The capital of Fukushima Prefecture is a compact city center surrounded by lush mountains, fruit orchards and healing hot springs. The city, with its traditional festivals, horse races, and flower parks draw visitors from around the Tohoku region.
From Tokyo, take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line to Fukushima Station (90 minutes).
There are highway buses to Fukushima from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal. The trip takes a little over six hours, including rest stops.
Get your bearings and finalize your plans with a quick stop to the Fukushima City Tourist Information Center, at the west exit of Fukushima Station. The English-speaking staff can tell you how to use the Momorin Cycle, convenient and free rental bikes to get around town.
One of the key areas of the city is Mt. Shinobu. The Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art is at the foot of the mountain with a 3,800-piece collection ranging from 20th century American Realism and modern Japanese works. There's also a small but well-curated selection of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist works by Monet, Gauguin, and Pissarro.
Mid-way up the mountain, you will find the Iwaya Kannon carvings. There are over 60 Buddhist figures that were carved into the stone cliffs 300 years ago. Climb up to Haguro Shrine on the mountain summit, where a 12-meter-tall waraji straw sandal greets you. It's the largest straw sandal in Japan, weighing around two tonnes. You can also see it paraded around by strong locals in February's Mt. Shinobu Dawn Procession and the Waraji Festival in August.
The Fukushima Station area is convenient for shopping, with several department stores and a shopping mall.
The Corasse mall sells crafts and produce from all over the prefecture including locally made wooden kokeshi dolls, Kinsuisho sake and Fukushima craft beer made with local apples and peaches.
Relax at one of Fukushima city's three hot spring areas in the surrounding mountains.
On the mountain plateau, Takayu has 14 traditional ryokans with hot springs. The nearby Jododaira and Mt. Azuma-Kofuji come alive in crimson reds and golden yellows each fall.
Just 40 minutes by bus from Fukushima Station, Tsuchiyu is a charming hot spring town with cafes, craft studios selling handpainted kokeshi dolls, and four hot foot baths. The charm of the mismatched buildings, surrounding greenery of the mountains, and the clear river rushing through the middle town create a scene resembling an artist's palette.
You can reach Iizaka hot spring by local train from the city in just over 20 minutes. View the oldest steel-arch bridge in Japan and take a dip in the historic Sabakoyu, a hot spring visited by haiku poet Matsuo Basho. The locals like their baths super hot, but feel free to add cold water to reach an ideal temperature.
In early October, you can witness the evening mayhem of the Fighting Festival. This rowdy festival features huge portable shrines slamming into each other. Stand back and enjoy the show.
Plan a trip during spring to see the slopes of Hanamiyama park blanketed in pink plum and cherry blossoms. As you wander the easy mountain paths, you can see the snow-covered mountains in the distance. In season, shuttle buses run from Fukushima Station every 15 to 30 minutes.
Discover why Fukushima prefecture is called the “Kingdom of Fruits.” You can pick strawberries in winter, cherries, and peaches in summer, or apples in late autumn. Enquire at the station tourism center for fruit schedules and locations to enjoy a fruit-picking experience.
For a faster pace, feel the rush and excitement at Tohoku's only horse racing track. The Fukushima Racecourse has a century of history. Cheer on your favorite horse and jockey during major races held every season, except winter.