Introduction to Fukushima Prefecture
Fukushima is located in the Tohoku region. It is the 3rd largest of 47 prefectures in Japan and is a perfect blend of everything that the country has to offer. It houses the Bandai-Asahi National Park, with pleasant ski resorts, the Bandai Highland and the famous Five-Coloured Ponds. Lake Inawashiro is one of Japan’s largest bodies of water, and the perfect ground for waterside recreation and water sports. Fukushima is major place for nature lovers, bird-watchers, hikers, cyclists and active people who like spending time outdoors. It is also an unmissable destination for history buffs who can immerse themselves in samurai culture by visiting places such as Tsurugajo Castle, or the ancient Ouchi-juku postal town. Fukushima is one of the top producers of sake in the country and constantly ranked at the top of the list of awards and recognitions. The region has a whopping 130 hot springs disseminated all over the territory, offering an enormous variety of onsen resorts. The local food culture brings together the coastal seafood-based delicacies, with more hearty and substantial specialities originating in the mountainous areas.
Fukushima is conveniently accessible from all major transport hubs in the country. The shinkansen bullet train line runs from north to south, providing a fast and seamless connection. The distance from Tokyo to Koriyama station can be covered in less than 80 minutes; only 90 minutes to the prefectural capital of Fukushima city, further north. And it is even closer if you are coming from Sendai, the largest city in Tohoku!
The city of Aizu-Wakamatsu is the most popular sightseeing destination in Fukushima prefecture for history and culture. It is surrounded by mountains and was where the Boshin war (between the Matsudaira samurai clan and the Imperial troops of the Meiji Emperor) took place. Samurai history is so rooted in Aizu that its traces are everywhere.
The Aizu Bukeyashiki is a samurai residence that has been preserved and restored for educational purposes. There, you can discover how the warrior class was living their everyday life together with their closest vassals, their families and servants.
Nisshinkan was the first samurai academy to be created in Japan. It was founded in the Edo Period (1603-1868) and is the very first samurai school born to invest in future human resources by educating the youth of the ruling class.
All male children of the Aizu clan members were required to enrol in the Nisshinkan from the tender age of 10. They were educated according to a curriculum of academic subjects and physical training. Discipline was stern and unforgiving since the Aizu clan believed that children should be pulled out of their comfort zone at an early age to temper their fortitude.
Built on the west side of Aizu Tsurugajo Castle, the vast grounds of Nisshinkan included the oldest swimming pool in Japan, an astronomical observatory, and other training facilities. After being destroyed by fire in the 1868 war, the school was completely rebuilt in its present location in 1987, using the original old blueprints of the complex.
In modern times Nisshinkan has been used for several purposes, including training camps and as a location for filming. The present facilities faithfully reproduce the training environment of the young samurais and show dioramas of school life at that period. Visitors can enjoy practising some of the essential disciplines of the samurai, including tea ceremony, Japanese archery and meditation. Visiting Nisshinkan feels like taking a leap back in time and is particularly recommended to those who study martial arts
Tsuruga Castle is one of the final strongholds of samurai that remained loyal to the shogunate, and today stands as a symbol of courage and faithfulness. Despite being almost entirely reconstructed, the stone walls of the surrounding park remain in their original state.
It is one of the very few castles in Japan with red tiles. The five-storied castle tower is about 25 metres tall and is an excellent viewpoint from where to behold the nearby Mt. Iimoriyama and Mt. Bandai. The museum inside the castle shows displays of ancient armours and swords explaining the history of Aizu, including the Boshin War and the Byakkotai.
Aizu Butokuden is a martial arts school located north of Tsurugajo Castle grounds. The tiled roof of its entrance gate bears the name "Butokuden" (literally: palace of martial virtue) in bold characters. It is a training facility for children practising martial arts, just like the Nisshinkan was in the Edo period. Here, under the guidance of the Byakkotai Kenshikai, beginners and experts can try their hand at kendo.
Mount Iimoriyama is a 314-metre high mountain rising east of Aizuwakamatsu station, from where it is possible to see Tsurugajo Castle in the distance. It is the final resting place of the 19 members of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Corps), a teenage samurai squad who took their own life rather than surrendering to the enemy in dishonour.
There are two ways to get to the mountain: either on foot or by using the escalators for a small fee. Halfway up the mountain, we find the Sazaedo, one of the most architecturally unusual buildings in Japan.
Aizu is not only famous for its history. It has a remarkable number of sake breweries in and out of town, and the production of sake in the city is outstanding both in volume and in quality. Why not visit one of the many long-established breweries and learn how the delicious nihonshu is made? At the end of the visit you can taste some samples, and bring one or two bottles home with you!
Food culture in Aizu is very local: in this city, you will find dishes that are distinctive to Fukushima and difficult to find elsewhere in Japan. Kozuyu soup, made of dried scallop and seasonal vegetables; Sauce katsudon, a bowl of rice with shredded cabbage and a pork cutlet covered in a special sauce; Wappameshi, rice served in a wooden box topped with colourful seasonal vegetables and local treats; Miso dengaku, pieces of tofu coated with miso paste and roasted on charcoals.