5 Reasons You Should Visit Fukushima – In Their Words

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March 11, 2017

I moved to Fukushima in August 2016. Since then, I’ve been traveling around the prefecture and promoting areas which I believe would interest international tourists on behalf of the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism Association.

Over the last six months, I have visited sightseeing spots across over 50 towns and cities and attended study tours about environmental and social challenges, including the depopulation of formerly evacuated towns post 3/11.

The nuclear accident following 3/11 drew a lot of international attention to Fukushima. After the accident, certain residential areas affected by radiation were evacuated. Since then, thorough decontamination efforts have taken place and strict food monitoring policies have been introduced.

Six years have passed. But still the majority of English-language information about Fukushima centers on the topic of radiation, and much false information continues to circulate the internet.

Seeing this, I decided to start a blog about the real Fukushima – its challenges, its beauty, and its history.

Seeing this, I decided to start a blog about the real Fukushima – its challenges, its beauty, and its history.

I love traveling around Fukushima prefecture but the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most so far has been talking to local people. This has helped me realize that it is the people who really make Fukushima.

So rather than just pointing out the most scenic spots here, I thought it would be better to share the voices of Fukushima residents to explain why Fukushima is such a unique and wonderful place to visit.

1) It’s a place with a deep and fascinating history

The people of Fukushima have long been in tune with the samurai values of always doing what is right, no matter what.

– Mr Soeta

The third largest prefecture in Japan, Fukushima is home to a huge variety of local traditions and history.

Weary travelers resting in Edo-era lodging, a brave woman disguised as a man to fight for her city, hula dancing to save an onsen town’s local economy, villages isolated for months at a time by harsh snowfall, mysterious red cows materializing to help build a temple – all of these fantastic stories have their origin in Fukushima.

Aizuwakamatsu City was the stage for one of the biggest and final battles of the Boshin War when samurai factions loyal to the shogun fiercely fought off the new era. Tsuruga-jo Castle is an important symbol of Aizuwakamatsu’s samurai history and is beautiful in cherry blossom season. You can learn more about this history at Tsuruga-jo Castle one an English tour (available upon request.)

About one hour away, lies the historic post town of Ouchi-juku. The inns here have been used since the Edo era by travelers journeying across the country. The carefully maintained thatched roofs of the buildings, and the absence of phone lines or vehicles gives those visiting Ouchi-juku the impression of having traveled back in time.

Especially stunning is the Ouchi-juku Snow Festival – held annually on the 2nd weekend of February – when the evenings at Ouchi-juku are illuminated with candle light and fireworks.

See it for yourself

To reach Tsuruga-jo, take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama Station. From there, take the Ban’Etsu West Line to Aizuwakamatsu Station. Go by foot, rent-a-bike, bus or taxi to the castle from the station.

For Ouchi-juku, take a taxi from Yunokami Onsen Station or Ashinomaki Onsen Station, both of which are on the Aizu Railway Line.

2) It’s onsen galore with incredible seasonal scenery

Fukushima is rich with onsen. Onsen are space(s) where people can converse without any barriers, not even the barriers of clothes.

– Ms Oba

Perfect for hiking in the spring and summer, painted with shades of gold and brown in autumn, Fukushima’s lush mountains transform once more into ski resorts in winter. Winter in Fukushima also offers visitors the incredible chance to dip in one of more than 130 relaxing onsen whilst surrounded by meters of snow.

See it for yourself

The glorious scenery available year-round in Fukushima sets it apart from other prefectures. Here’s some of the things you can do.

Spring

Trips to Japan in springtime would not be complete without visiting some of Fukushima’s breathtaking cherry blossom spots, such as the 1000-year-old Takizakura tree, one of Japan’s three great cherry blossom trees.

Takizakura, meaning “Cherry Blossom Waterfall,” can be accessed by temporary seasonal buses from Koriyama Station. Koriyama Station is less than one and a half hours from Tokyo Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train).

Summer

Viewing this fantastic scene is well worth the good planning it demands. A daily bus bound for the No. 1 Tadami River Bridge View Point leaves Aizu Miyashita Station at 7:35 in the morning (excluding Sundays and national holidays). Buses returning to Aizu Miyashita Station must be reserved on arrival at Mishima Juku Roadside.

Autumn

Shiramizu Amida-do was constructed in 1160 and is a designated national treasure. Its historic hall and beautiful gardens are definitely worth seeing, especially during autumn when the leaves transform into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges and golds. Shiramizu Amida-do is best accessed by car.

Winter

Many of the onsen facilities in the prefecture have rotenburo, or outdoor baths, where you can relax outside surrounded by nature. A real only-in-Japan experience.

3) The local food is really, really good

What is your favorite food from your town?

Everything!

– 5th Grade Elementary School Student from Otamamura Town

Strict safety checks on all produce from Fukushima mean that food can be enjoyed with complete peace of mind. Local cuisine includes Ikaninjin, a side-dish made of squid and shredded carrot cooked in sake that’s famous throughout the prefecture, and Kitakata Ramen, one of Japan’s ‘big three’ (most regarded) ramen.

Kitakata City – birthplace of Kitakata Ramen – is an ideal destination for a foodie! Home to sake breweries and soy sauce factories, Kitakata also has over 120 places to eat ramen so you’re ridiculously spoilt for choice.

Positioned at the centre of Japan, Fukushima’s climate allows the growing of a large range of high-quality produce. In fact, Fukushima is the second biggest producer of peaches in the country. The area at the foot of Mt Azuma is known as the “fruit line” and is particularly famous for its breathtaking orchards.

See it for yourself

Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Koriyama Station. Change to the Ban’Etsu West Line, and get off at Kitakata Station. Reach the many ramen restaurants in the central area by foot or bicycle (rent at the station).

The “fruit line” can be accessed by bus from Fukushima Station East Exit (90 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen), but specific directions depend on the individual orchard.

4) The locals are very welcoming

Being kept away and coming back has allowed me to feel that I love (my town), and I couldn’t let its history just end like this.

– Ms Kobayashi

Fukushima Prefecture has faced many challenges over the last six years which has tended to strengthen feelings of love and pride that local people hold for their prefecture and hometowns.

In Fukushima, if you ask local people about the story behind a temple or the ingredients of your lunch, I’ve found they will gladly explain and share their culture with you; perhaps through Japanese, some level of English, gestures, or a mixture of all of these.

I remember meeting a woman in a tiny local restaurant in Minamiaizu. I asked her about Minamiaizu’s harsh winters. She explained that the huge snowfall every winter means that, in the past, people were unable to leave their houses for months at a time. Locals had to develop ways of preserving different foods in order to survive the winters.

For this reason, many areas in Minamiaizu have delicious and unusual types of pickles, some of which are pickled multiple times to bring out different flavours. If I hadn’t spoken to that lady, I never would have known about this fascinating local history.

The surprise and delight of local people upon realizing that international visitors are interested in their culture is something I often experience in Fukushima.

5) Fukushima’s future is inspiring

During a school presentation when she was 10, my daughter said she wanted to have a job supporting Fukushima reconstruction efforts in the future.

– Ms Nakamura

The town of Odaka in Minami Soma, was evacuated after 3/11. In 2016, former residents became able to return but currently only around 10% have come back. The main reason for this is that after over five years away, former residents have continued with their careers or education away from Odaka, and it’s become difficult for many to return.

The organisation Odaka Worker’s Base was started by local people in 2014 to prepare for the reopening of the town in 2016. The members have worked hard to support residents and to incentivize businesses and younger people to settle in the town.

So far, they have created business meeting spaces, installed public Wi-Fi, and negotiated with businesses to open branches in their town. Areas like Odaka are taking the first step of an unexpected and new chapter of local history.

So, what are you waiting for?

Fukushima’s history is captivating, its scenery and onsen breathtaking. Whether home-made local dishes, exquisite meals with endless courses, or a peach taken from a branch, the food is wonderful too. Most remarkably, Fukushima is resilient and its people are inspiring. I truly hope you can visit Fukushima soon.

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Fukushima is so much more than you may think.

Rediscover Fukushima

Follow me, Zoe, as I travel around Fukushima Prefecture exploring what there is to experience, see and learn in this understated destination.

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