Explore Fukushima’s Samurai History, Stunning Nature, and Fermented Delicacies to Learn About the Essence of Japanese Culture

The beautiful Fukushima Prefecture in northern Japan is a fantastic place to experience a lesser-seen side of the country. From peeking into samurai lifestyles to enjoying both ocean and mountain scenery, Fukushima Prefecture’s breathtaking nature, mouthwatering regional delicacies, and fascinating local history offer insight into the essence of traditional Japanese culture. We got to partake in activities in Fukushima that highlight some of the best that the prefecture has to offer, so read on to find out what you can discover in this captivating corner of Japan!

*This article was sponsored by the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association

Fukushima Prefecture - A Treasure Trove of History, Nature, and More

Fukushima Prefecture is located in the Tohoku Region in northern Japan. For many, the name “Fukushima” may immediately call up thoughts of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, but the region has largely recovered and is once again a charming area that is home to phenomenal nature, enchanting culture, delectable cuisine, and more.

The prefecture is divided into thirds horizontally, with the west being the Aizu region, the center the Nakadori region, and the east the Hamadori region. Each offers its own allures; the Aizu region is renowned for its fascinating history and magnificent spots that look like they have been untouched since ancient times such as Tsurugajo Castle, Ouchijuku, and the Aizu Hanko Nisshinkan; the Nakadori region is known for its natural attractions that include mountains, beautiful flowers and fruit trees, and hot springs; and the Nakadori region is famous for its breathtaking coastline which also contributes to mouthwatering local seafood cuisine. This time, we partook in activities located in Aizuwakamatsu in the Aizu region and Iwaki in the Hamadori region.

With a range of altitudes across the prefecture, the weather can be different even within the prefecture. For the most accurate forecast, it is best to check the specific area you are planning to visit.

How to Get To Fukushima Prefecture From Tokyo

Fukushima Prefecture is quite accessible from Tokyo and can be easily reached by train.

There are three stations in Fukushima that are serviced by the shinkansen: Shin-Shirakawa Station in southern Fukushima, Koriyama Station in central Fukushima, and Fukushima Station in northern Fukushima.

It takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to both Koriyama and Fukushima Stations from Tokyo Station via the Tohoku and Yamagata Shinkansen lines.

It also takes around 1.5 hours to get to Shin-Shirakawa Station from Tokyo Station via the Tohoku Shinkansen.

Experience Some of the Best of What Fukushima Has to Offer With These Activities

Explore the Urabandai Highlands and Snowy Terrain With a Private Snow Shoes Tour

Fukushima is crossed with scenic mountains and preserved nature, and we were ecstatic to get to enjoy them in their full winter glory. We visited a lesser-known natural landmark called Rengenuma Pond in the middle of the snowy season of January and were met by heaps of snow.

Our adventure began at the Urabandai Site Station “Mori no Eki,” which we reached via a very snowy bus ride from Koriyama Station. Indeed, so much snow was falling that we wondered if it would even be open (more than 60 cm had already fallen that day according to the snowfall meter), but it was, and our very friendly guide was waiting for us with traditional Japanese snow gear in hand.

He showed us how to strap the “kanjiki,” traditional Japanese snowshoes made from a bent circle of bamboo, onto our feet using a latticework of rope. We then donned conical straw hats called “ami gasa” to keep the snow off our heads and faces and headed out to make our way through the snow, just as locals used to do back in olden times. 

Fluffy white snow was gently falling as we crunched a trail through the waist-deep powder (at least it would’ve been waist-deep if we didn’t have the benefit of the snowshoes to keep us afloat) and breathed in the crisp winter air. The shoes were light and it was easy to move our legs across the winter wonderland spreading out in front of us. It was truly a unique way to see one of Fukushima’s most beautiful natural areas. As we walked, our guide would pause to tell us about the volcanic geography or point out scratches left by a bear’s claw in the tree, and we finished the tour having learned quite a bit about the area.

After the trek, we took a break to sip hot “amazake,” a sweet fermented rice drink that has been enjoyed for centuries, as we sat in a snow shelter one of the guides had worked hard to dig out for us. What a way to enjoy a special time in Fukushima’s gorgeous nature.

Learn About Samurai Culture and the History of the Aizu Domain at the Aizu Hanko Nisshinkan

Established in 1803, the Aizu Hanko Nisshinkan was once a prestigious school where the sons of samurai families in the Aizu Domain (in present-day Fukushima Prefecture) came to study and train to become the next generation of warriors. Here, students undertook a wide range of studies that covered everything from languages to martial arts.

The vast grounds housed classrooms, several dojos, and other facilities to help students in their studies, and at one point hosted over 1,000 students. The magnificent structures exude an air of dignity, and walking through the solemn main gate of the grounds made us feel as though we were stepping back in time.

We were first greeted with a view of a body of water in a courtyard surrounded by the school buildings which we were surprised to learn was not a lake, but in fact a pool where students learned how to swim and ride horses through water.

As we walked through the hallways, we passed by several of the classrooms, each displaying mannequins that represented the students and their teachers in their day-to-day lives. The kimono-clad dolls seemed frozen in time, each focusing on the task at hand, helping us visualize the school life at the time. In Japan, students are the ones who clean the classrooms, and here we got a peak into this unique Japanese custom.

During our trip to the Nisshinkan, we were able to test our warrior spirits with an archery experience. Located in a miniature version of a Japanese archery dojo, we got to handle bows and arrows designed for beginners as we tried to hit the targets on the other side of the room.

We felt our adrenaline rush as we aimed and let the arrows fly, and could not stop excitedly talking about the experience even after finishing. Trying Japanese archery is a special experience, as normally, it takes weeks until new practitioners can even begin to try aiming for a target. It was an incredible way to awaken the warrior within, so even though none of us were able to hit any of the targets (although a few of us got extremely close!), we lost ourselves in the moment while focusing on the targets in front of us.

The Nisshinkan also has several other experiences available that give insight into traditional Japanese culture, including Zen meditation and partaking in a Japanese tea ceremony.

Learn About Tatami Mats From the 280-Year-Old Tatami Brand Kuboki Tatami

Tatami are traditional woven Japanese floor mats made from a type of rush called “igusa.” Kuboki Tatami is a tatami brand that has a history that dates back over 280 years and is now run by the 15th-generation owner. It has even contributed to the international appreciation of tatami mats, having exported tatami to 21 countries over 100 times.

Although tatami is an integral part of Japanese culture, it is rarely seen outside of traditional spaces. To prove that tatami does in fact complement contemporary lifestyles, in 2023 Kuboki Tatami opened Tatami Village, a shop and cafe where guests can find tatami trinkets and sip on delicious beverages while observing tatami craftspeople at work.

Upon entering Tatami Village, we found ourselves in a sleek, white building lined with beautiful displays of tatami items. The central counter of the showroom is covered with hundreds of purchasable tatami coasters of different sizes, each accentuated with one of dozens of colorful trimmings. There are also rolls of trimmings lining the walls, with designs ranging from traditional to modern and even collaborations with popular series, showing the modernization of tatami.

The cafe is a perfect example of tatami complementing modernity, with the seating areas and even the cafe countertop being lined with tatami. The sophisticated, two-floored space is open and airy, with the tatami and other neutral-colored accents giving it natural touches. Seeing the baristas whisking fresh matcha atop the tatami countertops was mesmerizing, and it was the perfect environment to relax in as we sipped on our matcha lattes while gazing out the large windows covering the walls.

During our visit to the Tatami Village, we were given an introduction to the company and its products and then were able to actually go into the tatami workshop to see tatami being made up close. The workshop was filled with a grassy fragrance thanks to the igusa, which we were informed is considered calming and nostalgic by many Japanese people. We were able to learn about the different components of tatami as well as see for ourselves some of the techniques that are employed to make it.

We also got to make our own little tatami mats to bring home with us! We were presented with all the materials we would need, which included Kuboki Tatami’s high-quality pre-woven tatami and trimmings of cotton cloth made locally in Fukushima.

The instructor walked us through each step, demonstrating with her own example mat, which made it incredibly easy to follow. Even so, the process was not finished with a snap! It gave us an appreciation for the effort, skills, and knowledge needed to create tatami mats.

Savor Delicious Fermented Dishes Surrounded by Lush Nature at Knuckles Cafe

Basking in the great outdoors is a must when visiting Fukushima Prefecture, and one of the best places to do that is at Knuckles Cafe, located within a facility that overlooks both the ocean and forest.

Before tucking into our special fermented lunches, we decided to build up our appetites while breathing in the crisp, fresh air with some yoga and trekking. To get our muscles ready for the short hike through the forest, we made our way onto yoga mats to do some simple stretches and reconnect with our souls and Mother Nature. There were no urban sounds to disturb us, and we focused on the voice of our instructor and the rustling leaves while we gazed out upon the ocean in the distance.

With our bodies stretched and warmed, our instructor led us through a path in the nearby forest, through thick foliage and over rocky hills. There were a couple of spots that required us to hold on to ropes to get over steeper slopes, adding a sense of thrill and adventure!

Our destination was an observation point from where we could take in panoramic views of the ocean and Fukushima coastline, and even hear a train clacking along in the distance.

After taking in the sights and filling our lungs with fresh air, we headed back indoors to enjoy Knuckles Cafe’s “Knuckle Lunch,” featuring specialty fermented foods. If you have any preconceptions about fermented food, let them go, as Knuckles Cafe’s range and creativity are sure to surprise you.

We were presented with plates covered entirely by homemade morsels, and the proprietor informed us that even the rice was specially fermented by him. Fermented foods have been a staple in Japanese cuisine since ancient times, and in Knuckles Cafe’s case, are made by fermenting ingredients in rice bran. Fermented foods do have a unique, sharp taste, which may take a few bites to get accustomed to, but behind the initial kick unravels delicious flavors that highlight and intensify the natural complexity of the ingredients.

To wash our meals down, we were given a couple of glasses of “amazake,” which is a drink made from fermented rice. We were all shocked when we were told that no sugar was used to make it, as to us it was a sweet, smooth drink with no acidity.

To finish off our meals, we were presented with cups of “kabocha” pumpkin pudding and a choice of homemade yogurt or kombucha. The pudding was rich and dense and burst with kabocha flavor, while the yogurt was creamy, like a sweeter Greek yogurt, and even more delicious when dressed with the accompanying aloe sauce. The kombucha was surprisingly easy to drink, tasting faintly of an unsweetened, earthy herbal tea with a thicker consistency.

When we left, we felt our whole bodies were rejuvenated thanks to the light exercise among nature and the healthy, nutritious lunch.

Be Led Through the Breathtaking Sights of Fukushima on Bicycle

Fukushima is blessed with a stunning coastline, which we got to savor the beauty of on a guided bike tour near the water.

Hayate Cycle is a rental bicycle shop in Iwaki City that not only rents out bicycles, but also offers guided tours through some of the city’s best sights. The guides will plan out a course appropriate for the season and weather, and on the day we visited, it was decided that we would bike along the coast and stop by a shrine along the way.

After getting a briefing from the owner and giving the shop’s unofficial mascot, a friendly Pomeranian called Maron, a couple of pets, we grabbed our bikes and set off on our two-wheeled adventure.

Hayate Cycle stocks several types of bikes, including mountain and e-bikes. Most of us who do not bike or are fairly active very often opted for e-bikes, which have motors that assist with acceleration and ascension. Having an e-bike certainly made the journey easier, but it does not mean you won’t still get a workout!

We biked up and down gentle inclines, following the clear hand signs of our guide as he led us past local streets and quaint neighborhoods. We stopped a couple of times along the tour to rest our legs and take in the sights, the calm waves reflecting the light from the setting sun beyond the swaying reeds rendering us almost speechless.

We arrived at Bentenjima Shrine right before sunset, and after parking our bikes, walked across a mystical-looking bridge that made us feel as though we were about to be spirited away.

The small island holds several stone statues and a solitary vermillion torii gate. Surrounded by jagged rocks and lapping waves, it was as though we had entered into another realm. We took our time climbing over the natural formations and taking commemorative photos before we hopped back on our bikes to make it back to the shop before the sun fully went down.

There Is Something for Everyone in Fukushima Prefecture!

Fukushima Prefecture’s potential as a sightseeing destination is still overlooked by many travelers, but even some quick research into the prefecture will show that it is overflowing with charm. Whether you are a history buff, nature lover, foodie, or something else, Fukushima is a treasure trove of wonders waiting to be discovered. The activities we partook in gave incredible insight into the local culture, although this was only the tip of the iceberg. Fukushima Prefecture is a unique, off-the-beaten-path sightseeing destination where you are sure to create memories that will last a lifetime.

More Fukushima Prefecture tours: https://fukushima.travel/tours/

Follow the Official Fukushima Tourism Information Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rediscoverfukushima/

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Tohoku Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

Kim S.
Originally from the United States, Kim is now based in Tokyo. Her love for traditional Japanese culture takes her to quiet corners and holes-in-the-wall all across Japan, looking for retro atmospheres, local vibes, and places that make her feel like she's traveled back in time. One of her favorite pastimes is searching for delicious coffee shops and hidden gems in all 47 prefectures.
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