One of the main things I wanted to do in Tohoku was to explore the areas affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. One prefecture that was affected more than others was Fukushima. Not only suffering the direct impact of the earthquake and tsunami, but with the ongoing fall out from the nuclear reactor meltdown.
I first visited Fukushima in 2008 and always wondered how different it would be post 2011. We had 5 nights scheduled to explore Fukushima, based in the town of Aizuwakamatsu. We left Ichinoseki early and took the shinkansen to Fukushima station. Again we were squashed in with our luggage, luckily it was a relatively short journey. There was a bit of a walk from the station to the hire car lot, we learnt later that we could have called for a lift but it is good to get your steps in! On our way to the Times Rent a Car lot we saw our first Geiger counter, in a children’s playground. The radiation level was within normal range, so nothing to worry about if you are visiting Fukushima city.
I knew before visiting that f the areas we planned to stop at had normal levels of radiation, and therefore I had no concerns. Even when we visited the area around the nuclear power plant (in a few days time), most places are safe for a day trip!
We hopped in our car and headed east to the samurai town of Aizuwakamatsu, where we were staying for the next 5 nights. Although only a short drive over 60 miles, it was going to take an hour and twenty according to Google (which we know is a lie), and so we had a couple of places planned to stop off at on our way.
First stop was Nihonmatsu castle, or what was left of it at least! Unlike many Japanese castles it was not destroyed by war, but by the government during the Meiji Restoration. The castle remains are park are popular during sakura season, and we happened to visit during another chrysanthemum festival!
When we arrived at the castle we were approached by two reports from CNN who interviewed me for their next piece on tourism in Fukushima, which was exciting! The castle grounds were beautiful, the highlight was an enormous pine which stretched for many meters in diameter.
This was probably the least interesting castle I’ve visited in Japan, but how exciting can ruins be?! We headed off in the car on our way through the mountains to Aizuwakamatsu. We stopped off at one of Japans many Michi no eki (roadside stations), Tsuchiyu rest area, which offered panoramic views across Fukushima. It was also the windiest place I have ever been!
Next stop was Tatsuzawafudo falls, which I only found thanks to randomly scrolling on Google maps. The falls are a pair of husband and wife falls in Inawashiro town. The falls are situated deep into the forest, and was quite a challenge for our little car to get to! Once you are at the car park there are lots of bear warning signs, and little else. A short walk along the river bank takes you to the falls. It was actually surprisingly busy, especially considering you need a car to even get there, and it isn’t a well known attraction! Tripod space was at a premium that day. It was a great little side trip on our way, but didn’t live up to the beauty of the falls we had seen at Oirase Gorge.
After our little pit stop we did the last stretch to Aizuwakamatsu. That short drive was possibly one of the most enjoyable thanks to the beautiful rural scenery, we were truly in the inaka! The sides of the roads were rice paddies as far as the eye could see! As it was harvest time the fields were golden or neatly stacked after harvest. Interestingly one side of the road had metal sheeting up it, a mystery we didn’t quite solve, but was very popular throughout northern Japan.
After our hours of driving, 63 miles somehow took 2 hours and 40 minutes, we parked at out Hotel, Aizuwakamatsu Washington Hotel, which was on the higher end of hotels for our trip. It sadly didn’t live up to the cost, and was in dire need of refurbishment! We decided to walk to one of our favourite family restaurants in Japan, Denny’s, so I could enjoy some steak! I love walking through Japanese cities, all the shops are so interesting to walk by!