Coastal Area
Shioyazaki Lighthouse

Coastal Area

The Hama-dori (coastal) area comprises the eastern third of Fukushima Prefecture, sitting along the coastline with the Pacific Ocean. Historically, it served as a major coastal route of travel through ancient Japan. To the south, the Iwaki area is famous for its hot springs, as well as designated a National Treasure, Shiramizu Amidado Temple.

The wider region continues to enjoy a resurgence, thanks to reconstruction and recovery efforts following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which affected several parts of this eastern region.

Featured Spots

Shioyazaki Lighthouse
Nature & Scenery

Shioyazaki Lighthouse

Shioyazaki Lighthouse (塩屋崎灯台) stands on the Usuiso Coast of Iwaki City in eastern Fukushima. Now a historical landmark, the lighthouse was first erected in 1899. Despite having sustained considerable damage from natural disasters over the years, including the 2011 tsunami, the lighthouse has been rebuilt and restored and now enjoys great popularity. Many visitors climb to the top to enjoy its stunning views of the ocean.It was counted among the 50 best lighthouses in Japan. Consider visiting during sunset: seeing the ocean bathed in the beautiful afternoon light is the perfect way to end the day.

Bentenjima
History & Culture

Bentenjima

In a crescent shaped cove separated from the mainland on the small island known as Bentenjima Island, you will find the mysterious Bentenjima Shrine. The vermillion painted tori gate stands out against the jagged stone and the powerful waves. It is believed that the shrine was land based until an earthquake that occurred in 1410 resulted in the formation of this jagged rock island. The construction date of the original shrine is unknown. The island is also known as Wanigafuchi because, according to legend, a creature known as a “wanizame” (crocodile shark) lived on the island. Half crocodile, half shark, this creature can be seen in many old Japanese paintings. The creature may have been believed to cause the swirling water and violent waves that crashed against the rocks, sometimes resulting in people getting swept into the water. Another legend suggests that the wanizame once kidnapped a young woman from Iwaki who had wandered out to explore the island.This coast is lined with small round pebbles that shine when the water hits them. However, do not take any of these pebbles home, legend says that anyone who takes pebbles home from this coast will suffer from eye disease. This area was once a very popular destination for tourists and I highly recommend checking out the photos on the Iwaki city website linked below. It is all in Japanese, but you can read it with the google translate extension on google chrome browsers.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum
Disaster Recovery & Revitalization

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum (東日本大震災・原子力災害伝承館, often referred to in Japanese only as ‘Denshokan’ [伝承館]) is located in Futaba town, in the coastal area of Fukushima prefecture.Through exhibitions, storytelling, research and interactive displays, visitors can learn about this area before, during and after the disaster, deepen their understanding of the revitalization of Fukushima and the decommissioning of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, as well as listen to testimonies of residents.This museum shows how Fukushima has dealt with a complex and unprecedented disaster and its ongoing consequences, and communicates lessons for the future on the importance of disaster prevention and mitigation.The museum opened in September 2020 and has about 200 items related to the The Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster on permanent exhibition.Exhibits include explanations in both English and Japanese.Located near the museum is the Futaba Business Incubation and Community Center.

Shiramizu Amidado Temple
History & Culture

Shiramizu Amidado Temple

Shiramizu Amidado Temple (Amitabha Hall) was constructed in 1160 by Princess Tokuhime of the Oushu Fujiwara clan, which built the "golden culture" in Oushu (the present Tohoku Region). It is the only building in Fukushima Prefecture that has been designated as a national treasure. Inside the hall stands a wooden statue of Amida Nyorai as well as a number of other Buddhist statues such as Kannon Bosatsu, Seishi Bosatsu, Jikoku Tenno, and Tamon Tenno.The garden, called Jodo Teien (Jodo, or "the pure land", is the Buddhist paradise) is a realm of natural beauty in every season. The scenery is especially breathtaking in summer when the lotus flowers are in bloom, prompting one famous writer to liken the garden to a mythical paradise.

Attractions

Full House Book Cafe
Gourmet & Shopping

Full House Book Cafe

Full House is a stylish bookstore and cafe run by the critically-acclaimed novelist Yu Miri. It is located near the JR Odaka Station in Minamisoma City, in the coastal area of Fukushima prefecture.Full House is located on the ground floor of a refurbished house. The interior is wooden and elegant, and there is a selection of books in Japanese chosen by the author. The cafe serves meals like pasta and doria, as well as desserts and drinks with seasonal options.Yu Miri is famously known for her novel Tokyo Ueno Station (translated into English by Morgan Giles), which won the U.S. National Book Award in the Translated Literature category in 2019.Following 3.11, Ms. Miri has worked extensively to communicate the stories of residents of evacuated towns and villages in Fukushima’s coastal area, and has been living in Minamisoma City since 2015.When Ms. Miri moved to Minamisoma, there were no other bookstores open in the area —the few bookstores that had been there before 3.11 had closed following the evacuation—, so she decided to open her own in 2018, and named it ‘Full House’ after one of her novels.But something was missing. She quickly realized that people who traveled all the way to visit the store wanted to sit down with a warm drink, and there weren’t many restaurants or cafes nearby yet, so she decided to turn Full House into a book cafe the following year.Today, Full House is a lively and cozy hub where locals and visitors can bond over their love of coffee and literature.

Hattachi-Yakushi Temple
History & Culture

Hattachi-Yakushi Temple

In the year 806, the holy priest Tokuichi constructed Hattachi-Yakushi Temple as a place of worship for the Buddhist deity who has the ability to ensure the safe voyage of seafarers. The temple grounds are extremely beautiful in spring when the hydrangeas bloom, earning the temple the local nickname ‘Hydrangea Temple’. In front of Hattachi-Yakushi Temple is Bentenjima Island and Shrine, and the Hattachi Coastline, which connects the mainland with the island. The Hattachi Coast is covered in unique gravel, which has traditionally been thought to have healing properties. However, removing a stone and bringing it home can have the opposite effect.

Where to stay

Irori no Yado Ashina
Ryokan

Ujo no Yado Shintsuta

Ujo no Yado Shintsuta is a Japanese-style ryokan located in the Iwaki Yumoto Onsen hot spring town. Shintsuta’s open-air bath surrounded by a bamboo grove in the inner garden has a rich atmosphere and offers the utmost enjoyment of onsen and the four seasons. Japanese-style course menus are provided featuring lots of seafood fresh from Onahama Port, to ensure guests can enjoy an abundance of seasonal fruits of the sea. The onsen of Iwaki Yumoto are a type of sulfur spring rare in Japan, which have gained fame for their beautifying properties. The various baths have different nicknames that reflect their properties, such as ‘Bijin no Yu’ (hot spring for beauties: good for the skin), ‘Shinzo no Yu’ (hot spring for the heart: good for lowering blood pressure, arterial stiffening, and high blood pressure), and ‘Atsu no Yu’ (Thermal hot spring: good for keeping warm). Guests can enjoy taking a dip in an open-air bath in a Japanese style garden at Shintsuta. Close to the inn are such famous sightseeing spots as Spa Resort Hawaiians, which is also called ‘the Hawaii of the Tohoku Region,’ and Shiramizu Amidado, a temple designated as a national treasure, which is representative of the architectural style of the late Heian Period.

Irori no Yado Ashina
Hotels

Spa Resort Hawaiians

Iwaki Yumoto Onsen is the source spring for Spa Resort Hawaiians, and together with Dogo and Arima hot springs, has a long history as one of the three major Japanese hot springs. You can enjoy five kinds of spa theme parks, including Water Park, Spring Park, Spa Garden PARO, Vir Port, and the largest open-air bath in the world, Edo Jowa Yoichi. These 5 parks are fed with 3 tons of natural hot spring water per minute. Spa Resort Hawaiians gives center stage to daily Polynesia-inspired dance shows that present dances from the South Pacific.

Irori no Yado Ashina
Hotels

Hotel Palmspring

Hotel Palmspring is a resort hotel that is perfect for both business and leisure. A convenient base for sightseeing in Iwaki, the hotel has excellent access to Spa Resort Hawaiians (5 min by car or taxi) and Aquamarine Fukushima (20 min drive). Sourced a natural hot spring, the cypress wood baths of Hotel Palmspring have the atmosphere of authentic Japanese hot springs. The spring water, supplied directly and abundantly from the source, is high-quality sulfur water. Hotel meals are comprised of dishes using many seasonal ingredients and Hotel Palmspring's head chef has been ranked No. 1 in the Tohoku Region according to reviews on Japanese travel information websites. The hotel is popular with families, couples, and business people alike, as a place where guests can refresh both their bodies and their minds.

Posts about Coastal Area

  1. Destination Spotlight

    Fukushima’s ‘Miracle’: A Visitor’s Guide to Ukedo Elementary School

    Step inside Ukedo Elementary School, and you’ll find dark walls, hanging cables, and rubble scattered across cracked floors. Yet, many call this place miraculous. While the building itself reflects the painful story of a disaster, it also stands as an enduring symbol of hope and unity.After a tsunami warning on March 11, 2011, teachers and principals at the Ukedo Elementary School, located 300 meters from the ocean in the coastal area of Fukushima, swiftly evacuated all students before the towering waves engulfed the area. All lives were saved. The school building sustained great damage, but it did not collapse. In the following years, residents asked for the building to be preserved as a testimony of the destructive force of the 2011 tsunami.Ukedo: A Fishing Area With Close Ties to the SeaUkedo Elementary School is located in Namie, a town in the Northern coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture. Today, the school is surrounded by flat fields and construction sites, but not long ago the area was a bubbly district made up of houses by the ocean where families enjoyed sea festivals, sailing, and going to the beach in the warmer months.The 2011 Earthquake and TsunamiStudents at Ukedo Elementary School were attending classes as usual when the earthquake hit on March 11, 2011. A few minutes later, a tsunami warning was issued for the area. The teachers and principals promptly urged everyone to evacuate to Mt. Ohira, located approx. 1.5 km away.A Hasty but Successful EvacuationStudents had no time to take their belongings, or even put on their coats. The cold wind blew strongly as they escaped inland, guided by their teachers.Once they reached the foot of the mountain, one of the students led the group, and everyone climbed to the other side toward safety. They reached a main road, where a truck driver picked them up and took them to an evacuation center.Upon arrival at the center, students and teachers could ascertain that no one was missing or had been left behind. Even though everyone from the school survived, the tragedy brought by the triple disaster changed their lives forever.The Area’s Aftermath & ReconstructionIn Ukedo, the tsunami resulted in the loss of over 120 lives, and many people went missing. A total of 402 houses in the district were destroyed. People’s hometown as they knew it was lost forever.To make matters worse, the area had to be evacuated due to the nuclear accident at the nearby TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. This meant that search parties couldn’t enter for weeks; and residents, who initially thought the evacuation would only last a few days, could not fully return home for several years.Once rescue and recovery personnel were allowed back into the area, many houses and buildings started being demolished as part of the decontamination efforts. Devoid of vitality, the wrecked town looked nothing like the cheerful locality it had been only months ago. For about six years, residents had to be granted permission to return, and could only do so for a few hours at a time due to radiation concerns. Knowing that some returning residents may also visit the school on their way to or from their houses, rescue personnel left encouraging messages and wishes for the area’s recovery on the school blackboards. Those who stopped by the school, in turn, replied. Soon, the blackboard was filled with cute drawings and kind interactions between both strangers and lifelong friends. The blackboard and the messages were preserved and are on display at the school today.When the evacuation order for the Ukedo area was lifted in 2017, the Ukedo Elementary School building was one of the few left standing, although it was utterly devastated. With time, more and more people expressed their wish to make the school building a memorial site to pass on the lessons of the tsunami, honor the Ukedo community, and let visitors see firsthand how disaster preparedness can save lives.In October 2021, the school opened for visitors and has since then become one of the flagship facilities where visitors can learn about Fukushima’s recent history and revitalization.After the disaster, a sakura tree began inexplicably growing from the asphalt by one of the old school entrances. The tree blooms beautifully each spring.Flow of the visitYou will begin your visit on the ground floor, with an exhibition showing life in Ukedo before the disaster.Next, you will enter the main school building, where you will grasp the scope of the destruction of the tsunami. You will see what the classrooms, staff rooms, kitchen, dining room, and school gymnasium look like now, alongside photographs showing what they used to look like.After walking in and around the first floor, you will head to the second floor, where you will learn more about the impact of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear accident. There is information about the area, a model of the town, as well as images of the blackboard with support messages.Advice for Visitors Scan the QR code at the entrance to access the English translation of the explanation panels. As you walk inside the school, look for the corresponding number for each panel on the website to read the explanations in English.   When looking at the building from the outside, notice the blue panels showing the height of the tsunami.   Because this area has undergone extensive reconstruction, sometimes car navigation systems cannot accurately guide you to the school. If you notice your car GPS trying to take you down a road that is no longer there, we recommend using your phone navigation system instead, which might be more updated.   There is a toilet and a vending machine at the site, but no convenience stores, supermarkets, or restaurants are nearby, so consider eating or buying snacks before your visit.   After visiting the school, we recommend walking to the Ukedo Port to see what the area looks like today.AccessBy Train, Bus & Bicycle From the JR Futaba Station (JR Joban Line), take the shuttle bus from Futaba Station to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum. Take one of the free rental bicycles at the museum and ride to Ukedo.By Car Approx 1 h 45 min from JR Koriyama Station [郡山駅] via National Road 288. Approx 1 h 29 min from Sendai Station [仙台] via the Joban Expressway. There is a parking lot available at the site.By Train & TaxiAbout 15 min. by taxi from Namie Station [浪江駅] (JR Joban Line). Please note, though, that there are no taxis at the station, so please make your travel arrangements in advance.Useful LinksThe Remains of Ukedo Elementary School in Namie TownFukushima’s Revitalization Educational One-Day TripThe Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial MuseumNamie Roadside Station

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

    Learn More About Fukushima as Seen in Japan’s New Blockbuster Film ‘Suzume’

    Suzume (original title in Japanese: すずめの戸締り, Suzume no Tojimari) is an animated movie and the latest blockbuster from Japanese director Makoto Shinkai and production company CoMix Wave, which also produced hit films like Weathering with You (天気の子) and Your Name (君の名は).The film tells the story of a highschooler and a young man on a mission to close doors throughout Japan to prevent natural disasters. The film is already a box office success both domestically and abroad after only a few months of screening.Suzume Official YouTube Trailer (Toho Movie Channel, 東宝MOVIEチャネル)Many areas that have been hit by disasters in the country are shown in the movie, including the Tohoku area in Northern Japan, which suffered greatly from the devastating effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident in 2011.At one point in the film, the characters pass through an area with “Difficult-to-return” signs reminiscent of those that had to be placed in areas where evacuation orders were enforced due to radiation in Fukushima.Although some remain today, evacuation orders have been lifted in many of the areas that were once labeled “difficult-to-return zones'' (only approx. 2.3% of Fukushima Prefecture’s territory is under evacuation order now).The Remains of Ukedo Elementary School in Namie Town is a popular destination for visitors who want to learn more about the effect of the disaster in the coastal area of Fukushima.These past years have seen people come together to rebuild these areas, taking on the challenge of rekindling a community, honoring the history of towns and villages, as well as fighting the lingering stigma and misinformation surrounding Fukushima.As ‘Suzume’ sheds light on the importance of disaster preparedness and brings attention to the devastation brought by 3.11, many young people are drawn to learn more about what happened in Fukushima and how the prefecture has sought to recover. Commutan Fukushima (Communication Building of the Centre for Environmental Creation, Fukushima prefecture) in Miharu Town has a lot of information for visitors to learn about Fukushima's environmental recovery.Fukushima remains the only place in the world to have survived an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster, and by visiting Fukushima, particularly the coastal area, you can learn a lot about how disaster preparedness saves lives, see the recovery efforts for yourself, and get to know the stories behind those driving the prefecture's revitalization.If you would like to know more, please check model the model itinerary ‘Fukushima's Revitalization Educational One-Day Trip’.

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

    Modern Samurai Horsemanship in Minamisoma City

    Minamisoma city, located in Fukushima prefecture’s coastal area, is a fascinating place to discover the role that horses played in Japanese history, and to witness how a community deeply rooted in samurai heritage adapts centuries-old equine traditions to modern times. Copyright © Minamisoma City Horses have remained a usual sight in Minamisoma (南相馬), a small city in the Northeastern part of Fukushima prefecture, in spite of disappearing from most other areas in Japan following the country’s modernization. Walking through Minamisoma today, you might notice horses grazing in the fields, or hear a distant clopping of horse hoofs against the pavement. People in Minamisoma have lived alongside horses for centuries—this is a great city for visitors wanting to see a slice of modern-old Japan that remains largely unseen by mainstream tourism. A Glimpse into Minamisoma City’s History The area that we now call Minamisoma was once an important enclave for the Soma samurai clan, which ruled over the land from the Kamakura period of Japanese history (1185–⁠1333) until the 19th century. The Soma samurai did military drills with wild horses, a practice that continued for over a thousand years and evolved (adapted from its original form) into a festival that is still celebrated today and draws thousands of visitors each year, the Soma Nomaoi Festival. Following the end of samurai rule, Minamisoma specialized in the manufacture of silk and housed a military aviation school, which was destroyed during WWII. Even though industrialization brought about big changes, the bond between people and horses never fully went away from the hearts, minds and daily lives of people of the area we now call Minamisoma. The Impact of March 11 in Minamisoma Credit: Earthquake Memorial Museum (Tohoku Regional Development Bureau, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) 出典:東北地方整備局 The 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster deeply affected Minamisoma city. Many lives were lost and precious infrastructure was damaged. Radiation levels increased in Minamisoma immediately after the accident, but they have decreased since, and are now comparable to those in other cities in Japan. The city has seen thorough decontamination and reconstruction efforts during the past few years, and has now become a popular spot to relax and enjoy equine culture. Copyright © Minamisoma City Over 50,000 people live in Minamisoma City today, making it one of the main hubs in Fukushima’s coastal area. Odaka Ward in Minamisoma City 5 Ways To Experience Minamisoma’s Equestrian Tradition Once used for transportation, warfare, and food, horses were a common sight in feudal Japan but, with time, modern technologies largely displaced them. Minamisoma City is one of the rare places in Japan where people still hold horsemanship as an important value in daily life. Here are 5 ways to experience the equine values of Minamisoma in and around the city: Horseback riding along the coast As part of the horseback riding experience, visitors get to ride along the coast of Minamisoma City with an experienced guide (English-language support is available). This experience is available (and recommended!) even for beginner riders. You can find more information about how to book it here. Soma Nomaoi Festival If you think that horseback riding samurai were a thing of the past, you are yet to attend the Soma Nomaoi Festival. The festival, which has roots in the city’s samurai history, is held on July 29, 30 and 31 every year, and features parades, a capture the flag event, and more. Read a detailed account of the event here. Fireworks at the Soma Nomaoi Festival in Minamisoma City. Copyright © Minamisoma City Minamisoma City Museum Minamisoma is a fascinating city with deep-rooted traditions. The Minamisoma City Museum, which has explanations in English, is the perfect destination for lovers of history who would like to learn more about the area. Soma Nakamura Shrine The Soma Nakamura Shrine, located not in Minamisoma City but in neighboring Soma City, was designated as a national important cultural property in 1984, is a wooden shrine nested in a tall forest which has several statues and prayer boards inspired by horses. It is a peaceful place, perfect to relax and soak the fragrant pine atmosphere. Souvenir shopping at Sedette Kashima Sedette Kashima is a service area where you can enjoy a delicious meal and indulge in some souvenir shopping. What makes Sedette Kashima unique is its widespread horse imagery, and the many unique horse-themed souvenirs and local products for sale. Sedette Kashima seen from above. Copyright © Minamisoma City Getting to Minamisoma Minamisoma City is located in the Northeastern part of Fukushima prefecture. The city is easily reachable by car or by train. By Car:  From Fukushima (JR/Shinkansen) Sta. in Fukushima City: Approx. 1 hour 10 minutes. View Directions From Sendai (JR/Shinkansen) Sta. in Miyagi Prefecture: Approx 1 hour 10 minutes. View Directions From Tokyo: Approx. 3 hours 30 min. View Directions By Train: From Tokyo Station: Approx. 3 hours 30 min. by JR Hitachi 26 Limited Express Shinagawa to Haranomachi Sta. in Minamisoma City; or 3 hours 30 min. by shinkansen and JR train (shinkansen from Tokyo Sta. to Sendai Sta. and JR Joban line from Sendai Sta. to Haranomachi Sta.). You can find more information about access to Minamisoma here. If you’d like to know more about Minamisoma, please refer to the city’s English homepage. If you are visiting by train, we recommend renting a car at Haranomachi Sta. to get around the city, as many of the locations listed above are not easily accessed by public transportation.

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

    Following Fukushima’s Footpath in Katsurao Village

    Japan is blessed with plenty of green areas where clear rivers and pristine forests are everyday sights. Such is the case of Katsurao (葛尾村), a rural mountain village, located between Namie Town and Tamura City, in the coastal area of Fukushima prefecture.Traversed by gushing rivers and gentle slopes, this village was the location of a footpath event held on a breezy day in early February, 2023. I joined the event, along with +70 participants, and I’d like to share how it went! But first…What’s a footpath event, you may ask?As part of something called the ‘Reconstruction Exploration Project’, Fukushima prefecture is developing footpaths (hiking trails) in towns and villages that were severely affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in 2011. These trails are designed alongside residents, who include some of their favorite local spots that they’d like visitors to see.By following footpaths, visitors and locals can come together to experience firsthand the reconstruction and revitalization of Fukushima, as well as discover the beautiful sights that each area has to offer!Katsurao Village’s Evacuation & RevitalizationDue to the nuclear accident, Katsurao village had to be entirely evacuated in 2011. Five years later, following decontamination work, the evacuation order was lifted for most of its districts, and in 2022, the entire village saw the end of the restrictions.As of today, over four hundred residents live in Katsurao. There is a restaurant, a convenience store, a traditional Japanese-style inn and other services, although businesses in the village remain few and far between, with dense woodlands and wide roads dominating the landscape.Katsurao’s FootpathWe began our walk under the early afternoon sun, our boots crunching on the snow-covered roads. At one point, the slope became steep and slippery, but we persisted all the way up to a beautiful shrine, which was well worth the climb. Myoken ShrineMyoken shrine's (妙見神社) light wooden structure contrasts beautifully against the dark woodlands in the background.Some participants stopped to pray at the shrine, while others rested or had some water. There was also a picnic table nearby where participants could sit and catch a break while breathing in the cool mountain air.Among the participants were some local celebrities and influencers, as well as editors from travel magazines.Katsurao Village Reconstruction Exchange Center Azalea We descended the slope and after a bit of walking came across a big, modern building that, in spite of looking strikingly new, seemed to fit its surroundings perfectly.This, I learned, is Katsurao Village’s Reconstruction Exchange Center Azalea. And it looks as beautiful and cozy inside as it does from outside!Here, you will find a souvenir shop that sells local crafts and snacks, and a cafe, as well as a vending machine for… sheep meat! (Katsurao’s specialty).That day, they were having a big Valentine’s Day sale for knitwear made in Katsurao.Lunch Time!We finally returned to the starting point, the lobby of “Midori-no-Sato Seseragi-So” (みどりの里せせらぎ荘) a Japanese-style inn and onsen resort. We were welcomed back with a warm homemade curry prepared by local chefs using herbs from the area. Needless to say, it was delicious, and the perfect way to end the hike.Itadakimasu!Shimi-Chan: The Star of the VillageI must admit that at first I thought Katsurao village’s mascot, ‘Shimi-chan’, was modeled after a peach, but it turned out I was very mistaken! (To my defense, I live in Fukushima City, and peaches are kind of a big deal here).‘Shimi-chan’, which you’ll see all over Katsurao, both in crossings, as well as in souvenirs, is modeled after...Shimi-mochi!a.k.a., the area’s delicacy. Shimi-mochi, as the name indicates, is a kind of ‘mochi’ (Japanese rice cake), but it is unique both in flavor and in the way it is prepared.  First, the mochi is hung outdoors during the winter months, so that it freezes and dries up (‘shimi-mochi’ means ‘frozen mochi’ in Japanese). The mochi is then soaked in water so that they regain moisture. The water is then drained, and the mochi rice cakes are cooked in a pan. Shimi-mochi is usually served warm and topped with a sauce. This time, we got to try shimi-mochi with a sweet soy sauce which was absolutely delicious!The texture and flavor of the mochi was unlike any other I’ve tasted before. I’d recommend trying it yourself during your next visit to Katsurao village!Participants were given this towel. This deep green shade is dubbed ‘Katsurao green’, and it has an illustration of Akabeko (Fukushima prefecture’s folk red cow) drawn by ‘Meli et Malice’, a French illustrator based in Fukushima. I was thrilled that I got to keep it as a souvenir! If you’re interested in following this footpath, check out the following link where you can find more information.If you’re interested in knowing more about Fukushima’s footpath, check out this post about hiking in the Miyakoji area of Tamura City.<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d50643.46579429731!2d140.72563751329045!3d37.50280895868981!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x60208c815aeb546d%3A0x90a44d09df53b9a6!2sKatsurao%2C%20Futaba%20District%2C%20Fukushima!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sjp!4v1692338203672!5m2!1sen!2sjp" width="600" height="450" style="border:0;" allowfullscreen="" loading="lazy" referrerpolicy="no-referrer-when-downgrade"></iframe>

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

    Fukushima’s Soma Nomaoi Festival!

    November 2023 Update: The dates of the Soma Nomaoi Festival have been changed to Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of the last week of May from 2024 onwards.Soma Nomaoi Festival is a horse-centric samurai festival that dates back to over 1000 years ago!The festival honors and celebrates the tradition of raising horses for military strength and as a part of life for people in the area. Although the festival has changed over the years (for instance allowing women to participate and adding new events!), the original feeling of the festival is still strong and alive.The history and heart of the region shine through at this incredible Japanese festival that you won’t want to miss! Day one (Saturday): The Local Favorite DayI reached out to my friend, Satou Shouko, who is from Kashima-ku, an area that is a part of the region that was ruled by the Soma clan. She offered to take me and my coworker Rin around to see the events on Saturday. Ecstatic, we gathered our cameras (and a small gift for Satou-san of course) and headed off.Satou-san was incredibly kind and explained the events that we would be seeing that day. I was surprised to hear from her that Saturday is the favorite day for most locals, so much so that many will enjoy the festival on Saturday but skip out on Sundays celebrations! The Festival Begins!We watched as a screen showed live footage from around Soma clan. The events of the day are separate but occur simultaneously across the areas. So, depending on which town’s festivities you choose to see, you can witness a variety of events. 2022 was the first year that they were able to conduct a livestream of the event on this scale, and it was absolutely incredible. Once you finish reading, go check it out. Thanks to the livestream we got a close look at the home of the Supreme Commander where pre-departure ceremonies were taking place. The live feed showed us prayers and toasts at three shrines: Soma Nakamura Shrine, Soma Ota Shrine, and Soma Odaka Shrine. One toast I saw on screen was followed by a smashing of the glass sake cup, an action that is intended to bring good luck supposedly. The breaking of glass, shouting in tough-sounding samurai words, and the sounding of conch shell horns is an intimidating series of sounds to take in. How terrifying it must have been to face a samurai warrior on the battlefield! Soutaishou-omukae (Reception of the Supreme Commander)Warriors on horseback marching through the town and racing down narrow paths through the rice field travel back and forth, announcing updates to the leaders who are already seated, waiting to receive the Supreme Commander. This year, the Supreme Commander role was filled by the firstborn grandson of the reigning Supreme Commader! At 14 he has now reached the historical age of manhood, his debut at the festival was only days after his coming-of-age ceremony. Next year his grandfather will return to the position where he will stay until his son will permanently take over.While waiting, there are dance performances, conch shell blowing, and warriors on horseback rushing in to provide information.There was a short break in the action, and suddenly visitors were permitted to enter the square and mingle with the Samurai leaders, warriors, conch shell horn bearers, and more. Taking photos with them as they sat in character was so much fun. I turned to thank one of the leaders for the photo when he suddenly offered me some sake and a snack from his tray of traditional snacks (umeboshi and cucumbers!) which was a big surprise. It was so much fun to connect with such a high-ranking warrior and glimpse behind the character and see he is actually a really nice old man! When the break time ended, the tough shouting and samurai acting began again!Suddenly the conch shell horn bearers stood to attention and sounded their horns to announce the arrival of the Supreme Commander. Flanked by more tough-looking men on horses, the procession was impressive!More dancing, toasts, and speeches ensued! My favorite part? When they began to sing the ancient anthem of the Soma clan, the same song that their ancestors sang, the crowd joined in. It was absolutely magical to be in the midst of a community that retains such strong links to its history and culture.As the group began to prepare for their march through the streets, people rushed off to find the ideal place to view the parade. As the procession of samurais on horseback marched down the street. Gyouretsu (Samurai Procession)We rushed down the street to a little intersection in the road and waited with others to catch a glimpse of the parade.The parade here is a small version of the parade that happens on Sunday when all the districts of the Soma Clan join together in a massive procession of roughly 350 horses! (Not including the many more people who join the procession on foot.) The ornate decorations on the horses and the beauty of each set of armor are amazing to view up close. Various flags represent the family crests or different subgroups of the Soma clan and are carried proudly through the streets. Every once in a while you will notice the procession come to a halt, and the sounding of the conch shell horns as well as the occasional sound of a drum.The intricate historic style of the procession provides a stark contrast to the telephone lines and traffic lights that look so modern it feels almost alien. This parade really gives you a feeling of Japan’s wonderful way of preserving history so that ancient cultural traditions can exist among the modern culture, a perfect blend of the old and new. Shinki-soudatsusen (Flag Competition)After the parade, the horses are transported to a large open field on a hill overlooking the sea. In the field, samurai warriors sit with their families (who look strange in comparison in modern clothes) to enjoy a snack and drink. Watching moms pull out homemade rice balls (onigiri) and Fukushima peaches to feed to their little warriors was extremely cute. The horses were relaxing near their families, munching on some tall grasses.Once all of the horses and participants have arrived, the game can begin!The sounding of the conch shell horns is followed by a loud BANG as fireworks are launched into the sky and colorful flags fall slowly dancing through the sky. The explosions sound like what I imagine a battlefield may have sounded like. Some horses naturally got spooked, while other were braver, heeding the commands of the riders and rushing into the thick of battle to capture the quickly falling flag.In some cases, the spooked horses launched their riders into the air sending them tumbling across the grass. Those who were ejected from their seat seemed to be okay, however, I quickly became aware of the ambulance and health professionals who were standing by on site - just in case! What a relief.The joy on their faces as they successfully captured a flag was really beautiful, as the families of the riders cheered from the sidelines.The close & intimate setting of Saturday’s event was wonderful and there were a lot of opportunities to chat with people, take photos, and witness these incredible events up close. Sometimes too close! At one point I had to dash away from the sidelines as one nervous horse stomped a little too close. In a moment of panic, I dropped my GoPro camera a little too close, fortunately, it wasn’t stomped into oblivion! So please be cautious when experiencing the event up close on Saturday and be prepared to dash away with your equipment in case a nervous horse wanders into your personal space. Day two (Sunday): The Main EventDespite the heat and exhaustion of Saturday, I went to Sunday’s event as well! Unfortunately, Satou-san and Rin couldn’t join me, but I set out with some other friends to check it out.This is the day when all of the Soma clan gathers to compete against each other in large-scale versions of events that took place on Saturday! This event is more tourist-friendly with food stalls, and souvenirs stands. Plus, it is pretty easy to know where to go as all you need to do is follow the crowd!A huge parade marches through the streets, this year there were around 350 horses participating- and even more human participants of course! The parade ends at a large arena and amphitheater with many seats of horses gather at the end of the parade. Dance performances, a horse race, and a massive capture-the-flag event take place here and it is absolutely incredible.Flanking either side of the seating area are shaded horse stables where horses are brought to relax and wind down if they get too hot and stressed, or if they just need a rest. I was able to chat with the owners of the horses and find out a bit more about these sweet babies. One three-year-old horse I met was going to be in the racing event later, so it was a lot of fun to meet him and then later recognize him by his flag. Like cheering for a friend, I was so happy to see him win third place in his race. What a champion!Due to the large number of horses the falls were a bit more intense on this day creating an exciting atmosphere similar to a rodeo. Everyone on the edge of their seats to see what would happen! Shocked and amazement echoes across the audience, especially in one instance where a rider was tossed off his horse but he managed to hold onto the reigns and calm the horse down all on his own! Now that is some next level horse whispering.The area is so much bigger, some spooked horses would race by at jaw dropping speeds to the edges of the area or to the area where they knew they could get water and snacks while their rider frantically held on. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any injuries that were too bad, but there were definitely some limping samurai warriors by the end of the day! Day three: Nomakake (The Ancient Horse capturing ritual) I wasn’t able to make it to the third and final day of the festival but I imagine that it is smaller and more intimate like the first day.On this day the event takes place where people capture a wild horse without using any tools and then take the horse to the shrine as an offering. This event is the most ancient and traditional event of the festival, existing since ancient times.I hope that you will go experience this incredible festival for yourself!This was Reagan from the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism and Local Products Association, thank you for reading and joining along on this story. Please contact us if you want to visit or have any questions about the festival or visiting Fukushima.Want to experience a horseback ride through the region that was ruled by the mighty Soma Clan?Click here for tour information.

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

    Fishing at Aquamarine Fukushima

    I know what you’re thinking... Fishing?? At an aquarium?Well, this isn’t a typical aquarium.Aquamarine Fukushima is an Environmental Aquarium focused on research and providing educational information about sustainability and conservation.The aquarium is most well-known for its triangular tunnel that separates two large tanks that represent the part of the sea where two currents meet. The Oyashio current (home to a high degree of diversity and reef environments) and the Kuroshio current (home to fast-moving fish and wide open sea environments). This was my first time seeing large schools of fish moving together, and it was really mesmerizing!After getting hypnotized by the swirling school of fish, we headed over to the fishing pond to catch some lunch!At the fishing area, I was handed a rod and some bait. You pay (1000 yen) to use the rod, and then it is a small fee (100 yen) per fish you catch.The fish in the pond were really cute, so I was nervous about eating them. I love eating sushi but when confronted with a cute little fish swimming around, I start to think less with my stomach and more with my heart.I’ve never successfully caught a fish on my own, so I was shocked when I almost instantly felt a tug on the fishing pole. I pulled the rod up and suddenly there was a flopping fish in my hands!In the same way, I was able to quickly catch two more fish. So, one for me and each of my coworkers. You aren’t allowed to return any fish to the water, so be careful not to catch more fish than you can eat.Catching the fish here is pretty easy, so I think this is a great activity to try!Most of us have very little experience with fishing or hunting. When you source all of your food from the local grocery store, it can be hard to remember or come to terms with the fact that the meat we eat was once alive. Faced with a living fish, some visitors (mostly children) have broken the rules and released what they caught once no one was looking! However, rather than feeling sad about the fish, I channeled the mindset of gratitude towards the fish for providing me with life-sustaining nourishment. Thank you, fish friend!We carried the fish friends over to the cooking area, said a little goodbye, and handed them over to the chef. Quickly, the fish were swiftly prepared in front of us and cooked. A few minutes later, we were handed a plate of hot fish fry.They smelled really good. We said a heartfelt thank you, “itadakimasu,” and ate. The taste was so fresh and delicious. I have never eaten such fresh fish before, and my coworker and I agreed that the meat almost tasted more like fried chicken than fish. It felt good to know exactly where our food had come from.In order to consume consciously, it is good to remember to value the life of the creatures that we eat.By keeping our oceans clean, we can honor the lives of sea animals. After we ate, we walked around a bit more and took a look at some of the exhibits. One had a lot of information about beach cleanups and efforts that the aquarium is making to stay environmentally conscious which I hope you will check out if you visit!It was a lot of fun visiting Aquamarine Fukushima, and I hope that you will consider visiting!

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

    Cycling in Iwaki

    Cruising along the beautiful coastline of Iwaki, it’s easy to forget that this coast was once ravaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Since then, the area has been rebuilt and is once again a beautiful place to explore! The coastline of Iwaki has been fortified with sea walls that now provide an excellent course and panoramic views for cyclists. Bicycle rentals and paths are accessible with various options that will entertain beginner, intermediate, and even expert cyclists!  From long coastal stretches where cyclists can enjoy endless sea views and a refreshing sea breeze, to courses that wander inland through forested roads to beautiful natural areas, there is so much waiting to be discovered. Along the various cycling routes there are many unique places to stop including museums, hot springs, restaurants, cafes and more! When I visited we rented bicycles from the Shinmaiko Cycling Station, from there we cycled along the coast and enjoyed the sea breeze and views of the lighthouse in the distance. We stopped by the Iwaki 3.11 Memorial and Revitalization Museum to learn about how the area was affected by the 2011 disaster, it was very touching and interesting to see artifacts that were preserved since the disaster.  The Iwaki Cycling Map and other information is available in English and other languages on the PDFs that may be accessed from this link.  More information on cycling and places to visit in this area is available here (Open this link in Google chrome for automatic English translation).

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

    Shiramizu Amidado Temple in Iwaki

    Shiramizu Amidado Temple is a beautiful, historic Buddhist temple in a serene and peaceful garden. For those planning a trip to Iwaki or Northern Ibaraki, it is a great place to add to your itinerary! WHAT IS AN AMIDADO? 'Amidado' is the name given to a temple dedicated to the Buddha referred to as 'Amida Buddha'. Those who have done their fair share of travelling in Japan have probably encountered temples dedicated to Amida Buddha already. The Great Buddha in Kamakura is in fact an Amida Buddha! SHIRAMIZU AMIDADO GARDENS After entering the temple grounds, visitors cross a bridge over a pond, and walk through scenic gardens before reaching the temple itself. The gardens are very peaceful, and really quite large, making Shiramizu Amidado Temple a lovely place to go for an afternoon walk. I visited last winter with some tour participants. Even though it was not the best season to visit to see flowers, it was still a great visit. After taking a look around the park, we moved to the main hall of the temple. The priest at Shiramizu Amidado Temple even explained how to pray inside the main hall of the temple. However, his explanation of the significance of Shiramizu Amidado Temple contained quite a lot of very specific vocabulary, so I am glad I did my research before going! WHAT MAKES SHIRAMIZU AMIDADO Temple SPECIAL? It has been designated a Japanese National Treasure – the only one in Fukushima. Built in 1160, in the Heian era, Shiramizu Amidado Temple is historically a very important building. One thing that makes Shiramizu Amidado Temple easily identifiable as an Heian place of worship is the fact that it was constructed on a piece of land jutting out towards the centre of a pond, in keeping with traditional Japanese Buddhist architecture of the time, known as 'Jodo Teien' (浄土庭園). From July to early September lotuses bloom, and in autumn, the leaves of the trees that close around the temple turn bright red and yellow. The temple is also lit-up at night during the autumn-leaf season, giving the gardens and main hall a really impressive, magical atmosphere. From what I’ve seen in photographs, the sight of the temple covered in snow is also really lovely. More information on visiting Shiramizu Amidado Temple here

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

    Tomato Heaven in Wonder Farm, Iwaki

    Peaches are the most famous produce of Fukushima, but blessed with a climate slap bang in the middle of Japan, Fukushima produces countless types of delicious fruit and veggies. At Wonder Farm, a ‘new age farm’, visitors can learn about farming and also eat lots of delicious, local food. If you like fresh fruit and veg, pizza and BBQs then Wonder Farm is definitely worth a visit. If you love tomatoes, then it's a must! Wonder Farm is split into 5 areas 1) JR TOMATO LAND Wonder Farm’s tomato farm. Visitors can pick as many tomatoes as they can fit in their allocated Tomato Land bag for only 900 yen!* *Correct as of June 2020. There are over 9 types of tomatoes grown at the farm – many with interesting and puzzling names such as 'Hula Girls', 'Midori Chan' and 'Carol'. Depending on the type, the colour of the ripe tomatoes vary from yellow to dark purple, and each has its own unique flavour and texture. It’s fun to try all the different types out and pick a favourite. See here for details on visiting. 2) MORI NO MARCHE A shop selling locally-produced food, souvenirs and tomato ice cream. So far, the farm has sold many unique products such as tomato jam, tomato curry, tomato beans and tomato dressing, as well as more standard kitchen staples like tomato ketchup, puree and sauce. 3) MORI NO KITCHEN A buffet-style restaurant where customers can choose from around 30 different dishes, including wood-fired pizza! Of course, dishes are made with local products as much as possible. Not only this, but the menu changes daily! Take-out pizza is also available. 4) AGRI KOBO This may sound a little sinister, but it is actually the farm’s innovation workshop, where new products are developed. Visitors can have a look inside! 5) BBQ AREA The BBQ area is available to rent (Must be reserved in advance by phone). There are many places to sit down outside and just relax – which is surprisingly rare in Japan! Wonder Farm also has its resident cat Tatsu who has a little house outside near the BBQ area. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see him! To see more photos of Wonder Farm, check out their Instagram @wonderfarmiwaki and website. ACCESS Wonder Farm is a 20-minute drive from Iwaki Station, so renting a car from outside the station or going by taxi would be easiest. To reach Iwaki from Tokyo, take the JR Hitachi-Tokiwa Limited Express train from Ueno Station to Iwaki Station, taking around 3 hours. For visitors already in Fukushima, get to Koriyama Station, then there is a direct train to Iwaki, which takes just over 1.5 hours. See below for an example 2 day trip in Iwaki, including a visit to Wonder Farm!

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

    Hanami & Hope in Tomioka

    The Sakura Tunnel, made up of 400 cherry blossom trees that line Tomioka’s Yonomori district, made the area a well-known hanami (flower-viewing) spot. However, following 3.11, the fantastic cherry trees could no longer be enjoyed in the springtime. That all changed in April 2017. In April 2017, for the first time in 7 years, visitors have been filling the streets throughout the day and during the evening too, for fantastic views of the sakura trees lit up from below. All areas of Tomioka, excluding those labeled as ‘Difficult-to-Return Zone’, had evacuation orders lifted on April 1st 2017, meaning that former residents can now return home, and anybody can stay overnight in the town without applying for permission – something that was not possible prior to April 1st. Over half of the Yonomori district’s beautiful sakura trees stood within Difficult-to-Return Zones, meaning that those visiting the park over in April 2017 weren't able to walk the full length of the former cherry blossom spot. When I visited in April 2017, barricades block entrance to the Difficult-to-Return Zone, but visitors could still enjoy over 100 cherry blossom trees in the area close to the Junior High School. Another area also lit up was on the west side of Yonomori Station - where service will be resumed on March 14 2020, for the first time since the disaster. My visit to this area coincided perfectly with the setting of the sun, meaning that I got to see the flowers in daylight, the warm glow of sunset, and basking in the bright lights of the light-up display. The 900-year-old, 13 meters tall weeping cherry tree inside the grounds of Hosenji Temple was also lit up during my visit. The grounds of this temple have been lovingly looked after and cared for by former-residents who were evacuated to Iwaki since the disaster. For the people of Tomioka, April 2017’s event acted as a symbol of hope of things to come. That being said, the abandoned buildings on either side of the road and the barricades cutting through the centre of the cherry blossom tunnel remained a stark reminder that everything is not exactly as it was. However, as the sky darkened, the barricades and empty houses slid into shadows, and the blossoms slowly began to glitter with light. Standing in the centre of the long road, looking straight at the rows of trees, it was possible for me to imagine how this area would have looked in 2010. Although the light shows of years gone by were held with tourists and visitors from near and far in mind, 2017’s light show was for the people of Tomioka – for those who have returned with cautious hopes, and for those who have not. It is a reminder of the excitement and beauty of the town that these people loved, and still love. A symbol of the blossoming of splendor from the tiniest spaces. The joy of nature and the cycle of spring after winter, of warmth after cold.

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

    Shoko Kanazawa Calligraphy Art Museum In Iwaki

    The Shoko Kanazawa Art Museum in Iwaki City is home to many fantastic pieces of calligraphy created by Shoko Kanazawa, an artist who was born with Down syndrome. The art museum shares its location with a kimono museum called Kimononoyakata Marusan (which contains the world’s largest kimono!) and a beautiful garden inspired by the traditional Japanese gardens of Kyoto. I was really moved by Shoko’s beautiful and emotive calligraphy when I visited the Shoko Kanazawa Art Museum. I’ve practised shuji (calligraphy) before, so I can only imagine the amount of time it takes to produce the artistic form of calligraphy referred to as shodo in Japanese. Many shodo artists imagine the form they want their brushstrokes to take before starting a piece. The sheer size of her pieces also gives Shoko an extra challenge. ABOUT SHOKO KANAZAWA & HER ART Shoko started practising shodo (Japanese expressive calligraphy) at the age of 5 years old, inspired by her mother, who is also a shodo artist. Shoko’s work was first exhibited publicly in 2005, and the Shoko Kanazawa Art Museum was opened in 2012, following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Many of the key works at the Art Museum, including the piece featured below which stands in the main hall, are related to the Great East Japan Earthquake, and express Shoko’s hopes for the reconstruction of the areas on the coast affected by the events that followed the triple disaster. The piece above contains the kanji words 共に生きる(tomo ni ikiru), which can be translated as “to live together”. The meaning of this work is left up to the viewer, but it’s likely that it refers to humans living together with natural disaster, or the need for communities to pull together after a disaster to move forward. Another piece related to post-3.11 reconstruction is 希望光 (kibou hikari), which translates as “the shining light of hope”. The message is concise, and the viewer can really feel Shoko’s emotion through the size and style of her characters. One more connection between Shoko and the events of 3.11 is the use of her calligraphy as the logo for the Onahama Marine Bridge – this bridge was opened during certain hours for the public from last August, and is a symbol of reconstruction for the people of Iwaki City. I found her calligraphy to be very moving, especially the piece which is shown in the photograph below. The calligraphy says 福は内 鬼も内 (fuku wa uchi, oni mo uchi). This phrase relates to the Japanese tradition of Setsubun, which takes place in early February every year. During Setsubun, family members throw beans out the doors of their house – or throw them at a member of the family wearing a devil / demon mask – as a symbol of purifying their homes. During Setsubun, the phrase ‘fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto‘ (Luck stays inside, demons stay outside). In Shoko’s piece, she changes this well known phrase to mean “Luck stays inside, demons also stay inside”. When asked about the creation of this piece, Shoko said that she felt sad for the demons, and felt like they would be lonely if kept outside alone! I think this message is really moving, and also that this pieces demonstrates Shoko’s personality very clearly. As well as viewing Shoko’s art, visitors can also experience holding tools that Shoko uses to create her compositions. A number of the brushes she uses are on display, a long with an example of the size and type of paper she uses. When I tried out her tools, I realised just how much you have to use your whole body to smoothly bring the brush over the page – creating work this big must be a really good workout! I can imagine myself making so many mistakes… Shoko regularly does calligraphy demonstrations at public events throughout the year, and is always accompanied by her mother. Shoko, now in her thirties, lives by herself, and is an amazing role-model, as her status as a public figure allows her to communicate and share with her home country, and the world, about her experience as a person with a disability. READ MORE ABOUT SHOKO KANAZAWA See more of her works online here. This website is only in Japanese but it has a large selection of her calligraphy. Read more about Shoko’s life in English here. VISITING THE SHOKO KANAZAWA ART MUSEUM Opening Hours: 10:00 to 16:00 (last entry at 15:30) Closed on Tues / Weds unless on a National Holiday (in which case, the following day the museum will be closed). Closed at the end of the year / new year Price: 800 yen per adult. 400 yen for those with a disability. (Free for elementary school kids) REACHING THE MUSEUM See here for travel information about getting to Iwaki Yumoto Station. By Public Transport: Take the train to Yumoto Station. From there the museum is a 20 minute taxi ride. There is also the option of renting a car near Iwaki Station and driving there using a Rental Car company such as Times Rentacar, Nippon Rentacar, JR Rent-a-Car etc. By Car: Get off the Joban Expressway from Yumoto IC (from there it’s a 15 minute drive). OTHER PLACES TO VISIT NEAR SHOKO KANAZAWA ART MUSEUM SHOKUJI TOKORO OKAME Want somewhere close by to Iwaki Yumoto Station to eat traditional Japanese food? I recommend Shokuji Tokoro Okame (食事処おかめ) . I don’t have a photo, but it’s a really cute, cosy izakaya-style restaurant which serves cheap lunches with very generous portions. I had a really delicious meal there which was served with lots of tofu and tomato. See its location here. IWAKI YUMOTO ONSEN’S HOT SPRINGS Various onsen hot springs in Iwaki Yumoto Onsen Town. Read here for more. IWAKI FC PARK Enjoy some great food at Red & Blue Café, located inside Iwaki FC Park, or pop over to the bar next door which sells pizza and a big range of craft beers on tap! SPA RESORT HAWAIIANS See a Polynesian-inspired dance show & enjoy the water parks at Spa Resort Hawaiians. See here for more info. CHINAN SHOKUDO Eat some really good ramen at Chinan Shokudo (チナン食堂). HORURU Get up close & personal with some dinosaurs at Horuru (Iwaki City’s Coal & Fossil Museum). See here for more info. AQUAMARINE FUKUSHIMA Lose yourself among the amazing exhibitions at Aquamarine Fukushima (See here for more info.)

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

    Watching Exhilarating Samurais On Horseback – Soma Nomaoi

    The Soma Nomaoi is a 3-day festival takes place during the last weekend of July every year, and is centered around 3 main shrines in the cities of Minamisoma and Soma. It is thought that the festival has its roots in a local tradition from the 10th century, when horses were chased and tamed as part of military exercises secretly held by the city’s samurai warriors. How amazing is it to go to a festival which has been happening in one form or another for 1000 years?! Those who take part in the festival are people from samurai or noble families, many of whom have received armour passed down from their ancestors. On the first day, A ceremonial opening act called a ‘Departure Ceremony’ is held at the 3 main shrines involved in the festivals. There are also pre-event horse races, to get everyone excited for the excitement to come during the next day. There are quite a lot of websites with the details of the festival, but I’ll briefly about the festival’s schedule during this post! I actually headed to Minamisoma on the second day of the festival, and have written about the day’s events below. PROCESSIONS (GYORETSU) Those who will take part in the day’s events take part in a stunning 3 km procession through Haranomachi, to the town’s race course – bringing portable shrines and all! Going to see the gyoretsu means you’ll get a chance to see cute kids wearing samurai armour – not to be missed! KACCHU KEIBA HORSE RACING 10 horse races are held at midday. All of the riders wear 'kacchu' – a type of samurai armour, which I got to try on during a previous visit to Minamisoma! Having had experience wearing real kacchu, I know how hot and heavy the armour is. I could only wear it for about 10 minutes before getting a bit tired, so I don’t know how everyone managed to wear them for the whole day, despite the hot midday sun! The races were really exciting to watch. As the riders zoomed past, mud was thrown up in the air, covering a lot of them – and some members of the crowd! A number of people tumbled off their horses, many of the races were incredibly close, so I couldn’t take my eyes off of the race course. SHINKI SODATSUSEN This is the part of the day that I could not pronounce no matter how many times I tried to say it! Hundreds of riders gather in the central field. Flags are shot into the sky using fireworks, and the riders must chase after them, and catch them before the others. There were 2 things that surprised me about this event There were boys and girls who looked like they must be middle school kids taking part It reminded me so much of Quidditch – with flags as the Snitch, and horses instead of brooms! I spent a lot of the second festival day trying – and failing – to take good photographs, so I am jealous of the attendees who sat in the audience seats and got to watch the whole thing. I enjoyed the day a surprising amount for someone with a phobia of horses, and I would definitely like to go again! We left before evening, but if we had stayed, we would have seen a fireworks display, held in Odaka town for the first time in 7 years. The third day also includes important traditional events, such as Nomagake – where two brown and one white ‘wild’ horses are caught barehanded, and then taken to Odaka Shrine to be blessed. This is the part of the festival which gives it its name – which translate as 'Soma’s Wild Horse Chase'. It’s so exciting that Odaka has once again become able to hold an event which has been practised and celebrated among local people for a millennium. It certainly is a clear demonstration of Odaka’s revitalization progress. I’m hoping to interview somebody who participated in the festival at some point – I’m looking forward to finding out what they think about this tradition!   TIPS FOR VISITING THE FESTIVAL: Bring water! And sun cream! Bring a camera with a long zoom! If you come on the second day and want a good seat for the horse race, you have to leave the street processions early. The road to the race course is just a straight line from where the processions are, so it is easy to find!   ACCESS: Shuttle buses run from JR Haranomachi Station during festival time. There are also buses that leave Sendai Station.

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

    Visiting Aquamarine Fukushima

    Aquamarine Fukushima is a fun, thought-provoking aquarium and research center in Iwaki. Aquamarine Fukushima educates visitors about the marine animals and ecosystems found in oceans, rivers, streams, seashores, and even rice paddies, through a wide range of displays. From ‘living fossils’ – ocean creatures whose genes have hardly changed since ancient times – to recently discovered species, this aquarium takes visitors on a journey from the Jomon period (c. 14,000 – 300 BCE) to the present day. SO, WHAT MAKES IT INTERESTING? 1. COELACANTH Since opening, Aquamarine Fukushima has been conducting research about the ancient Coelacanth, which has inhabited our oceans for approximately 400 million years. The two species of Coelacanth that still exist can be found near the Comoro Islands off of Africa’s east coast, and off the coasts of Indonesia. The aquarium includes a moving robotic Coelacanth, a large exhibition of Coelacanth fossils found around the world, and even a specimen from the Comoro Islands. 2. THE WEIRD TO THE VERY ORDINARY Aquamarine Fukushima includes all kinds of wonderful creatures, such as carnivorous plants, sea pineapples, fennec foxes, among many others. Various ecosystems and their inhabitants are exhibited at Aquamarine. I was particularly drawn to these cute little spotted garden eels, which live at the sandy bottoms of coral reefs. Aquamarine Fukushima also has an exhibit of 8 species of goldfish. Visitors might think that goldfish aren’t worth seeing at an aquarium. Aquamarine Fukushima challenges this by demonstrating their variety and beauty. Displayed in magnificent tanks, these goldfish are referred to as ‘living works of art’. There is one more thing that makes these goldfish very special. On 3.11, aquarium’s pumps, air conditioning and water temperature control units lost power. Tragically, 90% of the animals were lost (200,000 species over 750 species). The aquarium reopened in July 2011. The goldfish were one of a handful of species to survive the disaster. 3. A NEW APPROACH TO AQUARIUMS Aquariums can be dark, gloomy, and can feel enclosed. But Aquamarine Fukushima has been designed so that all natural light is used to the utmost efficiency. Aquamarine also utilises all green spaces around the aquarium. There are a number of exciting outside exhibits, including the Jomon village, rice paddies, fishing areas, and beach area (home to the world’s largest touch pool (4500 sq.m). THINGS TO DO 1. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS Say hello to the different animals and give them a stroke if you get a chance at a touch pool. 2. FISH, COOK & EAT EXPERIENCE Set up initially to teach children about where their food comes from, this experience is held daily between 10:00 – 15:00. You can catch Silver Salmon and Horse Mackerel, prepare them for cooking yourself, and have them deep-fried as tempura by members of staff! Be mindful that you have to take home every fish that you catch! See here for more information. 3. BACKYARD TOUR Volunteer-led Backyard Tours offer visitors a chance to see the work that goes into maintaining an aquarium – machinery, food preparation techniques, animals currently not on exhibit etc.! These tours last around 30 minutes and can be reserved at the Information Corner on the 2nd floor (Japanese only). If you want to learn more about the aquarium and its aims, there are exhibits that showcase Aquamarine’s current research, information about conservation projects, and the fishing industry’s effect on the ocean. 4. CHECK OUT THE VIEW The observation deck on the top floor of the aquarium offers a great view. They even have an English website, so go have a look and start planning your visit! INFORMATION FOR VISITING See here for opening hours, entry fee, and access information.

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

    The Hula Girls Of Iwaki Yumoto Onsen

    A city on the eastern coast of Fukushima is probably the last place you would expect to find a Polynesian Hula Girl Show. Since the 1960s, Spa Resort Hawaiians (a resort complex, home to countless spas, swimming pools, hotels and the world’s largest open-air bath) has been a venue for daily Polynesian dance performances. I was quite confused by the concept of Spa Resort Hawaiians… I couldn’t comprehend why you might want to go to somewhere themed as a Hawaiian resort if you were coming to Japan… but after learning a little about the history of the resort, I realised it is a pretty interesting place after all. Iwaki used to be a thriving mining city, with the majority of local workers involved in the industry, but a shift in demand from coal to oil during the 1960s left the future of the local community thrown into uncertainty. To tackle this issue, Joban Mining Co. (a local company) decided to open the Hawaii-themed resort, in order to provide jobs for locals, and allow many those who couldn’t afford to travel abroad a chance to experience a vacation in another country! Spa Resort Hawaiians, and its Hula Girls, soon became famous across Japan. The story was even turned into a film in 2006! Grand Polynesian Shows and Knife Fire Dance Shows are held every day, with seats available to both guests and day-time visitors. The performances are 1 hour long, and are fun and engaging. I particularly enjoyed the topless, oily men juggling fire… I couldn’t help but break into a smile whilst watching the girls’ dancing. I even briefly daydreamed about learning how to hula dance, and joining them onstage. I soon snapped out of my daydream when the girls called for participants to join them! I wasn’t brave enough this time, but maybe next time… In the evening, I stayed at Koito Ryokan, and was lucky enough to meet three members of the Hula Okami group (Okami translates as ‘hotel proprietress’). This group of ladies who own or manage ryokan (Japanese inns), have found inspiration from the story of Iwaki’s Hula Girls. In turn, they have decided to start their own group, and to begin performing a traditional local dance across the country in order to revive their local area, in the same way as Spa Resort Hawaiians did when it originally opened in 1966. Instead of creating jobs at a hotel, they are establishing and spreading interest in the fun, lively community of Iwaki Yumoto Onsen town. They’re dancing in the hope of increasing tourism to the area they love, and to show the world that, despite the damage of the 2011 tsunami, the town is alive and moving forward. I was really moved by the passion of the Hula Okami, and their determination to do anything possible to revive tourism Iwaki’s tourism. The Hula Okami usually perform once a month outside of Yumoto Onsen Station, and have also danced in other venues across Japan. I hope I’ll get the chance to watch them perform next month! You can read more about Spa Resort Hawaiians here.

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

    2 Days in Iwaki

    DAY 1 1. IWAKI STATION This example itinerary departs from Iwaki Station. For directions to Iwaki Station see here. I recommend traveling by rental car for this 2 day itinerary. 2. AQUAMARINE FUKUSHIMA Aquamarine Fukushima is an amazing aquarium and research centre which is in some ways very similar to a botanical garden. As well as being captivated by the plants, fish and other forms of sea-life on display around the aquarium, visitors can experience catching fish, preparing them themselves and having them cooked as tempura! (Read more about Aquamarine Fukushima here) 3. LALAMEW Buy souvenirs, have lunch, take a trip on a sightseeing boat which leaves outside, peruse the fresh produce on sale, or learn about the effects of the disaster on Fukushima at the Iwaki Mew-seum on the 2nd floor. (Read more about Lalamew here) 4. HORURU: IWAKI COAL AND FOSSIL MUSEUM See the first elasmosaurid dinosaur to be discovered in Japan – and by a high school student, none the less! Learn about the mining history of Iwaki Yumoto Onsen, and if you visit at the weekend, you can try out some of the activities on offer, such as making your own amber necklace! (You must reserve in advance by email). 5. YUMOTO ONSEN (ACCOMMODATION) Stay overnight at Iwaki Yumoto Onsen, where there are a number of places to eat, and lots of places to take a dip in a hot spring. Yumoto Onsen has been celebrated as a hot spring town since the Heian Era (710-794), and most ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) in the area have their own hot spring bath where you can relax. Private baths can also be rented in a number of establishments! (Read more about Yumoto Onsen here) DAY 2 1. YUMOTO ONSEN START Have breakfast in the ryokan of your choice. 2. WALK AROUND YUMOTO ONSEN The small town is the perfect size for a morning stroll. There are lots of quaint little shops and shrines to explore, and if you’re lucky, you might bump into some of the locals for a chat! 3. SHIRAMIZU AMIDADO TEMPLE Constructed in 1160, this historical Buddhist temple was registered as one of Japan’s National Treasures in 1952. Beautiful at any time of the year, but perhaps especially stunning in Autumn when the leaves turn red, the park surrounding the temple is beautifully kept and well worth a visit. You can also enter the temple, of course, but many people come here for religious reasons, so remember to take off your shoes and turn off your cameras! (Read more about Shiramizu Amidado Temple here) 4. WONDER FARM A large establishment where over ten types of tomatoes are grown throughout the year! Take a bag and pick as many tomatoes as you can fit in, then visit the souvenir and food shop next door. If you have time, and the weather is nice, you could even have a picnic or BBQ in the open facility outside. There’s also a restaurant on the premises with local fresh vegetables available in the buffet, and wood-fire pizzas available to take out. (Read more about Wonder Farm here) 5. IWAKI STATION Finish off your trip in central Iwaki!

    Visiting the Mitsuishi Shrine (Three Stones Shrine)
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