Miharu Takizakura Cherry Tree
The Miharu Takizakura is considered by many as the single most beautiful cherry tree in Japan. "Takizakura" literally means "waterfall cherry tree" in Japanese; a fitting name as the 13.5 meter tall tree's wide drooping branches spread out over 20 meters east-west and 18 meters north-south, making it appear like a cascading waterfall. The tree is estimated to be over a thousand years old and its trunk has a girth of 9.5 meters.
Around mid to late April every year, the Miharu Takizakura reaches the peak of its flowering season and hundreds of thousands visit to admire its cherry blossoms.
The Tsuruga Castle is located in Aizuwakamatsu, western Fukushima Prefecture. It was originally built in 1384 and changed hands many times between the different rulers of the Aizu region, the western portion of the prefecture. It was destroyed after the Boshin War of 1868, a rebellion against the newly formed Meiji government, which had taken over control from the Tokugawa shogun and put an end to Japan's feudal era.
The castle is one of the last strongholds of samurai loyal to the shogunate, and after it was rebuilt in the 1960s the newly erected castle became a legitimate museum dedicated to the history and culture of Japanese samurai. A distinct characteristic of this castle is that it has red roof tiles as opposed to the grey tiles typically used for Japanese castles. The view from the accessible top floor of the castle extends for miles, affording vistas of the surrounding mountains.
Urabandai (Mount Bandai)
Urabandai, also known as the Bandai Highlands, is a pond dotted area on the highlands north of Mount Bandai. It is a popular outdoor destination, offering attractive scenery, various walking and hiking opportunities in summer and skiing in winter. Urabandai is also especially beautiful in the fall when its leaves dramatically change to intense autumnal oranges and yellows. Due to the wide range of elevations, colors can usually be seen somewhere during the entire month of October.
The most popular highland walking trail is the Goshikinuma Walk, which takes tourists through the forest and past numerous ponds. Several of the ponds glimmer with unique hues of blue. Other walking trails lead you along the shores of Lake Hibara, the largest lake in the highland area, and past other ponds and marshlands. For the adventurous sort, there is a more challenging path that takes hikers to the summit of Mount Bandai. This path takes roughly eight hours round trip and requires hiking equipment.
Ouchijuku is a former post town with buildings that are over 300 years old along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route, which connected Aizu with Nikko during the Edo Period. Restrictions set by the shogunate required travelers to make their long journeys on foot and as a result, post towns developed along the routes to provide travelers with food, accommodations and rest.
Today, Ouchijuku has been restored to look as it did in the Edo Period with telephone and electricity wires buried. The unpaved main street is lined by thick thatched roof buildings, which house a variety of shops, restaurants and minshuku (small traditional Japanese inns). Visitors can enjoy a variety of light snacks that have been loved since the Edo period, including scallion buckwheat noodles, locally caught char fish roasted on sticks, and the fragrant and sticky sweet potato rice cakes.
Translated into the “Five Colored Marshes”, a group of picturesque lakes and ponds on a highland plain in Bandai-Asahi National Park. They have existed only since 1887, when Mt. Bandai erupted, generating a cascade of displaced earth and rubble that blocked in various places what had been a river, creating ponds and lakes. Influenced by the volcanic elements and minerals, each body of water has its own distinctive color, and these hues are enhanced and altered by the changing seasons.
Oyakuen is a pleasant landscape Japanese garden in Aizuwakamatsu, where visitors can go for a quiet stroll. With roughly 400 kinds of medicinal herbs and trees cultivated within its confines, the garden lives up to its name. It is an exciting spot for botanists, Japanese culture buffs, and anyone in search of a peaceful experience. The name Oyakuen was assigned to the garden in the 18th century, when the feudal lord encouraged citizens to cultivate medicinal plants. With time, the cultivation of medicinal herbs was added, but not an ounce of beauty was sacrificed for this endeavor.
The Oyakuen's main garden consists of carefully cultivated greenery centered around a pond. A path winds around the the pond, and walking along its idyllic landscape is the best way to enjoy the garden.
Aizu Sazaedo Pagoda
Atop Mount Limoriyama rests the Aizu Sazaedo Pagoda, home to an original pagoda that was constructed in 1796 entirely from wood. It features an orthogonal three-storey pagoda (16.5m/54ft high) and a double spiral ramp, extremely rare in Japan, enabling visitors to go up and down without passing each other. An on-site architectural diagram of the site looks like an optical illusion, and at the few points where you can peak through at people going the opposite direction, you might just think you’ve fallen into a real-life optical illusion.
Remarkably, this pagoda has undergone no major renovation since it was originally constructed and has accordingly been designated nationally as an Important Cultural Property. Perhaps the main difference is that the original 33 statues of Kannon, the bodhisattva associated with compassion, intended as objects for meditation, have since been lost, but replicas have been placed throughout that you can view as you make your ascent.