Travel with purpose: It’s time to return to Fukushima

Tadami railway at Fukushima prefecture in autumn

There’s never been a better time to travel to Japan.

A land of untold surprises, Japan is a country filled with amazing people, experiences and destinations just waiting to be discovered. It’s also becoming an exponentially popular country.

New estimates by data and analytics company Global Data predict 1.7 billion international tourists will visit Japan in 2022, following the success of the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and the predicted accomplishments of the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The country aims to attract 40 million inbound visitors by 2020 and 60 million by 2030.

For some of the nearly two billion travellers that will visit Japan in the years to come, seeing the country’s main haunts – Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima – will be considered a priority, all of which are found on the so-called ‘Golden Route’ of Japan.

These destinations should appeal for first-time visitors to the country. But for those who understandably want to revisit, their travel advisors should explain that seeing the country’s lesser-touristed regions are as appealing, if not more so, than Japan’s well-known regions.

Fukushima

Tsuruga-jō castle, Aizuwakamatsu: In Fukushima, travellers can experience a sprawling history embedded in samurai culture (iStock.com/NicolasMcComber)

For return visitors to Japan, one of the best regions to explore in 2020 is Fukushima Prefecture, a destination returned to multiple travel hot lists, thanks to the prefecture’s plenitude of wonderful natural, wellness and foodie experiences.

And, thanks in no small part to the Abe government’s tireless efforts to ensure the world that the region’s Northern, Western and Southern regions are perfectly safe.

No longer billed as dark tourism experiences, visits to Fukushima provide travellers an opportunity to discover an authentic side of Japan, far from the heavy footfall of Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka, and to give back to a region recovering in a big way.

Tohoku region

Mt. Bandai, one of the sources of the legendary Nakanosawa Onsen, reflected in Inawashiro Lake in spring (iStock.com/Torsakarin)

Featured on National Geographic’s 2020 list of top trips for the year ahead, the Tohoku region contains the six northernmost prefectures on Japan’s main island of Honshu, and features pristine forests, gorges and crater lakes, thousand-year-old temples and shrines, and respected local festivals.

And yet, according to the outlet, less than two per cent of international travellers come here.

In the northeast of this region in Fukushima Prefecture, travellers will discover a mesmerising onsen region known as Inawashiro (also known as Nakanosawa Onsen), where a natural spa originating in the Adatara and Bandai mountains has been in use since the 18th century.

Inawashiro is also home to 15 remote ryokan and hotels, including the ultimate mountaineer’s retreat at Numajiri Kogen. Founded by Junko Tabei – the first woman in the world to scale Mount Everest – the lodge is situated near some of Aizu’s best snow regions and multiple restaurants.

And after recently reopening after renovations, Numajiri Kogen is a perfect place to relax and revitalise, with the ryokan offering its very own hot spring bath, and friendly staff and chefs proudly serving not only local delicious dishes, but also secret recipes.

Numajiri Kogen, Lodge, Inawishiro town (Aizu Dream Development)

A town with an estimated population of some 14,400 people, Inawashiro is also the stepping-off point for adventures in the mountainous onsen region of Numajiri Yumoto, which shares the same source as Nakanosawa Onsen.

Here, travellers can bathe in hot, natural geothermal waters or experience the onsen at its source, some 1,250 metres above sea level, in an area between the Adatara and Bandai mountains.

Back on the watchlist

Fukushima Prefecture will also return to travel watch lists this year, as the city plays host to the world’s biggest event – the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics – with sports played at the J-Village football stadium and Azuma baseball stadium in Fukushima City.

The Olympic torch – partly made of aluminium recycled from the temporary shelters used to house 500,000 people displaced in 2011 – will also begin its relay in Fukushima, just outside the 30-kilometre exclusion zone of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, before moving through the neighbouring prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate.

For everything you need to know about Fukushima, including agent advice, destination and experience guidance, and tours and itineraries of the region, speak to the experts at Aizu Dream Development, an exclusive Japan-based travel agency specialising in travel to the Tohoku region and East Japan.

Featured image: Tadami Line, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture (iStock.com/Torsakarin)

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