Goshikinuma - Fukushima's Otherworldly, Beautiful Rainbow Ponds
If you happen to come across pictures of the Goshikinuma Ponds on the internet, you might end up thinking that the pictures are so beautiful that they must be photoshopped. Well, they are not! Fukushima Prefecture's Goshikinuma Ponds are naturally blessed with otherworldly colors—from turquoise, to bright green, to rusty red—that will leave you speechless once you've seen them in person. We had the chance to explore Goshikinuma, soak in the energizing atmosphere of the forest, and even dip in its hot springs with a beautiful lake view. Read on to find out how the unique Goshikinuma Ponds were formed and learn about the hiking trails and other fun things that these rainbow-colored ponds have to offer!
Dec 25 2020 (Jul 20 2021)
*This article was written in collaboration with Fukushima Prefecture.
What Is Goshikinuma and How Were Its Rainbow-Colored Ponds Formed?
"Goshikinuma" means "five-colored ponds," even though, according to the locals, the meaning of the name is not as literal as one might think. In reality, "goshikinuma" was simply an ancient way to refer to incredibly beautiful natural ponds. In fact, Goshikinuma includes thirty volcanic ponds, lakes, and marshes, each distinguished by their size, incredible colors, and unique characteristics.
The Goshikinuma Ponds are located in the Bandai-Asahi National Park deep in Fukushima Prefecture at the foot of Mt. Bandai. Surprisingly, their origins are quite recent, tracing back to just 1888 and the eruption of Mt. Bandai. The eruption generated a cascade of earth and rubble that blocked in different places what had been a river, creating the very picturesque ponds and lakes we can admire today.
The reason why the Goshikinuma Ponds have such surreal colors is also related to the volcanic eruption, when volcanic elements and minerals remained trapped in the water, allowing its bewildering variety of colors. This feature is further enhanced by the natural surroundings, with the changing seasons, weather, and time of the day providing even greater variation in shades.
Goshikinuma Nature Trail - A Hiking Trail Dotted With Natural Wonders
The Goshikinuma Nature Trail is a four-kilometer hiking trail linking the main ponds and lakes of the area. The path is not too steep and crosses a series of gentle slopes, wooden bridges, and sets of narrow stone stairs in a forested area rich with small waterfalls and marshes. This makes it enjoyable to hike, even for beginners! On our visit, it took us about two and a half hours to complete, with many stops to take photos.
Although the trail itself is not extremely difficult, it may become very muddy and slippery during autumn or be covered by a thick layer of snow during winter. Thus, we recommend caution and suggest wearing a pair of sturdy non-slip shoes that you don't mind getting dirty, as well as bringing your own or renting snowshoes if visiting during the winter months. The path is also very rocky, so you might consider bringing hiking poles if you're not used to hiking on rocky paths or walking for a long time.
The Goshikinuma Nature Trail has two visitor centers, one on each end, both of which have parking space. One is the Urabandai Visitor Center, where visitors can rent hiking equipment and learn more about the geography, history, and biodiversity of the Urabandai and Goshikinuma areas. The other is the Urabandai Bussankan, which is more focused on local souvenirs, traditional crafts, and local delicacies.
The Goshikinuma Ponds Which You Can Admire Along the Goshikinuma Nature Trail
Starting our exploration from the Urabandai Visitor Center side of Goshikinuma, Bishamonnuma is the first pond we got to encounter on the trail. This area has very easy access since, being located at the beginning of the nature trail, it still has paved roads, a coffee stand and restaurant, and even a small dock where you can rent a rowboat—a very popular activity among locals.
Experience the lake close up and admire multi-colored "koi" (carp) swimming in its waters while keeping an eye out for the very famous carp of love, a koi fish with a heart-shaped spot on its side thought to bring good luck in love relationships. Bishamonnuma is also the biggest lake among the ones along the trail and offers a majestic view of Mt. Bandai in the distance, as well as some truly stunning foliage when visited in autumn as we did. Finally, the name of the pond is a reference to traditional Japan, as Bishamon is the god of fortune in war and battles.
After a 15-minute walk on a series of wooden bridges and narrow rocky pathways that led us through some charming nooks of Bishamonnuma, the second pond Akanuma appeared on a side of the trail. Even though the name means "red pond," Akanuma is characterized by a very vivid emerald green color with just a touch of reddish-orange due to the high iron content along the shoreline. This popped out even more during our visit thanks to the surrounding autumn colors.
Just a few minutes away, another jaw-dropping pond emerged from the autumnal scenery of Goshikinuma. For a pond with a name meaning "deep mud pond," we didn't expect Midoronuma to have such pretty colors, but the pond proved us wrong and actually was probably one of the most unusually-colored among the Goshikinuma ponds. The water has neon green hues with deep, rusty red spots spreading throughout the surface of the pond. These rusty spots originate in the iron absorbed by the roots of the reeds, which is then released, tinging the water.
The next pond required a bit more intensive hiking through the forest to reach, and we have missed it if it weren't for our guide pointing at it through the bushes. Tatsunuma, the dragon pond, is distinguished by very thick foliage growing around it and its deep, dark green waters. It was lovely to see it in its autumnal version, as the morning mist slowly descended from the top of the hills to flow over its surface.
Bentennuma represents the middle point of the nature trail. Being larger than the previous three ponds (Akanuma, Midoronuma,Tatsunuma), it also offers a surprising variety of colors. The pond is mainly characterized by rich blue shades, with the outline glowing with bright lime green and deep yellow spots tinging the water surface here and there. Benten is another reference to Japanese folklore, as it is the name of a goddess associated with financial fortune, talent, and wisdom who is considered the patron of artists, writers, and dancers.
Being located up a hill from the trail, visitors can admire Rurinuma only from a wooden platform, so keep an eye out for it while you are on your way to the exit of the trail or you are likely to miss this wonderful pond. As the name "ruri" (lapis lazuli) suggests, this pond is blessed with a surreal turquoise color (thanks to the high content of allophane in the water) and dotted with beautiful golden reflections of the "yoshi" (Japanese reeds) growing on its shores.
The last pond on the course was one that left us in awe. The sky had finally cleared up completely, and the sun started shining against the calm and silk-looking waters of the pond, revealing a canvas of continuously changing hues. From emerald green to yellow to turquoise, Aonuma (the blue pond) beautifully shimmers against the deep orange background of the trees. Among all the Goshikinuma ponds, this one has the most acidic waters offering hikers visiting in spring or summer the chance to witness a rare phenomenon: leaves on overhanging branches bleached white by the lake's acidity.
Best Things to Do at the Goshikinuma Ponds
1. Hiking and Bird Watching - Enjoy the Beneficial and Relaxing Power of the Forest
The ponds and nature that visitors can admire during their hike is wonderful no matter the time of the year and offers different photogenic views in each season. Because we visited in November, the foliage was bursting with flaming hues, while autumnal wildflowers were timidly sprouting and making their way through the red carpet of fallen leaves.
The hiking trail was so incredible that we spent more than a few minutes at each spot taking photos, mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the surroundings. So, even if the trail would normally take an hour and a half, we suggest not to rush it and take all the time you need so you can really soak in the energizing atmosphere of Goshikinuma's unspoiled nature and refresh your mind with the healing powers of the forest.
Another activity that the Goshikinuma Ponds are particularly renowned for is birdwatching. Being located in a national park, enthusiasts won't be disappointed by the great variety of wildlife and rare species living here.
2. Snack on Aizuwakamatsu and Goshikinuma's Traditional Delicacies
If the hiking tour wasn't already amazing enough, our lovely guide also prepared a bag full of local snacks and drinks that we got to taste while covering the 4 kilometers of the hiking trails. It was very fun matching the incomparable views of the lakes with some delicious treats from Aizwakamatsu and Goshikinuma, and it also gave us the chance to learn more about Fukushima's traditional food.
We started our snack munching with a baum kuchen prepared with "yamajio" mountain salt (Japan's most expensive salt, produced in Oshio Onsen Urabandai). Then, we continued the snacking with very classic snacks, such as "musha senbei" a type of Japanese cracker with peanuts shaped like the guard of a katana and "gorobe ame," a jelly-looking candy made of glutinous rice with a recipe said to be 800 years old. At the end of the hiking trail, we even had the chance to taste Fukushima's famous peach juice, as the prefecture is one of the largest producers of peaches in Japan.
Visitors can buy all these yummy traditional snacks both at the Urabandai Lake Resort souvenir shop and at the souvenir shop located inside Aizuwakamatsu Station.
3. Urabandai Lake Resort - Have Your Lunch and Coffee Break in an Onsen Resort
Once you're satisfied with exploring the Urabandai Bussankan Visitor Center and the nearby Yanaginuma Pond located at the end of the hiking trail, cross the road and head to the Urabandai Lake Resort. This giant lake-side resort allows not only staying guests but also daily visitors to take advantage of its facilities. Spend some relaxing moments in their beautiful Nekoma Onsen and wash away the dirt and tiredness from the day's hike by dipping in the open-air bath.
Facing Lake Hibara's stunning scenery, the view will allow you some true mindfulness time. If you happen to visit during autumn as we did, you might even be able to enjoy the beautiful colors of the "momiji" (Japanese maple trees) standing right beside the bath, with bright red fallen leaves floating on the surface of the hot-spring water creating a quintessential Japanese atmosphere.
After soaking in the healing onsen waters, you'll feel refreshed and ready to have a mouthwatering lunch. Start with a "kaiseki" meal (a type of traditional Japanese meal) at the Japanese restaurant on the fifth floor of the resort, where all the ingredients for the seasonal meal sets are locally produced and carefully selected. Depending on where you're seated, a stunning view of Mt. Bandai will be the perfect plus to your lunch.
Continue the tasting of local specialties at the Urabandai Cafe on the first floor and sip their original Aizu Yamajio Coffee, a hand-dripped coffee that beautifully blends the taste of both Aizu's famous mountain salt and renowned honey, while relaxing in the cozy atmosphere.
4. Mt Bandai - Hike Through the Wonders of the Urabandai Area
Hiking trails are not limited to the Goshikinuma Ponds. Hikers can also access the trails at Oguninuma Marshland, a Natural National Monument with spectacular views and rare plants that make it well worth visiting. There's also Lake Hibara Lakeside Trail, a course that follows the east coast of Lake Hibara (the largest lake in Urabandai) where you can enjoy the changing seasons and admire the shoreline of the lake. More expert hikers can also go trekking on Mt. Bandai, one of Japan's 100 famous mountains. You can find more details on the hiking and trekking trails on the Urabandai tourism official website.
How to Get to the Goshikinuma Ponds
Visitors can access Goshikinuma via a 40-minute car ride from Aizuwakamatsu Station. Access by public transportation is also possible. From Tokyo: take a "shinkansen" bullet train from Ueno Station to Koriyama Station (1 hour and 30 minutes, 7,930 yen) and transfer to the Banetsu West Line, which will take you to Inawashiro Station (45 minutes, 680 yen). From Inawashiro Station, take a local bus heading to Urabandai Kogen Station and get off at Active Resort Urabandai Bus Stop (35 minutes, 780 yen.)
Soak in the Majestic Atmosphere of the Goshikinuma Ponds
With scenery like no other, Goshikinuma is a truly mesmerizing natural wonder. Not only will you feel refreshed by hiking through the forest filled with rainbow-colored ponds, but you'll also get to taste delicious local delicacies and soak in some of the most beautiful hot springs you'll ever see. Note down this spot for your next trip to Japan for an unforgettable experience in the unspoiled nature of Goshikinuma.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.