Japan’s Samurai Cities, located just ONE HOUR from Tokyo!

The Samurai Cities of Fukushima Prefecture

By Hachiko Jr, Akabeko, and Dave

 

This guide will show you how to explore Japan’s Samurai Cities in Fukushima Prefecture, using Koriyama City as your base

1. Why Koriyama?

Unlike most Japanese prefectures where the titular city is usually both the capital and the largest city, in Fukushima, the largest city is Koriyama rather than Fukushima City. Koriyama is also centrally located, allowing you to easily access nearly every major city in the prefecture. From Tokyo Station, Koriyama Station is only 80 minutes via the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). If you’re coming from the north, it is only 40 minutes via Shinkansen from Sendai! From Koriyama you can go to Fukushima City (13 minutes by shinkansen or 45 minutes by local train Tohoku Main Line), 68 minutes to Aizu-Wakamatsu on the local rapid train on the Ban’Etsu West Line, and 90 minutes to Iwaki on the local train, Ban’Etsu East Line.  If you’re going to Hokkaido by the shinkansen, Koriyama will also be one of your stops.

2. Accommodations

Another reason for choosing Koriyama as the base for my travel is due to the abundance of hotels around Koriyama Station. I’ve generally found hotels here to be cheaper than those in Iwaki, Fukushima City, and Aizu. The hotel I stayed at was Dormy Inn Express, conveniently located less than five minutes by foot, north of Koriyama Station. Dormy Inn is one of my favorite chains as they contain a great onsen (hot spring), fast internet, spacious rooms (for a business hotel), are more foreigner friendly than other hotels, and – especially – offers free ramen noodles to guests at night! It’s a great location to drop off your luggage and set-off on your numerous day trips to other cities. Other nearby hotels include Chisun Hotel Koriyama, Koriyama View Hotel, and Koriyama Washington Hotel among many others. They will run you from 4,000 yen to 8,000 yen depending on the season.

3. Fukushima City

Fukushima City is located in the northern part of the prefecture and is the capital of Fukushima Prefecture. Like many cities in the prefecture, much of its famed history revolves around its involvement in medieval warfare between various samurai clans.

A variety of hot springs are located at the edge of the city:  Iizaka Onsen, Takayu Onsen, and Tsuchiyu Onsen. We visited Iizaka Onsen which can be accessed on the Iizaka Line from Fukushima Station (please note that the Iizaka line is not run by East Japan Railway, to access this line, you need to exit Fukushima Station through the East Exit, walk northwards towards Lotteria, then on the left you’ll find a sign for the Iizaka Line. The ride will take around 20 minutes). The onsen is beautiful with a variety of free foot onsens one can visit, and full service onsens you can enter for a fee. The town has a very rustic feel of old Japan.

Fukushima City also contains a number of parks nearby. As cherry blossom season approaches, we visited Hanamiyama, which is the most popular mountain spot in the city. To access this park, you’ll need to wait at bus stop #8 at the East Exit of the station and get off at Hanamiyama Iriguchi (about 250 yen one way). From there you’ll need to hike up the mountain, there are signs that will guide you to the top, but please remember to turn left, not right from the bus stop.

We also visited the horse tracks as the city is famous for horse racing.

Foodies – Fukushima City has got you covered. The most well known food is their gyoza dumplings. Unlike those in other parts of Japan such as Utsunomiya, Fukushima’s gyoza (referred to as Enban Gyoza) are oily and crispy. The most famous Enban Gyoza restaurant is located right in Fukushima Station! Go to the East Exit and look for a restaurant called Gyoza Terui. You can order a half ring or full ring of Enban Gyoza, but be warned, lines can be long, so take this into consideration if you’re transiting.

 

4. Aizu-Wakamatsu City

Like Fukushima City, Aizu-Wakamatsu’s history is entangled in past conflicts, especially during the Boshin War where it became the scene of one of the biggest battles in Japan, during a period where the Samurai era was ending and imperial rule was being restored. As such, the biggest attraction in Aizu-Wakamatsu is Tsuruga Castle. Unfortunately the main part of the castle was destroyed during the war, however one of its main towers was reconstructed. In addition, you can visit many samurai era related sites such as the samurai residences, hot springs and other attractions by riding the city’s loop bus. It is only 500 yen for unlimited rides around the city so be sure to purchase it right at the ticket booth in front of Aizu-Wakamatsu Station!

Aizu-Wakamatsu is famous for many culinary treats. We visited a number of sweet shops where we can enjoy walnut pastries, mochi, dango, and other sweets run by old family stores. Perhaps most of all, we enjoyed the local horse meat which we ate in sashimi form (raw meat) and ramen noodles! The restaurant we went to is called Bariki Hongan (馬力本願). There were two other horse meat restaurants that were recommended to us by the travel guides, but they are known to be crowded and served horse meat as a nabe (soup), so we opted for this place.

During the spring through summer, you can ride a special train that runs between Koriyama to Aizu-Wakamatsu. It’s called the FruiTea Fukushima. It runs on the same Ban’Etsu Line that you normally use to reach this city (In fact, only the first two cars are part of the FruiTea train while the remaining cars are the normal Ban-Etsu trains)! FruiTea has luxurious leather seating and tables where you will be served cakes, coffee, and tea by maids. In the next car, there is a bar where you are served unlimited drinks (mostly varieties of tea and coffee) and a great view of the conductors window. Be sure to reserve in advance as it can get quite full. Tickets costed us 4000 yen. See the links on the bottom for more information about the train and its schedule.
Aizu-Wakamatsu City’s mascot is ‘Akabeko’, a legendary red cow used to build the Enzoji-Temple in Aizu. Legend also has it that children who possessed Akabeko dolls avoided sickness that plagued the area in the past. Akabeko is so famous that it’s often mistaken as the prefectural mascot rather than the city!

5. Koriyama City

Unlike Fukushima City and Aizu-Wakamatsu, Koriyama has admittedly less tourist attractions. Koriyama is one of those places that’s better to live than to visit as the largest city in the prefecture. That said, being the largest city also has its advantages: You can find many of the prefecture’s specialty cuisine here, even horse meat, the local specialty agre Green Curry and Cream Box. There are only a few stores that serve Green Curry but we chose Spoon, located inside Koriyama View Hotel. I chose here due to the super friendly service of the staff, and the salad bar.  Koriyama Green Curry is nothing like Indian or Thai Curries. It is difficult to describe it – but it’s somewhat similar to Japanese Curry but very very light and also a bit spicy. Next up is Cream Box, a pastry invented in Koriyama. Cream Box is basically milk cream pasted or baked on top of a loaf of white bread. It might sound simple and unimaginative, but it was my favorite local food next to the horse meat! While we ate cream box a few times during our stay, my favorite shop for cream box is Otomo Bakery, located straight down the street from Koriyama View Hotel, about a 15 minute walk from the station.  We also stopped by an izakaya (bar) called Yasubee located next to the station, this izakaya specializes in serving various local foods which includes Shirakawa’s famous Maple Salmon.

We also visited the Koriyama City Fureai Science Space Park, located right next to the station on the top floor of the tallest building in the city. It’s a family oriented planeterium where you can view and even try on various NASA space equipment. The highlight of the planetarium is the theater where you can watch various space related shows on a 360 view screen. Additionally the planterium provides a great view of the city as it is on the 22nd and 23rd floor of the tallest building in the city.

6. Other destinations to consider:

Due to time restrictions, it was not possible for me to visit every city within Fukushima Prefecture. However from Koriyama, there are a number of other popular cities worth visiting. These include Iwaki City (a coastal town famous for its marine aquarium and giant Hawaiian Themed resort, 90 minutes from Koriyama), Bandai-Atami (a popular hot spring town roughly 20-30 minutes from Koriyama towards Aizu-Wakamatsu), Abukumado Caves (located between Iwaki and Koriyama), Kitakata (located next to Aizu-Wakamatsu and famous for its ramen and Bandai Asahi national park).

I hope you enjoyed our tour of Fukushima Prefecture’s cities, using Koriyama as a base. Here are some links that will be useful in organizing your travels:

  1. Hyperdia – A useful site that identifies which trains to take. You can uncheck shinkansen if you prefer to use local trains (this is necessary if you are traveling using the Seishun 18 Ticket)
  2. Japanican – A travel site run by JTB. I used this to search for hotels. Very easy to use
  3. Japan Rail Pass – If you’re living abroad and visiting Japan, I highly recommend buying the JR Rail Pass as it will allow you to ride most of the JR Lines including the shinkansen (bullet trains)! There are several passes which range from one week to several weeks, which allows you to use JR lines as much as you want. This gives you easy access to explore all over Japan. A 7 day pass will cost roughly 29,000 yen. In comparison a round trip ticket on the shinkansen from Tokyo to Sendai will run you 22,000 where as by using the JR Rail Pass, you could from go Tokyo to Sendai and back, every two hours, all day for 7 days and it will still be 29,000 yen!
  4. Seishun 18 Ticket – For those of you living in Japan or are unable to acquire the JR Rail Pass, you can also buy the Seishun 18 Ticket which goes on sale every season. It honestly is not as good as the Japan Rail Pass, as you are only limited to local trains and 5 non-consecutive days. So that one hour trip from Tokyo to Fukushima will become a five hour trip. Still, I prefer it over night buses because it can be cheaper over long distances, most long distance trains have a toilet and more comfortable seating, and the ride will be smoother.
  5. JR FruiTea Line – The official site for JR East’s FruiTea Line. Be sure to check the schedule of operations. While you’re at it, check out the other special trains that are running in the Tohoku Region!

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