Having lived in Fukushima for over three years I might be slightly biased, but I can say with confidence that this little piece of paradise in the central mountains is one of the most beautiful places in Japan. No – the planet! Who would think that it was born out of tragedy?
Let me give you a little background:
Towering over the beautiful blue Lake Inawashiro (the fourth largest lake in Japan, I have been told many times) is one of Fukushima’s most famous landmarks, Mt. Bandai.
Standing at 1819 metres, Mt. Bandai is a skier & snowboarder’s paradise in the winter with a plethora of top-quality ski resorts, as well as a highly popular destination for hiking and outdoor activities in the warmer months.
It is also a giant stratovolcano.
It also erupted 200 years ago!
The eruption of Mt Bandai (July 15, 1888) was the worst volcanic disaster in Japan’s recent history, resulting in much loss of life (477 people) and rendering entire towns homeless. In an ironic and cruel twist of fate, it was this incredibly tragic natural disaster that is responsible for the creation of one of the most unique and beautiful natural landscapes I have ever seen and now one of Fukushima’s most popular tourist destinations.
Welcome to Goshikinuma
Goshikinuma (五色沼) literally means ‘five-coloured marshes’ and is located in the Urabandai (裏磐梯 lit. behind Bandai) region of the Bandai-Asahi National Park (see access details below). Following the eruption of Mt. Bandai, lava and debris flowed into the nearby Nagasegawa River, creating a series of lakes, marshes and ponds. Goshikinuma refers to a smaller group (around 30 in total) of the most beautiful marshes/lakes born from this cataclysmic event. The view of Mt. Bandai as seen from the first (and largest) lake of Goshikinuma, Bishmon-numa, reveals the massive crater left behind.
The most jaw-dropping feature of these lakes and marshes is, of course, the vivid colouring of their waters.
Whilst sourced by ground water, the unique and almost unnaturally beautiful blues, greens, yellows and reds of the lakes are created by differing levels of hyrogen sulfide from volcanic activity mixing with water from nearby Lake Hibara, giving the water an acidic pH balance and resulting multi-coloured effect. There are also unique species of moss growing throughout the area which help to give each lake its own character.
Whilst the acidity level of the water means that diving off your row boat (you can hire a rowboat at the largest lake, Bishamon-numa) for a swim is not recommended, it doesn’t mean that there are no life-forms that call the water home. In fact, the transparency of the water makes the resident Koi (Japanese carp) much easier to spot than in many other lakes and rivers in Japan!
But there’s one shy character in particular that you should definitely keep an eye out for…
Usually found lurking under the row boats is the infamous ‘Koi-no-Koi’ – the carp of love (恋 koi)! Look carefully for his beautiful orange scale pattern and you’ll see why couples often crowd this area, hoping to catch a lucky glimpse and bless their romantic happiness (Pro tip: Goshikiuma is a popular date spot! Avoid weekends if you are newly heartbroken…)
In addition to the stunning Bishamon-numa, there is a walking trail starting from the Urabandai Visitor Centre which takes you in and around the 30-odd different lakes and ponds. It takes about an hour to walk one way, and you can either opt to catch a bus back to the beginning of the trail (and your car) or walk back the way you came; and let’s face it, the scenery is worth a second look! Here are some of the stunning views you can expect to see along the way…
There really are no words fit to describe it; even after taking a million pictures I still feel like they fail to fully portray the beauty or capture the ambience. With every bend of the path, there is another unique view to enjoy, and each view could easily make for a masterpiece artwork. The walking trail itself is only a little over 3kms long and very flat, so it makes for a leisurely nature walk that even the smallest or eldest members of your group can accomplish with no dramas. There are also benches spotted along the way where you can take a break, enjoy nature’s soundtrack or even a packed picnic lunch.
What is more, you can enjoy at least four different views of the same landscape every year as the surrounding environment changes dramatically with the turn of each season (did you know that Japan has four unique seasons? 😛 ). Bathe in the lush, fresh green foliage of summer or explore a frozen forest on a snow-shoeing tour in winter. I would 10-out-of-10 recommend coming in the Autumn months (mid/late October ~ early November) when the forest transforms into a canvas of red, yellow and gold.
I visit Goshikinuma roughly three times a year, either when friends and family visit or if I need some relaxation and escape from the daily grind. I never get bored of it. Each time I walk away completely refreshed, reinspired by nature and reassured in my choice to live in this incredibly beautiful part of the world. It is probably the number one destination on my Fukushima itinerary and I really cannot recommend a visit enough. The name Fukushima (福島) itself literally means lucky (福) island (島) and I hope that you too will discover why after your visit to Goshikinuma and Urabandai.
From Tokyo (by train):
Jump on the JR Tohoku Shikansen to Koriyama Station (郡山, roughly 1.5 hrs from Tokyo). From here, change to a local rapid service to Inawashiro Station (猪苗代) on the JR Banetsu West line (or 磐越西線 Banestu Saisen in Japanese). There are local buses which run from Inawashiro station to the entrance to Goshikinuma (五色沼入口 Goshikinuma-iriguchi). Buses run every pretty much once an hour, and the trip will only take 30 mins (and cost you around 750 yen). Here is a bus timetable (Japanese) for your reference. Please note that the bus is not covered by your JR Pass (sadly).
From Sendai (by train):
Take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama Station (郡山) (roughly 40 mins from Sendai). Follow the above instructions!