Aizu-Wakamatsu is in the mountain region to the west of Fukushima prefecture, and everyone I have ever talked to about the place has rated it highly. Add my voice to this list.
I was actually motivated to go there for two reasons. First, I'm inclined to take recommendations when they come from multiple sources, and Aizu qualifies. The area is both beautiful and historical, with a majestic castle serving as a good representation of both of these aspects. Second, as you have no doubt heard, Fukushima prefecture suffered a lot last year and I wanted my travel budget to be worth something. My personal impact may be small, but every yen spent there helps the local economy.
So what did we do on the tour?
* We went to an old Showa-era schoolhouse and were treated to a traditional school lunch served by Japanese elementary school children. The food was great and the kids were adorable.
* We had a sandal-making workshop (I’m wearing mine now) with a very cool instructor, Tashiro-sensei.
* We visited the three Korori Kannons, famous Buddhist protectors that give visitors a special blessing. According to tradition I am now assured of a long and healthy life with a peaceful, painless end! Junko, our guide, was very helpful in enabling us to talk to the monks at each of the temples.
* We rang the huge bell next to the 800-year old tree at Shingu Kumano Shrine.
* We made ceramic mugs and plates at a pottery place.
* We had a celebration-style Aizu dinner, with many beautifully presented dishes. This was followed by a traditional dance performance that we could even participate in.
* We spent the night in local homestay-style accommodations. The place was small and friendly, yet comfortably private. And I love sleeping on tatami.
Though I normally prefer traveling independently, I decided to do this tour because of the things independent explorers don’t have access to. The organizers made great efforts to let the participants do and see a good sampling of activities and places to get a taste of the local culture. I was also able to meet a lot of local residents and feel like a guest rather than a tourist.
More tours like this, and others with English speaking guides, will be starting in April. For details, check the tour operator's website (RH Kikaku Limited).
For queries in English, please contact the Windmill English Centre on 0242-37-7030.