Fukushima Prefecture (福島県 Fukushima-ken) is in the northeastern Tohoku region of the main Japanese island Honshu.
Fukushima is the third largest prefecture in Japan (14,000 km²), and one of its least densely populated. The prefecture is divided into three main regions: Aizu in the west, Naka dori in the centre and Hama dori in the east. Aizu is mountainous with snowy winters, while the climate in Hama dori is moderated by the Pacific Ocean.
|Note: On 11th March 2011 the region was hit by an earthquake with an 9.0 magnitude followed by a tsunami and many aftershocks. As a result of the tsunami, severe damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant occurred, including a meltdown of three of the four reactors. Due to radioactive fallout, an exclusion zone was established. Nowadays the zone is a stripe of land some 10–12 km wide stretching about 50 km north-west from the power plant. There is a map of the exclusion zone (PDF) as of April 2019 made by officials to help you stay away from the contaminated areas. It is however possible to drive through the zone along the Jōban Expressway and national route 6. While there has been much debate over the effects of low-level radiation exposure to the locals, that danger is from prolonged exposure, so travellers passing through or visiting the region should not be unduly worried if they remain outside of the evacuation zone.|
- 1 Fukushima — The prefectural capital
- 2 Iwaki — City located in southern part of the Hamadōri coastal region
- 3 Aizu-Wakamatsu — a castle city located near the middle of the prefecture
- 4 Koriyama — the largest city in the prefecture
- 5 Shirakawa — the southernmost city in Fukushima
- 6 Soma — City located in northern part of the Hamadōri coastal region
- 7 Sukagawa — famous for its Taimatsu Akashi (fire festival) and peony garden
- 8 Kitakata — a city close to Aizu-Wakamatsu which is famous for ramen and old warehouses
- 9 Tamura — known for Abukuma Caves.
- 10 Date — the founding place of the Date Clan and site of Mount Ryōzen
- 11 Tomioka
- 1 Mount Bandai — Home to the Bandai-Asahi National Park and numerous snow and hot springs resorts
- 2 Mount Adatara — stratovolcano with a ski resort on its slopes. From the top of the ski lift, a well maintained hiking trail leads to the summit in approx. 60 minutes.
- 3 Lake Inawashiro — Japan's fourth largest lake: beach resorts, swimming, camping, boating
- 4 Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant exclusion zone — ground zero of the 2011 nuclear accident, one of the only 2 incidents rated with the highest severity on the INES scale (the other being Chernobyl). The power plant itself cannot be visited, but some people find it interesting to walk through the exclusion zone with a radiation counter and discover local radiation hot spots.
Fukushima is served by Fukushima Airport (FKS IATA), located near Sukagawa to the south of Koriyama. The airport is served by JAL and ANA, with domestic services to Osaka, Sapporo and Naha. There are also international services to Shanghai and Seoul. The surrounding prefectures have airports (Niigata Airport, Sendai Airport, and Ibaraki Airport) that may offer more convenient access to parts of Fukushima than connecting with Tokyo, should Fukushima Airport not meet your needs.
High speed rail access is provided by the Tohoku Shinkansen, which serves Shirakawa, Koriyama and Fukushima stations. The Tohoku Shinkansen links Fukushima with Tokyo in the south and the rest of Tohoku to the north. The Yamagata Shinkansen runs from Fukushima to various cities in Yamagata prefecture. Local train services include the Tohoku Main Line, which generally follows the route of the Tohoku Shinkansen; and the West Ban'etsu Line, linking Koriyama with Niigata via the ski resorts of Inawashiro and Aizuwakamatsu. The local (slow, but with great scenery) Suigun line connects Koriyama station with Mito. The Jōban Line runs along the East Coast in Fukushima. Hitachi Limited Express trains from Shinagawa terminate at Iwaki station as of 2012. Passengers can also transfer to local trains to head further up the coast, at least up to Tatsuta, as well as Tomioka in Fall 2017. From Sendai, trains go as far south as Namie.
Driving through the restricted zone near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant
Since 9/2014 it is possible again to drive through the exclusion zone that was established after the 2011 nuclear crisis. The national route 6 was previously blocked in Hirono (the Iwaki side) and Haranomachi (the Sōma side). A 14 km long stretch of the road was decontaminated and open for public again. It is still not possible to travel along this section on a motorcycle, bicycle or on foot.
In 3/2015 a new stretch of the Jōban Expressway was open, including an 8 km long part within the exclusion zone. An estimated radiation dose to passengers is 0.2 microsievert. The drivers are also informed about actual radiation at several monitoring posts. In the rest of the restricted zone, the borders are not clearly marked and are changing with time, as some previously restricted areas are being decontaminated or considered safe for entry again. A centralized information about traffic in the exclusion zones is missing. Many minor roads are barricaded with explanation signs in Japanese.
Several expressways serve Fukushima prefecture and provide fast connection by car:
- Tōhoku Expressway — south-north connection, parallel to national route 4 as well as Tōhoku Shinkansen. Connects Shirakawa, Koriyama and Fukushima.
- Ban-etsu Expressway — connects Iwaki at the Pacific coast with Koriyama and Aizu-Wakamatsu and continues north-west towards Niigata at the Japan Sea coast. The route parallels the national route 49.
- Jōban Expressway — runs along the Pacific coast from Tokyo metropolitan area to Iwaki. In 2015 the northmost part reaching Sendai and crossing also the Fukushima exclusion zone was completed. The route is parallel to the national route 6.
For those who arrive by Shinkansen, Koriyama Station has the most connections and provides transfer access to the widest range of sites in the prefecture. You can transfer at Koriyama Station to access the Ban-etsu East Line to access Iwaki and the Joban Line that runs along the coast and the Ban-est West Line, which gives access to Lake Inawashiro, Mount Bandai, Aizu-Wakamatsu and Kitakata. From Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, you can access the Tadami Line and the private Aizu Testudo to visit sites including the famous Ouchi-juku.
Fukushima Station has less transfer lines and its location next to prefectural borders make it generally less useful for those looking to travel within the prefecture. The Ou Main Line only has a few stations in Fukushima before it enters Yonezawa in Yamagata, and the private Iizaka Line is entirely contained within Fukushima City. The Abukuma Express Line only gives access to Date before entering Miyagi. Every Shinkansen Station provides access to the Tohoku Main Line.
- Abukumado Cave (あぶくま洞 Abukumadō), Tamura. An 80 million-year-old, 3,000-meter-long limestone cave discovered in 1969. Traversing the 600 meters open to the public will take about an hour. This is a developed cave for tourism, so there are footpaths, lighting, handrails, and information signs. At the same time, the mix of small passages to huge grand hall cavern, and large variety of rock formations not found elsewhere in Japan, will satisfy all but the most picky cave enthusiasts. If you are looking for more adventure, for a small fee you can try the exploration course. Expect to squeeze through a few tight areas, but it is certainly a lot of fun!
- Irimizu Cave (入水洞 Irimizudō), Tamura. Another cave, 6km away from Abukumado Cave. This undeveloped cave is for the hard-core adventurer. Its 3 interconnected courses follow a 10 degree Celsius stream as its snakes its way through darkness. The water height is rarely higher than your ankles and not swift. Water drips from the ceiling so light raincoats or even wetsuits may be a good idea. A hard hat with light is highly recommended.
- Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城 Tsurugajō), Aizuwakamatsu. Built in 1384, this was the site of one of the last battles of the Boshin War between samurai fighting for the shogunate and new government forces formed during the Meiji Restoration of 1868. While the castle is a concrete reconstruction (there are very few original castles left in Japan), it remains an impressive attraction thanks to its large scale, unique red roof, and natural and historical surroundings. It is considered one of the best places to learn about samurai history and culture in Japan.
- Skiing and snowboarding: The western part of Fukushima prefecture (Aizu) offers excellent conditions for winter sports from late November to early May. It has some 24 ski resorts, for example at Mount Bandai or Mount Adatara.
- Hot springs: Fukushima prefecture has a fine selection of hot springs and onsen accommodation. Their styles range from modern hot spring leisure facilities like Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki to traditional onsen villages with public bath-houses, foot-baths and ryokans. There are Iizaka Hot Springs and Tsuchiyu Hot Springs just outside Fukushima city or Higashiyama Hot Springs and Ashinomaki Hot Springs near Aizu-Wakamatsu.
- Cherry tree blossom time is best enjoyed in Fukushima Hanamiyama Park. East of Koriyama, a famous over 1000 years old weeping cherry tree, Miharu Takizakura, is a magnificent specimen. It can be admired also after sunset with artificial illumination. Another cherry blossoms appreciation locations include Komine Castle in Shirakawa, Tanagara Castle ruins in Tanagura, Tsuruga Castle in Aizu-Wakamatsu or banks of Natsui river in Natsui.
- Scenic views are guaranteed when taking the mountain toll road Bandai Azuma Skyline. The panoramas are especially colourful in the autumn. The route passes directly next to the crater of Mt. Azuma. Visitors can park their cars at the visitor center and take the short walk up to the crater's rim. The road is closed in winter.
- Fukushima Drift Ebisu Circuit is a drifting car park with several race courses. It is located in Nihonmatsu City next to the Safari Park. They occasionally have events to see, otherwise you can go in and watch practices and take pictures with cool cars in the parking lot if you are lucky. There is a drift school for those that are interested, though be aware it is a multi-day course taught in Japanese. The race tracks are sometimes used for motorcycle events as well.
- Bridge for Fukushima, ☏ +81 90-7710-7281, email@example.com. The organization offers tours specially designed so that the visitors can get first-hand impressions from areas affected by the great Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. The participants can experience, how local people and businesses are coping with the recovery from the disasters. The tours start and end in Tokyo and include accommodation in Iizaka hot spring near Fukushima. ¥23,500/person.
With its three distinct regions, Fukushima offers a wide variety of marine and agricultural products. It is also known as a "Fruit Kingdom" because of its many seasonal fruits.
- Anpo, dried persimmons, are produced from kaki fruits (persimmons) farmed in Date City and several other places in Fukushima Prefecture.
- Fukushima-gyū is the regional beef brand. Fukushima cattle are carefully raised in rich nature by skillful ranchers to produce beef with an amazing marbled texture. The Japanese Black type cattle used to make Fukushima-gyū are fed, raised, and processed within the prefecture.
- Ikaninjin is shredded carrot and dried squid seasoned with soy sauce, cooking sake, mirin, etc. It is a local cuisine from the northern parts of Fukushima Prefecture. It is primarily made from the late autumn to winter in the household. It is popular as an appetizer or side dish.
- Kitakata ramen is a specialty of Kitakata. It is considered one of Japan's top 3 ramen dishes, along with Sapporo and Hakata. It has a soy sauce soup base, filled with flat noodles, sliced pork, simmered bamboo shoots, and spring onions. Kitakata has around 120 ramen establishments. The ramen can occasionally be found in other restaurants around the prefecture, or sold in packets as souvenirs.
- Mamador (ままどおる Mamadōru) is the prefecture's signature sweet. The baked good has a milky red bean flavor center wrapped in a buttery dough. The name means "People who drink mothers' milk" in Spanish. It is popular as a souvenir.
- Ninshin no sanshōzuke is a pickled cuisine made of dried herring with pepper leaves, soy sauce, and cooking sake. It is popular in the Aizu region. Since Aizu is far away from the sea, it is difficult to obtain fresh fish. Therefore, leaves from peppers are used to aid preservation. it is also popular as a side dish with Japanese sake.
- Soba buckwheat noodles are popular throughout Japan. Fukushima Prefecture has been actively cultivating native species of buckwheat since ancient times. Fukushima remains a leading producer of buckwheat thanks to its large cultivation area and high production volume.
- Usukawa-manjū is one of the most famous sweet buns in Japan. The rich bean paste is made with adzuki red beans entirely produced in Hokkaido, then wrapped with a moist thin dough using brown sugar. Usukawa-manjū has been produced for over 150 years, and its taste is simple yet somehow familiar.
- Wakamomo no kanroni are young candied peaches. Fukushima is the second largest peach producing prefecture by volume in Japan. Fruit thinning techniques were used to produce large delicious peaches, but it turned out the small leftover peaches were just as tasty. This is how the wakamomo no kanroni came about. They are very delicious, including the seed.
- Japanese sake – Fukushima's climate, high quality above and underground water sources, and delicious rice make it famous for sake. The Fukushima Prefecture Sake Brewers Cooperative is made up of over 60 sake breweries. Additionally, the Annual Japan Sake Awards has awarded the prefecture the most gold prizes for four years running as of 2016.
If you are unable to visit Fukushima but still want a taste while in Japan, it is highly recommended to visit MIDETTE (03-6262-3977, []) in Tokyo. While the capital city has nearly 60 satellite stores ("antenna shops" in Japanese), this one in Nihonbashi is one of the largest. In addition to its huge variety of fresh and processed foods, it boasts an extensive sake selection and decent sized traditional crafts corner. There is also some tourist information, though mostly in Japanese. It is recommended to try the sake sampler set at the bar, or the famous Kitakata ramen at the ramen dining area in the back of the store.
Access via a 15 minute walk from JR Tokyo Station, or a 2 minute walk from JR Shin-nihonbashi Station exit 2. Address: 4-3-16 Yanagiya Taiyo Bldg. 1F, Nihonbashi-Muromachi, Chuou-ku, Tokyo (in Japanese: 東京都中央区日本橋室町4-3-16柳屋太洋ビル1F).
- Miyagi Prefecture
- Yamagata Prefecture
- Niigata Prefecture
- Gunma Prefecture
- Tochigi Prefecture
- Ibaraki Prefecture