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.

Attractions

Nakano Fudoson Temple
Historical Sites

Nakano Fudoson Temple

Nakano Fudoson is a Zen Buddhist temple built around a waterfall. Nakano Fudoson Temple is dedicated to the Buddhist deity Acala (Fudo in Japanese), one of the Buddhist ‘Kings of Knowledge’. Three forms of this deity can be praised at different areas within this temple. Those hoping to ward off evil & bad luck can worship the deity at the main temple. Those looking to protect their eyesight in the coming year can pray at the Kitoden. Those wanting to worship the Fudo deity even more intimately can do so at the Okunoin cave complex, which contains 36 Buddhist statues.

Futamata Onsen
Hot Springs

Futamata Onsen

Outdoor hot spring baths line the sides of the valley at the foot of Mt. Futamata. The open-air baths of Futamata Onsen’s ryokan are situated in a very peaceful location, surrounded by ancient forests full of beech trees – all at an altitude of 800 m. Futamata Onsen’s hot spring baths have been used for about 1200 years, and are particularly revered for the hot spring water’s healing properties. What’s more, being close to Ouch-juku, Futamata Onsen is conveniently located for a visit during your trip to Fukushima.

Activities

Mt. Azuma-Kofuji
Outdoor Activities

Mt. Azuma-Kofuji

Every year in spring, as the snow melts away it leaves behind the shape of a giant white rabbit on the side of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji. This snow-made rabbit is called the “seeding rabbit” and it signals to the people of Fukushima that the farming season has come. No matter when you decide to visit Mt. Azuma-Kofuji, you can always experience the beauty of this awe-inspiring natural landscape. Mt. Azuma-Kofuji is actually an active volcano. It has an appealing symmetry to it, and a soft conical shape; it is because of these classic features that it was named Kofuji, or "little Fuji", after the iconic Japanese mountain. Thanks to the volcanic ground, the area has given birth to many nearby onsen areas which are perfect for relaxing, such as Tsuchiyu Onsen and Takayu Onsen. It’s also a great destination for those who decide to drive through the area as the Bandai-Azuma Skyline happens to pass just below the crater of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji. It’s just a short hike up to the crater and there are plenty of other great trails in the area. Near the crater, along the roadway, stands Jododaira Visitor Center, which offers visitors a place to park, rest up, get a snack, and maybe even buy some souvenirs. It’s the perfect spot to take a break and explore one of the many short hiking routes to stretch out your muscles after a long car ride. Circle the crater of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji on a relaxed 40-minute walk and—if you’re lucky—enjoy gorgeous views of Fukushima City, Mt. Bandai, and the Urabandai area. But do watch your step as the ground can be uneven and even slippery on grey days. The mountain is open from spring to autumn every year.

Adatara Kogen Ski Resort
Outdoor Activities

Adatara Kogen Ski Resort

The Adatara Kogen Ski Resort is located about halfway up the eastern side of Mt. Adatara, one of the One Hundred Famous Mountains of Japan. Powder-snowed slopes extending from an altitude of 950 meters to 1,350 meters offer superb enjoyment to everyone from beginners to advanced skiers. The well-equipped facilities include a high-speed 6-passenger gondola, a quad chairlift, three T-bar lifts, a ski center, and three restaurants. In addition, a 1,000 meter-long slope perfect for families has opened recently and there is also a snowboarding park (one-make jump, rails and boxes) as well as a newly-opened nursery room inside the restaurant Rendezvous. The open-air hot spring bath at the Fujikyu Hotel, located just in front of the ski slopes and with water piped directly from the hot spring source, will refresh you after skiing.  

Hashimoto Buddhist Sculpture Shop
Arts & Crafts

Hashimoto Buddhist Sculpture Shop

The Hashimoto Butsugu-Chokoku Ten (Hashimoto Buddhist Sculpture Shop) has a long history of over 160 years. Here visitors can try the truly unique experience of customizing their own lacquered chopsticks. Under careful instruction, you’ll be able to go home with your very own pair of one-of-a-kind chopsticks. The establishment sells many fine lacquerware products, from kitchen utensils and crockery to masks for use as decoration or at festivals. The chopstick-customizing workshop is available for 2,500 yen per person and is very popular for groups and couples. Even children (ages 12 and up) are able to do it with the supervision of adults and the instruction of the teacher. There are also pamphlets available in English for non-Japanese speakers. The workshop is easy to understand as the instructor guides you through the various steps until you are finally able to see the revealed layers of lacquer color on your own chopsticks. The chopstick experience workshop requires a reservation made at least five days in advance. While you are at the Hashimoto Buddhist Sculpture Shop, you will be guided through the six steps of making your own lacquered chopsticks. It will be an exciting experience as you begin with red or black chopsticks and slowly file down the layers of lacquer until the patterns are revealed. Traditionally, red chopsticks are for women and black are for men. Whichever color you choose though, these are certain to be your favorite set of chopsticks full of memories.  

Where to stay

Irori no Yado Ashina
Ryokan

Eirakukan

At Eirakukan, modern amenities meet traditional Japanese aesthetics. With comfortable, western-style mattresses, you can enjoy the feeling of staying in a tatami mat room with maximum comfort. Discover the charms of Japanese hospitality, Omotenashi, and experience a feast of Japanese delicacies presented beautifully from the comfort of your own room! It’s like room service, but better. Want to enjoy onsen but not a fan of taking a bath with strangers? Here you can enjoy your very own private, outdoor onsen in your hotel room. You can look out at the view of the mountains while you soak in the constantly flowing natural, mineral-rich, hot spring water.

Posts about Central Area

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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)
  7. 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)
  8. 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)
  9. 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 TIP During 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 The 10-minute journey on the Mt. Adatara Rope-way is incredibly scenic, regardless of the time of year. Price: 1,050 yen one-way. 1,750 yen return.* Opening hours: The rope-way tends to be open from late April to early November. Please make sure to make a note of the last return rope-way trip when you visit, to make sure you don't get stranded at the viewpoint! *Correct as of June 2020 When you get off the rope-way, it is a short walk to Yakushi Dake Peak, which is a very popular photo spot. Many people come here just to take photos, then go back down the rope-way and go have their lunch or dip in an onsen! I’ve done this before actually, but this time we wanted to do the full basic hike. We happened to plan our trip to Mt Adatara on a very, very cloudy day – which was unfortunate! But you can tell just how bright the colours of the leaves on the mountain were from the photo below. MISTY HIKE TO THE TOP OF MT. ADATARA It turns out I didn’t need to worry about getting lost – the route to the top was well signposted – albeit just in Japanese. TRAVEL TIP Make sure you know the kanji words for the places you want to go before you set off on your hike! 安達太良山頂 – Peak of Mt. Adatara (adatara sancho), 奥岳 – Oku Dake (where the hike begins) I was pretty disappointed that, despite being able to see the leaves from the bottom of the rope-way, after departing from the Yakushi Dake view spot, the mist got more and more intense. Check out the amazing views I got from the peak of the mountain! AUTUMN COLOURS SHINING THROUGH Luckily, the weather began to take a turn for the better on the way to our next destination – Kurogane-goya Mountain Lodge. Going from being able to see nothing but white, to being surrounded by colour was a very odd experience! It was a little frustrating, as I realized I could have been seeing amazing sights for the last hour. However, I was so happy to get to enjoy the fantastic views that I soon forgot about my woes. Soon we were able to see our lunch stop, the mountain lodge, off in the distance. It’s the lone building in the photo below. LUNCH AT KUROGANE-GOYA Kurogane-goya Mountain Lodge acts as a rest stop for hikers passing through, as well as being a place to stay the night for those going on longer hikes. The inside decor of the Kurogane-goya Mountain Lodge is nearly completely made of wood. The vintage style lamps and wood stove burner give it a very homey and welcoming feel. I would love to stay here in winter, all warm and comfortable by the fire, despite the heavy snow outside. One thing that is quite well-known about Kurogane-goya is the delicious curry they serve to customers who stay overnight! Even though we didn’t stay overnight on this occasion, we got to sample the curry since we were visiting for a photo shoot. It did not disappoint! There is also a public hot spring facility built into the lodge, complete with amazing, cloudy water straight from a nearby source. I cannot describe how great it feels to get in a hot onsen after hiking for an hour or so. I only had time for a 10-minute dip, but even that was enough to make my body feel physically refreshed. You can use the onsen even if you aren’t spending the night at the lodge. Just remember to bring a towel and prepare to share your bath with other weary hikers! We were blessed with better weather for our hike on the way back from Kurogane-goya Mountain Lodge. The path back to Oku Dake from Kurogane-goya is lined by tall trees for most of the hike, unlike the route to the top of Mt. Adatara which (is supposed to have) panoramic views! On the way down, I spotted a pipe from where you can drink fresh water from the mountain. They even provide you with what looks like a tiny saucepan! As we got closer to the end of our hike, one of my colleagues showed me a few photos he had taken the week before when he went hiking here… I was gutted that the weather hadn’t been better on the day of my visit! OKUDAKE ONSEN Back at Okudake, from where the hike started, we decided to check out the onsen before heading back to the office. This onsen is called Okudake no Yu. The water is not as cloudy as at Kurogane-goya, and the temperature is a bit cooler, but the water still felt amazing. The outside baths also look like infinity pools! More information here! (Japanese) I definitely recommend visitors to stop by at one of these onsen and have a rest before returning home after their hikes – it is an amazing feeling! HIKING ROUTE Here is a little illustration of the route that we hiked. I hope that it is helpful.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  10. 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. The temperature inside the cave stays consistently around 15 degrees Celsius, meaning that it stays cool during the summer, and mild in winter – a welcome change for either season! SO WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A DAY TRIP TO ABUKUMA CAVE? 1.) TRY AND SPOT ALL THE DIFFERENT SHAPE ROCKS The cave is filled with uniquely-shaped limestone formations – many of which look strikingly similar to objects in the natural world. These formations have been given names according to their shapes. For this reason, the cave is home to rocks named Dragon Palace, Mushroom Rock & Christmas Tree. The English-language leaflet available for visitors details the locations of each of these rocks. Can you spot them all? How about guessing what they are supposed to be without looking at the English titles? 2. TRY OUT THE EXPLORATION COURSE The 40 minute Abukuma Cave main course can easily be completed by visitors regardless of fitness level. For those wanting to add a bit of adventure to their visit, for an additional 200 yen, you can go on an additional 120 m-long Exploration Course (which takes around 5 minutes). The Exploration Course involves quite a bit of crouching, bending and crawling in places, so please consider this before trying it out! Visitors on the Exploration Course rejoin back with other visitors at Takine Palace, which is the central area and highlight of the cave; a photo opportunity not to be missed. 3.) TRY TO HEAR ALL THE RAINDROPS From any one place, if you listen very carefully, you can hear the sound of every water droplet falling throughout the cave. It’s pretty spectacular. That being said, quite a lot of water drops from the ceiling, so I would recommend bringing a cap with you! See our page on the Abukuma Cave for more information about how to visit. 4. CHECK OUT THE OTHER CAVES The nearby Irimizu Shonyudo cave network, designated as a National Natural Treasure, is also worth visiting. The caves are split into three sections, A, B & C. Visitors can explore A & B by themselves, but those exploring C – the deepest cave – must be accompanied by a guide. Even the B course delves deep enough in the mountain for visitors to have to trudge through knee-deep water for quite a lot of it, their path lit only by the light of their torch and candles – not for the light-hearted or claustrophobic!! If you’re lucky, you might even meet some bats! The water is around 10 degrees and you can get pretty cold afterwards, especially in autumn / winter, so visitors are recommended to go during summer. Irimizu Caves also have height / weight restrictions for visitors. Check their website for information about prices and opening hours. 5. DRINK SOME WINE MATURED IN THE CAVE Wine 100% made from grapes grown in Takine area of Tamura City is left to age in the Abukuma Cave. This wine is called Chozo Wine (貯蔵ワイン[北醇]). This unique ageing environment gives the wine a very distinctive taste. You can buy this wine from the Abukuma Cave giftshop. There are also lots of other local products available to buy in store, such as perilla (egoma エゴマ in Japanese) paste – a speciality of Funehiki area of Tamura City. You can even buy a cute cuddly toy of one of Tamura City’s – Orion chan. 6. LAVENDER FIELDS & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS From mid-June to early-July, the lavender that coats the hillside outside Abukuma Cave comes into full bloom, and is really a spectacular sight to behold. From Dec- March, the caves are decorated with seasonal light displays (known as ‘illuminations’ in Japan). There’s nothing much more Christmassy than seeing fairy lights on a limestone shaped like a Christmas tree! 7. VISIT THE OBSERVATORY The adorably named Star Village Observatory, very close by to Abukuma Cave, contains both an observatory section and a planetarium. The observatory is open late every Saturday night for those wanting to do some real star-gazing after getting inspired by the daily telescope tours. Check Tamura City's website for information about prices and opening times. 8. RING THE LOVERS’ BELL FOR GOOD LUCK IN LOVE! Perfect for couples, especially those visiting during lavender season! Take part in the local tradition of ringing the red lover’s bell outside the entrance to Abukuma Cave entrance. 9. TRY OUT SOME INTERESTING PIZZAS Yorimichi Tokoro Farm Restaurant (農家レストラン寄り道処) is a family-run restaurant that opened 4 years ago. The restaurant building has been converted form a cow barn. Try a range of pizzas with unique flavours here. When I visited, I got to try flavours including natto kimchi, shiitake & konbu seaweed, and sweet potato & sweet bean paste. More standard flavours available as well! Take-out is also OK! 10. CHECK OUT SOME LOCAL SPOTS: There are so many great places to visit in Tamura City, but here are just a few of them… ONINGYO SAMA More information here OZAWA WEEPING SAKURA More information here TAKASHIBA RHODODENDRON Best seen from Mid-May to Early June See here for the location

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  11. 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)
  12. 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)
  13. 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. Tsuchiyu Onsen is a lovely place to visit for a day trip. Since there are lots of onsen that you can visit for the day, it is particularly nice to visit at this time of year, so that you can get yourself warmed up after exploring the town. So what can you do in Tsuchiyu Onsen? 1. STRIKE A POSE WITH A KOKESHI! Try and find the 3 large kokeshi doll sisters scattered around the town! The kokeshi in the photograph below is 2 metres in height and weighs 500 kilograms! Each kokeshi stands in a really scenic spot where you can enjoy beautiful views overlooking the charming onsen town. 2. PAY A VISIT TO THE 6 JIZO Start your walk around Tsuchiyu Onsen to the 6 Jizo. You might have seen similar groups of statues in other areas of Japan. These 6 Boddhisatva figures, known in Japanese as jizo, represent 6 roads in life (hell, hungry ghosts, animals & beasts, carnage & battle, man, heaven), and are thought to protect children and travellers from life’s hardships. After the start of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Buddhist statues and places of worship were destroyed in an attempt to centralize power and worship around Shintoism. These particular statues in particular were hidden during this period to avoid their destruction. They were rediscovered in 1971. The original statues have now been relocated, and replacement statues placed in their original spot. 3. TAKE SOME PHOTOS FROM TAKINOTSURI BRIDGE A little further from the 6 Jizo statues in Takinotsuri Bridge. The bridge is less than a 5 minute walk from the main street of Tsuchiyu Onsen town. This being said, standing on the top of the bridge, it is hard to believe that the town is close – you feel as if you’re in the middle of a forest! The views from the top of the bridge are very beautiful, and make the bridge well-worth visiting. 4. WARM UP AT TSUCHIYUKKO FOOT-BATH The foot-bath that you can see from the top of Takinotsuri Bridge is Tsuchiyukko foot-bath. Surrounded by nature and the calming sound of the waterfall, it is a great place to relax, regardless of the time of year – although I personally love going in the winter to warm up. Tip: Remember to bring towels with you so you can dry your feet afterwards! 5. LEARN ABOUT TSUCHIYU’S HISTORY AT SHOTOKU TAISHI-DO Shotoku Taishi-do’s history stretches back to the 7th century, when a man named Hatanokawa Katsu was given the task of visiting eastern Japan in order to pray for teh recovery of the Crown Prince Shotoku – who had taken ill – and to carry out Buddhist missionary work. It was during his time in Fukushima that Hatanokawa also became ill. His illness did not respond to treatment he was given by doctors at the time. He had basically all but given up, but one day, upon fall asleep in bed, and had an intense dream during which he was informed to dig up a bath in the area, which had healing, spiritual waters that would heal him. Upon awakening, he dug up a pool of onsen water, bathed and was completely cured of his illness. Believing this to be a sign, he created the Buddhist temple, which he dedicated to Crown Prince (Taishi) Shotoku. This area became known as Tsukiyu (meaning lunging water) from that date, and the name gradually morphed into Tsuchiyu over the centuries. The Shotoku Taishi-do is now visited to pray to a guardian deity, who is thought to have influence over safe childbirth, and the good education for children. The temple is complete with English-language information boards. The current body of the temple was rebuilt in 1726. Inside the temple grounds stands the Yakushi kokeshi do – a unique temple which is dedicated to the god of protecting onsen (pretty standard) and also kokeshi-making technology (very unique). It is a symbol of technological advances and mental coordination. Tip: A kokeshi festival is held on the first Sunday, and 3rd Saturday of April every year at Yakushi Kokeshi-do. 6. SPOT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KOKESHI AT TSUCHIYU DENSHOKAN Visit the Denshokan to view a huge selection of kokeshi dolls, and see to how the Tsuchiyu style has changed over the years, as well as learning about the different styles of the various Kijiya (woodworkers) who have made them for generations. Tsuchiyu Kokeshi have a number of unique features. Their faces feature a little black fringe covering their forehead, a long, thin nose, and rounded eyes. Their slender body is usually striped and is painted by gently running a brush over the wood while it is spinning the kokeshi on a potter’s wheel. Tsuchiyu Kokeshi also have black hair on the crown of their heads. I personally think that their long noses are their most easily-identifiable feature! If you have extra time, have a wander around the town and visit some of the workshops of the town’s kijiya. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see them in action! 7. SAMPLE TSUCHIYU’S OTHER FOOTBATHS After wandering a little further, it’s the perfect time to take another dip in a footbath to warm up before moving on to lunch, such as Tsuki no Yubuje (月のゆぶじぇ)and Omoi no Yu (偲いの湯). 8. CHOW DOWN ON A TASTY LUNCH There are a couple of great places to eat lunch in Tsuchiyu Onsen. Check out Tsuchiyu Onsen Tourism Association's list of places to eat here. 9. ONSEN TIME! There’s nothing better after lunch than going to an onsen – and you really are spoiled for choice in Tsuchiyu. There are over 10 ryokan, many of which extend the offer of bathing in their on-site onsen to visitors who are not staying overnight. The 10 varieties of hot spring water which flow from the source at Tsuchiyu Onsen will enable you to find a bath that is perfect for you! Outside of the main onsen town, there are also other ryokan nearby, such as Noji Onsen & Shinnoji Onsen, which can be reached by bus. I recommend any of the onsen for visiting in the winter, but especially if they have rotenburo (outside, open-air baths). Being able to bathe in an onsen outside whilst surrounded by snow is truly an incredible experience and one of the really special things about visiting Japan. See Tsuchiyu Onsen Tourism Association's English homepage for more information.

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

    Getting To Iizaka Onsen By Train

    Getting to Iizaka Onsen from Fukushima Station via public transport can seem a little confusing the first time. This is because the train line that goes to Iizaka Onsen (the Fukushima Transportation Line) is located in a different building from the main Tohoku line and Shinkansen Line trains. Follow these steps to get to Iizaka Onsen Station. After arriving at Fukushima Station, follow signs for the East Exit (東口).   Exit the station building via the East Exit. Turn left and walking adjacent to the station building. The entrance to the Fukushima Transportation Iizaka Line (福島交通飯坂線) will be on your left. Buy a ticket at the ticket machine (you can’t use Suica, Passmo etc) Show the station guard your ticket and wait on the platform. Make sure to get the train from the right-hand (most East) platform. The left-hand platform is a different train line. Iizaka Onsen Station is the final stop. Here is a full list of stops on the Iizaka Line. Main stations are highlighted in bold. Fukushima Station 福島駅 Soneda Station 曾根田駅 Bijutsu-Toshokan-mae Station 美術館図書館前駅 Iwashiro Shimizu Station 岩代清水駅 Izumi Station 泉駅 Kami-Matsukawa Station 上松川駅 Sasaya Station 笹谷駅 Sakuramizu Station 桜水駅 Hirano Station 平野駅 Ioji-mae Station 医王寺前駅 Hanamizu-zaka Station 花水坂駅 Iizaka Onsen Station 飯坂温泉駅

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  15. 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)
  16. 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)
  17. 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)
  18. Useful Information

    Reaching Miharu Takizakura

    KEY INFORMATION VISITING HOURS Visiting 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 TAKIZAKURA LOCAL BUS The 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 BUS A 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 STATION The 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 TAXI Taxis 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. CAR The 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*42 WALKING FROM THE BUS STOP AND CAR PARK The 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)
  19. 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)
  20. 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)
  21. 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)
  22. 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)
  23. 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 entirely unique one-off experiences. The 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 word, 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 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 makes Ebisu Circuit so special is the fact that drivers can engage in communication that transcends language barriers. Ebisu 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. 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 in order to give themselves enough time to study drifting techniques more thoroughly. The 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 (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 this helps to make drifting a magical experience and 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?

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  24. 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. Countless 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 that 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 become bathed in lights. Thus both the sight of the tree in day time 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 itself located closeby from 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.

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
  25. 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)
Top