I always wanted to explore Fukushima so I headed north from Tokyo station for a short ride on the Tohoku Shinkansen Toward Koriyama station. It's only about an hour and half. and is a great way to enjoy a half day trip for a little history and an overnight stay at a nice onsen without exhausting yourself. I enjoyed my bento in the spacious seats as I looked forward to my trip.
After getting off at Koriyama station I was greeted by my guide and Gakuto-kun Onpu-chan, Koriyama City's colorful yuru-kyara (laid-back characters), local mascots used for promotion. I boarded our chartered bus on the way to Nisshinkan Samurai school located in Aizu. It was the most prestigious institution of its time for training young samurai in the early 1800’s, the last part of the Edo era during the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate. Children entered the school at 10 years old and they studied both academics as well as physical and mental disciplines. The grounds sit upon a hill surrounded by snow capped mountains and the gorgeous Aizu area. It is quite large, about 26,000 sq. meters, and even has Japan's oldest swimming pool, Suiren-Suiba Ike, and is a great example of Edo-era architecture.
This time, I traveled from Tokyo to Aizu Wakamatsu, home of Nisshinkan, on the Tohoku Shinkansen via Kōriyama Station. However, the YUTTARI(Relaxing) AIZU TOBU FREE PASS issued by Tobu Railway is extremely affordable and convenient.
This ticket allows an Asakusa departure with unlimited travel within the Nikko and Fukushima areas. It's cheaper than the shinkansen, so recommended for those looking for a more affordable ticket option.
Follow in the footsteps of Samurai
The school turned out some very famous warriors but probably the most famous and tragic characters were the child warriors, Byakkotai. During the Boshin wars, they were a reserve unit made up of teens that were cut off from the rest of the troops during the battle of Tonoguchihara. They retreated to Iimori hill where they watched what they thought was the castle burning. Disheartened, thinking that there families had perished, they tragically committed seppuku, ritual suicide.
At the school we were able to see very realistic life-sized dioramas of the classrooms with students learning the different subjects like astronomy, writing and samurai disciplines.
You can participate in many of the traditional disciplines including tea ceremony, meditation, horseback riding, and Akabeko red cow painting (a local good luck charm) but we chose Japanese archery which was pretty cool. The master showed us a brief ritual and the proper techniques to hold the arrows and bow and how to shoot. Even younger children can participate as long as they are old enough to hold the arrow and bow with one hand the correct way.
Best Ryokan in Fukushima with private bath
I was looking forward to a traditional Japanese meal and a much needed soak at the onsen, so we headed back to Higashiyama onsen area to Harataki Ryokan. When I walked into the spacious lobby I immediately felt the Japanese hospitality and architectural aesthetic. There were lounging areas and a well stocked gift shop with many meibutsu (local famous products) to buy as omiyage (souvenirs) for family and friends. The facilities included, a tea lounge, karaoke box and the general baths for everyone, divided into male and female, which included a rotenburo (outdoor bath) where I could see the waterfall and melt away the stress. But there were also private baths that could be rented!
My room overlooked the river and I could hear the waterfall and was very large with tatami mats and traditional Japanese furniture. Even though there are onsen baths at the ryokan, there was also a private bath with a shower in the room, an added bonus. Other amenities included a mini fridge and a yukata to wear to dinner and the ryokan hot springs.
I put on my yukata and headed down to the restaurant to meet our tour group for dinner. The staff prepared a mix of a set meal with several Japanese delicacies including beef shabu shabu and tempura as well as a complete buffet that included maguro, local soba, vegetables and dessert area, as a compliment. It was clear I would not go hungry tonight! We ordered some sake and talked about our day. After dinner I headed off to the onsen to sit under the stars and listen to the waterfall then it was back to my room where I found my futon and bedding had all been prepared while I dined. I was quickly lulled to sleep by the falls, maybe the sake helped a bit.
In the morning, after a wonderful night’s sleep, I headed down to a wonderful breakfast. Again there was a buffet with western as well as Japanese food, and a prepared assortment of small Japanese dishes. I always love the variety and different flavors of Japanese ryokan and Harataki did not disappoint!
This tour is a great way to get out of the city and truly refresh. If you only have 1 day It is a great way to experience Japanese history, culture and hospitality within a reasonable distance surrounded by beautiful natural beauty that can be enjoyed differently in all seasons.