4 Unique Outdoor Travel Experiences in Fukushima: Horseback Riding, Fishing, SUP, and Farming!
Fukushima Prefecture is a diverse, nature-rich area surrounded by abundant sea and mountains. It is located in the Tohoku region, just 1.5 hrs from Tokyo on the Tohoku Shinkansen. In this article, we uncover the gems of Fukushima through exciting SUP, horseback riding, fishing, and vegetable harvesting experiences. If you’re seeking an extra addition to your Fukushima itinerary, read on below!
Dec 22 2021 (Jan 21 2022)
*This article is written in collaboration with the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association.
About Fukushima Prefecture
The Characteristics of Fukushima Prefecture
Fukushima is the southernmost prefecture of the Tohoku region of Japan and the country's third largest prefecture by size. It is divided into three areas - Nakadori, Aizu, and Hamadori - by a mountain range running north to south. These three areas differ not only in topography, but also in a wealth of other features including climate, economy, culture, dialect, and scenery.
The Aizu area, which includes Lake Inawashiro, the Bandai Highlands, Ouchi-juku, and Tsurugajo, is one of the prefecture’s most famous tourist destinations. Fukushima is also characterized by large seasonal temperature differences varying from about -4°C to 35°C depending on the location. Between January to February, the Aizu area is particularly renowned for winter sports and gorgeous snowy landscapes.
Fukushima Prefecture is likewise blessed with fantastic food sourced from both its bountiful land and the sea. Fukushima peaches, particularly the “Akatsuki” variety, are extraordinarily delicious and a must-try! In fact, Fukushima is second only to Yamanashi in the quantity of peaches it produces all throughout the summer.
Fukushima is also known for the quality of its rice and sake thanks to its pristine waters. It is also the birthplace of Kitakata ramen, one of the three great ramen noodle dishes of Japan alongside Sapporo and Hakata. This ramen is loved for its light, soy-based soup and chewy, medium-thick curly noodles.
How to Get to Fukushima Prefecture
International flights to Fukushima Airport are limited, so visitors should either fly to Sendai International Airport or Ibaraki Airport and continue by train, shinkansen (bullet train), or car. You can also take a domestic flight from Tokyo to Fukushima Airport and travel by bus or some other form of transportation from there.
The easiest way to travel from Tokyo is on the Tohoku Shinkansen, which takes about 1.5 hrs to Koriyama, the center of Fukushima Prefecture. From Koriyama, there are local trains such as the JR Ban-Etsusai Line and Ban-Etsuto Line connecting various destinations within Fukushima.
Tobu Railway also offers the Limited Express Revaty service taking roughly 3.5 hrs from Asakusa Station to Aizu-Tajima Station. Once at Aizu-Tajima Station, there are services on the Aizu Railway to get to your destination.
A Horseback Tour in a Town Where People and Horses Coexist
Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture has been deeply connected to horses since ancient times.
At the annual Soma Nomaoi festival, visitors can witness heroic scenes straight out of historical picture scrolls as approximately 400 horsemen clad in samurai-style armor compete in horse races and battles to capture flags. A traditional event with over 1,000 years of history, Soma Nomaoi is designated as an Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Property of Japan.
For this article, we visited the organization Horse Value near Odaka Station in Minamisoma. Unlike most horseback riding experiences, which are often limited to farm areas, the "Odaka Horse Walk” took us on a horseback tour around the streets and roads of Odaka. This tour gives retired race horses a second life while promoting interaction between people and horses to deepen our understanding of these magnificent animals.
Our two companions were Angelo (age 13), a gentle black horse, and Watarin (age 8), a charming white horse. Both were handsome retired racing horses.
The roads around Odaka Station are wide with hardly any cars or people. The trainer will lead the horses, so riding experience is unnecessary! On the way is Odaka Shrine, which plays a central role in the Soma Nomaoi festival. Many locals own horses themselves and treat them kindly and with respect. We received numerous warm greetings from shopkeepers and locals - Angelo and Watarin seem to be local favorites!
Along with a trip to and from Odaka Shrine, the Odaka Horse Walk can also include an excursion to the beach or forest!
If you’re curious about trying a beginner-friendly horseback riding experience, we definitely recommend the Odaka Horse Walk! You’ll surely be moved by the heartwarming relationship between the town's residents and horses!
Make Your Own Bamboo Fishing Rods and Fish the Traditional Japanese Way
Being in the Hamadori area of Fukushima Prefecture and facing the Pacific Ocean, the main industry of Soma is naturally fishing! This Soma fishing experience is offered as a package with overnight accommodation at local ryokan inns around Matsukawaura Bay. Participants will get to make their own bamboo fishing rods and try their hand at traditional fishing!
First, we selected the bamboo. With a thin stem that’s easy to hold, black bamboo is the ideal material for a great fishing rod! We then carefully sawed off the bamboo leaves while paying attention to the angle and placement to get clean, flat cuts. Any burrs left will dig into your hands and hurt when holding the rod, so do be careful! The leaves that are sawed off are kept aside to be used later on.
After tying fishing lines and hooks to the rods, we set off to the port to try our hand at fishing. While everyone was a beginner, the fish enthusiastically bit from the moment we dropped our lines, making us feel proud of our work! The main catch here is “haze” fish (goby), but if you're lucky, you may catch crabs as well!
After fishing, we moved location to see traditional “sasabitashi” fishing in action. According to local guides, this fishing method was born from the wisdom of their ancestors. When the sawed off bamboo leaves are left in sea water for two months, they naturally lose their scent and change color from bright green to brown. Shrimp and small crabs soon make their homes in them, allowing them to be easily caught by scooping up the leaves and shaking them out. We were lucky enough to also spot sea horses among the catch! Sea horses can only survive in clean water, providing a true testament to the quality of Matsukawaura Bay's waters!
Moon Road Starlight Cafe: Relax Under Moonlight and Starry Skies
After dinner, we took a walk to the Osu Coast, which sits between the bay of Matsukawaura and the Pacific Ocean. There are no traffic or street lights in the area, making it pitch black and yielding an incredible night sky filled with stars. We sat on a breakwater built after the Great East Japan Earthquake and listened to the local guide's stories about the area's history while sipping coffee and watching the moon rise. This was the first time we had seen such a large and vivid moon, making it immediately clear why this experience was called the “Moon Road Starlight Cafe,” even if it is not actually a cafe. The moonlight reflected on the ocean and the sky brimming with twinkling stars is a sight we’ll never forget.
Menuma Lake SUP Experience: Paddle Amongst Stunning Scenery
Standup paddle boarding (SUP) is a marine sport originating in Hawaii that has become popular around the world. Naturally, there are many places in Japan to give it a try, including Menuma Lake in Tsuchiyu Onsen within the Bandai-Asahi National Park to the west of Fukushima City. The calm waters of this gorgeous lake are perfect for SUP beginners!
Menuma and the nearby Onuma were created through volcanic activity and landslides. Menuma lies 532 m above sea level and boasts a depth of up to 8.7 m deep while being surrounded by beautiful, lush nature. We visited in the fall and the colors of the encompassing trees changing from green to red were utterly breathtaking.
There is no particular attire required for SUP in Menuma - just casual, comfortable clothing. The lake is still and there are hardly any waves, so there is no danger of falling into the water as long as you listen to the instructor. After watching a demonstration on shore on how to control the board, we donned our life jackets and set out into the lake!
First we practiced paddling sitting down. Once we were used to it, we tried standing up and paddling around the lake with our guide and instructor. The fish swimming in the shallows and surrounding branches of rich yellow and orange foliage wove together an enchanting view we couldn’t stop photographing!
If SUP isn’t your thing, you can opt for kayaking instead. The tour offers both single and double kayaks, allowing a comfortable ride to fully relish the beauty of Menuma.
Harvest Organic Vegetables and Experience Farm Life at a Kitakata Farm
Kitakata is a basin north of the Aizu area surrounded by mountains. It is famous for Kitakata ramen, one of Japan's three great ramen dishes. Kitakata was also the first city in Japan to promote "green travel," allowing visitors to experience the local lifestyle and culture through farming experiences and tours.
The farming experience we participated in was held by the onsen ryokan inn Fujiya. The first part of the tour saw us visit a farm run by the inn to dig up root vegetables. We were surprised to find not only regular white daikon radishes, but also exotic varieties rarely seen in supermarkets like purple and red daikon and red turnips. If you live in Japan, you can take the harvested vegetables home. If not, you can enjoy them for dinner at the inn!
Once back at Fujiya, we were led to the inn's kitchen where we cooked the freshly harvested vegetables under the instruction of the young proprietress. The reddish purple daikon can be eaten raw after cutting and boasts a delightfully crisp and sweet taste with a slight sharpness. The white daikon and turnips were made into a salad while the organic vegetables were served in individual hot pots and enjoyed with minced daikon for added sweetness.
Through its organic, healthy, and creative food, Fujiya truly stands out from other onsen ryokan inns. While the unconventional arrangement and simple cooking may not be the most lavish, it more than makes up for it through the nourishing warmth of home cooking.
The average duration of the experiences introduced here is between 2-3 hours. If any have piqued your interest, feel free to incorporate them into your travel plans and add some unique fun and excitement to your next Fukushima adventure!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.