A CAT OBSESSION, SAKURA VIEWING AND BLUE PONDS AT FUKUSHIMA | GRACE FILLED TRAVEL JUNKIE

A CAT OBSESSION, SAKURA VIEWING AND BLUE PONDS AT FUKUSHIMA

With this post, I begin my series of journey through the Tohoku region. I have been fortunate to be given the chance to cover 5 prefectures of Tohoku Region in Japan, which I will write about in detail for the upcoming 4-5 weeks. Let's start with Fukushima!
Overlooking the quite yet captivating Aizu Wakamatsu city.
Although Japan is widely known for its Tokyo, Hachiko, anime and AKB 48, there are many more to see up in the north. Unlike the busy streets of Shibuya, Fukushima prefecture was a much more relaxing visitation a few hours away from Narita Airport, Tokyo.

It is not difficult to visit the not-so-average Fukushima. The shinkansen, also known as the 'bullet train', is widely used as a transportation option between prefectures. Tokyo and Fukushima is only a bullet train ride away. To make it even easier, the bullet trains are accustomed to be as precise as possible, even to its minutes. We finally arrived at Fukushima prefecture, precisely at 1.55 PM, as scheduled. This precise timing has helped making tourism in Japan very easy and convenient.
Tokyo is definitely always busy.
The bullet trains as travel alternatives.
The face behind the PA.
Had a delicious bento for lunch in the train!
My first city destination in Fukushima was the Aizu Wakamatsu city. During the ride to Aizu Wakamatsu, I was introduced by the tour guide to the other writers involved and a few government officials who were hosting us in Fukushima. From the very beginning, these Japanese hosts had a clear message, which was to make everything work perfectly for us. Indeed, it ended perfectly.

I am getting ahead of my own story.

After arriving at Aizu Wakamatsu, we immediately visited Ashinomaki Onsen Station. Of course, this is not a regular train station. Other than its beautiful Sakura scenery, this train station is also famous for its station master, which is a furry purry kitty cat named 'Love'. No kidding.
Meet the internet sensation cat station master named 'Love'.
Everybody wanted to befriend the purry kitty.
I was honestly confused. I heard about this cat before, but seeing it firsthand was a different experience. People came and took photos with this cat like its a celebrity. They tried to touch it, as if it will bring good fortune! This cat's face was printed on t-shirts and mugs to be sold as merchandises. Soon enough, I learned that Japanese are crazy about cute things, or as popularly known as 'kawaii'.

Merchandises.
Capturing sakura trees.
First photo with a sakura tree nearby the station.
Every Japanese I met in Fukushima kept on telling me that the cherry blossoms I was seeing in this prefecture is nothing compared to those in the upper region. This is because the sakura season had passed a few days ago in Fukushima. As someone who had never seen cherry blossoms before, I was content with the dying cherry blossom that I saw for the first time.


It seemed that the locals were enjoying it as well. At the very least, they were enjoying sakura to the very end of the season. This scenery was seen everywhere in Aizu Wakamatsu, especially around a historical castle named Tsurugajo. In the middle of my walk to the castle, locals were spotted enjoying the cherry blossoms after office and school hours. Some were enjoying picnic and some were just strolling around. If you ask me, I prefer enjoying the view from above the Tsurugajo Castle.
The Tsurugajo Castle.
Light strolls after school while enjoying the sakura nearby the castle.
Locals enjoying picnic after hours.
As I wrote on the above paragraphs, I loved the view from the top of the castle. To get to the top, I had to get inside the castle, which is a museum that tells the history of its origin from centuries ago. It was very interesting to learn more about the civil wars in Fukushima and how devoted the samurai warriors were to the traditional system. That was when I realized that Aizu Wakamatsu is also widely known as the city of samurai.
Inside the castle. These are the photos of young (14 - 18 years old) samurai warriors who died in action.
An image that pictures the defeated samurai warriors surrendering to the new government. If you are having a hard time picturing it, watch Tom Cruise's 'The Last Samurai'.
"I see trees are... pink?"
Satisfied face of the view from the top of Tsurugajo Castle.
Other than its sakura trees and samurai warriors, Aizu is also known for its Akabeko. Aka means red, and beko means cow, because cows in Aizu makes noises like "bekoooo". Seriously, that's what the guide told me. This wooden craft is believed to be a cure for illness and protection from diseases. The tale goes wider than Aizu and soon became one of the symbols of Fukushima, even Tohoku!

I was fortunate to be given a chance to paint one. I believed the wooden cow that I picked wasn't really happy to have me as its painter. My hands were shivering and I kept on making mistakes. If you know me long enough, you would know that I suck at this kinds of stuff. Can you guess which one is my painted akabeko?
2 easy steps of painting akabeko. Bottom left: before the painting, bottom right: drying the paint using a hairdryer, top: finished sample of akabeko.
Just like that, the first day ended so fast. Personally, I felt it was too fast. I wanted to walk and explore more, but the time came for us to rest at Uribandai Lake Resort. It is a beautiful resort located an hour away from the city. Although located on the outskirts of the town, it offers a great outdoor getaway that I experienced the next morning. The website is in Japanese, but the photos paint more than a thousand words, scroll down and you will find its contact details. Should I write more about the hotels I've slept in during my Tokou trip?

Back to the Fukushima experience! 

My first (and last) morning in Fukushima was unexpected. Before breakfast, I was guided outside of the resort into a beautiful forest called Goshiki-Numa, a home of 300 beautiful lakes. The birds were chirping happily as the sun rose and gave us a warm greeting. All the beautiful colors combined, even the lakes were showing off its turquoise blue color. These photos do not lie.

One of the 300 blue ponds I found in the middle of the walk.
Although the walk was short, I was psyched up for my second day in Tohoku. Before departing from Fukushima, we were given another spot to enjoy, which was the Hanamiyama Flower Park.
Colorful sakura trees welcomed us at the hike's starting point.
Hanamiyama is a private owned park that is open to public. It originally started by farmers who planted ornamental plants around their land. Today it is one of the main attractions in Fukushima for thousands of tourists, especially in the cherry blossoms season.

I began to realize that sakura comes in many different colors. They have yellow sakura, red sakura and many more! The hills were colored by these flowers, turning it into a beautiful showcase of the locals gardening skills.
Sakura trees all over the park. Top left is a photo of a weeping sakura tree.
Multicolored.
Setting up the GPS before a short exercise.
Fresh honey from the park.
Don't want to mess with him during his lunch time.
People were definitely enjoying themselves under the sun, in the middle of those beautiful colored flowers. Hanamiyama Park is definitely a place to visit in Fukushima!

As we hiked up, the view kept on changing into something even more outstanding. Yet, the guide kept on saying that this is not as good as what we will see up in the north. I was intrigue, how good could the view in the north be? But, that's for another post! For now, I will leave you with this puppy who wishes you nothing but a good week ahead!
Have a great week ahead!
Next week, I will be writing about a city I fell in love with in Japan. Seriously, until the very end of my trip, there is nothing like the city of Matsushima! Until then, keep exploring.

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