Aizu Wakamatsu is a former castle town located in the Fukushima Prefecture with a long and eventful history. Nowadays, it brings in tourists in droves due to its wonderful variety of local landmarks and attractions that highlight its history (which is entangled with samurais!) as well as reputation for producing award-winning sake.
During the Boshin War in the mid-1800s, Aizu-Wakamatsu actually became the very last stronghold for the last samurais battling the Meiji government reign. You will get to witness many aspects of samurai lifestyle in this region, something that we think will appeal to many people of the masses.
The region itself is surrounded by many mountains, and thus hiking and skiing are popular activities during the appropriate months because not only do you get to do what you love, but to do so whilst being surrounded by the epic scenery around here will make all your friends and family absolutely envious.
How To Get To Aizu Wakamatsu
From Tokyp, take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama Station, and then transfer to the JR Banetsu-sai Line for Aizu Wakamatsu. It will take approximately three hours and cost 9,000 yen. If you have a JR Pass, this entire trip will be covered. For itineraries and timetables, check out Hyperdia website.
If you’re looking to save some money, there are buses that operate between Tokyo and Aizu Wakamatsu Station. The trip will take 4.5 hours and cost roughly 4,800 yen one-way. You can book it at kosokubus.
Where To Stay in Aizu Wakamatsu
Guesthouse in Aizu Wakamatsu – Kakurega Guest House
This quaint and humble guest house is exactly what you’re after if you’re looking for a no-frills accommodation that provides all the basics for a comfortable stay at an extremely affordable price. It features some spacious guest and dorm rooms, a cosy common area for lounging around with a bar, and free Wi-Fi throughout.
There is also a family room if you’re looking to book for a few people and want some privacy. The location is great, and will allow you to visit all the major attractions quite easily.
Guest Tips: If you’re interested in getting to know more about the local sake, the host is your guy – simply ask the questions! To get to the place, know that it’s actually at the end of an alley that’s just off the main road opposite a 7-11 convenience store.
Book It Now: Kakurega Guest House
Ryokan in Aizu Wakamatsu – Tagoto
If there were ever a ryokan that suited the atmospheric nostalgia of this ancient city perfectly, it would be Tagoto Ryokan. It’s one of the best sellers in Aizu Wakamatsu, and for good reason. It is very traditional in the sense of tatami mat floors, traditional futon bedding, delicious kaiseki meals served with fresh local ingredients, and with a wonderful onsen onsite. However, for those after a bit of familiarity, western bedding choices are also provided.
Guest Tips: There are plenty of restaurants around the accommodation so you don’t have to worry if you miss dinner, however, breakfast is served in the most traditional style and is delicious so that is highly recommended.
Book It Now: Tagoto
Ryokan in Aizu Wakamatsu – Kutsurogijyuku Chiyotaki
This wonderful traditional ryokan boasts superb mountain views from its onsen – which is reason enough to book it! Kutsurogijyuju Chiyotaki is only a 15-minute bus ride from the station, but it actually feels like it’s miles away.
The large guest rooms boast serene views, the onsite restaurant offers lip-smacking food, and the private onsen baths are just glorious. Make sure you make a reservation! If you’re staying in, there is a sake bar that will open up at night, and dinner is a wonderful premium-grade buffet full of delicious local ingredients.
Guest Tips: Both onsen provide great views, but the one on the 10th floor is probably better. If you’re worried about space, the guest rooms are huge so you’re covered.
Book It Now: Kutsurogijyuku Chiyotaki
The Best Restaurants in Aizu Wakamatsu
This restaurant offers delicious seasonal dishes that are charcoal-grilled to perfection. If you’re a fan of that delicious smoky aroma wafting through your nose, then this is the place to visit. The charcoal-grilling process here is quite unique: the ingredients are popped on a right and grilled right in front of you! Not many additional flavour and spices are used, so what you’re eating will be honest and authentic. A popular dish is the Fukudori chicken and fresh fish.
- Address: 4-16 Nakamachi, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0878, Japan
- Access: From Aizu Wakamatsu Station, it is a 20-minute walk.
- Hours: 5:00pm – 11:00pm (closed Mondays)
Takino is a restaurant in Aizu Wakamatsu that sells the age-old Wappaeshi, a wooden lunch box that long ago was created specifically for people working in the mountains. This wooden box normally holds a serving of steamed rice alongside a variety of other toppings made with fresh seasonal ingredients.
- Address 5-31 Sakaemachi, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0871, Japan
- Access: You can catch a taxi from Aizu Wakamatsu Station for 15-minutes, otherwise you can catch a bus to Haikara-San “Shiyakushomae” bus stop and walk a few minutes.
- Hours: 11:00am – 3:00pm, 5:00pm – 10:00pm
- Price: from 1,470 yen
The 8 Best Things To Do in Aizu Wakamatsu
Here is our selection of the places we recommend you to visit in Aizu Wakamatsu:
- Hanitsu Shrine Honden
- Aizu Hanko Nisshin-kan
- Oyakuen Garden
- Aizu Bukeyashiki
- Aizu Wakamatsu Castle (Tsuruga Castle)
- Iimoriyama Hill
1. Hanitsu Shrine Honden
The mystic ancient Hanitsu Shrine Honden was built many years ago to honour Hoshina Masayuki, the first lord of the Aizu Clan. This is historically significant because it was he who upheld utmost devotion to the Tokugawa Shogunate and led his people to do the same, even during the period of civil war.
As Aizu Wakamatsu was the last stronghold during the war, Hoshina’s loyalty spread across the land and earned him respect from those who held the same beliefs.
When you visit this shrine, you will get to witness the Kame-shi, which is considered one of the largest stone monuments across all of Japan, a distinct white torii gate, graveyard for the Matsudaira Clan which has now been designated as a National Historic Site, and, during the autumn koyo season, you will get to experience some of the most beautiful foliage scenery in your life. The shrine also hosts a wonderful autumn foliage festival as well.
- Address: Japan, 〒969-3102 Fukushima, Yama District, Inawashiro, Mineyama
- Access: From Haikara-san/Akabe “Innai” bus stop, it is a 5-minute walk.
- Time: 8:00am – 5:00pm
2. Aizu Hanko Nisshin-kan
The Aizu Hanko Nisshin-kan is a Samurai school that was considered the best educational institution in all of Japan back in the early 19th century. During this period, Japan was experiencing high levels of famine, and so the Aizu clan established this school to save the future of the clan. Unfortunately, the original structure was burnt down during the great Boshin War, but it was reconstructed during the late 1980s to replicate its original form.
Nowadays, when you stroll through the grounds, you’ll be able to witness some fantastic architectural masterpieces of the Edo period as well as dioramas which display the vigilant lifestyles of the students back then.
This includes learning about how students began calligraphy classes at the age of 13 (because of the different dialects of various parts of Japan, sometimes even conversation was difficult), etiquette classes to uphold the samurai prestige, swimming across the Suiren Buibalke pool in full armour as training, archery training – and that’s not even half of it.
This is a great place to learn about the history of samurais if you’re interested, and let’s face it, all of us harbour a little fantasy of imagining ourselves being strong warriors, fighting for what’s good and right!
- Address: Japan, 〒969-3441 Fukushima, Aizuwakamatsu, Kawahigashimachi Minamikoya, Takatsuka
- Access: From Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, it is a 15-minute taxi ride.
- Hours: 9:00am – 4:00pm
- Price: Adult: 620yen, Child: 450 yen
3. Oyakuen Garden
In the very traditional region of Aizu Wakakamatsu, you will be pleased to know that there exists a gorgeous Japanese landscape Garden, perfect for quiet strolls and those who appreciate simple Japanese natural scenery. It was nicknamed “Medicinal Herb Garden” during the 18th century, and now, aside from its pond and the surrounding garden, it also boasts an herb garden that showcases hundreds of various types of medicinal plants.
Whilst here, make sure you pay a visit to the Ochayagoten, a tea house which faces the picturesque pond where you can relax, sip on some matcha tea and enjoy some wagashi. The Rakutei is another structure that is worth a visit; it sits right on the pond and can be accessed via a bridge. This is a great photo opportunity!
- Address: Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0804, Japan
- Access: From Aizu-Wakamatsu, you can hop on the Aizu Loop bus which will stop at Oyakuen (will take 30-minutes).
- Hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm
- Price: 320 yen
4. Aizu Bukeyashiki
Aizu Bukeyashiki is a huge reconstructed samurai mansion that belonged to a former high-ranking samurai, Tanomo Saigo. Because of his prestige, his residence was built to reflect that, and thus you will find it to house a whopping 38-rooms! They include bedrooms, guest rooms, and other important rooms. The grounds of this property also host a tea house, a rice mill, and even an archery range!
To five you a better idea of how samurais lived, there are waxed figures placed in certain rooms to demonstrate their actions and lifestyles, which is unusual but also a welcoming change to viewing empty rooms, don’t you think?
You can participate in painting or even a quiz about the history and culture of Aizu. After you tour the grounds, you can head to the onsite shop which sells traditional Aizu crafts to bring home as souvenirs, and get a light meal at the restaurant which offers some bangin’ local cuisine.
- Address: Innai-1 Higashiyamamachi Oaza Ishiyama, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0813, Japan
- Access: From Haikara-san/Aizu-Bukeyashiki mae bus stop, it is a 1-minute walk.
- Hours: Apr – Nov: 8:30am – 5:00pm, Dec-Mar: 9:00am-4:30pm
- Price: Adult: 850 yen, Child: 450 yen
5. Aizu Wakamatsu Castle (Tsuruga Castle)
Tsuruga Castle was actually built hundreds of years ago back in the late 1300s, however, throughout its years it was passed through many hands of leaders, eventually becoming the very last stronghold for the Aizu Clan during the Boshin War.
The castle was damaged but not completely destroyed, but in true Japanese style, it was rebuilt to its former glory in the mid-1900s and now serves as a great attraction in the city of Aizu to display the history of the castle and detail the samurai lifestyle. The current castle is actually one of the most beautiful white castles across Japan – you don’t want to miss it!
One of the best things about this castle is that visitors can actually climb to the top floor of the keep and get some amazing views overlooking the city. Surrounding the castle is actually the Tsuruga Castle Park, which features cherry blossom trees and vast expanses of green lawns as well as moats and gorgeous stone walls.
- Address: 1-1 Otemachi, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0873, Japan
- Access: From Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, hop on the Aizu Loop Bus and alight at “Tsurugajo Kitaguchi” which is 20-minutes away.
- Hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm
- Price: 410 yen
6. Iimoriyama Hill
Iimoriyama Hill is a historically significant site for the Aizu Clan. During the end of the Boshin War, a small group of about 20 young Aizu samurai soldiers became separated from their division and escaped, eventually ending up at this very hill.
Looking over its edge, they thought what they saw was their stronghold castle, Tsuruga Castle, burning up in flames. In horror, they realised that there would be nowhere to return to, and true to samurai honour, instead of giving in the possibility of being captured by the enemy, they all committed ‘seppuku’, the ultimate act of suicide.
Unfortunately, what they witnessed was not their castle engulfed in flames, but the smoke coming from surrounding houses. One of the soldiers named Iinuma Sadakichi was fortunately saved, and thus the tales of the courageous boys have been passed on. Their tombs now lay on the hills of Iimoriyama and have become quite a popular attraction.
- Address: Yamatoyamaotsu Itsukimachi Oaza Yahata, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0003, Japan
- Access: From Aizu Wakamatsu Station, tahe the Aizu loop bus and alight at Iimoriyama-shita bus stop.
7. Sazaedo Temple
Close by to the Iimoriyama Hill is the unique Sazaedo Pagoda, most famous for its double helix staircase in which all those going up will never cross paths with all those going down. Completed in the late 1700s, visitors to this pagoda will get to witness a very unique historical monument indeed. It is said that those who reach the top of storey have actually completed the ‘Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimmage’ to 33 Buddhist Temples. The inside has some interesting details to capture, and the view at the top overlooks Aizu Wakamatsu. It’s also said that those who visit this pagoda will run into good luck afterwards, so what are you waiting for!
- Address: Takizawa-155 Itsukimachi Oaza Yahata, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0003, Japan
- Access: From Aizu Wakamatsu Station, tahe the Aizu loop bus and alight at Iimoriyama-shita bus stop.
This former post town (a town located right next to the main roads with used to service travellers back in the old days) along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route is a popular tourist attraction as it reflects the lifestyle during the Edo Period.
The restored village is known for its thick thatched roof houses, of which most have been converted to craft shops, restaurants, and minshuku (small, family-run Japanese-style B&Bs).
Walking through the unpaved wide-open streets here, you’ll feel the nostalgia in the air. You can visit Ouchi-juku’s Honjin (former inn that houses high-ranking officials) and witness examples of what the higher-class house interiors looked like, and see displays of many artefacts. At the end of the main strip, there is a temple that offers a great view overlooking the street.
Here’s how it looks the village looks like when it’s covered by snow.
Ouchi-juku is a great half or full day trip that will transport you back in time and provide history buffs with some fun and interesting insight into a slice of Japan’s history that’s not quite in mainstream media yet, and that’s the best part.
- Address: Yamamoto-8 Ouchi, Shimogo, Minamiaizu District, Fukushima 969-5207, Japan
- Access: From Aizu Wakamatsu, take the train to Yunokami Onsen. It will take 35-minutes and cost 1,030 yen.
Aizu Wakamatsu may be a popular destination with locals now, however, sooner or later we think of the tragic and beautiful history of the place will spread far and wide. Looking beyond that, this region is full of culture, and due to its location, makes it an obvious next destination if you’re visiting something like Nikko or Niigata.
Samurai enthusiasts, there is way that you would miss visiting a place like this, and for all other travellers, well, let’s just say that if you come home equipped with extensive knowledge of the history of samurais and a rather exclusive slice of Japan’s history, you’ll be very popular indeed!
If you are interested in Japanese history, you should also read this blog post: 10 Popular Historical Japanese Persons.