Moving to Tohoku from the mild climate of Australia, I was NOT ready for the winter. I brought all the right clothing and shoes to keep me warm, but no amount of physical or mental preparation had a hope of helping when I was met with this scene during my first winter in Fukushima in 2013:
To be fair, it was a particularly intense winter! In just 24 hours the entire prefecture was hit by record-breaking levels of snow (I think the biggest dump since Meiji?) causing widespread chaos in a region usually well equipped to deal with cold temperatures for a good 5 months of the year.
So how did a delicate Australian such as myself learn to survive in this harsh climate?
Aside from incessant whinging about being cold (apologies to my very patient friends) I did manage to discover that winter in Tohoku offers a host of exciting ways to get outside and actually embrace the snow: some AMAZING ski resorts, onsen (of course) and plenty of creative innovations like kotatsu-boats and trains, winter festivals, and just the picturesque winter scenery in general.
Oh yeah…and you can always escape to Hawaii in Fukushima…
Welcome to ‘Spa Resort Hawaiians’ !
Located in the coastal south of Fukushima (Iwaki City), Spa Resort Hawaiians is a hot-spring water-park which allows visitors a WARM Hawaiian experience all year round, regardless of the season! The inside temperature of the building is maintained at a warm 28 degrees, so even when it is bucketing snow outside, you can be comfortable in the water or by the poolside in your swim-suit. Hot-spring water is sourced from nearby Yumoto Hot Spring and is used not only in the huge range of communal bath facilities (see below), but also channeled into the pools of the main water-park.
First opened on the 15th of January 1966, the then named ‘Joban Hawaiian Centre’ was Japan’s first theme-park. A huge hit, the centre reached an annual attendance of 1.55 million guests just four years after it was first opened! It has continued to develop and now offers a huge range of features, including three pool zones, three thrilling water slides, a beach-theatre, an ‘old-Hawaii’ themed restaurant area, a Southern-European-style hot spring facility called ‘Spring Park’, a huge open-air bath in traditional Japanese style and an art-themed outdoor spa. There are also three different hotels to stay at and a golf course for those seeking a more leisurely visit.
But perhaps the most famous feature of Hawaiians is the team of beautiful ‘Hula Girls’ (and boys) who make regular performances at the water-park’s ‘Beach Theatre’; an exciting display of various kinds of Polynesian dance (including Hula, Tahitian and Maori dance routines and a Samoan style ‘fire knife dance’).
Becoming a member of the Hula Girls troupe requires two years of professional dance training at the Joban Music and Dance institute, including intensive courses in not only dance but Polynesian culture, voice training, Japanese tea ceremony and flower arrangement, and ukele playing. Whilst the performances themselves are highly entertaining, it is actually the history of the ‘Hula Girls’ performance group which holds the answer to the question, just how and why did Hawaii end up in countryside Fukushima in the first place??
The city of Iwaki once boasted the largest coalmine on Japan’s main island of Honshu, the Joban Coal mine Co., Ltd, which prospered during a period when coal was considered ‘black diamonds’ and coal-mining was renowned as Japan’s core industry. However, in the 1960s the coal-mining industry fell into steep decline as demand for coal plummeted, leaving the future of Iwaki in crisis. Faced with the closure of the coalmine and massive unemployment, an idea was put forward to utilize the local hot-springs and mobilise residents to build a ‘summer paradise’ theme park, creating a new industry for the town and new jobs for mining families. As you might imagine, the image of a summer paradise theme park was about as far as you can get from the daily reality of working in the coalmines, and was met with much contention. However, the creators of the Hawaiians centre (including the Joban Music and Dance Institute which taught hula dancing to local girls) devoted huge amounts of time and spirit to achieving their dream. Eventually it was this passion and dedication which won-over the nation and bought the Hawaiians centre its fame and great success! That and also Japan was (and still is, let’s be honest) obsessed with Hawaii as the top of the nation’s list of favoured destinations!
The story of Hawaiians is the real-life inspiration behind the movie and stage production ‘Hula Girls’ (2006, directed by Sang-il Lee) which won an impressive number of awards at the Japan Academy Awards in 2007 (highly recommended to watch before you visit)!
So there you have it – really, I had no excuse to complain about winter in Fukushima with Hawaii literally at my doorstep. I would highly recommend a visit to Spa Resort Hawaiians in any season, if not for its fun water-park and spa facilities but for its heart-warmingly Japanese ‘tropical mood’.
Address: 〒972-8326 福島県いわき市常磐藤原町蕨平50
Getting to Yumoto Station:
From Sendai Station:
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama Station (see from Koriyama Station). It will cost you around 3500 yen and take about 40 minutes.
From Koriyama Station:
Take the JR Banetsu-East Line to Iwaki Station and change to the JR Joban Line stopping at Yumoto Station. It will take around 1.5hrs and cost you 2000 yen.
From Tokyo Station:
It is easiest (and cheapest) to take the JR Limited Express Hitatchi service from either Tokyo Station or Ueno Station to Yumoto Station. It will take around 2 hrs and set you back around 6000 yen.
2. Getting from Yumoto Station Spa Resort Hawaiians:
There is a free shuttle-bus service between Yumoto Station and Spa Resort Hawaiians: timetable (Japanese).
Otherwise it is a short (10 min) taxi ride!
For more information, check out the ‘Spa Resort Hawaiians’ official homepage here!