Late autumn attraction in Aizu, Oct.29-Nov.1, 2023. 晚秋会津的美丽, 从十月二十九号到十一月一号二〇二三年。晩秋会津の魅力2023年 10月29-11月1日。

(#SL Ban-Etsu Monogatari, Aizuwakamatsu, Oct. 29, 2023. #SLばんえつ物語 会津若松10/29/2023)
Today we started our family journey from Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Pref. aboard special steam locomotive train Ban-Etsu Monogatari on JR Ban-Etsu West Line. Photo above shows the engine C57180 which turned 77 years old this August. The train runs between Aizuwakamatsu and Niitsu Station, Niigata Pref. on weekends and holidays. Due to the collapse of Nigorigawa Bridge in Kitakata City last August the train suspended its operation for a while but finally resumed this July.

Photo above shows the special passenger car for the train which was very comfortable to ride.

We got off the train at Yamato Station. A short footage below shows the train leaving the station with steam sounds.

(#Yamato Soba, Kitakata, Oct. 30, 2023. #山都そば 喜多方 10/30/2023)
Yamato district of Kitakata City is famous for its quality soba or buckwheat noodle. We visited one of the soba restaurants Yamabiko, as shown above, near Yamato Station (10-min. walk). In this soba harvesting time of the year, we can have very fresh soba noodle. I also found a trace of a popular cyclist Hino Shohei on Kokorotabi TV series who visited here.

Photo above shows a view of the Aga River right in front of Yamato Station.

Next, we visited Oshio district of Kitashiobara Village. Oshio is famous for its mountain produced quality salt which is called Yamajio. The salt contains rich minerals and tastes very mild. We stayed overnight at Yonezawaya Ryokan or Inn which provides quality dishes using Yamajio salt as well as Oshio Onsen. Although the spring water itself tasted saltier the hot spring bath was very soft and relaxing. The inn is located just beside the Oshio River and just in front of local bus stop.

(#Urabandai Ropeway, Oct. 31, 2023. #裏磐梯ロープウエイ10/31/2023)
The next day we moved to Grandeco of Urabandai and went to the top of Decodaira highland using ropeway gondola. The height is about 1,300m above sea level. Photo above shows late autumn view from the base station.

(#Decodaira, Oct. 31, 2023. #デコ平 裏磐梯 10/31/2023)
Looking toward south from Decodaira highland I could see Mt. Bandai on the right and a large Lake Inawashiro on the left as shown in the picture above.

(#Magarisawa Pond, Urabandai, Nov. 1, 2023. #曲沢沼 裏磐梯 11/1/2023)
The next day we took a Grandeco Hotel bus to Goshikinuma Plaza (or Urabandai tourist information center) and then took a free community bus ride which starts from nearby public-school complex. Our destination was Magarisawa Pond of which today’s view was shown above.

(#Osawa Pond, Urabandai, Nov. 1, 2023. #大沢沼 裏磐梯 11/1/2023)
Photo above was a view of adjacent Osawa Pond, a similar view of late autumn. Then we walked south along the national road until we get to Goshikinuma Plaza (goal). Some of the popular ponds were along the way but all around here and there were warning signs of black bears. We were cautious not to take a risk.

The exact route and locations of the walking course are shown in a map below. The map can be scaled up and down with click and scroll.

The entire JR Tadami Line ride, November 7-10, 2022. 乘坐全面恢复的只见线。十一月七号到十号二〇二二年。復旧したJR只見線全線乗車2022年 11月7-10日。

(#Koide Station, JR Tadami Line, Uonuma, Nov. 7, 2022. #小出駅 JR只見線11/7/2022)
Today I started my journey from Koide Station in Uonuma City, Niigata Pref. aboard JR Tadami Line train which resumed its entire line operation toward Aizuwakamatsu. Photo above shows the station, and you can see the train ready to start at the platform over there. My plan is to stop and stay overnight at Tadami and Yanaizu before reaching Aizuwakamatsu.

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(#Saifukuji Temple, Uonuma, Nov. 7, 2022. #西福寺 魚沼市11/7/2022)
Near Koide Station there are some important cultural assets carved by renowned carving artist Ishikawa Uncho. So, I visited two temples: Saifukuji and Eirinji where many of those precious artworks can be seen. Those artworks inside the temple buildings are banned photography, but a photo above shows his carved works placed on both sides of the old temple gate.

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Japanese description above says the statue on the right is a guardian that protects the community from fire. Kanji characters in the left show Zen Buddhism practice.

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(#Saifukuji Temple, Uonuma, Nov. 7, 2022. #西福寺 魚沼市11/7/2022)
A photo above shows autumn view of Saifukuji main temple building.

(#Saifukuji Kaizando, Uonuma, Nov. 7, 2022. #西福寺 開山堂 魚沼市11/7/2022)
A photo above shows front view of Kaizando building where most of the interior were carved by Uncho. Kaizando stands within the precinct of Saifukuji Temple.

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A photo above is a replica of carved sealing of Kaizando by Uncho. (The replica is displayed at Urasa Station.) You might feel a slight image of Uncho’s interior carving.

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(#Saifukuji Uncho statue, Uonuma, Nov. 7, 2022. #西福寺 雲蝶像 魚沼市11/7/2022)
A photo above shows statue of Uncho carving Nio statue inside Kaizando.

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Japanese description above shows brief history of Uncho. He was born in Edo or Tokyo in 1814 and died at Sanjo, Niigata in 1883. In his 30th he started carving various things mainly interior of temples and shrines. Saifukuji Kaizando and Eirinji Temple are major ones.

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(#Eirinji Temple, Uonuma, Nov. 7, 2022. #永林寺 魚沼市11/7/2022)
Now let’s go on to Eirinji Temple. Photo above shows front view of Eirinji main temple building.

(#Eirinji Temple, Uonuma, Nov. 7, 2022. #永林寺 魚沼市11/7/2022)
Photo above shows a stone monument of Uncho. Eirinji has more than 100 pieces of Uncho’s artworks which is the most in Japan.

The first stop in this journey was at Tadami Town. We (I was actually travelling with my family) stayed overnight at Tokinosato-Yurari Inn in the mountainous area. The inn had an excellent hot spring called Murayu or Fukasawa Onsen in a separate bath house. It was a chloride sulfate hot spring. Photo above shows a large ginkgo tree in full autumn color near JR Tadami Station.


(#Kawai Tsugunosuke, Tadami, Nov. 8, 2022. #河合継之助 只見11/8/2022)
The next day was a rainy day. Tadami Town provided free bus service circulate around the town and we decided to visit Kawai Tsugunosuke Memorial Hall using the bus. Photos above are of his statue and his Gatling cannon he used at Boshin Civil war. Kawai Tsugunosuke (1827-1868) was a samurai from Niigata Pref. and fought against the new government forces during Boshin Civil war. He had severe injury in the war and died in Tadami.

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(#Akabeko, Yanaizu, Nov. 9, 2022. #赤べこ 柳津11/9/2022)
The second stop was at Yanaizu Town. It was a town of Akabeko, Saito Kiyoshi art, Fukumankokuzoson-Enzoji Temple, and Awamanju confectionary. Photo shows a gigantic Akabeko monument near the town hall.

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A description board beside the monument tells us the history of Akabeko as shown above.

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(#Akabeko, Yanaizu, Nov. 9, 2022. #赤べこ 柳津11/9/2022)
A mailbox at Yanaizu Post Office had akabeko on top as shown above.

(#Saito Kiyoshi, Yanaizu, Nov. 9, 2022. #斎藤清 柳津11/9/2022)
We walked around the town center starting from Saito Kiyoshi Art Museum. It was a great experience to see so many of his artworks mainly depicting winter in Aizu. Even on the town street there was his picture right on the spot he viewed the snow scenery.

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(#Awamanju, Yanaizu, Nov. 9, 2022. #粟饅頭 柳津11/9/2022)
Awamanju confectionary is another attraction of the town. There are four confectionary shops that make the sweet ban daily and sell to customers. They are Iwaiya, Inabaya, Hasegawa, and Koikeya. We tried tasting all of them comparing the slight differences. Iwaiya was the very first shop or ganso in Japanese that began making and selling Awamanju. Why don’t you try tasting all the shops once you are at Yanaizu? All the shops are lining in short walking distance. Photos above show all the four shops.

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(# Fukumankokuzoson-Enzoji, Yanaizu, Nov. 9, 2022. #福満虚空藏尊圓藏寺 柳津11/9/2022)
Then we visited Fukumankokuzoson-Enzoji Temple in autumn colors as shown above.

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(#Tadami Line, Yanaizu, Nov. 10, 2022. #只見線 柳津11/10/2022)
After staying overnight at Yanaizu, the next day we got on Tadami Line again heading toward Aizuwakamatsu. We took Tadami line train three times: Koide to Tadami, Tadami to Yanaizu, and Yanaizu to Aizuwakamatsu. The train was packed with passengers for the first two sections and many people were standing including the elderly. We also stood all the way. From Yanaizu to Aizuwakamatsu most of the passengers finally got the seats. There must be a lot of work to do to address this issue on the part of JR East Railway Company as well as tourism agency.

The exact route and locations are shown in three separate maps below. The map can be scaled up and down with click and scroll.



Visiting Kawamata and Iitate, and climbing Mt. Megami, October 27, 2019. (女神山に登り、川俣町、飯舘村に行く 2019年10月27日。)

Today I participated in one-day group tour through Kawamata and Iitate area organized by Environment Restoration Plaza in Fukushima. The tour included climbing Mount Megami (599m) in the morning, having Kawamata Shamo lunch, which was a popular local specialty food, tea break at Chieko teahouse, and stopping at Yamada Cattle Farm. About 20 people participated in the tour from across eastern part of Japan and we had a good exercise climbing the local mountain. Photo above was a view at the top of Mt. Megami in Kawamata.

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The mountain trail started from Akiyama community center as shown above. This was located not far from the famous Akiyama Komazakura cherry tree.

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Although it was not a very high mountain, a first order triangulation point was placed at the summit, as shown above, due to its fine surrounding view.

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We enjoyed autumn leaves along the trail as shown above. I measured radiation exposure during the mountain trekking. Although mountain trails have not been decontaminated since Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident, the resulting accumulated radiation was 3.26μSv, which was just normal and negligible compared to natural background radiation.

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There were a couple of shrines at the top: Otehime Shrine and Hebi (or Snake) Shrine, as shown above in the back and in the forefront. Both were based on a legend which dates back to 6th century. A couple of elderly local volunteer guides led us climbing the mountain and they also told us importance of mountain, water, and woods. Many of us were impressed by the powerful talk.

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We found a rare wild edible plant called Gonboppa as shown above. The leaves are used to make Shimimochi, a local specialty rice cake made from glutinous rice and leaves of wild plants.

At lunch time, we stopped at a restaurant “Shinkawa” in the city center of Kawamata. We had a local specialty menu of Kawamata Shamo chicken and egg bowl which was juicy and excellent.


In the afternoon, we stopped at Chieko’s teahouse, as shown above, which opened on the 1st of this May, which was the first day of Reiwa Era. Gramma Chieko in her 70’s was born and lived in Iitate Village. She had hard times before and after the Great East Japan earthquake with her cancer treatment, evacuation, her husband’s death and difficulties starting up her new business. But she started producing local specialty shimimochi and finally reopened her antique style cafeteria for serving shimimochi dessert dish. She told us her story of hardship as well as success of reopening the teahouse, while we tasted the excellent shimimochi dessert with home-grown vegetables. Many of us were moved by her resilience.

The final stop was Yamada Cattle Farm in Iitate Village, as shown above, which raises quality beef cattle. Due to the entire village evacuation caused by the nuclear plant accident in 2011, the farm was once forced to close, but it restarted this July with new cowsheds. Iitate beef was quality brand beef before the accident and we felt the family’s powerful momentum toward the revitalization of the region.

Finally, we came to Kikori Hall, as shown above, which was Iitate Village community center as well as accommodation facility. We had 1.5hr discussion on how we felt meeting and hearing from three local residents, all of them were tough, powerful and resilient toward the future of their life and regional revitalization. On the other hand, it might be difficult to tell the actual reality to other people. Maybe the best way to understand the right situation in the region is to go and see firsthand the reality and communicate with local people.

I visited Iitate and Kawamata in 2012, 1.5-year after the disaster, when Iitate was still restricted access area as shown in the 2012visit. This time I could see more and more people actually returned to the town and could feel much vitalization than before.

The exact route and locations are shown in the map below. The map can be scaled up and down with a click and scroll.
Welcome! 福が満開、福のしま。
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