Aizu Wakamatsu, one of the Tohuku region’s leading tourist areas, is a city about 2 ½ hours from Tokyo that is visited by about 3 million tourists every year (as of 2015). However, overseas visitors account for less than 1% of tourists (in 2015 there were less than 9,700). We’d like to introduce the unknown charms of Aizu Wakamatsu.
Nanukamachi-dori Street is an old-fashioned street overflowing with charm and the vestiges of the Taisho era, located in front of “Nanukamachi Station”, which is one stop after Aizu Wakamatsu Station on the JR Tadami Line. The street is home to plenty of eating and drinking establishments as well as souvenir shops dealing in traditional crafts. It’s a highly popular area where visitors can enjoy a stroll through a ‘retro’ townscape. There are plenty of spots along Nanukamachi-dori Street where you can experience the traditions and culture of Aizu Wakamatsu, so it is particularly recommended for overseas tourists.
Tasete delicious local Aizu cuisine and sake
When overseas visitors come to Japan, one of their purposes is almost always Japanese food. At the heart of Nanukamachi-dori Street is the Shibukawa Donya, a former seafood wholesaler. At present, the tasteful Taisho-era historical building has been rebuilt into a restaurant that serves local Aizu cuisine. Aizu is a region surrounded on all sides by mountains, making it difficult to acquire fresh seafood products. For this reason, many Aizu dishes utilize dried seafood with mountain vegetables. You'll definitely want to enjoy the local cuisine created with the knowledge of many ancestors. Additionally, the Shibukawa Donya features a cellar from the Meiji era which has been converted into an inn.
Of course, the best complement to Japanese food is Japanese sake. There are many sake breweries in the Aizu region, but one of particular mention on Nanukamachi-dori Street is the "Suehiro Shuzo Kaei-gura", a brewery that has been in business in the Aizu region since 1850. They offer free brewery tours every day, so visitors can learn about the sake-brewing process at their own leisure. After the tour, you can taste-test and find sake that suits your preferences. This brewery also features a coffee shop, which serves highly-recommended coffee brewed using the same type of water that is used in making sake.
Experience the traditional crafts of erousoku (picture candles) and Aizu lacquerware
'Aizu Erousoku' is Aizu's representative traditional artform, with over 500 years of history behind it, noteworthy for its colorful depictions of seasonal flowers. Opened in 1772, the erousoku store "Hoshiban" features a workshop on its second floor where even now there are artisans hand-painting using techniques that have been passed down from parent to child for generations. Visitors can observe the production method, and even try making their own. Being able to experience a living tradition with your own hands is a very valuable experience. Every year in February the "Aizu Erousoku Festival" is held all throughout Aizu Wakamatsu. The sight of countless erousoku amidst the winter scenery of Aizu Wakamatsu is truly fantastic.
Aizu lacquerware is the other representative traditional artform of the Aizu region alongside erousoku. There is an old store on Nanukamachi-dori Street called "Aizu Nuriichi" which has been in business for over 100 years. They have many exquisitely designed items such as chopsticks, stacking boxes, mugs, and more. Among these items, what may surprise you are the glasses that have lacquer designs on the inside. Traditions are protected, but they also challenge themselves with new items. Additionally, the lacquer appears to have an anti-bacterial effect, which means that eating food with lacquered chopsticks may aid in preventing cavities. Aizu used to be rich in lacquer trees to use as raw materials for lacquer, but in modern times they mostly rely on imports. In order to preserve the lacquerware tradition, the city of Aizu Wakamatsu plants lacquer trees and engages in efforts to increase domestic production of lacquer trees.
Revitalize your travel-weary body in a hot springs town with 1300 years of history
Just a 10 minute ride by train from the heart of Aizu Wakamatsu is the Aizu Higashiyama Onsen hot springs village, which boasts 1,300 years of history. There are 17 ryokans and hotels that form a charming onsen town. We recommend the "Shosuke-no-yado Taki-no-yu" inn right at the entrance of the onsen town, as you can enjoy bathing in an open air bath with Fushimigataki Waterfall right before your eyes.
The history of Aizu-Wakamatsu which must not be forgotten
When speaking about Aizu Wakamatsu, one topic that cannot be avoided is the town’s history. Particularly, it would be impossible to speak about the era from the end of the Shogunate to the Meiji Restoration without mentioning Aizu Wakamatsu. It would be difficult to properly explain such an extensive history in the space of this page. If you are interested, we encourage you to visit locations such as Tsuruga-jo Castle, Mt.Iimori-yama, and the Aizu Buke-Yashiki (Samurai Residence) where you can learn and experience the history of Aizu in person.
Aizu Wakamatsu has all of the things that overseas visitors look for when visiting Japan-- local cuisine, traditions and culture, history, and hot springs. If you are visiting Tokyo, why not go a little out of your way for a trip to Aizu-Wakamatsu?