka Onsen that you can try out for a small fee. Many of them sell small towels that you can use to dry off after bathing, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own towel! Public onsen in Japan are almost always separated by gender – unless very clearly specified! – and are open to anyone (with the exception of people with tattoos in some cases). Local people from Iizaka Onsen start visiting the public baths when they are very young, and visit regularly with family and friends until they are old enough to have a family of their own. They will then bring their own children to the public baths, and the cycle of onsen appreciation continues! Public onsen are great places to meet and chat with local people and immerse yourself not only in Japanese culture but in local history and traditions! ASHIYU (足湯)- FOOT-BATHS There are also 3 public foot-baths in Iizaka Onsen, which are free to use, and can be visited by anyone. One of the biggest foot-baths in Iizaka Onsen is in Kyu-horikiri Tei – a traditional residence that dates back over 500 years ago. You can find out about the names and locations of some of these public hot springs and public foot-baths on Iizaka Onsen Tourism Association’s website here! HIGAERI NYUYOKU (日帰り入浴) – DAYTIME ONSEN One more way to enjoy hot springs in Iizaka Onsen is to visit ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). Many ryokan in Iizaka Onsen offer visitors the chance to take a dip in their onsen, even if you’re not staying the night. Daytime onsen visits are available at a number of Iizaka Onsen’s many ryokan, including Hotel Juraku  & Yoshikawaya. Check out this website to see which ryokan hotels English-speaking staff. The price of a trip to a daytime onsen ranges depending on the establishment, but tend to cost between 300 yen to 1400 yen. The more expensive the day onsen, the bigger the establishment and the better the range of baths.   Please note that many higaeri nyuyoku onsen only offer this daytime onsen option before 14:00 or 15:00. Hotel Juraku is the exception to this rule, as it is open most days until 21:00. Many ryokan in Japan have a “no tattoo” policy. If you have a tattoo, you can still enjoy onsen, but you’ll need to reserve a private bath as opposed to bathing with the locals. See this post on reserving private baths.   HIGHLIGHT OF IIZAKA ONSEN – KENKA MATSURI As well as its amazing, relaxing hot spring water, Iizaka Onsen is also known for Kenka Matsuri (translates as ‘fighting festival’!), which is one of three main fighting festivals in Japan. The festival is always held on the first weekend of October. Fighting festivals make up just one of the types of festival held in autumn in Japan. There are many shinto festivals held in autumn, after the rice harvest has taken place, as a way of thanking the gods for that year’s harvest, and to pray for the prosperity of local people who worship at the shrines. During Iizaka Onsen’s Kenka Matsuri, 6 portable shrines (mikoshi) and 6 festival floats (yatai), are paraded around town before being brought to Hachiman Shrine in the center of Iizaka Onsen. Each yatai represents one area of Iizaka Onsen Town, and each mikoshi belongs to one of these various areas. The climax of the festival is reached at around 20:00 on the second day of the festival, when the yatai are brought to Hachiman Shrine – and the fighting begins. Yatai festival stalls are decorated with lanterns, and are accompanied by the omnipresent beat of the Japanese taiko drum. The sound of the taiko drum actually reverberates from inside the yatai – where the drummer ferociously smashes at the drum for the duration of the festival. Once these yatai reach the grounds of Hachiman Shrine, they crash into one another at great force. The reason for this is that each area of Iizaka Onsen, represented by their yatai, is trying to stop another area’s mikoshi from entering the grounds of Hachiman Shrine. Only one mikoshi can enter the shrine first, and receive good luck for the year to come. Once the mikoshi reaches the back of the shrine, the festival is over. WHY SHOULD I GO TO SEE IIZAKA’S KENKA MATSURI? This festival is super exciting, and I love the atmosphere. The evening air carries the beat of the taiko drum – which persists for the entire festival – the smell of yummy festival foods, and the surprised gasps of onlookers at the sight of floats toppling over, yatai set on first from their lanterns, and men making a narrow escape from underneath them. I’ve never been to a Japanese festival as absorbing, exciting and lively as Kenka Matsuri. All the participating locals involved in the festival – from young kids in school to teenagers chanting and following their respective yatai float, to grandpas passing on their traditions – truly put their hearts into the evening, which makes it extra special. I love wandering around Iizaka Onsen on the night of main Kenka Matsuri event. It’s a great opportunity to soak up the amazing atmosphere of a town which is usually so quiet and sleepy. Hachiman Shrine, which becomes the main stage for Kenka Matsuri, is less than a 10 minute walk from Iizaka Onsen station, meaning that even if you have a wander through the streets, it won’t take you long to get back to the action. Unlike other festivals in Japan, Iizaka Onsen’s Kenka Matsuri is relatively unknown amongst visitors from abroad, meaning that you can have an authentic Japanese festival experience, and get to interact with the locals. The crashing of the yatai at Hachiman Shrine usually begins at 20:30, but because it gets crowded on festival days, I recommend you get there early and visit with friends who can save your spot when you go to the loo or go to grab a beer at the food and drink stalls.   WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN IIZAKA ONSEN? Aside from the festival, Iizaka Onsen is absolutely worth visiting for the excellent onsen, its picturesque streets, adorable cafés and kind local people. Iizaka Onsen is also home to the Buddhist temple known as Nakano Fudoson Temple, which really leaves an impression on visitors with its mysterious cave and beautiful waterfalls. Iizaka Onsen’s central location also lends itself to including it as part of an itinerary for a weekend away in Fukushima City. Onsen lovers can even try and compare its waters to those of Tsuchiyu Onsen or Takayu Onsen. WHY NOT MAKE A WEEKEND OF IT? Here’s an idea for a way to spend your weekend in Iizaka Onsen & other areas of Fukushima City during festival time! SATURDAY OCTOBER 6 Travel to Iizaka Onsen from Fukushima Station via the Fukushima Transportation Iizaka Line. Take the bus to Nakano Fudoson Temple and spend some time exploring the caves and waterfall! Travel back to Iizaka Onsen and check in at your ryokan for the night. Wander the streets in the evening during festival time. Make sure to walk over to Hachiman Shrine by 20:00 (the main event of the festival begins at 20:30). Enjoy the festival, try the local delicacy Enban Gyoza for dinner, and stay at a ryokan overnight. SUNDAY OCTOBER 7 Spend some time exploring Iizaka Onsen by day (check out the Kyu-horiki Tei former residence, foot-baths, day onsen and cute shops). Take the Iizaka Line back to Fukushima Station. Have lunch in Fukushima (Ideas for restaurants here!) Check out the Fukushima City Inari Shrine Autumn Festival in the afternoon and evening. See here for the location of Inari Shrine! MORE INFORMATION Check out this website for a list of places to eat in Iizaka Onsen. Fukushima City’s Convention Association has prepared a decent list of restaurants and izakaya in central Fukushima City. Check it out here!   ACCESS Iizaka Onsen can be reached in about 2 hours from Tokyo. Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Ueno Station or Tokyo Station to Fukushima Station (90 min), and from there take 25 min train. (See here for info about reaching Fukushima Station)  

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

    Sukagawa City: Fireworks, Tatami, Fire Festivals & Sci-fi Heroes

    It struck me recently that when people think about travelling in Fukushima Prefecture, Sukagawa doesn’t tend to be the first place that comes to mind. But the city has some really interesting places to visit and incredible festivals to experience. What’s more, it’s really easy to access by public transport. It’s just a 15 minute train ride on the Tohoku Line from Koriyama Station – which can be reached directly from Tokyo by Shinkansen. 1. SUKAGAWA CITY SHAKADOGAWA RIVER FIREWORKS DISPLAY 10,000 fireworks are set off at Shakadogawa River over the course of the 90-minute fireworks display. This firework festival is easy to get to with public transport and makes for a really fun evening! When? Late August. Where? Sukagawa City. You can get a good view just a 10 minute walk from Sukagawa Station How much? Free! More details: See here 2. SUKAGAWA BOTAN-EN PEONY GARDEN Sukagawa Botan-en Peony Garden is Japan’s only peony garden. The garden is free to visit for most of the year, except for the busy season when the peonies are in bloom (April & May)! The garden spans 10 hectares and is home to well over 200 types of peony. Visit the garden in late June to see the beautiful rose garden in bloom, or in Autumn for more great views. Information about opening hours etc.: See here Location: See a map here 3. TAIMATSU AKASHI FESTIVAL This incredible festival, which has taken place for over 400 years, is held on the 2nd Saturday of November every year. During the festival, twenty-two 10-metre long torches – which are crafted carefully by local people in the months running up to the festival – are carried through the city and eventually are placed on the summit of Mt. Gorozan. Once in place, a local will climb to the top of the torch and set it on fire. This festival is very important to the people of Sukagawa, because the light of the torches are considered to be offerings to the gods. These offerings are made in order to appease the gods in the hopes that the souls of samurai and local people who died in a local war over 400 years ago can rest in peace. When? 2nd Saturday of November Where? Central Sukagawa City / Mt. Gorozan More Information: See here 4. ULTRAMAN Ultraman may not be famous abroad, but in Japan, he is a famous superhero whose legacy stretches back generations. Ultraman was a superhero character created for a sci-fi television series by Sukagawa local Eiji Tsuburaya. The first episode featuring Ultraman was aired in 1966, and his fame and fan-following has skyrocketed ever since. The character has been brought back in a number of reincarnations over the decades. You can find Ultraman statues and other memorabilia scattered around the city. The city hall (where the photos above were taken) even includes a shop selling Ultraman collectibles (I’m actually wearing one of their rather fetching Ultraman aprons). There is also an Ultraman memorabilia shop in the centre of town which is run by relatives of Eiji Tsuburaya. I haven’t actually been there yet but I’m excited to go at some point soon. Here is it’s location on a map. 5. KUBOKI TATAMI SHOP Get creative at a shop that has adapted to the times and reinvented ways to use traditional Japanese tatami flooring in everyday life. You can make your own mini-tatami mats with the lovely Kuboki family as teachers. They offer a number of craft experiences and also sell some really nice items made in-store. How much? 1000 yen for mini-tatami making experience. Where? 15 minute walk from Sukagawa Station. See here for location! 6. LUNCH AT KAMOME-SHA CAFE This is one of the only places I’ve found in Fukushima Prefecture where you can get a good English muffin! This may not be something you associate with travelling in Japan, but after a week or so of sushi and ramen, a bacon-filled English muffin really hits the spot. There is also a vintage shop inside the cafe. Can’t get much more hipster than this. Check the cafes opening hours etc. on Google Maps: See here ALL PLACES MENTIONED ON THIS BLOG ARE FEATURED ON THE MAP BELOW:

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

    Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival

    Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival is held annually on the first Saturday, Sunday, and following Monday in October. The sight of the festival floats, stretching up 11 metres at their tallest, shining bright in the evening light makes Nihonmatsu famous as the home to one of the top three lantern festivals in Japan. Pick from countless delicious festival food stalls, try and find the best place to snap photos of awe-inspiring festival floats, kanpai with the locals and see if you can master the festival chants, at this fun, high-energy festival. WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND THIS FESTIVAL? The festival was started around 370 years ago by the lord of Nihonmatsu Castle. When he first took charge of the Nihonmatsu area, he wanted to ensure the loyalty of the local people by first installing them with lots of religious piety. To do this, he decided to start a Shinto festival which could be attended by anyone, regardless of status. WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE FESTIVAL? The festival takes place over 3 days. On the first day, priests give blessings at the local shrine, and 7 floats representing 7 areas of town are lit with hundreds of beautiful, red lanterns. As the sun sets, the festival atmosphere begins to intensify, and a number of processions with long histories take place. As with lots of festivals in Japan, the locals who take part in moving the floats shout out encouraging chants to each other and play music. At the Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival, each float has its own music and own drum beat. The evening of the first night is the highlight of the festival. This is when all 7 of the floats take part in a procession around the streets of Nihonmatsu City. Seeing these 7 huge floats making their way through the crowded, excited streets of Nihonmatsu is really a special experience. It is made even more breathtaking by the fact that during these processions, the floats appear to challenge each other through acts such as running at great speed and spinning around wildly. It’s sort of like a dance-off. FASCINATING FLOATS Each festival float has 300 paper lanterns attached to it, each made in Nihonmatsu, and each with a real candle inside it. These candles are replaced when they burn down the length of a cigarette, and must be replaced quickly to avoid setting fire to the lanterns. In just one night, it’s estimated that each float uses up 1500 candles! In addition to the 300 lanterns used in the main body of the float, one thing that really sets apart the floats in this Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival are the suginari decorative lanterns right at the top of the float. There are also two large lanterns held by local people at the front and back of the float. These two large lanterns signify the border of their area of Nihonmatsu. During festival time, it is not really permitted for people from other areas to enter in this space. FESTIVAL FLOAT PROCESSION There are many jobs involved in being part of a festival float team. One of the most important jobs in the festival is that of the local people who push the floats during the 3 days of the festival. They make quite a show of this job, and appear to be competing with floats from other areas when they run up and down the streets, some even swinging their floats round dramatically. Another important job is steering the float by shouting directions. This important role is played out whilst walking backwards, and shouting out to the rest of the team members. The steerer works together with another team member who looks out for telephone lines and other objects which the suginari decoration could get caught up in. This person also replaces the candles in the large lanterns at the front and back of the float. Orchestra members also ride inside the floats. Usually 4 people play large and small Japanese taiko drums, 5 people play windpipes, and others play hand-bells inside just one floats. Other important members of the float team are the guys in the photo below, who keep the crowd, and the rest of their float, pumped for the whole of the festival with their chanting! I have attended the Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival and would definitely recommend it. Not only is the atmosphere fantastic, and the floats amazing, but it is also really easy to get to on public transport! The festival area begins right outside Nihonmatsu train station. Make sure you pick up a map telling you where the floats will be at certain times during the evening at one of the information stands. 

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

    Enjoying Mt. Adatara in Autumn

    Mt. Adatara is one of Fukushima Prefecture’s most spectacular places to go and see the bright colours of the autumn leaves, in a custom that is called 'momiji-gari' in Japanese. I went to Mt. Adatara in Nihonmatsu to try and do some momiji-gari of my own! I was a little worried about hiking Mt. Adatara before I went because I have a bad sense of direction, so I wanted to write this blog to give some tips to those interested in visiting!WHERE TO START?The most simple hiking route – and definitely the most popular one in the autumn season – starts with the Mt. Adatara Rope-way. This rope-way is located at the Adatara Kogen Ski Resort, in Oku Dake (see map below). TRAVEL TIPDuring the autumn, there are a number of daily shuttle buses between Dake Onsen town and the rope-way. There is also often a shuttle bus service leaving from Nihonmatsu Station, which takes 50 mins.TAKING THE ROPE-WAY TO YAKUSHI PEAK

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

    10 things to do at Abukuma Cave

    Formed over 80 million years by underground streams and covered with stalactites and stalagmites is the Abukuma Cave. This 3 km-long limestone cave network was discovered in 1969, and 600m of it has been opened to the public to date.Abukuma Cave is said to hold the biggest variety and number of stalactites in Asia. Each area of the cave network has a different name depending on the shape of the rock formations it contains. Many individual rocks also have their own name.

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

    History Of Dekoyashiki Craft District

    'Takashiba Dekoyashiki' is the name given to a group of 4 residences-turned-museums-and-shops that make traditional crafts in Takashiba District of Koriyama City. Each of these 4 residences is open for the public to come and visit most days (They are closed on Thursday though). The oldest residence is owned by a family who have continued to master their craft for the longest period of time, since the Edo Period. This residence is called 'Hiko Mingei'. The thatched roof of Hiko Mingei is hard to miss – the house is stunning, and dates back 400 years. Usually at this point I’d start referring to the family who run Hiko Mingei by name, but every family living in Takashiba Dekoyashiki has the name 'Hashimoto', so differentiating by shop is the easiest way to describe them! I spoke to Daisuke san, the oldest son of the head craftsmen. Daisuke told me lots about the history of Takashiba Dekoyashiki, and spoke to me about what makes his family’s story a little different. HISTORY OF THE AREA During the Edo Period, farming families living in the Takashiba District were far from affluent, and each family owned just a small area of land. It was hard for the families to make ends meet, especially during the winter months when farming was impossible. So the families began making figurines and charms out of wood in the winter months. Japan has a history of using charms and dolls at local Buddhist and Shinto festivals for hundreds of years, so there was a growing need for their production. I asked if the family still owned a farm, and Daisuke’s father answered that a long time ago, the production of crafts had gradually become the main business, and that none of the families in this area were involved in commercial farming any more. WHAT DOES TAKASHIBA DEKOYASHIKI MEAN? As written above, 'Takashiba' is the name of the district where these residence are located. 'Yashiki' means 'Residence'. So that leaves 'Deko'. 'Deko' is an amalgamation of 2 words. The first is 'deku' 木偶, which means 'wooden figurine', and the second is 'Dogu' 土偶, which means 'dolls or figurines made out of earth'. The style of production at Takashiba Dekoyashiki gradually changed from being predominately wood-based to including 'earthen' materials necessary in techniques such as papier-mâché, and the name 'Dekoyashiki' reflects these changes. TYPES OF CRAFTS MIHARU-KOMA The most famous craft originating in Takashiba District is the Miharu-koma wooden horse. This wooden horse is most commonly painted either black or white. Miharu-koma dolls were originally bought and exchanged as good luck charms used to pray for child-rearing. The story of the Miharu-koma comes from 1200 years ago. According to legend, a shogun (coincidentally the same shogun who ordered the construction of the famous temple Kiyomizudera in Kyoto) headed north to conquer Miharu area. Before he left Kyoto, a priest gave him a small figurine of a horse as a good luck charm. This figurine was made from a left-over scrap of wood. He took this charm with him to Tohoku. During battle, when it seemed like he was going to lose, the good luck charm he received from the priest turned into 100 real horses, which led to his clear victory in conquering the area. According to some stories, the original good luck charm horse was even found in Takashiba area! Since the Edo Period, horse figurines have been created and sold in Takashiba as charms to help children grow up big and strong. The black horse is supposed to represent children growing up strong, and the white horse represents longevity. Takashiba District remained in Miharu Town until the end of the 19th century, when it became a part of Koriyama City. During the Edo Period, Miharu was famous for the talent of its people in taming and selling wild horses. Horses in this area grew super famous, and almost had their own brand – the Miharu-koma. Over the years, the very long name given to the wooden horse figurines created in Takashiba area became conflated with the name for the horses sold in Miharu Town, and the doll became known as Miharu-koma. MIHARU DARUMA When you think of Daruma dolls, you might think of Shirakawa Daruma or Takasaki Daruma. Both of these styles of daruma are famous for having no eyes at the time when the time of purchasing. I thought this was pretty standard across Japan, but apparently this practice occurs predominately in the Kanto region of Japan, and in fact daruma traditionally had their eyes painted in before being sold. In Shirakawa and Takasaki, daruma are sold as 'goal setting dolls' or inspirational daruma, to held their owners focus on a task or goal they want to complete while they’re painting in the eye of one daruma, and then completing the other eye once they have successful achieved their goal. However, the tradition of keeping daruma doll in your house started in the hopes of warding off evil spirits. The design of daruma is thought to be basd off of the image of a Buddhist monk meditating hard. Daruma dolls which are meant to scare off anything evil through their intense glare. That’s why they always look a bit anger! Like Shirakawa City, Miharu Town holds a daruma market every year. Many people buy a replacement, or additional, daruma every year. Apparently it’s quite popular for people to buy a bigger size daruma every year! In this case that there are no bigger daruma, you would start once again buying and collecting daruma in the smallest size again from the next year. MASKS While the Miharu-koma and Daruma are thought of as good luck charms which are only really effective for the year you buy them, there is one craft object made at Dekoyashiki can be enjoyed year after year! I’m referring to the papier-mâché masks made here for use at festivals at local shrines. The characters on these masks are usually a 'Hyottoko' (a cheeky young man), a woman, or one of 7 gods known as the Shichi-fuku-jin. This is a group of Buddhist gods. The Shichi-fuku-jin are all related to fishing, farming and agriculture. People in this area, like in many rural farming areas of Japan, used to find comfort in praying to the gods to ask for a good harvest in the year to come. Before the introduction of Buddhism, Japanese people used to pray to shinto gods, which were usually closely connected to various aspects and elements of nature, and may not have a physical shape. With Buddhism came the ability to pray to 'gods' with human features, and entrust in them the ability to ensure or take away a good harvest as a way of explaining the natural phenomenons such as drought. One of the ways in which the Shichi-fuku-jin were shown respect and praise was in the holding of dances at local festivals. Somebody would dress up as each of the 7 gods, 2 more people would play the Hyottoko and the woman, and a couple more would accompany the dancers with instruments. Local people would wear masks to get into character. However, it is difficult to coordinate at least 10 people to get together for a dance, so the families of Takashiba Dekoyashiki only really hold a big dance once a year, and dances including just the Hyottoko are much more common. If you’re lucky, you might get a little glimpse of the Hyottoko dance when you visit the Dekoyashiki residences! (The owner of Hiroji Mingei is the resident expert!) I was lucky enough to have the head of Hiko Mingei perform the dance for me! VISITING DEKOYASHIKI More information on visiting Takashiba Dekoyashiki. Below is a map featuring the locations of the different establishments.

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

    Daruma Paradise In Shirakawa City

    I love art and creating things, so I was really pleased to learn I’d be painting a daruma as part of my trip to Shirakawa City, Fukushima Prefecture. WHAT IS A DARUMA? Daruma are a traditional craft with origins rooted strongly in Buddhism. The word daruma seems to have come from the Buddhist word “dharma”, which expresses the concept of the Buddhist teachings, and is often used to talk about Buddhist priests in Japan. Japanese daruma are often round in shape, with a face painted a different colour to the outside. One other distinctive feature of daruma is that you usually see them and buy them with no eyes. You are supposed to colour in the left eye of a daruma, and to set yourself a goal as you do so. When that goal is realised, you can paint in the right-hand eye. I googled the origin of daruma, and why they have such stern expressions. Their stern faces are supposed to represent a priest in a state of meditation. The eyes have a bit more of a gross history…. So I’ll leave that to you to google! SHIRAKAWA DARUMA Many areas in Japan, including Shirakawa, have their own specific daruma design. They are set apart from those from other regions by 4 decorative elements of the face. All of these are traditional symbols of good luck in Japan. The eyebrows are the shape of cranes The moustache is made up of two turtles gazing at each other. The squiggly shapes on the cheeks of the daruma represent plum and pine trees. The beard is thought to resemble bamboo shoots. Watanabe Daruma, the workshop that I visited in Shirakawa City, makes all styles and designs of daruma. They receive orders from all over Japan, even from temples and shrines. They also sell daruma abroad. Usually only the women of the house make daruma. While the women are in charge of the creative aspect of the process, men do the manual labour involved with moving and selling the daruma. THE HISTORY OF SHIRAKAWA DARUMA As a prefecture which famously gets a lot of snow during the winter, daruma-making as a way to make a living was useful for those unable to work outside during winter. In summer, local families would do farming and manual work, and in winter they would spend time creating daruma to sell during the spring. Even now, daruma-painting is usually left until the autumn and winter months due to the hot Japanese summers. The humidity of the summer sun makes the paint dry unevenly. However, Japanese summers are very useful for creating the base of the daruma. The bases are made of paper (similar to papier-maché), and take a long time to dry in the colder months. The summer climate creates perfect conditions for making lots of bases in preparation for the autumn. PAINTING THE BASE In order to paint the daruma base coat, daruma are placed on sticks and dipped in paint. Then the stick that they’re on is wedged into a post so that they can air dry it evenly from all directions. Next the face colour is painted on. After the face has dried, the whites of the eyes are painted! PAINTING MY OWN DARUMA It takes up to one hour to design the face of a daruma which has already had the base colours painted on. This is what I did during my visit. Those who wish to create their own unique design are able to do just that, if they have more time to spare! You have to wait for base colours to dry, so visitors would have to make two visits to the store, but I think it’s well worth it in order to design a unique daruma! Myself and my colleague designed the faces of our daruma in stages, starting with the mouth, moving on to the black ink facial hair and eye, and finishing with the gold decorations on the outside, including the '福' kanji, which means 'luck'. There was plenty of newspaper that we could use to practice the strokes before painting the real thing. This painting experience was really fun, and I am pleased with the outcome. My daruma currently sits on my desk. MORE INFORMATION Watanabe san of Watanabe Daruma also let me know that he is happy to teach visitors in English! I must point out that there is one more daruma workshop in Shirakawa City where you can try out painting daruma – Sagawa Daruma Main Shop. Check out basic information about both of these workshops and daruma painting on our site here.

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

    Spending A Winter Day In Tsuchiyu Onsen

    Tsuchiyu Onsen has been a well-loved kokeshi-producing onsen town for over 170 years. Kokeshi are painted wooden dolls, which have been produced in Japan since the late 18th century in onsen towns in Tohoku (the eastern region of Japan).Kokeshi were originally made and sold in onsen towns as souvenirs for visiting guests to take home to their friends and families. Throughout the 6 prefectures that make up Tohoku, there are 11 distinctive styles of kokeshi. This being said, the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi is ranked among the ‘top 3’ of the Tohoku Kokeshi.

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

    Azuma-Kofuji’s Short & Scenic Hiking Route

    Home to a wealth of stunning views and scenic roads that can be enjoyed by car or bike, the eastern side of the Azuma mountain range that borders the prefectures of Fukushima and Yamagata is particularly popular for those who enjoy hiking and walking. Mt. Azuma-Kofuji (which translates as ‘little Mt Fuji’), is a popular place to follow a short hiking course, since it takes less than 1.5 hours to complete, and is not far from central Fukushima City. Mt. Azuma-Kofuji – which has a shape likened to the famous Mt. Fuji – has a distinctive crater at its center, which was formed after a volcanic eruption. Although the peak of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji is around 1700 m, the base of the crater is around 70 m lower! Along with its status as being seated on Bandai Azuma Skyline – a famous motorbiking, cycling and driving route – Mt. Azuma-Kofuji is also well-known for its role in producing the mascot of Fukushima City, Momorin, a cute little rabbit. Every year, when the snow begins to melt from the top of the mountains in springtime, a space is cleared on the side of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji that melts into the shape of a rabbit! Depending on how fast the snow melts, and how much rain falls, the exact form of the rabbit does change from year to year, but it always there to some extent, looking down on the citizens of the city. Jododaira Plateau, from where Mt. Azuma-Kofuji , Kamanuma Pond, and Mt. Issaikyo can be accessed, can only be reached between early-April and mid-November every year, as the heavy snow fall of winter has lead to the scenic road that passes through the area to be closed during this time. Even though it is not possible to come right to the top of Bandai Azuma Skyline during this winter season, the two onsen towns that bookend it – Tsuchiyu Onsen and Takayu Onsen – can still be visited in the winter. The Mt. Azuma-Kofuji hike begins at Jododaira Plateau, which is home to visitor center and rest house where visitors can have a snack and buy souvenirs. There are Japanese language pamphlets at the rest house which display the various hiking routes around the Jododaira area, such as those to Kassanuma Ponds and Issaikyo Peak. Even if you don’t understand Japanese, there are lots of pictures and maps, so you can understand where you are in relation to the rest of the hiking trails. The start of the walk (little squiggly red line) – a winding trail of stairs – is visible from outside of the rest house (the P close to the squiggly red line!). The ascent to the top of the crater takes around 10 minutes, and visitors are recommended to allow 1 hour to walk around the crater. It’s also said that this walk should be enjoyed by walking clockwise round the crater’s edge. I really like walking around Mt. Azuma-Kofuji because once you reach the top of the steps, you’re greeted with amazing, otherworldly views. It seems like every angle of this walk supplies completely different scenery. If you look one way, you can see the beautiful snowy mountains in the distance… …But if you look another way, it feels like you have been transported to a desert, or even to the moon! The faces of rocks and stones that surround the crater have changed colour over time due to the different volcanic gases and substances present in the area. It was interesting to take a close look at the unusually bright red and purple colouring of the stones. This short hike really does make you feel like you’re walking on top of the world. Circling the edge of the crater was not too physically challenging, although I did lose my balance a couple of times when I place my weight on groups loose stones. I would advice not trying to complete this walk in heeled shoes! I did find that climbing up the relatively steep staircase made me quite out of breath. However, I did finish the route in less than an hour though, so it’s possible that I was just rushing! One other word of warning is that it can sometimes get extremely windy at the top of the crater. When I visited most recently in April, it was my first time to attempt making it the whole way around the crater, as during previous visits, the wind had been too heavy to attempt it. This time, the wind was even calm enough for me to place my camera on a rock for long enough to take a selfie without fear of it being swept off into the distance! If you find yourself in Fukushima City on a sunny day, with a few hours to spare, I would wholeheartedly recommend a hiking trip to Jododaira. The views are honestly spectacular. Coupled with a trip to either (or both!) of the onsen towns nearby, a visit to Jododaira can easily become part of a really fun day out! See here for more information on visiting Mt. Azuma-Kofuji

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

    Snowy Drive Along Bandai-Azuma Skyline

    Bandai-Azuma Skyline, the stunning sightseeing road that runs through the Azuma mountain range, is closed for almost 5 months of every year, from mid-November to early-April. I took a drive in early April to celebrate the reopening of the road, and got to take in my first views from Skyline of the year. It was kind of amazing to compare central Fukushima City – where spring flowers are beginning to blossom – with the snowy scenes of Bandai-Azuma Skyline, despite the fact that the two are only around a 40-minute drive from each other. Popular as a sightseeing spot among drivers, motorcyclists, and cyclists with strong thighs alike, the winding mountain road Bandai-Azuma Skyline offers spectacular views regardless of the season. When spring arrives, visitors can take a short hike to the top of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji (“little Mt Fuji”) to see a huge, striking crater, climb Mt. Issaikyo, or take a walk around the various marshes reaching off of the central area, known as Jododaira. There is also a ‘Rest House’, where visitors can have a drink and a snack. I love Skyline, and have visited during the summer and autumn, so I was very excited to see the surrounding mountains covered in snow for the first time, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was such a huge amount of snow at the top, I was having flashbacks to the Ouchi-juku Snow Festival in February! I arrived at the Jododaira peak from the direction of central Fukushima City, and we descended the mountain in the direction of Tsuchiyu Onsen, a nearby onsen town. On the way to Tsuchiyu Onsen, I couldn’t help but notice that the snow that lined either side of the road was gradually stretching higher and higher until our car was completely surrounded on both sides by huge walls of snow. Apparently these walls can reach up to 4m high, but the year I visited (2017) they were a little shorter than that. Even so, it was fun to visit!

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

    Hanamiyama in Full Bloom

    During the spring, Hanamiyama, and the surrounding scenery, explodes with colour and beauty. I have always associated the Japanese custom of hanami (flower viewing) with light pink cherry blossom. But at Hanamiyama, there is just so much colour! During my visit to Hanamiyama I saw Yoshino cherry blossom (someiyoshino), double cherry blossom (yaenozakura), peach blossom (momo), flowering peach blossom (hanamomo), white magnolia (hakumokuren), Japanese quince (boke), Japanese allspice (roubai), among many others. I visited Hanamiyama by bus from Fukushima Station. During peak cherry-blossom viewing time, there are frequent temporary buses that go between Fukushima Station and the park. The bus stop was easily signposted and there were main guides helping people figure out where to line up. On arriving at Hanamiyama, I was surprised at how different the scenery was to my previous visits in September and February – it was unrecognisable! No matter where you looked, beautiful bright pink and yellow flowers blanketed the fields and hillsides. From the bus stop, the walk to the actual park entrance was around a 10-minute walk, but all along the way the scenery was so amazing, the time flew by. After entering the park, I came to realise that, despite the beauty of the surrounding fields and hills, the flowers and foliage within the grounds of Hanamiyama are on a whole other level. There were so many different types of flowers, and the curving shapes of the path up the hill that stands at the centre of Hanamiyama meant that it was exciting to try and guess what kind of flower you might meet at the next turn or bend. The 1-hour course took us a little longer because we took a lot of photographs on the way up, but it didn’t feel like it dragged on or was too long. Being outside under the warm sun, smelling the light scents of the different blossom passing past me on the wind, hearing bird song – it was so lovely. From the top of Hanamiyama, we had a quick rest, took photographs and planned our route down using the visitor maps that we received upon entering the park. There were many people eating their lunch and hanging out at the top of the hill, and a few areas on the way up and down where people were eating packed lunches. However, there are no areas to lay a tarp or blanket on the ground and have a picnic, as visitors tend to do in huge parks. On the way down, we passed through the sakura tunnel, which is one of the key photo spots for visitors. There were a lot more people enjoying Hanamiyama on the day of my visit than I was expecting. However, it didn’t feel crowded or overwhelming. There are also many different routes to take through the park and quieter areas which appear to have yet to be discovered by the majority of visitors! I thought that Hanamiyama could never live up to the stunning photographs I had seen over the last 8 months, but it was so much better than could be captured in any number of photos. I can now understand why Mr Abe, the owner, loves this place so much that he decided to hold his wedding reception in the park, on a day with sakura in full bloom, just as they were during my visit. My photos do not do it justice at all, so you’ll have to go and see it for yourself! You might find these pages useful for planning your trip to Hanamiyama. Hope to see you there next year!

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

    Reaching Miharu Takizakura

    KEY INFORMATIONVISITING HOURSVisiting hours are usually between 6:00-18:00, but they are extended until 20:30 during the light-up period.HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO VISIT?Miharu Town asks for visitors to pay 300 yen to visit the tree. This money goes towards the continued conservation efforts towards Miharu Takizakura.REACHING MIHARU TAKIZAKURALOCAL BUSThe number of local buses in service is typically increased during cherry blossom season. These buses leave from outside Miharu Station. The dates of increased service differ from year to year. For 2018, service was increased between April 7th and April 15th. For 2019, service was increased between April 6th and April 21st. A 1-Day pass can be bought for use on the public bus costs 1,000 yen per adult.FREE SHUTTLE BUSA free shuttle bus runs regularly between Miharu Town Exercise Park (三春町運動公園)(map here) & the Miharu Takizakura during the cherry blossom season. The dates that the shuttle bus run differ from year to year. For 2018, shuttle bus service ran between April 7th and April 15th. For 2019, the shuttle bus service ran between April 12th and April 21st. Be aware that the last shuttle bus from Takizakura might leave at 17:00 despite the Light Up events that occur during cherry blossom season that run until later in the evening.GETTING TO MIHARU STATIONThe local buses mentioned above depart from Miharu Station. You can get to Miharu Station via the JR Ban-etsu East Line from Koriyama Station. The train from Koriyama Station – a major station – only takes 12 minutes. For information on reaching Koriyama Station.Here are some terms in English and Japanese to help you decipher bus timetables! ・滝桜 Miharu Takizakura ・三春駅 Miharu Station ・滝桜方面 Heading to Miharu Takizakura ・三春駅方面 Heading to Miharu Station TAXITaxis from Miharu Station must be booked in advance. It is likely to be difficult to get a taxi on the day of your visit without ringing up in advance. Bookings via phone in Japanese only.CARThe closest I.C. (interchange) to Takizakura is Funehiki Miharu, but this I.C. gets very busy during hanami season, so it’s recommended to exit the Ban-etsu Expressway at Koriyama Higashi I.C. From this I.C., the tree is a 30 min drive (12.6 km).During cherry blossom season, visitors coming by car are likely to have to queue for quite a bit. When I drove to Miharu Takizakura in 2019 on a weekday, I had to queue for about 40 minutes to get into the car park from 1 km away. On the plus side, I didn’t have to queue to get out of the car park. If you’re using a GPS system in your car, you can enter the map code: 300 840 492*42WALKING FROM THE BUS STOP AND CAR PARKThe buses stop in the large car park. From the car park, you pass through an underpass, reach an office where you can buy a ticket to view the tree, then follow the path to the main tree. The tree is about a 5 min walk from the car park.

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

    Nature Lovers: 3 Day Trip

    DAY 1 FUKUSHIMA STATION Information on accessing Fukushima Station from Tokyo JODODAIRA HIKE From Jododaira Visitor Center, you can choose from a number of hikes – from the 1-hour course that circles the volcanic crater of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji, to longer courses that pass through beautiful marshes and make their way to Mt. Issaikyo. The trekking courses are well marked. Don’t forget to buy an ice cream from the rest house on the way back! FRUIT PICKING (IIZAKA ONSEN) There are so many orchards lining the stunning Fruit Line in Iizaka Onsen that in the spring and summer you’ll be spoilt for choice about where to visit. Many orchards offer pick-your-own experiences. The fruit available for picking depends on the season, so please check this link for more information. EXPLORING IIZAKA ONSEN BY FOOT A tiny, magical onsen town, filled with interesting shops, stunning architecture and amazing onsen hot spring baths, all connected together via winding streets. Especially beautiful at night time. Make sure to try the local delicacy enban gyoza! ACCOMMODATION: IIZAKA ONSEN DAY 2 NAKANO FUDOSON Picturesque zen temple with over 800 years of history. There is a lot to see and do at this temple, located closed by to Iizaka Onsen town. Definitely worth stopping by. MT. ADATARA HIKE Mt. Adatara is one of the Top 100 mountains in Japan. Take the rope-way up from Adatara Kogen Resort and hike your way to the peak for amazing views, and chance to see ‘the real sky’. EXPLORING DAKE ONSEN Another very kitsch onsen town with sloping streets, nice architecture, and yummy places to stop for lunch. Definitely worth exploring. More information about Dake Onsen here. ACCOMMODATION: DAKE ONSEN DAY 3 KASUMIGAJO CASTLE PARK A beautiful, very large park with lots of walking routes to explore. Expect great views of traditional Japanese gardens, picturesque lakes and a lovely Japanese tea house – open for business during cherry blossom season and chrysanthemum season! TAMURA’S LIMESTONE CAVES Continue to Tamura City, home to extensive limestone caves formed over 80 million years! If visiting Fukushima in the summer, a journey south to the Abukuma Cave will definitely cool you down. There is an adventure course ('boken course') for those looking for a route with more twists, turns, and low ceilings. If you want even more of a challenge, nearby stands Irimizu Shonyudo, a cave you can look around if you’re willing to get very wet and potentially meet some bats! KORIYAMA STATION / FUKUSHIMA STATION Finish your trip at Koriyama Station or Fukushima Station and take the Shinkansen

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

    1 Day in Shirakawa

    START: SHIRAKAWA STATION (JR TOHOKU MAIN LINE) 1. DARUMA PAINTING EXPERIENCE Try out painting a traditional Shirakawa Daruma, or how about making your own unique design? There are two main places in Shirakawa City where daruma are made: Watanabe Daruma and Sagawa Daruma Workshop. I have added both of these to the map at the top of the page. Whilst Sagawa Daruma is a short walk from the station, it is easier to access Watanabe Daruma by car / taxi. 2. KOMINE CASTLE The surrounding walls and the wooden structure of Komine Castle were damaged due to the Great East Japan Earthquake, but the castle has been reopened to visitors. It is free to visit, with a nice visitor center nearby where you can try the Shirakawa Daruma Burger for lunch! The castle is rather small, but it isn’t jammed full of museum-like information, which makes visitors able to imagine what it must have been like in the past. Nearby there is a watchtower where guards played large taiko drums to warn the castle of approaching enemies. 3. SHIRAKAWA RAMEN A regional speciality, no trip to Shirakawa is complete without trying the local ramen! (Unless you’re a vegetarian!!) There are many shops dotted around the town so you should be able to find somewhere with no problem. 4. NANKO PARK & NANKO SHRINE Cafés, restaurants, a shrine, and shops that sell Japanese sweets and treats are all nearby Nanko Park. The park is large and would make a good place to visit for those who enjoy walking, especially if they have an interest in the Japanese shops nearby. Nanko Park is a little far to walk from the central town area, so if you have come on foot, I would recommend getting a taxi there, or coming to Shirakawa by car. 5. TEA AT SUIRAKUEN GARDEN Enjoy a walk around the beautiful Suirakuen Garden, and treat yourself to a come of Japanese green tea atop tatami mats.

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

    Springtime Koriyama Day Trip

    For this itinerary, I would recommend renting a car at Koriyama station, or elsewhere. All of the spots included in the itinerary above are at least a 10-15 minute drive from each other, so renting a car would be the easiest way to make the most of your day out in Koriyama! 1. MIHARU TAKIZAKURA Start your day trip with a visit to Miharu’s Takizakura tree. 'Takizakura' can be translated as 'Waterful Cherry Blossoms'. Over 1000 years old, its trunk’s circumference 11 m in width, the Takizakura tree is one of the three biggest cherry trees in Japan, and has been designated a national treasure. The view of the tree, and the flowers that surround it, differ from year to year. However, Takizakura is always stunning during its peak season, no matter the year. (More information on Miharu Takizakura here) 2. TAKASHIBA DEKOYASHIKI 'Takashiba Dekoyashiki' is the name given to a number of craft workshops that have been making dolls and decorative items for centuries. As well as being able to watch how traditional dolls are made, you can try out painting your own dolls. Walk around the arts and crafts studios and soak in the atmosphere of traditional Japan. This area is a 20-minute drive from Miharu Takizakura. (More about Takashiba Dekoyashiki here) 3. KAISEIZAN PARK One of Japan’s first parks in Japan to be opened for public use. Despite the general photograph posted above, the park is beautiful and fun to explore by foot, especially in the springtime, when the cherry blossom line the pathways. Kaiseizan Park is a 30-minute drive from Takashiba Dekoyashiki. (More about Kaiseizan Park here) 4. KORIYAMA STATION Koriyama Station is a 15-minute drive from Kaiseizan Park. Train stations in Japan are usually filled with cafes, restaurants, and shops, making them great – and convenient – places to buy omiyage (souvenirs) for friends and family. One of Koriyama’s most well-known omiyage is called yubeshi (pictured above). It is a sort of sweet rice cake, filled with red bean paste. It has quite a honey-like taste as well! Why not give them a try, and see what other fun gifts you can find as well? Finish your day trip here! Perhaps you could stay overnight in Koriyama, or in the nearby Atami Onsen spa town. Or you could hop on the shinkansen and head to Tokyo! MAP OF ROUTE

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

    Hanami Day Trip from Tokyo

    Here is a step-by-step guide for visiting 3 hanami spots in Fukushima as a day trip from Tokyo, using only public transport! 1. HANAMIYAMA A beautiful park on a hill overlooking the Azuma mountain range, Hanamiyama Park is filled with a spectacular variety of blossoms every spring. TOKYO TO HANAMIYAMA PARK Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo (or Ueno) Station and get off at Fukushima Station. Seasonal buses run from Fukushima Station directly to Hanamiyama Park during the peak cherry blossom season. Buses leave regularly from Fukushima Station's East Exit. The bus takes around 15 minutes to reach the Hanamiyama bus stop. From the stop, a 10-minute walk will bring you to the park. HANAMIYAMA PARK TO FUKUSHIMA STATION Take the seasonal bus back to Fukushima Station. -------------- 2. MIHARU TAKIZAKURA One of Japan’s three oldest cherry blossom trees, Miharu Takizakura is huge and magnificent. This weeping cherry tree’s name translates into English as ‘Waterfall Cherry Blossom’. FUKUSHIMA STATION TO TAKIZAKURA Take either the Shinkansen or the Tohoku Main Line local train to Koriyama Station. At Koriyama Station, transfer onto the Ban-etsu East Line, and take the train heading for Ono Niimachi. Get off at Miharu Station (The journey should take around 15 minutes). From Miharu Station, visitors can reach Takizakura by taxi, or take advantage of the Takizakura temporary bus that travels between Takizakura and Miharu Station during the spring (The bus takes 20 minutes). Tip: Trains run regularly but train services finish quite early each day, so make sure to check time tables on the day you travel. -------------- 3. KAISEIZAN PARK Known as Japan’s oldest public park, Kaiseizan Park is a beautiful place to take a strong on a spring afternoon. MIHARU TAKIZAKURA TO KAISEIZAN Travel back to Miharu Station by taxi or temporary seasonal bus.  Take the Ban-etsu East Line back to Koriyama Station. From outside of Koriyama Station, catch a bus heading for the City Hall / Test Center via Shibamiya  (市役所・柴宮経由免許センター). Get off at Kaiseizan bus stop, which should be about 15 minutes into your journey! -------------- JOURNEY HOME KAISEIZAN TO TOKYO Take a train or bus back to Koriyama Station. Head to the JR Shinkansen part of Koriyama Station, and take any train heading to Tokyo.

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

    Ebisu Circuit: A Drift Paradise

    The popularity of drifting has grown around the world thanks to the Fast and the Furious movie series, the manga ‘Initial D’, and other such works.The Ebisu Circuit in the northern area of central Fukushima Prefecture, is referred to as a paradise in the world of drifting. The vast grounds boast nine different courses of a variety of types and difficulty levels from racing courses to drifting courses. Attracting drifting fans from around the world, Ebisu Circuit provides thrilling and unique one-off experiences.©JNTONobushige Kumakubo: A Legend of DriftingThe owner of Ebisu Circuit, Nobushige Kumakubo, was the 2006 champion of the D1 Grand Prix International Drift Championship (‘D1GP’), and was also hand-picked to carry out driving stunts for the movie ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.’ He has also put on drifting shows around the world, in places such as Las Vegas. Kumakubo has helped popularize drifting techniques and drifting culture in 30 countries and regions across Europe, South Africa, and Asia. Kumakubo’s international students and fans began visiting him at the Ebisu Circuit, and this soon led to it becoming considered a drift paradise.Drifting Culture at Ebisu CircuitDrifting culture is characterized by the strong sense of comradery that exists between drivers. When someone’s car breaks down, one often sees other drivers bringing spare parts and tools and helping out with repairs. The culture of drivers supporting one another and helping each other to polish their skills is alive and well at the Ebisu Circuit.Drivers of different nationalities and different linguistic and cultural backgrounds flock here from around the world to socialize and admire each other’s driving. It could be said that one of the things that make Ebisu Circuit so special is the fact that drivers can engage in communication that transcends language barriers.©JNTOVisiting the Ebisu CircuitEbisu Circuit can be enjoyed in three ways: As a passenger, driver, or spectator.Those who want to experience drifting but are unable to do it themselves can take a ride in a ‘Drift Taxi’ driven by a professional driver. The sense of speed and sideways gravitational force as you rocket up and down the steep slopes of the mountain course is truly thrilling. The opportunity to witness first-hand some of the world’s best driving skills is another reason for the popularity of these Drift Taxi rides. More information and booking here.There is also a school at the circuit where people can learn to drift themselves. There are lessons for everyone from beginners to advanced drivers, covering the basics of drifting and how to set up cars for drifting. Some of the students who visit from abroad stay at Ebisu Circuit for as long as two weeks to give themselves enough time to study drifting techniques more thoroughly.Events at the Ebisu CircuitThe D1GP, which is held every August at the Ebisu Circuit, attracts drivers from around the world as well as approximately 5,000 spectators from around Japan and beyond.In addition to drifting competitions, Ebisu Circuit also crams in a wide variety of other kinds of competitions and events such as motorcycle races between April and November each year, and a Drift Festival three times a year (in spring, summer and autumn). The circuit is closed over winter from December through March.The sounds of the engines, the sheer manic speed of the cars as they race along, the screeching of tires, and the resulting billowing clouds of smoke, all help to make the circuit a thoroughly entertaining place that is enthralling for spectators, drivers, and passengers alike. How about visiting Ebisu Circuit to savor the magic for yourself?AccessEbisu Circuit is located in Nihonmatsu City, in the Central Area of Fukushima prefecture. The circuit itself is located next to the Tohoku Safari Park.Address: Sawamatsukura, Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Pref. 964-0088Getting to Ebisu Circuit from TokyoBy Public Transportation: Tohoku, Yamagata or Akita Shinkansen (from Tokyo Sta. or Ueno Sta.) to Koriyama Sta [郡山駅] (~1 hour 20 minutes). From there, take a JR Tohoku Line train to Nihonmatsu Sta. [二本松駅] (~25 minutes). At Nihonmatsu Station, take a rental car, a taxi or go by bus* (read below) to Ebisu Circuit (we recommend checking Google Maps to see the most convenient connections depending on your time of arrival and preferred medium of transportation). It takes between 3 to 3.5 hours to get to Ebisu Circuit from Tokyo using this route.*If you are planning to visit by bus, please confirm this with the Ebisu Circuit staff in advance. The bus stops at the entrance gate of the circuit, so an Ebisu Circuit staff member will pick you up and take you to the main circuit/courses. Because there is a limited number of staff members available, and the number of guests, participants, and visitors varies per day, this pick-up service can become unavailable on some days, so we recommend going by taxi or car instead if possible.By Car: Approximately 3.5 hours from Tokyo Station (275 km) via the Tohoku Expressway, or 3.5 hours from Narita Airport (285 km) via the Joban Expressway and the Iwaki Niigata Route/Trans-Tohoku Expressway/Ban-Etsu Expressway (please note that roads may have tolls).

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

    Japan's Oldest Waterfall Sakura

    Cherry blossoms in Fukushima Prefecture can be enjoyed over a long span of time from late March through early May because of the variation in climate across the wide distances between the East and West. One area particularly famous for cherry blossoms that features a number of famous trees is Miharu, which boasts more than 10,000 cherry trees. Take a trip to Miharu, the town of cherry blossoms, to experience springtime in Japan.Miharu's Most Famous Cherry Blossom TreeCountless tourists visit Miharu every year from mid to late April to view just one single cherry tree. The tree that draws these crowds here is known as Miharu Takizakura, a tree over 1,000 years old and one of the three most famous cherry trees in Japan. Designated a National Monument, this massive Shidare Zakura (Cerasus spachiana f. spachiana) that reaches 13.5 m in height and 11.3 m in girth was given its name 'Takizakura' ('cherry blossom waterfall') because the cherry blossoms that bloom from its long, hanging branches seem to flow like a waterfall.Unlike many other popular cherry blossom spots where one views entire groves of cherry trees, visitors come here to stand in awe at the singular beauty of this one great tree. This vision of countless cherry blossoms wrapping the hanging branches that spread in all directions is simply beyond words. The tree continues to awe innumerable visitors from both inside and outside Japan.The name 'Miharu' is comprised of the Chinese characters for the phrase 'three springtimes.' The origin of the name stems from the fact that here, the Japanese plum, peach, and cherry trees, which normally bloom one after the other, instead bloom all at once, causing three different periods in springtime to happen at the same time. The town of Miharu fully embraces springtime when the cherry blossoms bloom on top of the already blooming plum and peach trees.Takizakura lives on as a symbol of the town as an elder statesman who has watched over the land for over 1,000 years. The unfurling of its blossoms augers the arrival of spring and the coming to an end of the severe cold of winter. Visitors celebrate the coming of spring and share their joy together.Once Takizakura blooms, the night view of this spectacular tree becomes bathed in lights. Thus both the sight of the tree in the daytime soaking up spring sunlight and the sight of its bewitching beauty that seemingly floats against the sky in the evening, are worth seeing. Another great thing about Miharu is that one can view numerous famous cherry blossom locations and trees in a single trip if traveling by car. Takizakura is located closeby to other famous ancient trees, such as the 400-year-old Jizozakura, said to be Takizakura’s daughter, and the 350-year-old Fudozakura, said to also be a descendant.Come to Miharu Town to enjoy the grandeur of these cherry trees, and make sure to prepare your camera. Cherry trees only display the beauty of their blossoms for but a fleeting moment each year. The blossoms bloom at once for a brief time, and before long the petals fall to the ground. Make sure to check online for the latest information on the timing of the cherry blossoms before making your trip to Miharu. Also check out this page for information on reaching Miharu Takizakura.Useful LinksMiharu TakizakuraReaching Miharu TakizakuraFukushima's Top Cherry Blossom Spots

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

    Sakura Bliss Hike at Hanamiyama

    Vistas of indescribable beauty will greet you at Hanamiyama, an area in Fukushima City, in springtime between March and April. The abundant flowers, including cherry and peach blossoms, magnolia, forsythia, and Japanese quince, weave their colors together to create a gradation of nature with pinks and yellows and greens. Released from the severity of winter, this vista announces the arrival of spring with fanfare, and is loved by visitors from not only within Fukushima but from throughout Japan, and abroad as well. Come enjoy a walk through Hanamiyama Park, located in the central Hanamiyama area, as you are embraced by the soft, warm sunlight of springtime. One of the most fantastic things about Hanamiyama Park is that the hill upon which the park is located is home to uncountable wildflowers. Originally a private garden used to cultivate flowers, it was ultimately opened to the general public in 1959 as its beauty gained renown. Since then, countless visitors have come to Hanamiyama Park each year, making it one of the best known tourist destinations in Tohoku. The popularity is such that it gave rise to the phrase, “The Peach Blossom Spring is found in Fukushima,” referring to the ancient Chinese fable describing an isolated utopia inhabited by a hermit where beautiful flowers bloom, pure water flows, and birds sing. It is said that the Peach Blossom Spring cannot be found if you seek it, but that it in fact exists within your own heart. Yet Hanamiyama Park in the springtime will present you with a fantastical vista as if the Peach Blossom Spring has been made real and materialized before your very eyes. The specific aspects of that vista will change depending on the precise timing of your visit. Unlike the traditional Japanese 'Hanami' practice of flower viewing which focuses exclusively on cherry blossoms, Hanamiyama Park features a procession of different blooming flowers covering the entire hill that lasts from March all the way through May. The view transforms from pale flowers in March, such as various shades of plum blossom, through pink flowers in April including yoshino and weeping cherry blossoms, to deep pink and red flowers in May, including double cherry blossoms and azaleas. Thus, the color of the flowers steadily deepens with the progression of the season weaving a beautiful gradation of hues. While the view appears more like an impressionist painting from afar, you will find yourself surrounded by a veritable explosion of flowers the moment you step into the park. Take in the ever-changing vista and the procession of flowers as you enjoy conversation with friends or a relaxing walk. There are a number of walking courses that take visitors around Hanamiyama Park. You will find everything from gently graded walking courses that can be enjoyed by wheelchair users to more challenging trekking courses for those with energy to burn. Let your heart dance and you will quickly find yourself at the end of a long walk much sooner than you expected. That will be a perfect time to enjoy a break of green tea and rice cakes at the nearby shops and stalls as you take in the outside views. Don’t forget to visit the local shops and stalls before you leave. Shops and stalls sell an array of farm produce such as apples, green onions, and spinach in addition to popular sweets and locally processed foods. Hanamiyama Park can become quite crowded during the peak season, but the mornings are relatively less crowded than other parts of the day. We recommend you come to enjoy the fresh morning air of the park and take some photographs of the beautiful scenery while you’re at it. You might also enjoy the luxury of eating a delicious breakfast here after building up your appetite by walking.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
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