Travel in Oku Aizu, Fukushima

Solo train travel

Deviating off the popular sightseeing routes, the inaugural Solo Female Travel begins in Fukushima Prefecture. For this overnight trip, I based myself in the town of Aizu-Wakamatsu and stayed overnight at a ryokan in Higashiyama Onsen, a hot spring resort on the outskirts of the town. I went on two side trips to Aizu-Yanaizu and Kitakata, where I made sure to try the local specialties as well as go sightseeing. Our basic guide to traveling alone can be read here.

Day 1

I started my journey and made my way to my first destination, Aizu-Yanaizu (about four hours and around 10,000 yen one way from Tokyo with good connections). The countryside town of Yanaizu is quiet and a great contrast to the bustling metropolis that is Tokyo. I arrived in Aizu-Yanaizu in the afternoon, and after checking the train timetable for the return journey, I realized that I had only two hours to spend in the small town as train service at Aizu Yanaizu is extremely infrequent. It was a relief to find out that there aren't that many attractions in the town, so that I could cover the main spots and still make it back to the station for the return train.

It's pretty much farmland almost all of the way

Local lines to remote places mean that there isn't much advertising on the train

Aizu-Yanaizu Station is unmanned

The main sightseeing spots are all within a 20 minute walk from the station, and I found that I had enough time to see almost everything. My first stop in Aizu-Yanaizu was Enzoji Temple, a ten minute walk downhill from the station. Legend has it that the temple was rebuilt with the help of akabeko - red cows - that carried the large and heavy wood that was needed up the hill. As such, Yanaizu is often acknowledged as the birthplace of the akabeko which are widely sold around the region as popular souvenirs, and there are large statues of the cow on the temple grounds.

Main shopping street in Yanaizu with few shops and restaurants

Enzoji Temple

View of the town and the Tadami River from the temple balcony

Akabeko statue

From Enzoji Temple, I made my way further down along the bridges that cross the Tadami River and towards the Aizu-Yanaizu Roadside Station which took me another 10-15 minutes. I wandered around the area checking out the small museum dedicated to Saito Kiyoshi, a woodblock artist from the Aizu Region before returning to the station.

Looking at Enzoji Temple from one of the bridges

Then it's more farmland on the other side

Aizu-Yanaizu Roadside Station where you can find local souvenirs

Quick peek into the Saito Kiyoshi museum

Made a woodblock print at the museum

Local specialties from Aizu-Yanaizu include sauce katsudon (pork cutlet rice bowl) and awamanju (a steamed, glutinous rice dessert with red bean paste inside). It would have been a pity to miss them during my visit, and I'm happy to report that they did not disappoint.

Sauce katsudon

Awamanju

Waiting for the train

The Tadami Line is quite a hit among train lovers as the route takes one through beautiful rustic seasonal scenery

View along the way back

The JR Tadami Line brought me back to Aizu-Wakamatsu where I headed straight to my accommodation at Higashiyama Onsen. The best way to get to Higashiyama Onsen is on the sightseeing loop bus that departs outside of the station and stops at Higashiyama Onsen-iriguchi or Higashiyama Onsen-eki (210 yen per ride). Many of the ryokan can be reached on foot from either stop, and hotel transfers can be arranged from these bus stops when the weather is bad.

Sightseeing loop bus arriving at Higashiyama Onsen-eki

The welcome drink at the ryokan I stayed at was a cup of local sake

View from my room, looking down the hot spring town

Dinner for one. Yukata that are provided by the ryokan can be worn to dinner

Sliding doors and simple furniture

Day 2

Checking out after breakfast the next day, I spent the first half of the day in Aizu-Wakamatsu. I took the sightseeing loop bus from Higashiyama Onsen to Tsuruga Castle and paid a visit to the Rinkaku Teahouse Garden as well. The museum inside the castle has displays showing the history of the Aizu Region and the lords who ruled from the castle. It made for an educational trip to get an overview of the land and its history.

Tsuruga Castle and its red tiled roof

Inside the Rinkaku Teahouse Garden

Enjoyed tea and a snack inside the garden

The Aizu Region is known for its high-quality sake, and a number of local labels have won both international and domestic competitions. A short walk from the north exit of Tsuruga Castle is the Aizu Miyaizumi Brewery, one of the numerous breweries in the region, which offers free sake tasting at their shop. Lunch was at an old established restaurant, Takino, that specializes in an Aizu delicacy called wappa-meshi which is rice and other local ingredients steamed in a wooden container.

Tasting area at Aizu Miyaizumi Brewery

Exterior of the brewery, the shop lies behind the noren curtains

Secluded entrance to Takino

Table for one and an order of wappa-meshi

From there, I took the sightseeing loop bus back to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station to catch the train to Kitakata. According to the train schedule, I had about three hours to spend in the city so that I wouldn't have to arrive back home too late. The city is famous for its storehouses and there are some dating back as far as the Edo Period.

I took the Kitakata sightseeing loop bus (200 yen per ride) from the station to the Kai Residence, one of the biggest and most impressive residences and storehouses in the city, which is also designated national cultural property. Alternatively, the residence could be reached in a 20-minute walk from the station. While admission is free, visitors can only view the exterior of the residence, the inner garden as well as some of the opulent rooms through open doors.

It was mostly rice fields on the way to Kitakata

Inside the Kitakata sightseeing loop bus

The exterior of the Kai Residence is quite unique as it is covered in black lacquer

Inner garden and rooms you can peer into

After that, I walked down Kitakata's main street which is lined by many old storehouses. These old buildings all have different exteriors which made for an interesting stroll back towards Kitakata Station. Along the way, I stopped by the Yamatogawa Sake Brewery to check out their museum and sake.

The brewery has three storehouses, one from the Edo, Taisho and Showa periods respectively that are filled with sake making equipment from back in the day, as well as their current line of sake varieties. Visitors can join their free, guided museum tours (which was my choice) or go on a self-guided tour before ending up in the shop and tasting area.

Some shops offer hands-on activities

Views along the main road

Entrance to Yamatogawa Sake Brewery

Inside the Edo Period warehouse

Sake bottles lined up in the Taisho Period warehouse

Ending with my favourite sake tasting area

Finally, no trip to Kitakata is complete without having Kitakata Ramen. Quite unlike many ramen shops in the rest of Japan, ramen shops here open from the morning, and having a bowl to start the day (or end it if you work the night shift) is a thing here. The noodles in Kitakata Ramen tend to be slightly thicker than average, and the light broth tends to be either salt or soy sauce based. I made my way to a popular ramen shop to have an early dinner before the train ride back to Aizu-Wakamatsu and Tokyo.

At the Kitakata Ramen Shrine

Kitakata Ramen

Line had formed when I left, and I heard it gets longer than this on weekends

With that, my overnight trip came to an end, and I found myself back home. There was so much to see and do, that I sometimes forgot that I was traveling alone. The tourist attractions I visited were easily navigated on foot, and the sightseeing loop buses were simple to work out. One difficulty could be entering restaurants alone, but I found that the staff were friendly and sat me down quickly while fellow diners did not even give me more than a glance. All in all, it was a reasonably straightforward trip for which the main requirement for me was to be mindful of the train schedule. Aside from that, I felt like I had covered a fair bit of ground and given myself a primer to the Aizu Region.

Till the next trip!

Restaurant alley in Kitakata

See you later Mount Bandai

Getting there and around

Aizu-Wakamatsu was the base for this itinerary, and the side trips to Aizu-Yanaizu and Kitakata were made out from there. How to get to Aizu-Wakamatsu.

From Aizu-Wakamatsu, the JR Banetsu-sai Line continues on to Kitakata (15 minutes, 320 yen one way, one departure every 1-2 hours), while the JR Tadami Line makes the journey to Aizu-Yanaizu (60 minutes, 670 yen one way, one departure every 1-5 hours). The trains are covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Solo Female Travel is a series for girls by girls. Itineraries are planned with a girl of average fitness in mind, and short overnight trips that make good building blocks for future longer solo trips elsewhere.