Anyone who’s read this blog before wouldn’t be surprised that I decided to go to a small difficult to access castle town with a ridiculous amount of history. Before getting into the history, it should be noted that I was a bit unsure about going to this town, especially when the possibility (which fell through) to go to a cat island came up. It is however, in Fukushima, which seems to be somewhat poetic in how much the nuclear disaster in Fukushima affected the country and even affected my life. If you wanted to visit a peaceful and nice part of Fukushima, this is probably the best that can be offered.
So for history; the castle, Tsuruga-jo, is a recreation and is as fake as Osaka, and Hiroshima castles. At times it resembles the slightly more faithful Kumamoto Castle, but like those it’s basically a museum inside, and I have to say the history can be a big enough draw. Firstly, the city has two names because the people of Aizu were once defeated by Date Masamune from Sendai and subsequently given up when Toyotomi Hideyoshi took control of the country. Toyotomi named the city Wakamatsu, and the subequent Tokugawa government changed it back to Aizu. Aizu was monetarily and militaristically one of the strongest parts of the Tokugawa family, and had the most to lose in the Bakumatsu. While the Aizu government actually did relinquish power peacefully, the new government wanted to punish Aizu. The Aizu forces and Shinsengumi held out for about a month of siege from the Meiji government in Tsuruga-jo. There’s a famous story about how the younger forces outside the castle, the Byakkotai saw smoke from the castle and all except one committed suicide. The guy who I met at my guesthouse who knows a lot of history said in Japanese “And then everyone died is a common ending in most Japanese history stories.” So it was quite interesting to see things from the other perspective.
The red tiled roof does add an interesting aspect to the castle, and as they’re quick to remind you, it’s the only castle standing sporting red tiles. While its newness can be off-putting, they do hold a great deal of festivals, likely to counter this. Their sakura matsuri seems amazing, enough to make me consider going back, and they also seem to have a Byakkotai festival as well. There’s also access to the tea room, which you can see and enjoy some matcha from a different tea room, still with the same nice garden.
Aizu is also a bit of an onsen town, the tourist bus makes stops at the castle as well as the “Onsen Station” (which is more or less just an information center) so you can head to a nice onsen after seeing the castle. I went to Harataki Onsen 原滝温泉 which has an awesome outdoor bath as well as indoor. The water was clearer than I’m used to, but was incredibly hot. Even a dude I met at the onsen agreed, I could only stay in for about 30 minutes, which is shameful. Though I’m sure that makes it much better in the winter or on cold days.
Aizu-Wakamatsu Bus Pass: ¥500 (1 ride is ¥210)
Tsuruga-jo: ¥500 (includes free entry to the tea room)
Tea Room Matcha and Manju: ¥500
Harataki Onsen: ¥1,080