Following the March 2011 tsunami which ignited a nuclear disaster on this once picture-perfect prefecture, there still remains the misperception that Fukushima is a no-go zone seven years on. Only a small area of the prefecture is uninhabitable, while the rest of Fukushima is rapidly rebuilding and moving forward. We investigate its largest city and upcoming tourist hot spot, Koriyama.
Koriyama in history
Koriyama has historically been an important transportation hub between Tokyo and Sendai, as it is located in the centre of Fukushima and is connected by several railway lines and expressways. The whole Fukushima prefecture has a rich samurai history dating back to the Meiji Restoration (1868), when the Imperial Army was established and the samurai class came to an end. Emperor Meiji gave much of Fukushima land to the samurai who began to focus on new projects and employment.
A group of people in Fukushima got together in 2012 and pooled together their own money to finance the production and distribution of a calendar entitled This is Fukushima. Each year, groups from Koriyama and the wider area raise funds and see to it that their calendar is ordered worldwide. Their goal: to showcase the real beauty of Fukushima. “There is a spirit of hope, like the beauty of this magnificent land that cannot be extinguished. We want people to see the images and want to visit Fukushima”, adds Paul Sprigg, one of the project founders.
What the locals love
Sprigg recommends exploring the city on bicycle, particularly from spring to fall, “Koriyama is surrounded by beautiful countryside and it’s awesome having early morning bike rides on the small roads between the rice fields. Aside from that, just over the mountains to the west is Lake Inawashiro, where I like to hang out at the beach side with friends. Sometimes we camp overnight. The eastern and southern shores of Lake Inawashiro are a beautiful part of Koriyama, called the Konan area.”
The city boasts a number of big festivals, including the Summer Fiesta in Kaiseizan Park (above). “Think German Oktoberfest, but in July!” adds Paul. “I also never miss The Ramen Festival during Golden Week in the first week of May”.
Koriyama’s key attractions
Koriyama City Fureai Science Space Park
There is fun for all the family here at the local planetarium and science centre. At 104.25m high in the downtown area, the attraction doubles up as an observatory with spectacular views of Koriyama and beyond.
Koriyama City Museum of Art
Re-opening in July 2018, the Koriyama City Museum of Art includes works by Gainsborough, Constable, Turner, Shiba Kōkan, Takahashi Yuichi, Fujishima Takeji and Kishida Ryūsei, as well as of artists associated with Koriyama. The stunning building and cafe are worth the visit alone.
Usui Department Store
Fashion is a big deal in Koriyama and the Usui Department Store has enough high-end boutiques and stores to rival Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Ginza or Shibuya offerings. It is also worth venturing to the neighbouring streets by Koriyama Station which has a number of independent boutiques catering to various tastes
This museum showcases the origins of what is now Koriyama city. It was the former headquarters for the land reforming project back during the Meiji era that assigned the building of a series of irrigation canals sourcing their water from Lake Inawashiro. “Koriyama city wouldn’t exist at all were it not for that project. The whole museum is fascinating,” Sprigg recommends.
Koriyama to find your zen
A stunning park which is rarely busy, you’ll find tranquillity among nature and a huge lake where ducks gather. There is a baseball stadium, walking course and open-air concert hall which come alive during special local events and festivals.
Asakunitsuko Jinja Shrine
A huge shrine not far from the city centre, it features a large stone torii (a traditional shrine gate) at the top of its steps. Asakunitsuko Jinja Shrine (1 Chome-6-23 Shimizudai) is a peaceful place of worship for locals and a magnificent sight for all.
Koriyama has many gorgeous parks and Jodomatsu Park (Osemachi Tadano) is particularly striking due to its unique rock structures and tree formations. It represents the stereotypical Japanese landscape and is heavily used in Koriyama photography.
Hotel Hamatsu is the number one hotel in Koriyama city and the perfect quarters for a good night’s rest. The four-star establishment can be found in the heart of downtown and includes a fabulous restaurant serving traditional Japanese cuisine. The hotel restaurant is a favourite go-to for locals on special occasions such as wedding receptions and anniversaries.
“There are so many beautiful sights just outside the city for those keen to venture further,” says Sprigg. “To the east is the town of Miharu, where the oldest sakura tree in Japan can be found. It’s called Takizakura and is more than 1,000 years old. To the west is the Ou mountain range that forms the central spine of Honshu, that’s popular for hiking. Just beyond those mountains is where Aizu begins, starting with the town of Inawashiro. In the summer, the lake is popular for visitors from all over Kanto and Tohoku. In the winter, Mt. Bandai is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding. Just to the south-east of Koriyama are the Abukuma-do limestone caves, which are the same 15 deg C temperature year-round.”
Thanks to its convenient location in the centre of Fukushima where the crossroads of the Joban, Tohoku and Ban-etsu expressways meet, Koriyama is accessible and growing in popularity for tourists looking to leave the madness of Tokyo for a few days. “I see the city continuing to grow and becoming a recognised name in the next 5-10 years,” says Paul.
PHOTOS: TIF ARCHIVES (TAKIZAKURA TREE), KORIYAMA CITY FUREAI SCIENCE MUSEUM SPACE PARK FACEBOOK, USUI FACEBOOK, FLICKR USER M MURAKAMI (KAISEIZAN PARK)
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.