Raina's Japan Travel Journal
by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2015/08/19 - Traditional culture and hot springs of the Aizu Region

Tsuruga Castle

Today I joined a two day one night tour offered through Good Luck Trip <Diamond-Big Co.,Ltd> to the Aizu region in Fukushima Prefecture. Aimed at revitalizing the Tohoku Region, this tour took me to a number of sites in the Aizu area where I also got to participate in a handful of activities over the two days, and stay overnight at a ryokan in the Aizu-Higashiyama Onsen area.

The ryokan we stayed at had an outdoor restaurant along the river
Part of the dinner course included a do-it-yourself barbecue
Rice and miso soup was cooked in huge cookers
The ryokan had four private hot spring baths available in addition to the public baths

Fukushima is home to about 70 sake breweries, and I had the opportunity to visit two of them while in Aizu. Tsurunoe was the smaller, traditional brewery with over 200 years of history, while Aizu Homare was a much larger and modern, 100 year old brewery. While the basic sake making process was largely the same, it was interesting to see the different facilities and the scale the alcoholic beverage is made at the two places. As sake is typically made from November through to March, neither brewery was making any sake when we were there, and most of the action was happening on the packing and shipping side. Both breweries have their own award winning labels, and from what I've heard, it is more difficult to win the top prize in the prefectural sake competition compared to a national one. As with any brewery tour, the highlight for me was the tasting at the end.

Tsurunoe Brewery's shop front
Sake vats
The business manager explaining the sake making process to us - this is the rice steaming part
Retail space where we also sampled sake
Aizu Homare Brewery's huge sake vats. There are about nine of these and each can hold about 220,000 liters
Everything is done on a much larger scale here
Garden and the former residence of the founder of Aizu Homare. That's his statue on the right
Tasting room

As this trip was in the middle of August, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit the sunflower fields at Minokura Highland. Roughly two million sunflowers were planted across the fields, and were a sight to behold. We spent sometime walking around the fields surrounded by the flowers and admiring the view of the town from above. The sunflower festival is usually held for a month from early August to early September.

Sunflowers everywhere
Walking in the fields, can you spot the cameraman?

We also had a chance to eat Kitakata Ramen, a local speciality. It seems that the ramen shops here open early as the locals prefer ramen in the morning than later at night. We went to one of the more popular stalls and waited in line for about 30 minutes, despite being there relatively early at 11:00.

Bowls of ramen being prepared
My lunch did not disappoint
The line outside the shop was even longer when we were leaving

Over the two days, we visited a number of cultural sightseeing spots. Aizu Daibutsu (Aizu Buddha) at Kanjo Temple, a 2.4 meter tall sitting Buddha carved out of wood and an important cultural property. Tonohetsuri, a series of cliffs that resemble pagodas, cut out of rock over many years of exposure to the elements. Tsuruga Castle, a concrete reconstruction built in 1965, and now a museum displaying the castle's history.

Aizu Buddha carved out of wood
Tonohetsuri, the cliffs that resemble pagodas covered in greenery and the suspension bridge to get to them
View of the lawn from the observatory at the top of the castle

One of the major spots we went to on this trip was Ouchijuku, a post town along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route. The post town has been restored to look as it did in the Edo Period, with thatched roofs, unpaved roads and with no power lines to be seen. Many of the buildings there now have been repurposed as restaurants, souvenir shops and minshuku. We spent a few hours walking through the post town, visiting the former Honjin which was the main inn for high ranking officials, and having a negisoba (soba with a huge leek) lunch at one of the restaurants. On the way back towards Aizu-Wakamatsu, we stopped by the quaint Yunokami-onsen Station. The station was designed to resemble the thatched houses and even has a fireplace (irori) inside.

Looking down at the post town
Walking along the street
A massive torii gate in Ouchijuku
Selling delectable grilled rice cakes
Negisoba lunch, you are supposed to use the leek to eat the noodles and then take a bite of the leek
Man and dog taking a rest outside the Honjin
Yunokami-onsen Station from the tracks

Activities which I participated in over the two days included a ceramics workshop which also included a tour of a nearby noborigama (a wood fired kiln) and the opportunity to make a ceramic cup, with the finished product would be posted to me at a later date, and painting designs on candles at the candle store along Nanokamachi Shopping Street which was also very pleasant to walk along as it had many traditional looking storefronts. I also got to pick peaches at a peach orchard where it was all-you-can-eat peaches for 700 yen. Most people manage to eat between one to three peaches each. Having grown up in the city and nowhere near orchards, I was a little worried of squishing the delicate peaches when plucking them and was surprised to learn that they were firm like apples.

Staff preparing the clay for us
Making our art pieces
Inside the ceramics studio
Getting ready to paint a candle
I painted one of these candles
Amida Temple grounds near the Nanokamachi Shopping Street
Orchard staff explaining how to pick peaches
Peaches everywhere, and the one I plucked

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List of Posts:
2019/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2019
2019/12/03 - Shopping at Shibuya Fukuras and Parco
2019/10/23 - 46th Tokyo Motor Show
2019/03/20 - Moominvalley Park opens near Tokyo
2018/12/31 - 2018 Travel Highlights
2018/10/25 - Business as usual at Tsukiji Outer Market
2018/08/19 - Hello Kitty Shinkansen
2018/05/16 - Cruising Tokyo's waterways
2018/04/17 - Wisteria blossoms in Ashikaga Flower Park
2018/01/18 - Shinanomachi, the Backcountry of Nagano

2017/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2017
2017/10/25 - The 45th Tokyo Motor Show
2017/10/11 - Dipping into the three onsen towns of Yamanaka, Yamashiro and Katayamazu
2017/07/24 - Remote Riches in Toyama
2017/07/03 - Spiritual Chichibu
2017/05/02 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2017/04/14 - Sneak Peek from Ginza Six
2017/03/21 - A bit of everything in Fukui
2017/03/13 - Nikko Toshogu Uncovered
2017/02/15 - Subculture in Ikebukuro
2017/02/07 - Travel to the Goto Islands
2017/02/06 - Nagasaki Lantern Festival

2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/12/19 - Winter Illuminations in Tokyo
2016/10/24 - The way of old on the Kunisaki Peninsula
2016/10/11 - Following the Tadami Line in Oku Aizu
2016/08/27 - Fool's Dance at Koenji Awa Odori
2016/08/16 - The three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan
2016/06/20 - Train travel into the Ise-Shima region
2016/04/03 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2016/03/08 - The hunt for Namahage on the Oga Peninsula
2016/03/02 - Sake Sangria
2016/02/20 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2016/01/26 - Tour de Reinan: Obama, Oi and Takahama
2016/01/25 - Tour de Reinan: Tsuruga, Mihama and Wakasa

2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/10 - 48 hours in Tokushima
2015/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kankakei
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2015/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2015/11/08 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2015/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Dazaifu
2015/10/28 - The 44th Tokyo Motor Show
2015/10/21 - Hirado, where East meets West
2015/10/20 - Kujukushima Islands and Winter Illumination at Huis Ten Bosch
2015/10/19 - Navigating the Christian sites in Nagasaki
2015/10/18 - Cosplay at Haco Stadium Tokyo
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2015/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2015/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2015/09/16 - Nakanojo Biennale 2015
2015/08/19 - Traditional culture and hot springs of the Aizu Region
2015/08/17 - Nature and Hot Springs at Naruko Onsen
2015/08/04 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale 2015
2015/04/30 - Sapporo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/29 - Hakodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/23 - Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/22 - Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/21 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/16 - Sendai Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/09 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/08 - Fukushima Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/06 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/02 - Nara Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/01 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/31 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/27 - Fukuoka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/26 - Kumamoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/25 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Sendai
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Tokyo
2014/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2014/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2014/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2014/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Karuizawa
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2014/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2014/10/01 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2014/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/06/19 - Toranomon Hills opens in Tokyo
2014/04/24 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/23 - Morioka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/22 - Aizu-Wakamatsu Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/16 - Matsumoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/15 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/14 - Yoshino Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/13 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/12 - Kanazawa Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/10 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/06 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/05 - Hiroshima Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/04 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/02 - Nagoya Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/31 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/26 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/04 - Early Tokyo Blossom Report