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3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Nikko - Aizu Wakamatsu - Higashiyama-onsen Spa

Southern Tohoku

3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Southern Tohoku / Nikko - Aizu Wakamatsu - Higashiyama-onsen Spa

After leaving Nikko, it was time to head for Aizu Wakamatsu. The journey by train takes about 30 minutes, but the Aizu Tetsudo Line runs through a valley, and the scenery is fabulous. Along the side of the line runs Kinu-gawa River, which is known as a clear stream and "Rhine kudari" boat trip. You can also see the Ryuo-kyo Valley, which is known as a ravine of great natural beauty. Just looking out of the window, you can enjoy a beautiful scenery of mountains and mountain streams.

Aizu was built in the latter half of the 16th century by the Gamo Ujisato, who served the warlord Oda Nobunaga. He built Tsuru-ga Castle, and then the prototype castle town of Aizu. In the 17th century, it developed as a castle town ruled by the Matsudaira family. During the Meiji Restoration of the mid-19th century (when rule shifted from samurai politics centered on the Tokugawa family to Imperial rule centered on the Emperor), the Boshin War broke out between the new government and old Bakufu (Shogunate). Aizu was on side of the Shogunate, and became the scene of a tragic battle. There are remains of the clan government era dotted throughout the city, and I decided to go off to see these.

First I went to Mt. Iimori-yama, which is known as the place where a group of teenage soldiers called the Byakko-tai ("White Tiger Squad") killed themselves. At the foot of the mountain is the Byakko-tai Kinenkan Memorial Museum, which displays 12,000 items, including clothing and weaponry, from the time of the Boshin War. After looking round this, I headed for the mountain summit. After walking for five minutes on a slope conveyer moving walkway, you walk further up some steps and reach the summit. The graves of the 18 members of the Byakko-tai are lined up on the left, and even today there are always flowers and incense sticks placed on them. Further back on the right is the place where the squad killed themselves. From here you can see the whole city as well.

Then I went to Tsuru-ga Castle, which can be called the symbol of Aizu. This castle was built in 1593, and was designed gracefully on five levels. The name Tsuru-ga Castle (Tsuru-ga-jo) is said to come from the appearance of the castle, which resembles a crane (tsuru) with its wings spread in flight. The castle was torn down in the Boshin War, and the current castle tower was restored in 1965. The inside of the castle is now a local museum, and displays several hundred items designated as Important Cultural Properties, including folding screens, weapons and furnishings. The castle tower is turned into different shades of color by the four seasons - cherry blossoms in spring, green leaves in summer, the sunset in autumn and snow in winter. These natural beauties make the castle more beautiful in every season.

After looking round the castle I went to the Aizu Buke Yashiki (samurai houses). The samurai houses consist of the restored house of Saigo Tanomo, who served as chief retainer of the Aizu feudal lord, as well as historic buildings that have been moved from other parts of the city. This area contains the chief retainer's residence with 38 rooms, the feudal lord's rice cleaning mill(Hanmai-seimaijo), and, in the northeast, the last remaining bailiff's office(Kyu-nakahata-jinya), which managed tax collection. Furnishings and utensils are on display, so you can see the way in which the rooms and buildings were used, and how people used to live in those days. While walking round the large house, you get the feeling of having completely traveled back to that era.

After enjoying the history of Aizu, it was time to go to Higashiyama Hot Spring, where I was going to spend the night. Higashiyama Hot Spring has a long history, and is said to have already been used as a hot spring in the 8th century. Inns line the river, making it a spa town with a great atmosphere. Aizu is also one of the best-known places in Japan for sake. After slowly soaking in a hot spring bath, it is great to taste some good sake while listening to the murmur of the river.