Fukushima, meaning “Happy Island” is a city nestled between mountains in the Abukuma Valley. At 37 degrees latitude North it is just below Athens, Greece. The heavy snowfalls of winter, however, make it seem much further north. In contrast, the summers are often hotter than Tokyo due to the surrounding mountains that trap in the heat. That being said, the mountains and cooler foothills are close-by and easily accessed by car or public transport.
Fukushima City is a mere 90 minutes away from Tokyo by Shinkansen (Bullet Train) but seems like a world away. The masses of Tokyo station are a stark contrast to the serene feeling one gets when stepping off the train at Fukushima. For the author of this article day trips from Fukushima to Tokyo, over the last 20 years, have always been exciting. The greatest feeling, however, has always been returning in the late evening and getting off the train in Fukushima. The peace and quiet almost seems like a luxury.
The Shinkansen link to Tokyo was completed in 1971 and this caused a rapid transformation of the city which celebrated its centennial in 2007. As the city center was modernized with widened streets and refurbished parks the increase in population tended to settle in the outskirts forming western-style suburbs. As a result, the city center is rarely congested and very accessible by car. Parking spaces are abundant and reasonable. Most charge 100 JPY/half hour with many offering the first 30 minutes free of charge. Access to restaurants and shops are conveniently located in a concentrated downtown area near the station.
Fukushima once had its own castle, though quite humble compared to those in neighboring areas. Historically, it is its silkworm production rather than rice which makes Fukushima stand out. After the Meiji restoration in 1868 silkworm cocoons were exported to Europe and were widely prized by the silk industry in Lyon, France. Though rice paddies seem to be giving way to housing development, fruit production continues to be an important part of the local economy. And, with its new industrial zone hi-tech and pharmaceutical companies such as Canon, Toshiba, and Becton Dickenson have built production facilities west of the city center. Factory visits are available upon request.
Among the most interesting spots in or around the city are:
the hot spring towns of Iizaka, Takayu, and Tsuchiyu;
Azuma Sports Park which encompasses the facilities built for the Japan National Sports Meet held in 1995;
Village of Four Seasons;
Minowa Ski Resort;
Jorakuen, a traditional Japanese garden;
Hanamiyama, famous for its sakura and other flowering trees;
Mount Azuma-kofuji, an active volcano overlooking the city;
and the lesser-known Mount Shinobu which has numerous abandoned mines which were transformed for aircraft engine assembly during WWII.
Whether you come by car, bus, or by train Fukushima is well worth the visit. You will be enchanted by its friendly residents, great food, and stunning beauty. Well into the 21st century Fukushima still displays traditional Japan while moving ahead with cutting edge technology. Come and see it for yourself. You may not want to leave!