We were staying in Mito for one reason, to see the torii gate at Oarai Isosaki Shrine. We left the hotel at 5am after a quick breakfast of microwave rice. Even though Mito city is in Ibaraki it was also hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Oarai Isosaki Shrine is has stoof since 856 AD worshipping the kami who created Japan; Ojnamuchi and Sukunahikona no Mikoto. The most beautiful thing about this shrine, and a draw to all photographers, is the torii gate which stands in the sea, facing east. This positioning means the sun will rise behind the torii gate, giving an otherworldly feel.
We arrived at 5:30 and joined a line of photographers, eagerly awaiting for the sun with their tripods all in a line. We added ours to the batch, and waited. It was an absolutely amazing sunrise! The sky turned yellow, orange and then pink and purple before the sun breached the horizon and lit up the sea. I strongly recommend anyone comes here, it is definitely worth getting up early to see! At one point a cheeky seagull decided to alight on the gate, causing the line of photographers to let out a groan.
If I could change one thing about that morning I would have wanted a high tide, I have seen photos where the waves crash through the torii gate, it would have added that little bit of extra magic. An excuse to go back again though!
As we were only staying one night in Mito we only bought along our hang luggage, which we had loaded into the car at 5am, so we had no need to go back to the hotel. We had a number of options as to what we would do on our way back to Aizuwakamatsu; visit Nikko, visit the Kairaku-en gardens or go see some waterfalls. My husband loves waterfalls, and as it was on a more direct route back we headed towards Fukuroda Falls.
Fukuroda falls is said to be one of the top three most beautiful falls in Japan, alongside Nachi falls in Wakayama and Kegon Falls in Tochigi. I visited Kegon Falls back in 2010 and it was stunning, so I had high hopes for Fukuroda. This was time number three to be lured by an older lady into their private car park, and they charged the usual 500¥ for the pleasure. It is a walk up to the entrance of the falls, past numerous shops and food stalls, which were starting to open for the day. The falls here are a bit peculiar in that to access them you go through a 200m tunnel onto an observation deck. You can then take an elevator to get a higher view of the falls.
I was actually disappointed by the waterfall, espsecially as it was billed as one of the top in Japan! It did look beautiful with the morning sun cascading across the falls, but I have certainly seen more beautiful waterfalls across Japan than Fukuroda.
I have heard that the falls become particularly stunning in winter and the water freezes, between December and February. It was a good stop off but I wouldn’t recommend going out of the way to visit Fukuroda. Although the surrounding valley was beautiful against the blue sky.
On route back to Aizuwakamatsu we stopped off in the town of Shirakawa again, to visit on of their famous darma workshops. The first place we visited, which I had found online, was more of a production workshop and not for visitors. We headed off to stop number two which was Sagawa daruma workshop. This was quite a challenge to get to, as the entire road it was on was under construction and inaccessible. We parked at a local supermarket and decided to try and walk through the construction to get to the workshop. I was really glad we did, the workshop was small and cute, and the daruma were stunning. Quite different from the usual plain red daruma that we see. We picked up a daruma to add to our collection, and headed back onto the road.
We made it back to Aizuwakamatsu after dark and drove straight to visit to Denny’s for dinner, before heading to Lion, a local supermarket for some snacks. It was off to bed after an early start, and another long day!