Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tsurugajo Castle in Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture

Earlier this year, I visited the Tsurugajo Castle in Aizuwakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. Aizuwakamatsu is a city of approximately 120,000 people. The city is in a valley surrounded by green mountains on all sides. The town dates back more than a thousand years, and even today many old temples and historical sites remain.

In addition to its rich history, Aizu is famous for its spectacular natural scenery. The area around Bandai san (Mt. Bandai), northeast of Aizuwakamatsu, has been declared a national park. Viewed from the city, the mountain appears to have a soft and gentle shape. However, various volcanic eruptions have given the northern side a rather rugged appearance, which can be viewed from the Bandai Plateau.

The plateau contains about 300 lakes and marshes, and is popular for year-round sports such as skiing and fishing. It is also an ideal area for taking a scenic drive. Inawashiro ko (Lake Inawashiro), on the south side of the mountain, is the third largest lake in Japan. It is said to be one of the clearest lakes in the world. It collects melted snow from Bandai san, and is known as the "Heavenly Mirror Lake". Along with the scenery, Bandai san has many in onsen (hot springs). The Higashiyama and Ashinomaki onsen resorts have many hotels and almost all of them draw hot water directly from the main springs. In addition to having indoor baths, many places also offer outdoor baths known as rotenburo, which enable guests to enjoy the wonderful scenery while relaxing in the great outdoors.

Tsurugajo Castle has a long history going back before the Edo period. The castle was destroyed at the end of the Edo period but was rebuilt in 1965 in accordance with its original design. It symbolizes the samurai culture in Aizuwakamatsu, the oldest town in Fukushima Prefecture. Ashina Naomori built the Higashi Kurokawa Yakata, the first castle building, in 1384. In 1593, Gamou Ujisato finished building the rest of the castle and changed the name to "Tsurugajo". The stone wall, also completed at that time, still remains and is the foundation of the entire castle area even 400 years later. During the end of the Edo Period, the Aizu soldiers were involved in the Boshin Civil War, which was continued from the Toba Fushimi War. They were defeated after about one month of fighting to protect the castle. The new government destroyed the castle in 1874, (the 7th year of Meiji). The castle stands on a hill 3km. east of AizuWakamatsu Station. It is surrounded by a thousand cherry trees, innumerable evergreens, a stone wall and moat. The white tower rising high in the blue sky provides a view of the entire Aizu valley.

Although each season has its own special features, the castle grounds are sepecially scenic in the end of April, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and autumn, when the leaves are turning color. The highlight of the Aizu Autumn Festival is the samurai parade on September 23rd.

If you are visiting Japan and would like to travel around the country instead of just staying Tokyo or Kyoto, Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima prefecture is a nice, historic and naturally scenic place to visit.

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