Aizu-Wakamatsu is in the mountain region to the west of Fukushima Prefecture, and has always motivated rave reviews by visitors. Through a two-day tour with one night’s accommodation, organized by RH Kikaku in conjunction with the local tourist board, I was able to understand why.
The area is both beautiful and historical, with both of these characterstics nicely encapsulated by its majestic castle. Additionally, as everyone is well aware, Fukushima Prefecture has suffered a lot in the past year. Though your personal impact there might be small, every yen helps the local economy.
what’s in store on the tour?
- At an old Showa-era schoolhouse the tour group was treated to a traditional school lunch served by Japanese elementary school children. Delicious food was only added to by the adorable kids serving it.
- Tashiro, a local artisan sandal-maker, gave a workshop to teach us the basics of his trade. We walked away wearing the—very comfortable—fruits of our labor.
- A stop was made at the three Korori Kannons—statues of the famous Buddhist protector which bestow visitors with a special blessing.
- According to tradition we’re now assured of a long, healthy life with a peaceful, painless end—at no extra cost! Our helpful, English-speaking guide Junko enabled good chats with the local monks.
- Shingu Kumano Shrine provided space to ponder an 800-year-old tree, and wake the spirits by ringing a giant bell.
- A stop-in at a pottery workshop allowed a chance to whip up some of our own plates and mugs, which made for great keepsakes or gifts.
- A celebration-style Aizu dinner involved beautifully presented dishes made with locally-sourced produce. This was followed by a traditional dance performance in which we were invited to participate.
- Finally, the night was spent in local homestay-style accommodation, allowing a taste of local life. The residence was small and friendly, yet comfortably private.
Normally I would shy away from such group trips, preferring to travel independently. However, this tour appealed, with experiences the solo backpacker can’t gain access to. A good sampling of activities and key visiting spots gave us a window into the local culture.
More tours like this, and others with English speaking guides, will be starting in April. For details, check the information below.