This value-packed trip with a nationally-licensed and experienced multilingual tour guide is a fantastic and efficient way to explore Aizuwakamatsu!
Aizuwakamatsu is a former feudal capital featuring a number of historical attractions that you can visit during a leisurely cycle around its quiet streets. In addition, stop by the number of old-fashioned shops selling local crafts after touring the traditional villages along the rickety train lines in the countryside of the surrounding foothills.
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Note*1: Please select your must-see spots from a list in the tour information to create your customized itinerary.
Note*2: The Nationally-licensed Tour Guide-Interpreter certification is issued by the Japanese government and requires good knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture and history.
Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城, Tsurugajō) was built in 1384 and changed hands many times between the different rulers of the Aizu region. It was destroyed after the Boshin War of 1868, a rebellion against the newly formed Meiji government, which had taken over control from the Tokugawa shogun and put an end to Japan's feudal era. Tsuruga Castle was one of the last strongholds of samurai loyal to the shogunate. The castle was rebuilt as a concrete reconstruction in the 1960s. In renovation works completed in 2011, the color of the roof tiles was reverted from grey to the original red, a unique color among Japanese castles. Visitors can climb to the top floor of the castle keep and look out onto the surrounding city. The inside of the building is an interesting museum with attractive displays about the history of the castle and the samurai lifestyle.
The Aizu samurai residence (会津武家屋敷, Aizu Bukeyashiki) served as the quarters of the region's most important and highest ranked samurai, as well as his family, employees, and servants. The original complex was burnt down during the Boshin War in 1868, but has since been reconstructed and furnished to replicate its appearance in the Edo Period. Because of the prestige of the samurai and the size of his retinue, the samurai residence is quite expansive. There are dozens of different rooms and sections, including gardens, guest rooms, a tea house, an archery range and a rice mill. Inside many of the rooms there are mannequins of the former inhabitants portraying either typical scenes of daily life or dramatic historical events.
Higashiyama Onsen (東山温泉) is a hot spring resort in a valley just east of the downtown area of Aizu Wakamatsu. There are quite a few large hotels and some shops for visitors. Although the hot baths may be relaxing and the surrounding valley beautiful, the area seems a bit worn down and overdeveloped. One particularly notable ryokan in the area is the Mukaitaki Ryokan, which, contrasting with some of the surrounding concrete hotels, is a traditional, wooden construction. One will surely notice the ryokan when passing by, its name written in gold on the side of the eye-catching building.
Suehiro Sake Brewery in Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture, is one of the largest and most famous sake producers in the Tohoku Region. Founded in 1850, it has been a family owned business for eight generations. Suehiro's sake is famous throughout Japan and annually wins domestic and international awards. Their premium sake is produced using the traditional "Yamahai" method which utilizes slow open-fermentation to produce a full, complex flavor. Besides traditional sake the brewery's extensive catalog also includes less conventional products such as sparkling sake and a sake bath extract. While sake is usually aged less than a year before it is sold, Suehiro Brewery keeps a small number of bottles produced each year in reserve. These are allowed to further age in a temperature controlled environment, where the flavor continues to develop and mature. Suehiro Brewery is the official sake supplier of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko and some sumo and kabuki events. The sake and the brewery have been featured in a number of movies and tv dramas. Among the many important figures associated with the brewery is Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, whose picture is on the 1000 yen bill thanks to his groundbreaking achievements in medical research. He was close friends with Suehiro's owners and many of his letters and pictures can be viewed at the brewery.
The Fukushima Prefectural Museum (福島県立博物館, Fukushima Kenritsu Hakubutsukan) in Aizu has an extensive permanent exhibition that illustrates Japan's entire history, stretching from archaeological finds from the Jomon Period (300 BC) to artifacts of daily life in the 1950s. The building is big and spacious, allowing the museum to feature quite large and impressive displays. In addition to the permanent exhibition, there is space devoted to hosting varying temporary exhibitions that pass through. The Fukushima Museum presents an interesting and informative survey of Japanese history and culture, as well as the particularities of Fukushima Prefecture. A thorough English pamphlet is available which explains most of the permanent exhibition.
After the fall of the shogunate in 1867, forces still loyal to the shogun were concentrated in the northern Tohoku region. They attempted to resist the new government, but suffered a decisive defeat at Tsuruga Castle in 1868. Looking out from Iimoriyama Hill, a group of young Aizu soldiers in a unit called the Byakkotai (White Tiger Corps) saw their castle engulfed in flames and committed seppuku. The twenty boys, aged 14 to 16, had made a grave error. The castle had not actually been taken; the flames they had seen were from outside the castle walls. Nevertheless, the story of their loyalty and devotion has become well known, and numerous movie and manga adaptations have been made of their tale. Iimoriyama (飯盛山), the site of the boys' suicide, has become a popular tourist attraction. Among the souvenir shops around the base of the hill are two museums devoted to the Byakkotai. The Byakkotai Memorial Hall is the larger and is located beside the main path up the hill. The second, the Byakkotai Folklore and Historical Museum, is much smaller and can be found a bit off the main path.
Oyakuen (御薬園) is a pleasant Japanese landscape garden with pond where visitors to Aizu can go for a quiet stroll. Oyakuen can be translated as "Medicinal Herb Garden", a name given in the 18th century when the feudal lord encouraged citizens to cultivate medicinal plants. So, besides its pond garden, Oyakuen has a herb garden where hundreds of types of medicinal plants are still grown. Oyakuen's main garden consists of carefully cultivated greenery centered around a pond. A path winds around the the pond, and walking along it is the best way to enjoy the garden. There are a few buildings at Oyakuen which may be of interest to travelers: a tea house, a souvenir shop and a dining room.
The Hideyo Noguchi Memorial Hall (野口英世記念館, Noguchi Hideyo Kinenkan) is dedicated to Noguchi Hideyo, who had made significant contributions in his research towards a vaccine for yellow fever. Noguchi has also been credited with the discovery of the agent that causes syphilis, in 1911. He had humble beginnings at Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, close to the city of Aizu-Wakamatsu, but developed into a respected doctor nominated for the nobel prize. Many people are probably more familiar with Noguchi Hideyo as the man whose picture is printed on the 1000 yen bill. There is a robot replica of him in the memorial hall, which will come to life when visitors approach, and engage in a friendly conversation with them. The memorial hall depicts the life story of Noguchi and exhibits belongings left behind by him and his family. It shares the values that Noguchi had for life, including the trait of perseverance and a legacy that is hoped to positively inspire future generations. Visitors can enter the house where Noguchi was born and experience the environment of a typical Japanese house in Fukushima Prefecture of the Meiji Period.
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