Saturday, 14 May 2011

Take a Trip

I believe that the way the Japanese have responded to the quake, tsunami and aftermath seems to have made an impression on much of the world, so in the future I can see tourism rising, but in the short term, however, it has plummeted, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of cancelled hotel rooms and untaken trips. Yet Japan needs business to get itself righted, and tourism business is just one of those things.

For our "Golden Week" break we went to Aizu and environs in Fukushima Prefecture. With the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl and a meltdown in Fukushima Daiichi confirmed, it seems a good time to start re-promoting the area… Yes, this is the same prefecture with the damaged power station, but no, it's not close. While not diminishing the trauma of those close to the plant, there are parts of the prefecture almost as unaffected as Tokyo. But, of course, visits from home or abroad are down, and the whole area is looking for business.

We went to Ouchijuku – a small tourist destination that would make a good addition to anyone's Japan schedule. Sure, it's now a tourist spot, but 20 years ago it was just a forgotten town. Historically a staging post on the route through Japan's centre, modern living saw roads redirected, and Ouchijuku was forgotten. It continued a quiet existence until it was realised that it would be of interest to tourists. Although like a little stage set, it is an actual town, and the residents continue to live there. Now, most of the old thatched houses which line both sides of its unpaved main street are restaurants or gift shops. But the street is as it was – simply open for tourists. Old (100 years plus) Japan is not always as easy to find as in Europe. Though there is plenty, recent events plus wooden houses show why there isn't as much history at every turn – and Ouchijuku is a curious spot (if you don't mind a certain degree of crowds. Even with rain and visitor-numbers down, the street was relatively full on this national holiday. Non-national holiday/non-weekend there'll be fewer people).

But with pre-holiday visitors few and far between, and other places in the area also seeing smaller numbers, many shop keepers genuinely said "thanks for visiting". And the fire-grilled fish in the restaurant we ate at was superb. So, if planning a Japan visit you don't have to limit yourself to the unaffected west, or the lightly-affected Tokyo, try giving Fukushima some of your custom.

Getting there: I went by car, so I'm getting this advice from elsewhere! Tobu Limited Express from Kita-Senju to Kinugawa Onsen, change to the Kinugawa Line to Aizu Kogenoze Guchi, and finally take the Aizu Line to Yunokami Onsen. It's 6km from the station, so you can walk or get a taxi – apparently, no public transport serves the town. So a stay in the area, for example, in Aizu with its castle, samurai house and old shopping street, may be the best option if you're carless.

updated Nov 2011, to tie-in with a post linking to my list of destinations on CNNGo

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