In February 2023, Team JD traveled to Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture, guided by the Tourism Division of the Aizuwakamatsu City Hall! We were completely enchanted by the cityscape with a sense of Japanese history, delicious local cuisine, and the warmth of the local people.
Let us share the charms of Aizuwakamatsu City, which we enjoyed during our two-day stay.
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Aizu Wakamatsu - A historic castle town in Fukushima
Aizu Wakamatsu City is the largest city in the inland area of Fukushima Prefecture, the southern gateway to the Tohoku region. It is a popular tourist destination where visitors can enjoy history, traditional culture, and nature in about 2.5 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen and train (not including transfer time).
Aizu Wakamatsu is a castle town with a historical atmosphere around Tsurugajo Castle. Even a single complex roadway is a reminder of a city that was once designed to prevent the invasion of enemies (although some say it was to allow waterways to cross in all directions).
This is an excellent place for tourists interested in Japanese history.
The place is famous for its rice and vegetables grown in the rich land and pure water, and the local cuisine using these ingredients is one of the pleasures of the trip.
JR Tokyo Station [Tokyo] => JR Koriyama Station [Fukushima] => JR Aizu-Wakamatsu Station [Fukushima]
(Approx. 1 hour 25 minutes Shinkansen ride + 1 hour 5 minutes train ride)
Shinjuku Bus Terminal “Basuta” [Tokyo] => JR Aizu Wakamatsu Station [Fukushima]
(Approx. 4 hours 30 minutes)
Must-see attractions in Aizu Wakamatsu
Based on the residence built by Naomori Ashina in 1384, Ujisato Gamo built the first full-scale castle tower in eastern Japan in 1593 and named it “Tsurugajo” (Tsurugajo Castle).
In the war of 1868, the castle withstood an onslaught of new guns, such as the Armstrong gun, the most advanced weapon of the time, in a siege that lasted about a month. (The castle was later torn down by order of the Meiji government, and the present structure was reconstructed in 1965 using Edo period technology.)
The red-tiled castle tower is rare and the only one in Japan. The beautiful nature surrounding the castle provides a beautiful scene that changes with each season.
In April 2023, the castle tower will be renovated, and the inside of the building will become a place where visitors can learn about the history of Tsurugajo and Aizu with photos and documents.
Oyakuen is a Japanese garden located 1 km northeast of the north entrance to Tsurugajo Castle.
The name “Oyakuen” translates literally as “Garden of Medicine.” This is derived from the villa built by Morihisa Ashina in 1432 and later in 1670 by Masatsune Hoshina, the second lord of the Aizu Domain, who created a herb garden in the villa to save his citizens from contagious diseases.
During the war of 1868, it was used as a medical facility for the wounded and sick of the enemy army, so it was not damaged by the war. For this reason, it still retains its original appearance, and the history of 1868 can be felt throughout the building. The building still retains the sword scars left on it in those days.
Enjoy a moment to take a relaxing stroll and think of Japan’s history while admiring the centrally located pond, beautiful trees, and flowers.
Nisshinkan (A school for samurai children)
Nisshinkan was a school of the Aizu Domain built in 1803 to nurture future human resources. Children (boys) of the samurai clan entered the school at the age of 10 to study academics, martial arts, and etiquette and to train their minds and bodies.
Visitors can view the magnificent Edo architecture and the learning environment of the time. Visitors can also enjoy bushido experiences such as Kyudo (Japanese archery), Zen meditation, and painting Aizu’s lucky charm, “Akabeko.”
Aizu Festival - A famous historical festival in Japan
Aizu Wakamatsu is famous for “Aizu Matsuri (Aizu Festival),” a three-day festival held every September. 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of this traditional festival. Various events are held during the festival.
The “Aizu Han Kou Gyōretsu (Aizu Domain Parade)” is the main event of the festival and is a spectacular parade through the streets of Aizu Wakamatsu, with people dressed in the garb of the Aizu clan of each period (kimono, armor, etc.). Other popular events include a parade of children dressed as samurai and a children’s brass band marching.
In the evening, there is a “Chochin Gyōretsu (lantern parade)” where people walk through the streets with lit lanterns and “Bandaisan Odori (Bandaisan Dance)” where people dance a traditional Japanese dance around a “yagura” turret.
Many food stalls will be set up around JR Aizuwakamatsu Station and Tsurugajo Castle during the festival. Enjoy the Japanese street food culture and festival atmosphere to the fullest.
Restaurants featuring the local cuisines of Aizu Wakamatsu
Miso Dengaku “Mitsuta-ya”
“Miso dengaku” is a local dish of tofu and vegetables coated with a miso-based sauce and eaten throughout Japan, but the one here in Aizu is unique in that it consists of tofu, konnyaku, and rice cakes coated with red miso paste, sugar, and various spices, and grilled over a charcoal fire.
Mitsutaya offers miso dengaku in a retro restaurant converted from a miso warehouse. Along with the restaurant, there is also a store selling miso, soy sauce, umeboshi (pickled plums), and oil, a great place to buy souvenirs.
The menu consists mainly of healthy items such as tofu, sato-imo(Japanese taro), shiitake mushrooms, and rice cakes. The restaurant is also popular among vegetarians.
A “wappa” is a bento box made from thin boards of cypress or cedar that are bent into a round shape. “Wappa-meshi” is made by stuffing rice in a wappa box, topping it with various ingredients, and steaming it.
Wappa-meshi is a local dish of Fukushima and Niigata prefectures. In Fukushima, the rice is unseasoned white rice topped with a variety of ingredients and steamed. In Niigata, seafood is often used as a topping, while in Fukushima, wild vegetables and mushrooms are also used as toppings in addition to seafood.
Takino was the first restaurant in Aizu to sell wappa-meshi, loved by tourists and locals.
We recommend the set meal, including Aizu’s specialty “Negi Soba” (soba noodles eaten with green onions as chopsticks). For vegetarians, we recommend the Mushroom Wappa-meshi (“きのこ輪箱”) or Wild Vegetable (osmund) Wappa-meshi (“ぜんまい輪箱”)!
Aizu Wakamatsu is for people like you!
People interested in Japanese architecture
People interested in Japanese history
People who are interested in “ordinary” landscapes full of Japanese nature
People who want to enjoy traditional Aizu cuisine and sake made with pure water