Fukushima became known worldwide following the harrowing events of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Previously, Fukushima was a well-known tourist destination within Japan, only around 2 hours away from Tokyo, but was not as well visited by international tourists. Thanks to the coverage following the earthquake and tsunami, many people still think that five years on, Fukushima is not accessible due to radiation levels. Actually, only less than 10% of Fukushima is designated as a no-entry zone, which leaves about 90%, a vast majority of the prefecture, accessible and safe to visit.
The rebuilding effort is still ongoing and one thing that can help is tourism (and the revenue), so let’s help Fukushima rebuild by visiting some of these amazing destinations.
Aizu Wakamatsu is located in the west of Fukushima Prefecture and when the nuclear power plant accident occurred, this area only had a small amount of radiation so it is safe to visit. Aizu is a city of great historical significance and has been an area settled in since ancient times. From the Sengoku period to the Edo period, Aizu was a castle town and was part of the Aizu Domain. One of the largest battles of the Boshin War during the Edo period was held here.
Aizu has a lot of historical buildings such as the Aizu Wakamatsu Castle (also known as Tsuruga Castle) which interestingly has red roof tiles that make for an exciting view.
As with many areas of Japan, Aizu is also home to a number of mountains – the tallest of which is Mount Otodake at 1,416 meters tall. Along with several lakes and rivers, Aizu has two onsens with natural hot spring water to enjoy. The city also has one of the oldest ancient burial mounds in Tohoku and the remaining samurai houses. Moreover, you can try the local specialty of horsemeat sashimi in Aizu.
To access Aizu from Tokyo, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama Station, then switch to the JR Banetsu-sai Line to Aizu-Wakamatsu station. The journey takes around 3 hours and costs roughly 9,000 yen. JR passes can be used on these lines to reduce the cost.
Fukushima is the capital city of Fukushima Prefecture and is situated in the foothills of the Azuma mountains. Although there are not so many places to go and see in Fukushima, the place really comes into its own during the cherry blossom season.
Fukushima City boasts one of Japan’s best cherry blossom spots in the whole country! As it is more up north than Tokyo, the season is a little later, usually getting to peak flowering around mid-April. Hanamiyama Park (literally flower and mountains) is one of the greatest places in Fukushima to see the blossoms. In this area, many cherry blossom trees of many different varieties have been planted. This means that during the blossom season, there are hues of pinks and whites across the mountainside, giving a stunning and unique view.
Between Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures, lies Mount Azuma, a volcano crater in the mountain ranges north of Mount Bandai. It is host to a number of popular hiking trails of which the most popular is the Azuma-Kofuji peak that stands at 1,705 meters and is said to resemble Mount Fuji’s shape. The start of the hike is accessible from a nearby car park where you can get to the nearby peak of Azuma-Kofuji and circle the crater. Alternatively, you can choose to climb Mount Issaikyo from the visitor’s center (don’t forget to get your free map). For the seasoned hiker, there is a two-day hike option heading towards west Azuma. If you aren’t up for camping, then you can easily return to the car park or bus stop where you started while feeling refreshed by the beauty of nature. The climb can only be done from late April until early November as the road is closed during the winter months and the mountains are covered in snow which can be more dangerous. This climb isn’t too arduous with only a 400-meter change in elevation and most of the route is across rolling hills.
To get to Fukushima City from Tokyo, take the Yamabiko Shinkansen to Fukushima Station. The trip takes around an hour and a half and costs 8,500 yen.
Iwaki is a city in south Fukushima which you can access from Tokyo. It was originally a town centered on mining until the 1960’s. Sadly, Iwaki was seriously damaged in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, although rebuilding has been taking place and many attractions have already reopened. One of the most famous aspects of Iwaki is the Tanabata Festival which occurs in early July. Tanabata Festival celebrates the one day of the year (the 7th day of the 7th month) when Orihime and Hikoboshi reunites. Tanabata festivals are common across Japan, but the Taira Tanabata Festival in Iwaki (held from the 6th to 8th of August every year) is especially famous.
Iwaki Yumoto Onsen
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Iwaki is also home to one of the oldest hot springs in Japan – the Iwaki Yumoto Onsen. The natural spring water here is said to be famous for over 1,000 years due to the healing properties it contains. It is also said that the leader Lords of Sendai rested here at Yumoto Onsen on their way to Edo (old name for Tokyo). The source of the onsen is a scorching 59.8-degree centigrade and contains sulfur. The sulfur in the water is said to help with skin problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Even if you do not need healing, the hot water and beautiful scenery here will lift your spirits.
To get to Iwaki Station, take the Hitachi Limited Express from Tokyo Station. The journey will take about 2 hours and will cost 6,500 yen.
Fukushima Prefecture has a lot to offer foreign and domestic visitors alike. Please do not be put off by the disaster and radiation that followed the awful earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Help Fukushima rebuild itself and visit this awe-inspiring place.