Aizuwakamatsu (会津若松) is the main city in the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture, in the north of Honshū island, the largest of Japan. With a population of 120,000, Aizuwakamatsu has a rich warrior history, stretching back 1,000 years. Although the city is most known for the Byakkotai, a force of about 300 young samurai (13-17 year olds) in the Boshin Civil War. Nineteen of them committed suicide, declining surrender. Today, sake and lacquerware are the two main industries in Aizuwakamatsu. The Aizu region has spectacular natural scenery. Most visitors also make a journey to Mt. Bandai and Inawashiro for skiing, fishing and onsen.
- 1 Aizu Wakamatsu Station Tourist Information Center (会津若松駅観光案内所). Has pamphlets, maps, and information about local sights, restaurants, and events. If you are a guest staying at any of the ryokan in Higashiyama Onsen or Ashinomaki Onsen, they have a baggage delivery service that will take your baggage to your hotel so you can enjoy the day sightseeing and collect your bags when you check-in.
- 2 Aizu Area Information Center (あいづ広域観光情報センターｉらんしょ). Pamphlets, maps, and information about each of the cities and towns in the Aizu Region (Western Fukukushima Prefecture).
- SAMURAI CITY Aizuwakamatsu is an official tourist information site in English.
Fukushima Airport only has flights to Osaka Itami Airport and Sapporo Chitose Airport. If you're using this airport, there are buses from the airport to Koriyama Station where you can catch a train bound for Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. For most travelers, Sendai Airport or one of Tokyo's airports will be more convenient. Sendai Airport has buses that travel directly to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. If you fly into Tokyo, you can transfer to the Shinkansen or take a bus (see below).
The fastest and most convenient way to access Aizuwakamatsu is to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama, and transfer to the Ban-etsu Saisen Line. It takes about 3 hours and ¥9480.
Tobu Railway and Aizu Railway also serve the area. Although Tobu Railway runs from Asakusa in Tokyo, it takes a lot more time to reach Aizu Wakamatsu than using JR, so these will be most useful for people in the Nikko/Kinugawa Onsen area or those who purchased travel passes from these railways.
JR East offers a direct highway bus service to Aizuwakamatsu from Tokyo's Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (located near the New South Exit at Shinjuku train station) to Aizuwakamatsu Bus Terminal (located opposite Aizuwakamatsu Station). There are also limited connections from Tokyo Station. It takes about 4 hours with 2 rest stops along the way. A one-way ticket costs around ¥2,500 and can be purchased at any JR ticket office.
From within the prefecture, there are also buses from Iwaki.
To visit the major sightseeing spots, take the Sightseeing Bus from Aizuwakamatsu Station. You can buy an one-day pass for ¥500. There are two loop buses that go in opposite directions around the same route, so make sure your bus is going in the direction that will get you to your destination the fastest. If you're more adventurous (or if the bus times work against you), it takes about 40 minutes to walk to the castle or Iimoriyama and the Sazaedo from Aizu Wakamatsu Station.
- 1 Aizu Wakamatsu Castle (Tsuruga Castle). A castle was built here in 1593, but the current building is a concrete replica. During the end of the Edo Period, the Aizu soldiers were defeated after one month of fighting to defeat the castle. The new government (Meiji Period) destroyed the castle in 1874. In accordance with its original design, the castle was built again in 1965 - it is considered to symbolize the samurai culture of Aizuwakamatsu. The castle contains five stories, which serve as a local history museum. Each floor focuses on a theme - Buddhist memorabilia, antique lacquerware and pottery, the Boshin Civil War and the Byakkotai. The fifth floor serves as an observation platform from where you can enjoy a splendid view of the entire Aizu valley. Near the entrance to the castle grounds is a souvenir shop selling a variety of goods from the Aizu region, and in the spring, the castle grounds are filled with cherry blossoms. The castle lookout is a good place to envisage exile: w:Shiba Goro writer of Remembering Aizu left this place of his dreams with the other exiles of the Aizu culture who were made scapegoats for the resistance to the Meiji restoration. Amazon Books has had extensive extracts for free from Remembering Aizu if you want a sample.
- 2 Oyakuen (御薬園, Aizu Matsudaira's Royal Garden), ☏ . 08:30-17:00. Built in 1670 as a garden for a teahouse for the lords of Aizu. The garden is well known for growing medicinal herbs - around 400 kinds of herbs are still grown. ¥320.
- 3 Fukushima Prefectural Museum (福島県立博物館, fukushima kenritsu hakubutsukan), 1-25 Jotomachi, ☏ . Prefectural museum of natural history, history and culture.
- 4 Nisshinkan (日新館). A former school of the Aizu Clan built in 1803. Known as a "samurai school", the boys who attended had lessons in academics, martial arts, and culture in order to make them proper moral citizens and soldiers. Some of the byakkotai boys who fought in the Boshin War were students here. It has been converted into a museum wher you can learn about daily life at the school. Visitors can participate in a variety of experiences reminiscent of what the boys might have studied, such as archery, zen meditation, and tea ceremony lessons, along with more modern activities, such as painting Akabeko and Okiagari Koboshi. Some activities require reservations, which can be made on their website (Japanese only). ¥850.
- 5 Samurai Residence (会津武家屋敷). A preserved samurai estate featuring a teahouse, magistrate's office, a warehouse, and a rice mill in addition to the Aizu chief retainer's house. There is also a restaurant and a gift shop, and visitors can participate in a variety of hands-on activities throughout the year.
- 6 Kagetsu-tei Garden Museum (可月亭庭園美術館).
A historic street with a variety of nostalgic buildings and sites related to Hideyo Noguchi, a man who did research in bacteriology and whose face is on the 1000 yen bill, and the Shinsengumi.
- 7 Hideyo Noguchi Seishunkan (野口英世青春館). A former hospital built in 1897. It's where Hideyo Noguchi's hands were treated at age 16 that gave him full use of his hands for the first time. When he was one year old, he suffered a burn that caused his left hand to remain clenched. The doctor's ability to return his hand to normalcy is said to have been what inspired him to study medicine himself. The buildings today has a museum dedicated to Noguchi on the second floor and a cafe on th first floor.
- 8 Sakaemachi Church (栄町教会). The church where Hideyo Noguchi was baptized at age 18.
- 9 Hideyo Noguchi's Baptism Spot (野口英世洗礼の地). This is the original spot where Sakaemachi Church stood when Hideyo Noguchi was baptized. He also learned English and met his first love here.
- 10 Aizu Shinsengumi Memorial Hall (会津新選組記念館). Located on the 2nd floor of an antique shop, the museum features artifacts from the Shinsengumi, the battles they fought in, and art and documents related to them. ¥300.
- 11 Hajime Saito Grave Monument (斎藤一の墓). The grave of the leader of the Shinsengumi in the grounds of Amidaji Temple.
Mt. Iimoriyama (飯盛山) is famous for its associations with the Byakkotai (白虎隊, meaning White Tiger Force). After being defeated in a battle against the imperial forces, nineteen teenagers of the Byakkotai retreated to this hill. When they saw Tsuruga Castle burning, they thought it had fallen to the enemy and committed suicide. Their graves are on Mt. Iimoriyama where incense is always burnt on their behalf. Visitors can walk up the many steps to see the graves, or take the escalator for ¥250.
- 12 Sazaedo (さざえ堂). An architectural wonder, the Sazaedo contains two spiral staircases running opposite one another so that those going up will never cross paths with those going down. It's a temple with 33 statues that represent the temples of the Saigoku 33 Pilgrimage in the Kansai area. Visitors are meant to pray at each to receive special blessings in lieu of visiting each of the real temples. ¥400.
- 13 Byakkotai Museum (白虎隊記念館). ¥400. A private collection of exhibits related to the Boshin War and the Byakkotai.
- 14 Byakkotai Legendary Museum (白虎隊伝承史学館). Over 5000 artifacts are on display from the Byakkotai, Shinsengumi, and Boshin War. ¥300.
- 15 Tonoguchi Weir Cave (戸ノ口堰洞穴). It looks like a small spring, but is actually part of an ancient irrigation tunnel. It took over 50,000 men over 3 years to dig here from Lake Inawashiro. It is best known today as the tunnel used by the Byakkotai to escape after their defeat from the Battle of Tonoguchihara. Upon emerging from the tunnel, they saw smoke around Tsuruga Castle and believed the entire domain had fallen.
- 16 Byakkotai Hara-kiri Memorial (白虎隊自刃の地). A statue and monument built over the sight where the 20 Byakkotai soldiers saw the burning castle and committed ritual suicide however, it is believed that only 16 of them succeeded here. Three of them are thought to have died later either in battle or suicide elsewhere and one was rescued as he was attempting to kill himself here and nursed back to health. It was this survivor who recounted the story that people know today.
- 17 Byakkotai Graves (白虎隊の墓). Graves for each of the 19 boys who committed suicide on October 8, 1868 (the date written reads August 23 which is from the old lunar calendar used at the time. It coincides with October 8 on modern calendars) when they believed their castle had fallen to the enemy. Villagers hid their bodies in a nearby temple so that they would not be defiled by the Western Army and later returned to Iimoriyama in 1989. Each of the boy's names are written on one of the small gravestones. Additionally, there are graves for other Byakkotai soldiers who died in battle.
- 18 Monument from the City of Rome (ローマ市寄贈の碑). A monument made from the pillar of a temple that was uncovered from the ruins of Pompeii dedicated in 1928 by Benito Mussolini who found the story of the Byakkotai inspiring. It reads, "Rome, Mother of Civilization, pays its undying respect to the brave Byakkotai by displaying the axe of the Fascist Party symbol, representing the authority of ancient Rome, and commemorating the thousand-year-old ancient symbol of eternal greatness". On the reverse side, it originally said, "Dedicated to the Spirit of Bushido", but this was etched out by the occupied forces after WWII. Just like the German monument, this one was removed and later returned, and is viewed as a timeless dedication, connecting the greatness of Aizu to the greatness of ancient Rome over its ties to Mussolini. There is a lot of pride in foreign recognition of Aizu's great warriors. Its historic importance as a relic from Pompeii also distracts from its donors.
- 19 Byakkoitai German Monument (白虎隊ドイツ記念碑). A monument gifted to the city by Hasso von Etzdorf, a diplomat from Nazi Germany who was inspired by the story of the Byakkotai and felt it spoke to the German condition of the time. It reads, "To the young samurai warriors of Aizu". The monument was removed by occupying American forces after WWII however, it was returned after the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty restored sovereignty to Japan. This monument is viewed positively as showcasing that the story of the Byakkotai has international reknown, as a timeless gift from Germany rather than a gift specifically from one regime. To this point, the reason given for its return to Iimoriyama along with the Roman monument was to "once again connect the spirit of Aizu to the world".
- 20 Former Takizawa Honjin (旧滝沢本陣). A resthouse that was used as a headquarters during the Boshin War. The Byakkotai left here to fight in the Battle of Tonoguchihara.
- 1 Akabeko Crafter Bansho (赤べこ製造処番匠). One of Aizu's most famous souvenir, the Akabeko, is produced here, and they offer visitors the opportunity to paint their own Akabeko. Alternatively, you can paint a bell of the town's mascot, Aka-bee. No reservation necessary. They also have a shop where you can buy Akabeko and other Aizu souvenirs. ¥1300 to paint your own Akabeko or Akabe.
A picturesque onsen area that is said to have been founded over 1300 years ago by the Priest Gyoki. Higashiyama Onsen has geisha (called geigi). They are famous for their sad dance in honor of the death of the Byakkotai boys. These geisha can be reserved for ¥15,000 per performer for 90 minutes. The water at Higashiyama Onsen is sulfate (specifically sodium-sulphate) which is said to be good for the skin, healing cuts, and high blood pressure. For those who want to enjoy the onsen without staying in Higashiyama, nine of the hotels and ryokan have hours for day visitors to enjoy the hot springs.
- Tokaichi Market (十日市). January 10. A New Years tradition for over 400 years, the market center's around purchasing Okiagari Koboshi.
- Aizu Painted Candle Festival (会津絵ろうそくまつり). The second Saturday in February and the Friday before it.
- Aizu Higanshishi (会津彼岸獅子). Held on the day of the Spring Equinox.
- Higashiyama Onsen Oyukake Festival (東山温泉お湯かけまつり). August 10. Geisha from Higashiyama Onsen, known as geigi, are carried in portable shrines and throw water from the onsen (oyukake) onto onlookers.
- Higashiyama Onsen Bon Odori, 東山温泉盆踊り. August 12.
- Aizu Festival (会津まつり). Late September. Events are held around the castle along with a parade in the town
Akabeko (赤べこ) - In the local Aizu dialect, "Akabeko" literally means "red cow". Akabeko has become the symbol of the Aizu region due to two local legends. First, during the construction of Enzo-ji Temple, red cows worked tirelessly to help move wood. Second, children who possessed a wooden toy Akabeko survived a plague that killed thousands of children. Wooden Akabekos similar to those featured in the latter legend can be bought. The most common design features a "bobbing" head mechanism where the head of the cow bobs. A large Akabeko can be found outside Aizuwakamatsu train station. Akabeko can be found at most souvenir shops throughout the city, but for the best variety in terms of number and size options, visit the Akabeko Crafter Bansho (See "Do" above).
Okiagari Koboshi (起き上がり小法師) - A 400 year old pear-shaped, roly-poly craft with a happy face traditionally found wearing red and blue. Originally, these were purchased at the Tokaichi Market on January 10th as part of Aizu's New Years tradition. The proper way to buy them was to get one for each member of your family plus one more in hopes of blessing the family with a new child. For example, a family of 3 should buy 4 dolls. The Tokaichi Market is still held today, but Okiagari Koboshi can be bought any time of the year at most souvenir shops. A yellow version has also appeared since the 2010s.
- 1 Nozawa Mingei (野沢民芸). A shop where many local craft products are produced. You can buy 3 different sizes of Okiagari Koboshi, 8 different sizes of Akabeko, Aizu Tenjin dolls, masks, and other products. They also have their own unique varieties of traditional goods such as an Edvard Munch "The Scream" Okiagari Koboshi and a "Handsome Blossom" variant of Akabeko which was featured in the NHK drama Yae no Sakura.
- 2 Yamada Mingei Kojo (山田民芸工房). Self-advertised as an Okiagari Koboshi producer, they have the traditional varieties as well as versions that look like Doraemon, Pikachu, etc. They also offer visitors the option to paint their own Okiagari Koboshi for ¥800.
Aizu Wakamatsu is famous for its Sauce Katsudon, pork cutlets covered in a sweet sauce served with shredded cabbage over rice. Eggs are an optional local addition.
- Agemanju. "Age" means deep-frying and "Manju" means Japanese style bun stuffed with adzuki bean paste. Therefore, Agemanju means deep-frying Japanese style bun stuffed. It is a traditional sweet in Aizuwakamatsu and it is sweet and soft, but it has high calories because of frying. It is especially popular among children and older people. There are a lot of shops which sell Agemanju about ¥100.
- 1 Wakamatsu Shokudo (若松食堂). 11:00-20:00. A popular sauce katsudon restaurant.
- 2 Sumire Shokudo (すみれ食堂). A popular restaurant, offering ramen, udon, and sauce katsudon sets.
- 3 Marumo Shokudo (マルモ食堂). A ramen and sauce katsudon restaurant conveniently located near Aizu-Wakamatsu Station.
- 1 Kutsurogi-Juku (くつろぎ宿). A historic hot spring hotel in Higashiyama Onsen with two separate builings, the Shintaki and Chiyotaki each featuring a variety of picturesque baths.The Taisho-era painter, Yumeji Takehisa, is said to have loved Higashiyama Onsen and stayed at the Shintaki in 1903, 1912, and 1930 and painted during his stays. The Takehisa Yumeji Gallery found in the lobby of the Shintaki features some of his Aizu paintings. The galleries are open to hotel guests.
- 2 Hotel Takako (ホテル タカコー). A business hotel near Aizu Wakamatsu Castle. Staying guests can have room service delivery of sauce katsudon and other dishes from the restaurant (Hokuto) on the first floor.
- Mount Bandai - skiing, fishing
- Inawashiro - beach resorts, swimming, camping, boating
- Kitakata - famous for delicious ramen
|Routes through Aizuwakamatsu
|→ Koriyama → Iwaki
|→ Koriyama → Iwaki
|→ Sukagawa → Daigo → Mito
|Yonezawa ← Kitakata ←
|→ Kinugawa → Utsunomiya → Mashiko