Travel In Japan: Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima

I'm just back from a brief business trip to Aizu, Fukushima prefecture, using the trains as usual. I just love the Shinkansen, the fast and comfortable way to get from A to B in Japan, since 1964. I know, I have mentioned it before... But compared to jets, trains are just so much more pleasant for trips like this. I can't imagine having to check in my luggage and wait and get through all kinds of hoops to board a plane.

This year, getting people to travel to Tohoku, the region north of Tokyo and Kanto, may be an uphill battle? But, there are a lot of posters and commercials, to show that the north is open for visitors, in spite of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The Onyado Toho hotel I stayed at was fully booked, which made me happy. I'm glad to see this region getting back on its feet, with all the precautions in place, but still, they are so very happy to greet visitors. I think there are a lot of "repeaters" as it is called in tourism, i e people who have been to a place once upon a time, found it good, and wish to go back. Now is a terrific time to do just that.

On the local train from Koriyama to Aizu-Wakamatsu, just north of the lake, a terrific snow blizzard hit the train, but by the time we reached our destination, it was all clear. Later in the evening, outside in the rotenburu onsen, I spotted Jupiter and Venus in the eastern sky.

The air was very cold but there is nothing like a proper hot spring to heat your heart. As for the belly, the "viking style" dinner was amazing. As a Swede, I always laugh at a buffet being called after my ancestors assumed way of eating. Vikings would have loved a Japanese-style way of treating guests!

"Agarannsho" is Aizu dialect and means "Bon appétit."

The trip was an opportunity for me to meet with City Hall officials as well as talk to farmers in the region. The good news is that even in a place like this, relatively near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactors, there are so many farmers who have not been affected by much radioactive pollution. If you read main stream media, you will hear a lot about the "doubt" and the "suspicion" but actually, so much testing is going on, and so little damage is found in most places. I understand that people are worried, but it is time to look at the facts. I joked that Aizu ought to exit Fukushima and create its own prefecture. The farmer immediately told me that yes, in the Meiji era, Aizu-Wakamatsu was indeed its own prefecture. And, in any case, they have more in common with Niigata...

A trip like this means a lot to me. Taking photos and writing, thinking about the past and the future... I often wonder why I happened to arrive here, back in 1988. I still have so much to learn. As long as I know that, this seems to be the perfect place for me. Indeed, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

In Japan, train stations are amazingly efficient. If you have any questions, there are lots of staff around who are more than happy to help you. This could be the secret to the success. Even the Shinkansen to Fukushima was basically fully booked: I chose to travel in the non-reserved section of the train, and it was tricky to find a seat; it was that full. Tuesday of course was Spring Equinox, a public holiday in this country. I was delighted to see so many people using the Shinkansen on a day like this.

Here is a Youtube video of the ad that JR East Japan made back in April, 2011, with the "tsunageo" (Let's connect) theme, very emotional as we look back on the incredible year since then, as they note that all they can do is to connect one place to the next:

(Disclaimer: I paid for this trip by myself, it was not sponsored by anyone.)


Tom O said…
Sigh... I SOOOOO miss all this, Shinkansen and trains in general in Japan. Btw, in Aizu-Wakamatsu did you get to a) visit a sake brewery b) go to Goshikinuma mineral lakes c) the big lake of which name escapes me but was created by a massive volcanic explosion and d) the museum that recreates in 3D the same said eruption? (The name has come to me - Bandai-san).
Pandabonium said…
I'm as green as the Hayabusa shinkansen - with envy. I haven't been back to Aizu-Wakamatsu since '87. Don't know why, it was one of my favorites. I suppose it is because Japan has so many wonderful places to experience, and time and money pinch.
I'm glad to see you had a good trip, and that Aizu helped confirm your connection to Japan and what you're doing. I felt the same when we were there. There is simply something about Aizu. I fell in love with that city, its history, and its wonderful selection of vegetables!

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