From mysterious limestone caves, to an array of beautiful castles. The area of Fukushima is a great stop on a trip to Japan. Take a walk through a blessed forest, or enjoy a village of samurai residences, there is something for all in Fukushima Prefecture. Here are the top ten sights and attractions:
1. Abukuma-do Cave
(image by flickr.com)
Abukuma-do Cave is a limestone cave that was first discovered in 1969 from the current remains of the Kamayama Quarry. The observation route within the cave is about 600m long but when including the routes that are not open to the public, the total distance amounts to about 3300m. This makes for the 11th-longest distance in Japan. Inside the cave, numerous stalactites formed over 80 million years of repeated erosion from underground water can be observed. This is a popular tourist spot where you can enjoy a strange and mystical view of the world.
As you walk along the 40-minute observation course, you can fully enjoy the precious stalactites. View sights such as the Ghost Tower where ghost faces can be seen in the ever-changing area, the Silver Frost which evokes a scene of frost-covered trees, the huge stalagmites and small icicle rocks on the side that make up the Christmas Tree, the Mushroom Rock covered in flowstone, the precious Crystal Garden with its rocky patterns that can be seen if you look closely, the ring-shaped Cave Shield, and the White Porcelain Falls that resembles a flowing waterfall. Also, there are the 13m-high Dragon Palace and the Takine Palace which goes to the maximum height of the cave at 29m.
Near Abukuma-do Cave, there is Irimizu Limestone Cave. Nationally designated as a Natural Monument, it has a total length of 900m and is divided into 3 courses. Course A is 30 minutes, Course B is 60 minutes and Course C is 90 minutes with their varying lengths. You proceed through knee-high water in a narrow and dark space, and sometimes you will have to crawl on all fours. Irimizu, when compared to Abukuma-do Cave, has the characteristic of being more of an underground adventure.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 1200 / Child: ¥ 600
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Abukuma-do Cave
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Abukuma-do Cave
- Tours of Abukuma-do Cave
2. Megumi no Mori (Blessed Forest)
(image by 只見区役所)
The huge beech forest that exists in the town of Tadami is a precious blessing of nature that serves a variety of roles such as providing the natural resources of a mountain forest like mushrooms and edible wild plants, adjustments to floods, and maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. The surrounding forest’s 470ha has been designated as a forest preserve known as “Kyodo no Mori”, and it is because of the efforts of the local residents to carefully protect it that the natural environment has been able to be preserved today. There are 2 trekking courses “Megumi no Mori” and “Iyashi no Mori” which go into the forest. “Iyashi no Mori” is a light trekking course through the beech forest while “Megumi no Mori” is a fun course involving a walk through a marsh that even beginners can enjoy. They are courses which are exhilarating as you walk through the marsh in boots so that you can take a walk getting up close to the nature of a beech forest.
In the “Megumi no Mori”, you will come across 4 waterfalls centering upon the monolithic Ozawa Falls during the 4km course. During the walk, this is a large waterfall that flows into the Nunosawa River right by the entrance, and through its 4 levels, you can also come across Shimotaki Falls, Nakataki Falls and Uedomenotaki Falls. Surrounded by the beeches, you can get a calming sense in body and mind as you walk around the falls. There are also other highlights. There is the Giant Twin Beeches which are two beech trees cuddling each other as if they were twins, and the Keihan Forest which is unique in the world where you can see things such as valuable mushrooms everywhere. It requires a fee, but having a guide describing the forest will provide an even better understanding as you are trekking. Also, at the Forest Branch School Fuzawa, you can stay overnight and participate in various types of interactive learning. Learning about nature with the whole family while in the lush beech forest is another way to enjoy “Megumi no Mori”.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Megumi no Mori (Blessed Forest)
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Megumi no Mori (Blessed Forest)
- Tours of Megumi no Mori (Blessed Forest)
3. Lake Tagokura
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Lake Tagokura which was formed from the creation of Tagokura Dam is a popular tourist spot not just for its size but also for the beauty of its surrounding nature throughout the seasons. Formed from the stoppage of the main current of the Tadami River, the wide scenery downstream can also be enjoyed. The lake has also been selected as one of the Top 100 Dam Lakes in Japan. From the observation point at the dam, Lake Tagokura can also be seen downstream, and at the back of the lake, so can Mt. Gamoudake and Mt. Asakusadake which make up two of the Three Grand Mountains of Tadami. The sight of Mt. Asakusadake which still has snow even in the summer is reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. There are walking trails in the vicinity, cycling and hiking can be enjoyed, and there are even fishermen waiting to land some big char. Upstream of the lake can only be accessed by boat, but there are excursion cruises which are recommended to fully and leisurely enjoy the surrounding nature from the top of the lake. No matter which season it is, there is always a lovely lake view with the fresh greenery of summer against the snow-capped mountains and the leaves of autumn. Access is closed to the area in winter due to the heavy snow, but after the spring thaw, the entire lakeshore is covered in bright red snow camellia.
Tagokura Dam, which is a part of Echigo Sanzan-Tadami Quasi-National Park and has been selected as one of the Top 100 Dam Lakes in Japan, is also the spot to view some wonderful scenery. Tagokura Power Station which is attached to the dam has one of the largest power output figures in the country and is one of the representative hydroelectric stations for Japan. As a large-scale dam with a total reservoir capacity of 5 tonnes, the size is undoubtedly amazing. The structure of the hydroelectric plant is made under the theme of water with the Denpatsu Tadami Museum being recommended for its various exhibits.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 900 / Child: ¥ 450
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Lake Tagokura
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Lake Tagokura
- Tours of Lake Tagokura
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Mt. Bandai stretches over the Fukushima municipalities of Kita-Shiobara Village, Bandai Village and Inawashiro Town. A steam explosion on the mountain in 1888 created several hundred lakes and marshes. Several dozen groups of these lakes were brought together to be called Goshiki-numa (Five Colored Lakes) located within Bandai Asahi National Park. The prime feature of Goshiki-numa is that each of the lakes’ primary colors such as cobalt blue and emerald green will change depending on the angle of the light and the viewing direction. These mysterious changes in color along with the surrounding Mother Nature inevitably soothe the hearts of visitors.
Walking along Goshiki-numa Walking Trail, you can observe 10 ponds along the way. You can also see the giant red pines that were planted following the eruption of Mt. Bandai. If you decide to make your way around the famous ponds at Goshiki-numa, then going by this scenic trail is recommended. The largest of the ponds, Bishamon-numa Pond is an attractive cobalt-blue where you can also face the grand Mt. Bandai and even get on a boat. There is Aka-numa Pond with its beautiful green and the surrounding thick reddish-brown moss, Midoro-numa Pond where the clarity of the blue differs on the east and west ends of the pond, Benten-numa Pond which has Mt. Agatsuma in the background, Ruri-numa Pond which changes color depending on where you view it, Ao-numa Pond which shines in pale blue, and Yagi-numa Pond which is astounding during autumn. On the trail which goes as far as 3.7 kilometers, you can also observe wild birds and Mt. Bandai, and in summer and autumn, the fresh greenery and fall foliage are beautiful. The minerals that were thrown forth after the eruption of Mt. Bandai dissolved into the water, and the amount and quality of the mineral matter were responsible for the colors that change depending on the amount of the light and the angle of view. This is a course where you can experience the brilliance of the mysterious ponds and the beauty of grand nature which differs depending on the season.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Goshiki-numa
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Goshiki-numa
- Tours of Goshiki-numa
5. Maezawa Magariya Village
(image by tateiwa-tic.jp)
Around 1592, Maezawa Magariya Village was said to have been established by Aizu samurai. The village is a community of thatched-roof residences located in the Minami-Aizu area. Overcoming destruction by such things as fire, the community has settled down into a unified landscape. To protect this view even now, various ways of preservation have been passed down over the years. Surrounded by Mother Nature, this is a place where you feel a spirit that seems to represent the Japanese hometown. Even in this area which focused on dry land farming, there was a close connection between agriculture and livestock. Magariya (bent houses), by the way, refers to the L-shape that the houses have. The people from that time lived together with the cows and horses that were also used for transportation under one roof, and the part of the house that protruded out in front was used for the livestock. Currently, now that livestock no longer exists in the community, half of the village residences are maintained as magariya. As you take a leisurely stroll through the village of nostalgia and sorrow, you will feel the hometown of Japan.
At the Magariya museum which actually uses a magariya house, you can find out how the old farmers of those days lived. Utilizing a central-gate style, houses that used various devices to smoothly perform farming tasks and maintain a close relationship with the indispensable cows and horses have been recreated. Items such as the agricultural tools used at the time are also on display.
The four seasons of Maezawa provide completely different charms depending on the season. First off, there are the cherry trees that pack both sides of the river with their colorful blossoms. In summer, irises and peonies bloom and there are also bellflowers that can only be seen in the beautiful water. The autumn has its colorful foliage and in winter, the area is wrapped in snow. From the observation point in Maezawa, you can get that panoramic view of the entire village.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 150
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Maezawa Magariya Village
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Maezawa Magariya Village
- Tours of Maezawa Magariya Village
6. Aizu Samurai Residences
(image by bukeyashiki.com)
The Aizu Samurai Residences is a historical theme park which has gathered valuable buildings that have been designated as Prefectural Important Cultural Properties, centering on the house of the Saigo family which supported the Aizu clan at the end of the Edo Era. The residence of the senior retainer with the characteristics of the splendid gate construction using zelkova, cypress and cedar is the Japanese and Western-styled house of Tanomo Saigo. With 38 rooms, its area measures almost 8000 square meters. From this huge house, the authority of the Saigo family back in the day was the stuff of legend. The interior of the residence has retained its furniture so you can realize what the lifestyle was like back then. Also through wax models, you can learn about the history through items such as clothing. The Aizu Historical Museum which is inside a restored kura warehouse has preserved items such as household goods, and through the historical viewpoint given by the exhibits and the tea room, you can move around the house while getting that close-up look at history. Also, the atmosphere changes completely throughout the four seasons. You can enjoy a rich atmosphere with the cherry blossoms of spring, the fresh green of summer, the foliage of autumn and the snowscapes of winter.
At Aizu Samurai Residences, there is an interactive corner where you can encounter the culture of Aizu at any time. At the corner, you can enjoy ceramic paintings of Akabeko cows and daruma dolls as souvenirs as well as try your hand at Japanese archery. In addition, at the shop Goukoubou Kokon which deals in goods such as the traditional crafts of Aizu, Aizu lacquerware and other goods created by artisans with their heart and soul are available.
There are also a variety of events on tap throughout the year from which you can also get an even deeper insight into the history and culture of Aizu. There is the spring cherry blossom festival where over 100 cherry trees go into full bloom within the grounds, the Kuyoutei Beer Festival in summer, the autumn Chrysanthemum Festival with its 800 mums, the winter mochitsuki (rice cake-pounding) competition and other events throughout the seasons that are characteristic of Japan and Aizu.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 850 / Child: ¥ 450
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Aizu Samurai Residences
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Aizu Samurai Residences
- Tours of Aizu Samurai Residences
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
During the feudal age, Nanokamachi-dori passed through Nikko, Echigo and the main road of Aizu Gokaido of Yonezawa. For that reason, there were many ryokan, merchant houses and restaurants lined up all in a row with a vitality that was singular to Aizu. A market was set up every month on the 7th on the street which is why it has the name of Nanokamachi-dori (The 7th Day Town Avenue). The liveliness continued into the Meiji Era and right up into the middle of the Showa Era. Although there was a period of decline, this bustling street has become popular again for its retro flavor, and many tourists are seeing this vitality again. The Western buildings and structures that have been erected in the kura warehouse style remain on this precious street so a leisurely stroll is the best thing.
As a tourist destination, Nanokamachi-dori makes good use of its historic buildings. The Shirokiya Lacquerware Company that makes use of an old Western building with thick mortar walls was founded 300 years ago. It’s not just a store to buy accessories and Aizu lacquerware, but it is also a museum relating the history of such lacquerware and you can also observe the process behind its production. Then, there is Mitsutaya in a restored miso warehouse where you can sample the Aizu regional cuisine of Dengaku (tofu coated and baked in miso). The wooden 3-story building that houses Suehiro Sake Brewery Kaei-Gura has free samplings of 6 different kinds of sake, and there are many other shops such as those which provide workshops in painting candles, and ryokan where you can enjoy local cooking and that secret hideaway type of atmosphere. With its retro yet cute feel, just observing the area will make you feel as if you were in a Taisho-Era romance. On top of that, the Eki Café which is situated inside JR Nanukamachi Station on the Tadami Line is a shop selling local specialties from the 17 municipalities of the Aizu region. In the café, you can have coffee made with water which was used in brewing local sake, browse through the sales corner of Aizu specialties and check out the tourist information corner.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Nanokamachi-dori
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nanokamachi-dori
- Tours of Nanokamachi-dori
8. Kasumi-ga-jo Castle
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The ruins of Kasumi-ga-jo are structures that have a variety of attractions. The Minowa tower gate that had been made from a sacred tree on a mountain in Minowa Village within the current Nihonmatsu City was burned down during the events of the Bonin War, but was restored in 1982. Also, there are historically significant structures such as a statue of the Nihonmatsu Youth Corps who had given their lives during the Bonin War, and the national Historic Site of the Kaisekimei inscription stone with its guiding principles for shogunate administrative reform that tell of the history of Nihonmatsu Castle. Furthermore, Senshintei, which has been designated by the city as a Tangible Cultural Property, is one of the surviving tea houses within the castle that was broken down, rebuilt and then transferred to its current location. There is also Niwa Shrine which is dedicated to generations of feudal lords belonging to the Niwa clan, and a monument honoring the soldiers at a site that had been used for rifle training right up until the Bonin War. Then, the remains of the honmaru (inner citadel), which are designated nationally as a Historic Site as part of the Nihonmatsu Castle ruins, were beautifully created in detail through the work of an excellent group of masons. Afterwards, the descendants of those masons came to restore the structures which have retained their original beauty. As well, remains of stone walls whose design and scars showed how important it was to protect the castle in battle and monuments dedicated to the historic figures can also be seen.
The ruins of Nihonmatsu Castle are also known as a prime site for cherry blossoms. Spring is especially recommended since the area is surrounded with blossoms within the park. Also, lovely flowers such as wisteria, iris, and hydrangea bloom all throughout the year. The fall colors are also a sight to see, so please feel free to take that stroll through lush nature in the park. Waterfalls are also located in various places so that a visit will always be calming.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kasumi-ga-jo Castle
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kasumi-ga-jo Castle
- Tours of Kasumi-ga-jo Castle
9. Tsuruga Castle
(image by city.aizuwakamatsu.fukushima.jp)
Tsuruga Castle has been nationally designated as a Historic Site. It was a robust structure that had endured withering attack for a month during the Boshin War, but was finally demolished with only the stone walls remaining. Originally completed in 1384, it was a famous castle whose name spread out throughout the nation. Thanks to the contributions of many people including local residents, the castle keep was restored in red brick and its appearance from the end of the Edo Era was revived. The keep has become a museum centering upon the samurai culture of Aizu.
The restored tea room Rinkaku in Tsuruga Castle has been prefecturally designated as an Important Cultural Property. Visiting tourists can enjoy a cup of tea in the room, which at times also holds tea ceremonies. It is said to have been built by Shoan, the child of Sen-no-Rikyu who was famous for the Japanese tea ceremony, and there you can spend a leisurely time within the lushness of nature. The Soan-style tea room, which was considered distinctive even in eastern Japan, was preserved at the bottom of the castle following the Bonin War, but in 1990, it was returned to its original place in Tsuruga Castle.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 410 / Child: ¥ 150
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Tsuruga Castle
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Tsuruga Castle
- Tours of Tsuruga Castle
10. Shirakawa Komine Castle
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Shirakawa Komine Castle, which was famous for being the gateway to the Oshu domain, was a flatland mountain castle which was completed in 1632 in the Edo Era after being first built by Chikatomo Yuki in Kominegaoka. Although it was burned down during the Bonin War in 1868, the 3-story keep was restored in 1991 as was the case for the main gate in 1994, and since then it has become a symbol for the city of Shirakawa. No matter how you look at it, the castle’s grand stone walls have become the highlight. At the back of the walls, the keep and the gate can be observed so that the designs and efforts used in protecting the castle during war can be glimpsed. On climbing the stone steps and emerging at the honmaru inner citadel, there is also a slightly elevated observation point to get a panoramic view of the city. The three-story keep can also be entered. The old trees that were used in the reconstruction of the keep are cedar trees which were located in the areas of the worst fighting during the Bonin War. Several bullet holes remain in those trees, so that you can understand the harshness of the battlefield at the time. The interior of the keep that has been restored to its original appearance down to the last detail can be observed while thinking about the history of the end of the shogunate system. At the castle park, there is Shirakawa Shuko-en which displays information on the Yuki and Abe clans, and the Ninomaru Tea House where souvenirs can be purchased. Shirakawa Komine Castle suffered serious damage in the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and for a long while it was closed to the public due to restoration efforts, but from 2015, it was reopened. However, as of July 2015, it was still undergoing partial construction.
Sadanobu Matsudaira, the 12th daimyo of the Shirakawa clan, built a garden from a wetland area in which one part of it, Nanko Park, was nationally selected as a historic spot of natural beauty. Beautiful scenery for all four seasons has been created from pine, maple and cherry trees. Shirakawa Gate which is one of the Three Old Gates of the Oshu is also famous. Poets such as Matsuo Basho have often included the place into their poetry.