Modern Japan began with the tragedy of the Aizu samurai. After this war, commonly known as the Boshin Civil War, the samurai no longer existed in Japan. However, if you visit Aizuwakamatsu you have the chance to still experience a samurai city. The city preserved the spirit of the samurai to this days, by teaching the Aizu Clan Percepts to the new generations.
And if you like the Japanese culture, you may want to know which are the Aizu Clan percepts:
- Be kind to others,
- Say thank you and I’m sorry,
- Do not act in cowardice,
- Have pride for Aizu, and show respect to your elders,
- Follow your dreams,
- Have self-retraint.
Fair enough I would say! But now, let’s see how you could fill your time during your visit in Aizuwakamatsu.
The main reason people come and visit Aizuwakamatsu is for its beautiful castle. If you already visited other castles across Japan, you already know that all the castles look almost the same – same style and architecture. However, what makes this one more special than the others is its unique red roof.
Aizu (which is the shorter name of the city) was ruled by many famous generals because of its key position, located in the central area of the Eastern Japan. The lord wouldn’t normally live here, but it would had come and gave orderes only during battle times. This last happen about 140 years ago, when a war started between the Meiji governement and the samurai of Aizu. This was the time when the samurai were defeated and the castle was destroyed. This event is known as the Boshin Civil War.
Regarding the castle itself, it has been built about 600 years ago and during the years it suffered many damages, being lastly rebuilt to its latest known form in 1965, by its citizens.
Don’t miss the beautiful views from the last floor. You can go outside and enjoy a 360 panoramic over the city and the suroundings.
The entrance fee for the castle costs only 410¥ and you need about 1 hour to see it all. However, it exists a combo ticket of 520¥, which gives you access also to the Rinkaku tea ceremony room next door.
Tea ceremony room Rinkaku
Gamo Ujisato built a seven storey castle in 1593 in Aizu and gave him the name of Tsurugajo. Even if the castle today had been modified during the years and reduced to only five storey, Gamo Ujisato still remains well known. He was known as a feudal lord, Christian daimyo and as a tea master. He was also the head of Sen Rikyu’s seven disciples. Today, there is a tea ceremony room, called Rinkaku, within the castle grounds, in his memory.
Aizu Sake Museum
Even if you can find sake everywhere in Japan, it is only the sake produced in Fukushima prefecture that was ranked numer one in Japan at the national sake contest over the last 6 years. So, if you want to taste sake, but also to learn more about its production, pay a visit to the Aizu Sake Brewery.
Nearby, you can also find the Fukushima Prefectural Museum if you have more time to deep dive into the local culture.
Close to the castle, you will find the Oyakuen garden. Apart from being a garden today, it is also a place where medicinal herbs are cultivated. This started back in time, when the feudal lord encouraged the citizens to cultivate medicinal plants to save the people of Aizu.
This place is a samurai residence, more precisely the mansion of the Aizu clan’s chief retainer Saigo Tanomo. If you want to get the old samurai vibe don’t miss this spot.
These are the gravesite of the Aizu Clan Leaders, the founder of the Aizu clan and the first lord of Aizu. The large gravesite and stone monuments are something rare even in the country. So, even if are only some graves, at least are more special than the day by day ones.
Also, there is a place called Iimoriyama ( Tombs of the Byakkotai) where young boys of 16 and 17 years old took their own lives in order to protect their home – by commiting seppuku.
This place is a Buddhist temple that features two spiral staircases, one to go up and one to come down. Its architecture is unique and it was showcased in a Brithish architectural magazine.
Pay a visit to the Nanokamachi street for traditional souvenirs, crafts, local sake breweries and much more. Get lost on the streets and start exploring.
Aizu Clan Nisshinkan School
This is the best samurai school in Japan where children learn the true spirit of the samurai. They don’t learn only martial arts, but also chemistry, astronomy among others.
If you love onsen you have 2 choises nearby. The first one and closer to the town is Higashiyama Onsen (5km from the train station). The second one, Ashinomaki Onsen is a bit more outside the city (19km from the train station), but it’s perfect for a more intimate athmosphere.
Food & Drinks
As each region of Japan has its own traditional dishes, Aizu doesn’t make any exception. Even if I rarely eat pork, this time I tried the sauce Katsudon, which is a fried pork cutlet on top of Aizu-grown rice and cabbage – absolutely delicious! Other dishes you can try are wappameshi, bodara-ni, nishin sansho-zuke, kozuyu, ramen, Aizu rice, Aizu horse meat, dengaku, handmade soba noodles or Aizu jidori!
If you’re looking for a souvenir, there are some traditional items you can chose from. Check the kabeko (red cow), Okiagari Koboshi, the Aizu lacquerware, the Aizu cotton clothes or the Aizu painted candles.
Outside the town
If you’re looking to further explore the area, don’t miss a visit to the nearby Ouchijuku. I wrote a full article about the place, so you can read it here.
Well, that’s it from my side! I hope you enjoyed the article and you will visit Aizuwakamatsu. With so many things to see and do around, I would definatelly recommend a full weekend to enjoy the place.
If you’re looking for more travel inspiration around Japan but not only, check more articles here.