15 Things To Do in Fukushima
Fukushima is the southernmost prefecture in the Tohoku region, the gateway to the North, and the home of some of Japan’s most dazzling samurai. After the 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident, thousands of residents were evacuated from the coastal towns and many of the prefecture’s industries were impacted. Coverage of the incident led to the assumption that Fukushima as a whole was inhospitable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Nearly two million people live in Fukushima. The majority of the prefecture was untouched by radiation, while many areas that were impacted have reached levels below what is reported in many cities around the world. Visitors need not worry about eating the produce or drinking the water. The bigger concern is whether everything Fukushima has to offer can be packed into a single trip!
15. Make a Great Day in Fukushima City
Step off the train at Fukushima Station and you’ll be spoilt for choice. Take the Iizaka Line a few stops to visit the Fukushima Art Museum, only twenty minutes by foot. Or cross the Abukuma River to see Hanamiyama, a flower viewing park offering iconic views of the city in the Spring. Shotaro Akiyama called it a utopia within Fukushima. The horse-centric culture of the prefecture is on full display at the capital’s massive racecourse. In the Spring you can enjoy the races from the course’s English garden. Summer in the city is incredibly hot but alleviated in part by the Waraji Festival, arguably the biggest celebration of the year. The festival is held on the East side of the station, known for its bustling nightlife. At the end of the day, challenge yourself to explore the cafes, restaurants, bars, and izakaya that pack the narrow streets near the station.
14. Experience Iizaka’s Historic Onsen
Take the Iizaka Line from Fukushima Station to the former town of Iizaka, a scenic district of Fukushima City famous for its bath houses and you might get lost exploring the wild bends and slopes of the town. Follow a map to the center, though, and you’ll find Iizaka Onsen. Constructed in the Edo Period, Iizaka Onsen is said to be just a bit hotter than onsen in other regions of the country. Those too shy to take a dip in the baths, however, can enjoy the public foot and hand baths at the Former Horikiri Family Residence, a traditional Japanese home unchanged since the Meiji Period.
13. Eat an Entire Plate of Enban Gyoza
If you do visit Iizaka Onsen, be careful not to miss Terui, a restaurant known for perfecting one of Fukushima’s most iconic dishes – enban gyoza. Full of chewy meat and vegetables with an extra crunchy exterior, Terui’s gyoza are a favorite among visitors and locals alike. There are other items on the menu too, I’m sure, but everyone comes looking for the gyoza. As such, the restaurant has established several more locations, including one right in Fukushima Station.
12. Shop for Award-winning Sake
Fukushima boasts some of the best sake producers in the world. In the “2005 National New Sake Awards Ceremony,” the prefecture took first place in the nation and have continued to dominate the industry in subsequent competitions. More Fukushima breweries have taken home gold prizes in the “Annual Japan Sake Awards” than any other prefecture every year since 2013! Kinsuisho Brewery is one among these, having received gold prizes for thirteen consecutive years. Stop by their family-run store and brewery while you’re in Iizaka. Or visit Corasse Fukushima in Fukushima City! There you’ll find any local product you can imagine, including several award-winning brands of Fukushima sake.
Kinsuisho Brewery official website (in Japanese)
11. Treat Yourself to Anpogaki
Dried persimmons are a sweet treat popular throughout East Asia. In Japan, persimmons are peeled and hung up on strings to dry and become hoshigaki. Going out to the countryside to see the rows of orange fruit is an event in itself, but especially so in central Fukushima. The process of drying persimmons is said to have gained the extra step of sulfur fumigation in Fukushima’s Isazawa, a village founded on the steep banks of the Abukuma River. This method results in dried persimmons able to maintain their vibrant color and soft texture, referred to locally as anpogaki. If you find yourself in Fukushima in the Winter, try one from the village where it all started.
10. Fall in Love with the Number One Rice Ball in Japan
Made with the sweet tasting “Date Chicken,” the Niku Gorotto Onigiri can only be found at Yanagawa Machi no Eki in Fukushima’s Date City. An instant hit, this simple rice ball was pronounced the number one in Japan in the “2019 Bento and Prepared Meal Awards.” Grab a rice ball maker’s dozen and take a walk around the city. Just a few minutes away is Yanagawa Hachiman Shrine, the patron shrine of the Date Clan, where Date Masamune is said to have met and fallen in love with his wife, Princess Megohime. Buy a heart-shaped ema before you leave the Machi no Eki and you can hang it up along the path outside the shrine!
9. Feed the Swans at Lake Inawashiro
Enjoy a soul cleansing view of Mount Bandai while making friends with the swans and other waterfowl that come to the lake in Winter. Smack in the center of Fukushima, Lake Inawashiro is the fourth largest lake in Japan. It is bordered by the town of Inawashiro on the North, the birthplace of Hideyo Noguchi, a renowned scientist and one of the foremost figures of Japanese history. Known for his research into syphilis, Noguchi’s face was added to the 1000-yen note in 2004. The Noguchi Memorial Museum, featuring the house in which the doctor was born, is located just along the lake, a short bus ride from Inawashiro Station.
Noguchi Hideyo Memorial Museum official website (in Japanese)
8. Smell the Flowers at Nihonmatsu
Nihonmatsu is a former castle town just a few stops away from Fukushima Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line. Nihonmatsu Castle, or Kasumiga Castle, came in at number thirteen in the “Best Castles of Japan” 2015 ranking, due in no small part to the city’s annual chrysanthemum festival. While chrysanthemum shows are a tradition practiced throughout Japan, Nihonmatsu makes their festival into a month long affair! Every Fall Kasumiga Castle Park is lined with handmade mannequins, often meant to represent famous samurai. These dolls are dressed in Edo period clothes made almost entirely of chrysanthemums! The artisans of Nihonmatsu are also credited for creating senrinzaki, chrysanthemum plants with thousands of blossoms spread out into the shape of a dome.
7. Learn About Aizu Samurai
Travel to the Western region of Fukushima to submerge yourself in the culture of Japan’s Northern samurai. Tsuruga Castle in present day Wakamatsu-Aizu was the final stronghold in the Boshin War. After the shogun had surrendered and the Meiji Era had officially begun, the samurai of the Aizu Clan continued to resist, leading to the month long Battle of Aizu.
The battle ended with the Aizu Clan’s surrender, but not before a group of young samurai mistook the flames enveloping the castle as a sign that their lord and families had been killed and tragically committed seppuku on Iimori Hill. These boys came to be known by their unit name, the Byakotai, or “White Tiger Force.” Learn more about the Byakotai at Aizu Hanko Nisshin-kan, where the boys learned to become samurai, or visit the Fukushima Prefectural Museum, adjacent to Tsuruga Castle Park.
6. Explore an Edo Period Post Town
Walk in the woven sandals of travelers from the Edo period in this truly surreal post town. Ouchi-juku was once an important stop on the road connecting the Aizu Domain to the capital. It is now a part of Shimogo Town in Minamiaizu, and hosts millions of visitors per year. Everything from the thatched-roof buildings lining the main road to everyday items from pre-Meiji Japan have been carefully preserved.
Trek all the way up the sloped road to the main shrine and you’ll be able to take in a view practically unchanged for hundreds of years. But it would be a waste to bypass all of the shops and restaurants along the way, many of which are run by local families. Just starting up a conversation with them could be worth the trip!
5. Paint Your Own Akabeko
The legend of akabeko, the bright red cow that is the prefecture’s unofficial mascot, began at Enzoji, a temple in Yanaizu, Fukushima. A red cow suddenly appeared to help in the reconstruction of the temple in the early years of the Edo period. Statues and children’s toys were made in the image of the cow, and over time, the akabeko became a talisman guarding against illness. Now akabeko can be found all over Fukushima, decorating homes and businesses, as well as in the form of souvenirs like keychains, magnets, socks, and more.
Want to create your own akabeko? Go to Aizu! The “Michi no Eki Yanaizu” offers akabeko painting classes by appointment, while the Aizu Hanko Nisshin-kan offers visitors the opportunity to paint akabeko, no reservation necessary. For those looking for a more in-depth crafting experience, however, “Warabi” is a traditional craft shop offering akabeko painting classes, located just ten minutes from Aizu-Wakamatsu station by foot. Or stop by “Minatogawa-ya” during your visit to Ouchi-juku!
4. Take a Trip Along the Abukuma River
Flowing from the Abukuma Highlands, North towards the city of Sendai, the Abukuma River is the sixth longest river in Japan and has always had a major influence on the development of the region. Beginning in the Edo Period, the river was used to transport rice and other goods. It continues to link several cities, towns, and villages that lie along the river’s path today. Ride along the river in the Abukuma Express Line. The train sticks close to the river as it crosses into Miyagi Prefecture, connecting with the JR line that continues to follow the river all the way to Sendai.
3. Visit Oze National Park
One of Japan’s largest nature reserves, Oze National Park stretches across four prefectures. It takes quite a bit of effort to hike into the central area, but once you’re there, the cooler-than-average climate of the park allows for a wonderful escape from the muggy summer weather. The sprawling Ozegahara Marshland is the main draw for visitors to the park. The campgrounds and lodges quickly fill up during Spring and late Summer when everyone comes to catch sight of the flowers in bloom. For that reason, it might actually be best to visit in the Fall. Regardless of the season, however, the image of the park’s wooden boardwalk extending over the marshlands towards Mount Shibutsu is iconic.
2. Try the Best Ramen You’ll Ever Eat in Kitakata City
Once you try Kitakata City’s signature dish, ramen will never be the same. Along with Sapporo and Fukuoka, Kitakata Ramen is one of Japan’s three top varieties of ramen. Dense, wavy noodles are covered with pork in a soy-based broth. Eat it any time of the day, including as asa-ramen, or “breakfast ramen,” at any one of the city’s hundreds of ramen shops. Kitakata Ramen is such a seminal dish they even built a museum dedicated to it! When you’re done eating or just need a break before the next round of savory noodles, visit the Kitakata Ramen Museum. Or rent a bike near the station and explore this historic city!
1. Wind Down in Japan’s “Sunshine City”, Iwaki
The Southernmost city along Fukushima’s Pacific Coast, Iwaki has been a popular hot spring destination for over 1,000 years! The Iwaki Yumoto Hot Springs contain a natural sulphor curative that has drawn in bathers since the Heian era.
Today Iwaki is one of the largest cities in the prefecture, perhaps best known for Spa Resort Hawaiians, a hot spring theme park celebrating Polynesian culture. The resort features a “Polynesian Show” twice daily in which dance troupes from all over the country perform. But if you visit Iwaki, don’t just stay at the park! Visit the capybara at Aquamarine Fukushima or take in a view of the coast from the top of Shioyazaki Lighthouse.
Seafood rivaling that of Tokyo’s Toyosu Market is available just a few minutes from the aquarium! Try anglerfish hotpot, minced blue marlin cutlets, deep-fried greeneye fish, or one of a number of other dishes unique to the city. Although Iwaki was heavily impacted by the 2011 tsunami, it remains a wildly fun place to visit, a core city of Japan that continues to welcome visitors to bask in its coastal culture.