5 Things to See, Do in Fukushima
Fukushima, located in the Tohoku region of Japan, is the third largest prefecture in the nation. It is a relatively unpopulated region, comprised of mountainous areas and national parks divided into three main sections: Aizu, Nakadori (the central area), and Hamadori (the coastal area).
Of course, Fukushima has become known worldwide for sad reasons: the Great East Japan Earthquake struck Tohoku on Friday 11, March 2011, causing mass destruction and death and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown. Fears of radiation are of course understandable, but studies have shown the region as safe for life and travel. As a resident of Fukushima for many years myself, I advise you to research the large amount of readings and information regarding the area available online. The area is beautiful and full of places to visit, some of which will be described here; moving from the Aizu area outwards towards Hamadori.
1. Visit Aizu and Tsuruga-jo Castle
The "Samurai City" of Aizuwakamatsu takes pride in its marshal history, one of samurai traditions and warrior spirit. Most notable of its sights is Tsuruga-jo, the photogenic white fortress looking over the town. Here you can walk through the castle to the top, taking in the view and the museum exhibition running throughout, and visit a traditional tea garden. The surrounding area includes a medicinal garden, other museums, and more. All are easily accessible if you rent a bicycle from the area around the train station – or if you have your own car.
For more information, see the city’s own site.
2. Visit the Traditional Village of Ouchijuku
Ouchijuku is a famous village with many buildings preserved in the style of the Edo-era, before 1868. The buildings are of thatch, and displaying and selling many traditional Japanese crafts. A temple rises above the village at one end, allowing for excellent photos, and you can eat the local specialty of "leek soba", where you use an onion leek instead of chopsticks!
3. Visit the Bandai Area
Not far from Aizu is the Bandai area, a rural, heavily forested area famous for Inawashiro Lake (the mirror of heaven), the Goshiki-numa swamps (swamps of five colours), and the eponymous Mt. Bandai. The area is easily accessible by car or train, though a car allows you to make the most of your visit as many locations are separated by quite a distance.
Inawashiro Lake is the fourth largest lake in Japan, with its own beach area providing cooling relief from the summer’s heat, while a short drive away is Goshiki-numa. This is an area of marshland and swamps famous for the changing colors of the waters, from deep greens to bright blues.
Mt. Bandai and the entire area offers scenic hiking and nature walks in the summer, and a large number of ski resorts in the winter: the best of which may be Gran Deco (long, easy runs and many features), ALTS Bandai (with over 30km of runs), or Nekoma (famous for its powder) depending on what you are looking for.
4. Visit the Abukuma Caves
The Abukuma Cave is a cave system roughly 3000 km in length, the first 720m if which are open to the public. The walkways and passages are, while sometimes steep, rarely narrow and the route can be taken without worrying about your physical fitness! The limestone cave is notable for its stalactites, stalagmites, columns and box-work formations.
A short 15-minute drive away, and part of the same system, the Irimizu Shonyu Caves offer a more adventurous experience. This 600 – 900 meter course DOES require clambering, squeezing through narrow spaces, and crouching and crawling, often through extremely cold water! If you plan to visit here, dress appropriately.
5. Visit Iwaki City and Iwaki Aquarium
Iwaki is the largest city in Fukushima prefecture and situated directly on the coast. The main tourist attraction may be Aquamarine Fukushima, a large aquarium situated on the seashore. This allows the exhibitions to have the quite unique character of blending into the ocean – the Janome beach exhibition is part of the beach and lets you paddle in the water and touch creatures like starfish and sea cucumbers.
These are just a few of the places you can visit in Fukushima – there are many more, from small museums, temples, and shrines to areas of natural beauty and sweeping mountain drives. Come and explore Fukushima, and the whole of the Tohoku region!