Fukushima

New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN

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Friends, good news! My book is now available to purchase online. Please note that if you purchase the book from the CreateSpace eStore, you can use the discount code (YVW7YCQG) to receive $3 off the list price. Worldwide shipment is available.

Further, Amazon.com is offering a special limited time holiday discount.  Use the following code to receive $10 off the list price at check out:  HOLIDAYBOOK

Thank you so much for your support!

•CreateSpace eStore: Now available
https://www.createspace.com/6595032

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Bloggers-Guide-Japan-Kristine-Ohkubo/dp/1539033112/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480353733&sr=8-1&keywords=A+blogger%27s+guide+to+japan

•Amazon Europe: http://www.sysmod.com/amazon.htm

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JAPAN: Fukushima (Fukushima Aquamarine)

If you are interested in marine life, there is an attraction located in Iwaki City that you should not miss while visiting Fukushima Prefecture.  Officially called the Marine Science Museum, the facility opened in July of 2000. The museum’s nickname, Fukushima Aquamarine, was selected from a total of 4,722 entries back in 1998.

The highlight of the museum is the main tank, which holds 540,000 gallons of water. There is a unique triangular walkway that gives visitors the sensation of actually being in the tank, surrounded by the water and the creatures swimming in it.

On the first floor, visitors will be provided with a look at the evolution of life in the seas. It contains living fossils such as the Nautilus, the White Sturgeon, the Giant Salamander and the Spotted Ratfish. The main tank can be found on the second floor and the third floor is dedicated to the marine mammals and sea birds from the Northern Pacific. There is a botanical garden on the fourth floor which showcases plant life in Fukushima and from where visitors can glimpse the top of the main tank.

During the earthquake and ensuing tsunami of 2011, power was cut off to the aquarium and a majority of the fish perished. Some of the marine mammals and sea birds were transferred to Kamagawa Sea World located 62 miles south of the aquarium as well as Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, Tokyo Sea Life Park, Mito Sea Paradise and the New Enoshima Aquarium. The main building sustained only minor damage but the outside pools were washed away. Fortunately, restoration work began soon after and the aquarium re-opened to the public on July 15, 2011.

If you are hungry, there is a restaurant which serves seafood on the premises called the Oishii Aquarium Aqua Cross. There are also three different gift shops where you can select a memento from your visit or an omiyage (souvenir) to bring home to your family and friends.

A trip to the aquarium is an experience the entire family can enjoy.  From Yumoto Station, take the bus bound for Onahama. The aquarium is 15-20 minutes on foot from the Onahama stop.

Web page: http://www.marine.fks.ed.jp/english/index.html

Address: Onahama Pier 2, 50,Tatsumi-cho, Onahama, Iwaki-shi, Fukushima 971-8101 JAPAN

JAPAN: Fukushima (Higashiyama Hot Spring Town)

Located just east of downtown Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima is the small hot spring town of Higashiyama. The area is well known for its beautiful scenery year round and over the years many famous artists have stayed there. Inspired by the beauty surrounding them, they donated numerous paintings, poems and other works of art to the ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) where they stayed.

In fact, Higashiyama has twenty-eight different hotels which can satisfy every taste and budget. Whether you want a modern hotel or a traditional ryokan, you will find them here. If you do not want to stay in town, you can visit the hot springs on a day trip. Many of the hotels and ryokans allow visitors to use their facilities during the day at a set time period for a small fee.

If you simply want to wonder around town and enjoy the scenery, you will be rewarded by the beautiful pink cherry blossoms in the spring and the fiery reds, oranges and yellows of the turning leaves in the fall. Further up the valley is the Higashiyama Dam. The area around the dam is a popular spot for relaxation and picnics.

From August 13th through 18th, the town hosts a bon dance festival. During the festival, a large yagura (bandstand tower) is constructed in the center of town and hundreds of chochin (lanterns) illuminate the streets. Ladies wearing their yukatas (cotton summer kimono) and men in traditional dress dance around the yagura until late at night. The high energy atmosphere attracts both tourists and locals alike.

Whether you want to relax in the town’s hot springs, marvel at the beauty of the cherry blossoms, enjoy the changing leaves of autumn, soak up the high energy atmosphere of the bon dance festival or simply see for yourself that which inspired so many artists over the years, Higashiyama is the place to be.

The town is accessible during the morning and late afternoon hours by the Aizu Loop bus. The journey takes 35 minutes from the Aizu Wakamatsu Station. However, between the hours of 10:00 AM and   1:00 PM the bus only runs as far as Aizu Bukeyashiki. Higashiyama is only a 10-15 minute journey on foot from that point.


Web page: http://www.aizu-higashiyama.com/english/index.html

JAPAN: Regional Dishes (Tohoku)

Continuing on with part two of our adventures with kyodo ryori (郷土料理) / Regional cuisine, we visit the Tohoku Region, an area which comprises the northeastern portion of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. The region consists of six prefectures: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata. Known mostly as a remote, scenic area with a harsh climate, the region did not benefit from the tourism industry until the 20th century.

Unfortunately, on March 11, 2011 the area suffered a devastating earthquake and tsunami where the waves reached heights of 133 feet. The earthquake is often referred to in Japan as the Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災 / Higashi Nihon Daishinsai) and is also known as the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.

Today, as the Tohoku Region continues to rebuild, the Japanese tourism authorities are reporting that inbound tourism has returned almost to the level it had been in 2010. The region continues to promote itself and one way in which they attempt to get tourists interested is through their regional cuisine.

Tohoku kyodo ryori features: Ichigo-ni (a clear soup with sea urchin and abalone associated with Aomori), Jappa Jiru (a fish gut and vegetable soup associated with Aomori and Akita), Senbei Jiru (a soy based soup with baked rice crackers and vegetables), Wanko Soba (soba noodles served in small bowls which are refilled repeatedly and associated with Iwate), Morioka Reimen (a variation of the North Korean cold noodle soup), Harako Meshi (rice cooked in a salmon and soy stock and topped with salmon roe/ ikura), Kiritanpo (pounded rice wrapped around a skewer and grilled. It is typically brushed with miso and eaten or put into chicken and vegetable nabe/ stew) and Gyutan (beef tongue typically grilled but can also be served sashimi style. )

Ichigo-ni

Ichigo-ni

Jappa Jiru

Jappa Jiru

Senbei Jiru

Senbei Jiru

Wanko Soba

Wanko Soba

Morioka Reimen

Morioka Reimen

Harako Meshi

Harako Meshi

Kiritanpo

Kiritanpo

Kiritanpo Nabe

Kiritanpo Nabe

Gyutan

Gyutan

There are so many things to see and do in Tohoku, including onsens, temples, castles, parks, etc., why not plan a visit? While there, sample the kyodo ryori too!

Japanese Castles

Japanese castles became prevalent during the Sengoku Period which began roughly in the middle of the 15th century and lasted through the beginning of the 17th century. During this time, the central government’s authority had weakened and Japan had fallen into the chaotic era of warring states. Japan was comprised of dozens of small independent states which battled one another.  These small early fortresses constructed primarily of wood and stone were originally placed in strategic locations, along trade routes, roads and rivers with the purpose of providing military defense.

Prior to the Sengoku period, most castles were called yamajiros or ‘mountain castles’. Although a majority of the later castles were constructed atop mountains or hills, the yamajiros were actually built from the mountains. Trees and other foliage were cleared, and the stones and dirt of the mountains themselves were carved into rough fortifications. Ditches were dug to present obstacles to attackers and moats were created by diverting mountain streams.

When Japan was reunified under Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi  during the second half of the 16th century, a significant number of larger castles began to crop up across the country. Unlike the earlier castles, these were built in the plains or on small hills overlooking the plains and served as a region’s administrative and military headquarters. Castle towns rose up around these bigger and more beautiful structures.

While they were built to last and used more stones in their construction than most Japanese buildings, castles were still constructed primarily of wood, and many were destroyed either during the many sieges or after the end of the feudal age when castles were considered unwelcome relics of the past.  With the advent of  World War II even more castles were ruined. It is estimated that there were once five thousand castles in existence throughout Japan. Today there are a little over one hundred surviving castles with only about a dozen dating back to the feudal era (before 1868). Furthermore, several dozen castles were reconstructed over the past decades mostly using concrete instead of traditional building materials.

But one can’t argue that even after several centuries, Japan’s castles still mesmerize tourists with their unique architecture and feudal charm.

The typical castle consisted of multiple rings of defense, with the main circle in the center followed by the second circle and the third circle. The castle tower stood within the main circle and the second circle provided comfortable living quarters and offices for the lords.

The samurai lived in the town surrounding the castle.  The higher their rank, the closer their residence was to the castle. Merchants and artisans had homes in specially designated areas while the temple and the entertainment districts were located in the outskirts.

The twelve “original” castles today consist of: Matsuyama Castle, Hakone Castle, Himeji Castle, Hirosaki Castle, Inuyama Castle, Kochi Castle, Marugame Castle, Maruoka Castle, Matsue Castle, Matsumoto Castle, Matsuyama Castle, and Uwajima Castle.  Among these twelve the following seven have been declared Japan’s most beautiful:

Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle

Kumamoto Castle

Nagoya Castle

Okayama Castles

Osaka Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Himeji Castle

Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle

Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle

Okayama Castle

Okayama Castle

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

During our many travels to Japan, we had the pleasure of touring Matsumoto Castle located in Nagano, Japan. Matsumoto Castle also known as Crow Castle because of its black walls is one of four castles designated as a National Treasure.  It was completed in 1593-94 by Norimasa Ishikawa and his son Yasunaga.  Originally, a fortress built by Shimadachi Sadanaga in 1504 called Fukashi Castle stood in its place.  That castle was attacked and captured by Takeda Shingen in 1550.  When Ishikawa took charge of the fortress he added the tower and other parts of the castle, including the three towers, the residence, the drum gate, the black gate, the Tsukimi Yagura (the moon viewing pavilion), the moat,  and the sub-floors in the castle, much as they are today. The father and son were also instrumental in laying out the castle town and its infrastructure.

After its completion, Matsumoto Castle was ruled for 280 years by 23 lords representing six different families.

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Today, visitors will find steep stairs and low ceilings leading past displays of armor and weapons from the Sengoku period inside of the castle. The narrow wooden windows, once used by archers and gunmen, provide amazing views of the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto City and the koi and swans circling in the moat below.

Also located in Nagano, Japan is Ueda Castle, the original home of the Sanada clan constructed in 1583 by Masayuki Sanada. A flatland castle like Matsumoto Castle, it made good use of the rivers and landscape for its defense.  Following the Battle of Sekigahara, the castle was destroyed by Nobuyuki Sanada upon orders from the Tokugawa. Rebuilding of the castle was undertaken by Tadamasa Sengoku in 1622 but he passed away before the work was finished.  The structures you see today date back to this time period.

Gateway to Ueda

Ueda Tower

After destroying Ueda Castle,  Nobuyuki Sanada  moved to Matsushiro Castle located in northern Shinano, Nagano. Constructed by Takeda Shingen circa 1560 the castle was formerly known as Kaizu Castle.  After Shingen’s death, lordship of the castle changed hands several times until Sanada took over in 1622.  The name of the castle was changed to Matsushiro by the third generation of Sanada lords, Yukimichi Sanada. The castle buildings were dismantled during the Meiji Period so there are no original structures left. The gates and walls you see today have been reconstructed faithfully using techniques and styles appropriate for the time and location.

Bridge to Matsushiro Castle

Bridge to Matsushiro Castle

Gateway to Matsushiro

Matsushiro Castle_2008

Tsuruga Castle also known as Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle is a concrete replica of a traditional Japanese castle located in northern Japan in the Fukushima Prefecture. The castle was constructed by Naomori Ashina in 1384, and was originally named Kurokawa Castle. It was the military and administrative center of the Aizu region until 1868.

The castle was besieged during the Battle of Aizu by the forces of the newly formed Imperial army in 1868. The castle buildings, pockmarked by artillery fire during the siege and declared structurally unstable, were demolished by the new government in 1874. The tenshu, the largest tower of the castle, was reconstructed in 1965 in concrete. Currently the castle serves as a museum and an observation gallery offering panoramic views of the city.

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-1

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-3

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-2

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-4

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-5

Founded in 1583 by the Maeda family, Kanazawa Castle is located in the Ishikawa Prefecture. It is situated adjacent to the renown Kenroku-en Garden, which once formed the castle’s private outer garden. The castle was so large that during the 18th century it was referred to as “the palace of 1,000 tatami.” Kanazawa Castle was subsequently reconstructed after several fires and an earthquake. What remains is now considered part of Kanazawa Castle Park.

The Hishi Yagura turret, Gojikken Nagaya warehouse, and Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura turret were faithfully restored in 2001 to their 1809 form, using traditional construction methods. The castle’s distinctive roof tiles are made of lead. The reason for that is not only that they are fireproof, but according to legend, in times of siege, the tiles could be melted down and cast into bullets.

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Zakimi Castle and Nakijin Castle are located in the Okinawa Prefecture.  Both castles are in ruins but the walls and foundations of Zakimi Castle have been restored.

Zakimi Castle ruins

Zakimi Castle ruins

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE-ZAKIMI CASTLE-2

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE-ZAKIMI CASTLE-3

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE-ZAKIMI CASTLE-4

Built between 1416 and 1422 by the renowned Ryukyuan militarist Gosamaru, Zakimi Castle oversaw the northern portion of the Okinawan mainland. The fortress has two inner courts, each with an arched gate.

Before and during World War II, the castle was used as a gun emplacement by the Japanese, and after the war it was used as a radar station by the US forces. Zakimi Castle and Okinawa’s other castles were named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in November 2000.

In the late 14th century, the Ryukyus (Okinawa) was divided into three principalities: Nanzan to the south, Chuzan in the central area, and Hokuzan in the north. Nakijin Castle was the fortress of Hokuzan. The fortress includes several sacred Utaki groves, reflecting the castle’s role as a center of religious activity. It is famous for the Hikan cherries which bloom in northern Okinawa between mid-January and early February.

Nakijin Castle ruins

Nakijin Castle ruins

Nakijin castle site (Motobu peninsula)-3

Nakijin castle site (Motobu peninsula)-6

Japan: Fukushima

Nestled in the mountains of southwestern Fukushima Prefecture is the small isolated thatch roofed village of Ouchijuku. The village was a former post town along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route during the Edo period.  Travelers at the time were restricted to journeying on foot, prompting post towns to develop along various routes which provided food and accommodations to the weary voyagers.

Today, Ouchijuku has been restored to look as it did in the Edo period.  Its telephone and electric wires have been buried out of sight as not to impede with the period look. The unpaved main street is lined with thatched roof buildings which house a variety of shops, restaurants and minshuku (small traditional Japanese inns). Restaurants serve up soba (buckwheat) noodles and locally caught iwana (char fish) roasted on sticks to the 1.2 million visitors who travel to this village each year.

The former Honjin, the inn reserved for high ranked government officials, is also located along the main street and open to the public as a museum. Inside, visitors can see the elegant interior of a traditional house from the Edo period as well as a collection of dishes, clothing and other artifacts.

At the end of the main street, you will find a temple situated above a steep set of stairs which offers magnificent views of the street and the thatched roofed houses below.  Within a five minute walk off the main street is a shrine with a unique purification fountain worth visiting.

Tourists often make a day trip to the village while they are visiting some of the esteemed Aizu onsens (hot springs) nearby.  The village is served by the Yunokami Onsen Station on the Aizu Line.  The Yunokami Onsen Station is the only railway station in Japan with a thatched roof.

If you are not planning on staying at one of the onsens overnight, you can combine a trip to Ouchijuku with a visit to the castle town of Aizuwakamatsu (会津若松市), located just one hour away from Ouchijuku. The town has a long samurai tradition that it proudly displays for visitors and what better way to observe that tradition than to visit Aizuwakamatsu Castle also known as Tsuruga Castle. The castle is a concrete replica of the original constructed by Ashina Naomori in 1384.  It was the military and administrative center of the Aizu region until 1868.

During the Battle of Aizu in 1868, the newly formed Imperial Army laid siege to the castle causing significant damage to the castle walls with artillery fire.  Deemed structurally unstable, the castle was demolished by the new government in 1874.  The tenshu, the largest tower of the castle, was reconstructed in 1965 in concrete and currently houses a museum and an observation gallery on top with panoramic views of the city.

A journey to Ouchijuku is a step back in time and a wonderful way to observe what life may have been like for travelers during the Edo period.  To reach Ouchijuku, take the Aizu Railway Aizu Line from Tokyo Station and exit at Yunokami Onsen Station. From there, your destination is just 10 minutes away.

Road sign for Fukushima

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-13

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-11

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-10

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-1

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-4

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-6

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-7

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-8

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-9

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-19

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-18

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-17

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-15

Ohuchijyuku, Fukushima-16

Entrance to the castle

Entrance to the castle

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-1

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-3

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-2

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-4

Tsuruga Castle, Fukushima-5

Photo Credits: Moritoshi Inaba