Monday, September 17, 2007

River Valley Walk - Shiobara, Tochigi

Map Location (very rough)

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So now we have a project to get to know Shiobara better and visit a lot of Onsen in the area. This is an excellent walk.


I can't locate this place accurately on Google Maps. Drive up the river on highway 400. Park in the carpark on the left before the first tunnel at the sign shown below. If you go through a tunnel you have just missed it. This corresponds with the downstream/right hand yellow dot on the above map.

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OK. Now its easy. Just walk down the hill, cross the suspension bridge and turn left and you will be on your way. (the path loops around to the right and you will be walking upstream.

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The walk is only 3.3 km., but its pretty steep and hard going. It starts off with a suspension bridge with great views. Then continues through beautiful rain forest. There are fantastic views of the river all the way along and a good waterfall at the end. Actually there is a nice picnic area at the end too.

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The downside of it is that once you complete the walk there are only two reasonable ways to get back to the start. One is to walk the return path which is a bit of a slog. Or you can walk back along the road. We chose the road and it was quite horrible but much faster. The traffic was especially intimidating on the narrow road. Next time I think we will walk the longer way. My admiration of Japanese elegance and love of beauty took a bit of a dent with the amount of rubbish that had been left by the side of the road too.

Afterwards we went up to our first main Shiobara onsen. We visited Green Village Onsen (Map Location). It was OK but nothing special. Then we walked along the river a bit and found some real outdoor onsens along the side of the track. You still have to pay to use them, but they are really very attractive. They are however mixed (only men there today).

More Shiobara pictures

Goshikinuma Swamps, Bandai, Fukushima

Map Location

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Also known as the Five Colored Swamps. I think they could up their marketing appeal by calling them the Five Colored Lakes.

Anyway, the swamps are a series of small lakes colored various shades of blue and green by mineral deposits. Some of the lakes are quite striking. There were lots of photographers on the walk with tripods and fancy cameras.

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It takes about an hour to walk the length of them. We walked back along the same route but you could walk back along the road and stop for a meal or visit one of the other (rather kitch looking) attractions. I marked both ends of the walk on the map location. At the busy end there is a shopping area and you can rent boats and row about on the largest of the lakes. There are some huge carp in that lake.

We drove up a beautiful toll road to the onsen area but they were all booked out so we didn't stay there.

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The other main interesting thing about this area is it looks to be a pretty busy ski area in the winter. There are lots of resorts and ski fields.

More Bandai area photos

Lake Inawashiro, Fukushima

Map Location

This is a beautiful, big lake near Aizuwakamatsu.

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We didn't spend so long here, but its obviously a good place to have a relaxing time away from it all. I think we'll be back.

There are nice quiet camp grounds (even on the public holiday). There are sandy beaches that look good for swimming. There is a boating area where a lot of powerboats and jetskis are available.

There is also a migratory bird sanctuary which is visited by white swans in winter, but there were no birds there in September when we visited.

Tsurugajo Castle, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

updated: May 12, 2008
Map Location

This is my favourite castle to visit so far in Japan.

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The castle is beautiful and well maintained. There is a good display inside and the view from the top is excellent in every direction. The gardens are also very beautiful, especially the walk around the top of the moat. There is also a little teahouse in the grounds.

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I guess the most famous thing about Tsurugajo is a samurai troop called "The White Tigers". They were made up of 16 and 17 year olds. As near as I can tell they were a division in training but were largely massacred in a brave defence of their castle. The most famous part was 20 of them who were on top of a hill looking down and thought they saw the castle overrun and on fire so they all committed suicide. It turns out they were wrong and the castle wasn't overrun or on fire. Their suicide success rate was 95%!

Next door there is a museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of the area going right back to early human development. There is a good printed guide in English.

More Aizuwakamatsu Photos

update: this is also a very good place to visit in winter and especially spring for cherry blossom. In 2008 the blossom was at its best on the weekend of Apr 19th, 1 week after Nasushiobara and 3 weeks after Tokyo.







More Photos
photo location to be cleaned up soon. Sorry for the mess!

Hotel Fushimiso, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

Map Location

As usual we set off on our trip without having booked any accommodation. Since this was a long weekend, I felt sure we'd be sleeping in the car.

Not so! We found this hotel pretty easily.

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The people were very friendly. Though I feel pretty sure 50% of the banter of the old ladies from the hotel were bawdy gaijin jokes. But I feel equally sure they were being genuinely nice and friendly too.

The hotel was only 8,000 yen per night. That is 16,000 yen for the two of us with dinner and breakfast included.

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Our room as small, neat, clean and slightly run down. It had a great view of a small river that ran behind the hotel but it was mostly only visible through glass.

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The onsen was quite nice. It was fully enclosed and Cassandra and I are developing a real interest in outside onsens with great views. But no complaints about the onsen in this hotel.



Dinner was great. It was 9 little course. Each one of them very good. We requested the meal in our room, but I suspect we were supposed to go to a little dining room to eat. They asked us to eat our breakfast there. Breakfast was also very good.

Overall, great little hotel.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Aizu Sake Historic Museaum - Fukushima

Map Location

We have long wanted to go to a Sake Factory. This is more of a museum than a factory tour. Its a worthwhile activity while you are in Aizuwakamatsu.

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The building is quite old and still in operation. There is an exhibit of how sake is/was made. Also you can walk through part of the actual factory. At the end and start of the route you can try and buy lots of their sake.

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More photos from Aizuwakamatsu

Japan Tourist also has an excellent site with info about this area.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hiroshige Museum Gallery - Bato, Tochigi

Map Location
Museum Website

This is a nice little art gallery. You can easily spend a couple of hours here looking at their great display of wood prints. The museum is dedicated to Utagawa Hiroshige and his contemporaries.

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There is a shop there where you can buy some prints too. Thats where we went to get our famous Hokusai (a Hiroshige contemporary) wave print in the 36 views of Mt. Fuji series.

Also there are art classes there sometimes too. I don't know the details, but we happened to be there once when there was one on and our friend was on the course. He made a nice wood print which he showed me later. I'm not sure how one we get into the class. Our Japanese is almost certainly too weak, but Japanese speakers might inquire at the gallery.

The building is also quite nice with some nice little gardens out the back.

Also you can walk up the hill behind the gallery and there are some walks you can do through the forest.

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There is also lots of pretty scenery around here and a nice pottery shop that I will post about later.