by Sean, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2012/03/07 - Trip to Iwaki, Fukushima
Aloha! Today a trip to Spa Resort Hawaiians is in place, and I'm feeling groovy already. For those who have watched the award-winning Japanese movie Hula Girls (フラガール, Hula Gāru), you might be familiar with the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, where the movie is set. 6:30 in the morning and we've hit the roads, with an eventful itinerary in Iwaki set ahead.
We arrived at Aquamarine Fukushima at 9:40. The aquarium's building had an interesting design and was reopened in July 2011 after suffering some damage from the tsunami. I really enjoyed the various species of sea creatures that were put on display. The aquarium did a great job showing those fish that camouflage with the surroundings. There were also lots of creatures which I had never seen before. After lunch at the Iwaki Rara Myu (a funny way to name a seafood center, isn't it?), we headed to the nearby Misaki Park.
Misaki Park is a big area with lots of open space designed for families to have a good time together outdoors. There were playgrounds for children, including a maze and a long slide - supposedly for children I mean, cos' that didn't stop us adults from trying the slide.
Ascending the Marine Tower led to good views of the ocean. Just as we were about to head back to our vehicle, we spotted a radiation measurement machine placed just outside the entrance of the Marine Tower. Its measurement read 0.186 microsieverts per hour, which is well within safety limits. Now then, for the highlight of the day: to Spa Resort Hawaiians to see those Hula Girls!
On the journey, I was wondering if it might have been a better idea to visit Hawaiians on a weekend, thinking that it would make nicer pictures to have more people in them. Moreover, who wants to ride on water slides, swim in pools and watch performances without any company?
However, my considerations were soon quelled upon arriving: three bus loads full of people arrived right behind us. We had to scramble to make sure that we joined the queue at the hotel check-in counter earlier than those platoons of other guests.
The hotel that we were to stay at, by the way, was the newly opened Monolith Tower. "What a nice name!" I thought, and to my delight the room was nice too. Didn't have time to admire the room though, the Hula Girl Polynesian Preview Show started at 1:30, five minutes for me to get into that sexy Hawaiian shirt and 10 minutes to get seated at the theater.
Ok, I concede, my Hawaiian shirt wasn't that sexy after all; looking around at the others, I thought mine made me look like I was working here. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people attending the show. The theater was about 80% full and it was a thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Those Hula Girls deserve admiration, if not for their pretty locks and sassy dance moves, their resolve and strength in fighting for their hometown. Decades ago, Iwaki was a town dependent on the coal mining industry. When the coal mines reached their heydays as oil became the predominant source of energy in Japan, the Joban Hawaiian Centre was built, and the hula dancers stepped up to entertain and draw in tourists - the new source of income for the town.
Joban Hawaiian Centre is these days known as Spa Resort Hawaiians, but just like how the Hula Girls entertained to sustain Iwaki during the 60s, today they continue to dance and show off their infectious smiles, doing what they do best to attract visitors to their hometown, which was unfortunately affected by last year's earthquake and tsunami.
Throughout the past few months, the dancers visited numerous evacuation centers along the tsunami hit Pacific Coast to encourage its inhabitants and travelled all over Japan to perform and invite people to visit Iwaki. And their efforts are paying off: today they performed to a largely appreciative audience, who were applauding graciously at the end of every segment.
After the show we had about three hours to enjoy the water slides at the Water Park, the hot spring baths at the Spring Park, and another hot spring bath at the Edo Jowa Yoichi Outdoor Bath. The outdoor bath was great. The designers did an exemplary job creating an ambience resembling that of an Edo Period bath house. It's too bad pictures were not allowed; but it's definitely worth a visit to find out! The Japanese restaurant at the entrance to the bath provided a very authentic feel as well.
After a buffet dinner at about 7, we watched the Grand Polynesian Show at the Beach Theater, and were once again immensely entertained by the dancing of the Hula Girls and the fire performance put on by two male dancers. We retired early for the day, having three more spots in Iwaki to cover tomorrow.
It's the second day of our Iwaki trip and we started off heading towards the coast in the direction of the Shioyasaki Lighthouse. Unfortunately, the lighthouse was still undergoing repair works due to last year's earthquake and was not open for entry. Our second destination, the Shiramizu Amidado temple hall, was also closed due to repair works (until July 10). Iwaki was, although less affected than places further north, still hit pretty badly by both the earthquake and the tsunami. Along the coast, we spotted a strip of land with only the remaining foundations of houses.
We concluded our Iwaki trip with a visit to the Iwaki Coal and Fossil Museum, which commemorates the city's history as a major mining center. Outside the museum, we noticed a familiar machine: it was the same type of radiation measurement machine that we saw yesterday. The measurement here was 0.180 microsieverts per hour - also well within safety limits. Iwaki is a nice place to visit, and I would certainly return again sometime soon.