Aizuwakamatsu is not on the most of the travel bucket lists. Nonetheless, it deserves to be because it is home to one of the greatest castles remaining in Japan (more information on Tsurugajo Castle can be found here) and to an amazing museum that testifies to, in carefully planned out display, its long history. It used to be home to one of the most important feudal lords in Japan, and its glory can be seen in the majestic architecture of the castle and remains of the Room for Tea Ceremony and nearby samurai school (Nisshin-kan).
1. Visit Aizu festival
Among all of the stories that can be usually heard of the wars in feudal Japan, especially during the Warring States period (Sengoku jidai in jap.), until the modern times, story that left me under deep impression that there’s so much more to the stories than the actual facts, is the one about Byakkotai, a squad of young samurai who committed suicide by mistake. You can find the main points of the story here. In my opinion, as a Westerner, I can learn about these stories and connect to those people through empathy trying to imagine how they must’ve felt. On the other hand, I feel that there will always be something unattainable, something inexplicable in their sacrifices and their eternal loyalty to their lords, sentiments that neither I nor the current Japanese society could possibly begin to understand since the morals of the age are believed to have vanished with the disappearance of the samurai nobility and their traditional methods of education. In order to better understand and maybe imagine in our minds’ eye the importance and glory of these lads’ lives, one of the things I recommend doing while in Aizuwakamatsu is visiting Byakkotai festival held in September, which is the first thing on my list.
2. Try homemade soba noodles near the souvenirs shop
Shops that sell homemade soba noodles (buckwheat noodles) are lined up near the souvenir shop at the entrance to the castle complex. Make sure you check them out. You can even see the process of making the noodles in front of the shop. Souvenirs are also amazing, like a katana-shaped tootbrush cap. Stock up on those too.
3. Climb up to the top of the Tsurugajo Castle (Hire a guide to lead you there)
As of recent, Tsurugajo information desk offers a free guide. You won’t be getting latest audio gadgets tho (like for example in Nikko). This time a real person is taking upon themselves the duty of showing you around and telling you in detail about the history and building of the castle itself. The guide will escort you to the main entrance of the castle where you can purchase the tickets to proceed inside. This is the only fee you will pay in the castle. Bonus is the ticket for the Tea Room which you can see on the left.
4. Visit old samurai school
Young samurai-to-be students used to go through a full training in this complex called Aizu Hanko Nisshin-kan, including courses like horse-riding, archery, even astronomy! And they had a pool. It’s still there, so make sure to check it out since it’s a bit further from the Tsurugajo Castle. For details and information click here.
5. Feed the carps
And last of all, while visiting the Nisshin-kan, when you get to the main cortyard, you will probably notice a large lake that seems so calm and quiet until the carps start wiggling and jumping around. In the building adjacent to the lake you can find a bag of fish food. You just put ¥100 in the box and take the bag with you (this practice is ultimately Japanese!). See what happens when you throw the contents of the bag in the lake in my video which I’ve attached as a bonus!
See you next time!