Surrounded by sites of natural beauty such as Mt. Bandai and Lake Inawashiro, Aizu Wakamatsu has flourished for more than 600 years with the grand Tsuruga Castle at its heart. Merchant houses and warehouses line the streets of the old castle town where you can really get a sense of the city's long history. Just 30 minutes away by train towards Niigata lays the city of Kitakata. Home to more than 2,600 warehouses, it has earned the nickname Warehouse Town. Aizu and Kitakata are easily accessible by the Tohoku Shinkansen from Koritama, or from Niigata by the scenic Banetsu West Line. For a journey as rewarding as the destination, taking the SL Banetsu Monogatari is highly recommended.
Tsuruga (Formally named Aizuwakamatsu Castle) is the most prominent castle in the Tohoku region with more than 600 years of history. The castle keep was destroyed by cannon fire during the Boshin War but was later rebuilt and now houses a museum that allows you to experience castle life. Tsuraga Castle is surrounded by an expansive park extremely popular among locals for the over 1,000 cherry blossom trees that bloom in the spring as well as its snowy winter landscape.
(Take the Haikara-san Loop Bus from Aizu Wakamatsu Station to the Kitademaru-Odori or Tsuruga Castle Kitaguchi stop)
The most well-known of Aizu's folk crafts would have to be the Akabeko Red Cow. A toy constructed from Japanese paper mache, it is loved for its characteristic bobble head and cute face. The red color is said to give protection from evil spirits and these good luck charms are still treasured today. Handmade candles painted with elegant chrysanthemum, peony, and plum floral designs known as Aizu Printed Candles are another of Aizu's traditional handicrafts. These candles are well-made and long-lasting, particularly prized for their practicality.
(Aizu Wakamatsu Station area)
Kitakata has flourished as a trading center for agricultural goods produced in the surrounding farmland. Known as Warehouse Town for the more than 2,600 warehouses that line its streets, they remain in use today as a part of daily life. Although generally used as storehouses, these warehouses are unique in that they also serve as stores, residences, factories, and temples. It was once said that a man who had not built a warehouse by the time he turned 40 was not truly a man, so these warehouses also stand as symbols of male pride. Looking closely you can see the personality of these men and the fruits of their dreams in the details of each warehouse's construction.
(15 minutes on foot from Kitakata Station to the Chuo Dori warehouse street)
Rich broth and thick curly noodles are characteristic of Kitakata ramen. Deeply colored broth made from locally brewed soy sauce and hand-sliced pork have made Kitakata ramen famous all across Japan. This town of 55,000 is served by over 100 ramen shops, each competing to perfect their flavor. Exploring the city streets and dropping in on local ramen shops for a bite makes for a gourmet experience you and your stomach won't soon forget.
(Kitakata Station, All over the city)