Aizuwakamatsu in western Fukushima Prefecture is known for its pristine landscapes, quality sake, traditional crafts, and rich samurai history. It’s a bustling former castle town with friendly locals deeply proud of their history and culture. Home to thousand-year-old hot springs, lakes swimming with swans, and the last refuge of loyal samurai, Aizuwakamatsu is worthy of history buffs and nature lovers alike.
Tsuruga Castle (also called Aizuwakamatsu Castle) is Aizuwakamatsu’s symbol and city center. Once the seat of the powerful Aizu Domain, it was the site of the Battle of Aizu and one of the last conflicts of the Boshin War. The engagement saw t
he Aizu Domain, loyal samurai to the shogun, facing the newly imposed Meiji government’s overwhelming forces.
The Meiji government demolished the original castle in 1874, but the main keep was reconstructed beautifully in 1965. New additions, such as a museum and an observation gallery, were also added. Climbing to the castle’s top floor, you get gorgeous, sweeping views of the surrounding area, including Mount Bandai and the vast Lake Inawashiro, home to Japan’s migrating swans.
A visit to the castle is especially worthwhile during the cherry blossom season in late March and early April when the gardens are alive with vibrant white and pink colors. The castle isn’t the only draw though, this town has plenty to see (and drink)!
Other attractions in Aizuwakamatsu
Aizu Sazaedo Temple
This uniquepagoda-shaped temple overlooks Aizuwakamatsu City. Here, visitors can complete a holy pilgrimage just by visiting one building. It features 33 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, on its winding staircase.
Right outside the castle is the Rinkaku Teahouse. It’s where old samurai unwound with strong matcha tea. You can enjoy a cup of delicious brew yourself, served in style. The teahouse is open to the public and a Fukushima Prefecture Important Cultural Property.
If all that walking has left you feeling sluggish, a trip to Higashiyama is just what the doctor ordered. Only ten minutes by car from the city center, this onsen (hot spring) town was a retreat to Aizu residents and samurai since the 8th century. Today, it’s considered one of the top three onsen towns in the Tohoku Region.
Afterward, pay a visit to Aizu Bukeyashiki, the residence of top-ranking samurai during Edo times. Demolished during the Boshin War, it was accurately reconstructed and will leave you with a lasting impression of how high-ranking samurai actually lived.
Oyakuen Gardenis a peaceful traditional Japanese garden. Centered around a pond, locals in Aizuwakamatsu have been growing hundreds of medicinal plants here for more than 200 years. The garden’s name literally translates to Medicinal Herb Garden. Flowers bloom throughout the seasons, especially along the pathway leading to the pond.
Suehiro Sake Brewery
Suppose you’re interested in a good shot of sake instead, head over to the Suehiro Sake Brewery. Try joining the brewery tours and sake tastings. Even better, buy a bottle or two before heading out of town for camping at nearby Lake Inawashiro or up in the Aizu mountains.