January 25, 2013

Aizu-wakamatsu: Tsuruga Castle and Aizu Sake Museum

As simple as it sounds, one of the most important parts of our stay in Fukushima was to spend time enjoying the region from a tourist's perspective. Since the nuclear disaster, tourism has been slow to recover - both domestic and foreign tourists have been hesitant to spend time in the region. The uncertainty has snowballed into harmful rumours and hearsay. Even on the flight over to Japan, when we told the flight attendants that we were going to Fukushima, they warned us not to eat the rice or drink the water.

We spent a day checking out the sights in Aizu-wakamatsu, a city with a rich samurai history. To learn about the wars and warriors of the past, we visited Tsuruga Castle, one of the most famous tourist attractions in Tohoku. The castle that stands today is actually a reconstruction - the original castle was damaged by an earthquake in 1611, then destroyed by the Meiji government after incessant warfare in 1868. It was completely rebuilt in 1965, and now contains a museum detailing the history of the Aizu region.
Tsuruga Castle: a treasure of the Aizu region
View from the top of the castle grounds, covered in snow
View of Aizu-wakamatsu city, tucked beneath the hills
A 'samurai' at the castle. He let me try on his hat.
Another important part of Aizu's history is its long tradition of rice wine or sake brewing - the cold climate, pure spring water and rice are ideal for sake production. In Aizu-wakamatsu there are numerous local sake breweries, and we were able to visit the Miyaizumi brewery, which also contains a museum - the Aizu Sake Museum. Our tour guide was a jolly man who taught us drinking games and sang the praises of the sake, advising us to sample everything but to try not to get drunk! He also told us about the Miyaizumi brewery's struggles after the disaster - people had been warned not to eat or drink anything within a 100km zone of the condemned nuclear plant; unfortunately the brewery is located 97.8km away. Almost all of the brewery's orders were cancelled in the year following the disaster, however, they remain hopeful for this season's brew.
Students entering the Aizu Sake Museum
With my Australian friend Emilee: sampling the sake!

The brewery's spring water tap
Sake production is done in the Winter, as cold temperatures are necessary for best results
If you're thinking about going to Japan, put Fukushima on your itinerary. Places like Aizu-wakamatsu are unique hotspots of Japan's natural beauty, history and culture. If you've already been to Japan's larger, more well-known cities, Fukushima's cities and towns can offer a completely different experience, and one that I found enriching. By spending money on accommodation, tourist attractions, and souvenirs in Fukushima, you can make a small but significant contribution to the local economy, which so desperately needs boosting. More than anything, visiting Fukushima as a tourist helps to give the people hope, that someday the region might be able to return back to the way it was before the disaster.


  1. It's sad that even though areas near the Fukushima nuclear plant are safe, people are still too ruled by ignorance or fear to go there or buy their products. I think the Kizuna Project is doing good by informing students so that they can let the rest of the world know.

    Again, thank you for posting about this experience. I will definitely make it a point to visit Tohoku when I go to Japan.

    1. Thank you! I hope you have a great time studying in Japan, I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures!