Mount Bandai, "Bandai-san", is a volcanic peak which gives its name to part of the Tohoku region of Japan. The region is located at a large opening through the northern Japanese alpine ranges. The small towns of Inowashira and Aizu-Wakamatsu are on this low-lying area overlooked by Bandai-san. The area of Urabandai, literally "behind Bandai" means what it says: the alpine basin behind the volcano with many features formed by its eruption in 1888. Just to keep us all on our toes, Urabandai is also called Bandaikogen, meaning "Bandai plateau" and its main hub, Bandaikogen Eki is not an "eki" as in rail station.
The Tohoku Shinkansen links Tokyo and Ueno stations with Koriyama, change here to the Ban'etsu West Line to Inawashiro or Aizu-Wakamatsu. These are both good hubs from which to explore the area.
An alternative train route, but much slower, involves taking the Tobu line private railway from Asakusa in Tokyo towards Nikko then taking inland alpine rail routes (the Aizu Tetsudo) north to Aizu-Wakamatsu.
The JR Ban'etsu West Line links all the main cities. Urabandai is reached by bus from Inawashiro.
- 1 Five-Colored Ponds (Goshikinuma, 五色沼). Crystal-clear springwater ponds in various colours formed by Bandai-san's eruption. Well worth checking out if you are in the area. A one hour walk links all the ponds. Take a bus from Inowashira station to Goshikinuma Iriguchi (五色沼入り口) bus stop. The walk finishes at Bandaikogen Eki (磐梯高原駅) where the bus can take you back again.
- 2 Hibara-ko lake. Formed in 1888 by the eruption and resulting landslide across the valley, Hibara-ko is a clear mountain lake well-stocked with Black Bass fish. Lake sightseeing cruises depart from Bandaikogen Eki.
- Lake fishing, canoeing, sailing packages available from Matsubara Camp-jo, tel 0241 32 2247
- Skiing: several skifields in the area, which has a five-month season of very heavy snowfalls
- Urabandai Nekoma Hotel at Bandaikogen Eki, tel 0241 37 1234: really flash place that does weddings, has its own skifield up the road and its own volcanic spring spa in the basement
- Matsubara Camp-jo, Hibara-ko lake, tel 0241 32 2247: only accessible by boat so free of traffic noise. Boat pickup for guests at Bandaikogen Eki.
- Loghouse Mori no Uta, Minami Ourenzawa-yama, Kitashiobara, tel 0241 33 2929: stay in a genuine Canadian log house (no kidding!) with a local family. Heaps of traditional country cooking, which is mostly delicious apart from the weird boiled floaty things.