Aizumura: Grab Your Camera & Your Newest Outfit, It’s Photo Shoot Time!
Aizumura is a large garden park in the Aizu region of northern Japan, and might just be the best-kept secret of cosplay fans all over the country. Many visitors to Japan spend a few days in Tokyo, and perhaps a few in Kyoto and Osaka, but completely miss the natural beauty and deep history hidden in Japan’s northern areas like Aizu. Scenic views, excellently preserved traditional architecture, and friendly locals make it a great place to visit, and perhaps an even better place for photoshoots! Read on for all the info you need to have a great time in the Aizu area, things to do in Aizu Wakamatsu, taking pictures and making memories to last a lifetime.
Spend the Day in Cosplay
(Or Relax at Aizumura in Your Everyday Duds!)
If you love to cosplay, or just like to dress up and play model, you probably know that the perfect backdrop can transform a simple scenario into a fantastic photoshoot. If you want that scenic Japanese look, though, you’re not going to find a good backdrop in Japan’s big cities. If you can even get permission to go ahead, any picture you take in Tokyo is going to have the city’s crowds somewhere in the background! Aizumura in Aizu Wakamatsu has all the greenery and architecture you want, without all the obstacles, and with convenient changing rooms and facilities to make your life easy. So grab your costume and perfect that makeup look, we’re going to show you why Aizumura is the place for that perfect photoshoot-in-Japan (and how good your pictures can be)!
Inori no Sato Aizumura
Dogairi-7, Kawahigashimachi Asayama, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima
April to November: 9:00 ~ 17:00 / December to March: 10:00 ~ 16:00
Adults: 500 yen / Middle School Students: 400 yen / Elementary School Students: 300 yen
Our Aizumura Recommendations
For our cosplay outing, you can see we chose to dress up as Kagome and Kikyo from Inuyasha. Don’t the two of us look exactly alike, just like in the story? We’re practically twins!
Now, if only we’d had one more friend to dress up as Inuyasha and complete the love triangle. There’s always next time! We’ll just have to plan another visit to Aizumura soon.
Ote-mon Gate (大手門)
Built to resemble the walls and gates of Kyoto’s historic Nijo Castle, the entrance to Aizumura sets the mood for your day in the park. Enjoy all that scenic Japanese style, without the office buildings and traffic that inevitably surround attractions in big cities like Kyoto or Tokyo.
Ryuujin Ike Pond (龍神池)
When you’re trying to recreate traditional Japanese scenery, this red bridge stretching over a pond full of hungry koi fish is pretty quintessential! Romantic couples strolling across the painted wood, scholars sitting among the foliage and pondering philosophy, you could spend hours recreating scenes here, or making something new of your own!
Plus, it’s a power spot, or a place where the Japanese say you feel a spiritual energy, or perhaps just a strong connection to the natural surroundings. Aizumura is often considered a power spot as a whole, but people mention feeling particular power at the pond, said to play host to a water god. They say that if you pray for rain here, the following downpour will wash away your past regrets, helping you to move forward. Hopefully the rain won’t come until your tour of the park is over, though!
Zaougongen Hall (蔵王権現堂)
This small building was built to worship Zaougongen, but respectful exploration is encouraged at Aizumura, so feel free to look around. The wooden structure is totally atmospheric, and the steps are perfect for striking a pose.
Kannon Waterfall (観音滝)
This 5 meter (16.5 ft) waterfall isn’t popular for its size, but for the water that elegantly pours over the rocks like sheets of white lace. Dangle your legs off the nearby boulders and admire the falls, or sit together with a friend and get your photo taken! They say that the falls are full of negative ions, and that sitting near the spray will give you energy. Whether that’s true or not, you might feel revived just from a rest in front of the lovely scenery! Adding to the romance of the spot, the rocks are shaped a little like a heart, which is why some people like to pray for a happy relationship at the waterfall.
The Reclining Buddha Statue (涅槃像)
We wanted to check in with Aizumura staff before posing with this impressively large Buddha, in case it might be misconstrued as disrespectful, but they gave us the go-ahead. Apparently lots of visitors like to pretend they’re taking a little break with the big guy! Some travelers from fiercely Buddhist countries appear to find this a little distasteful, but in Aizu they thought it was all in good fun.
The Old-Fashioned Japanese Homes (古民家)
In Japan, this kind of old-fashioned home with traditional architecture is called a kominka (古民家), and the ones preserved in the park are genuine historical buildings moved from other parts of Aizu, right into the park grounds.
Aizumura has four of these buildings, including ones where the horse stables and living quarters are all built into one structure, giving us an interesting bit of historical perspective on traditional houses. There might not be horses residing there anymore, but you can take as many pictures as you want in the house, with the light filtering through the paper wall panels, onto the tatami straw mat floors.
The Three-Storied Pagoda (三重ノ塔)
This pagoda was built for Kishimojin, a deity with a colorful past. The story told of the goddess/demon is that she gave birth to 500 children, and in order to take care of them all, would whisk away and eat human children. She apparently reformed and stopped being a demon after receiving divine punishment, and is now a figure who is said to protect children and punish bad parenting. Her pagoda in Aizumura is a gorgeous addition to the park’s skyline, and makes for a wonderful part of the backdrop (especially at sunset)!
The Little Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷会津分社)
Aizumura is mostly built around Buddhist structures, but Japan is a country of mixed religious traditions, with Buddhism, Shinto, and traditional folk religions all bound inextricably together. So of course they’ve got a small Shinto shrine as well!
You might recognize the name Fushimi Inari, as it refers to the enshrined deity, the same one you’ll find at Kyoto’s much larger Fushimi Inari Shrine. Aizumura’s little version doesn’t have the thousands of red gates, but it does provide a nice shrine spot for photos. Plus, the deity Inari is associated with foxes, so you’ll see some cute pointy-nosed statues in the area, too.
The Main Temple
Try your hand at calligraphy! The main temple hall of Aizumura offers a chance to try writing a prayer on a large piece of paper, which the monks will then include in their regular prayers. This might sound a little hard, for native Japanese speakers and everyone else, so they’ve got a page of sample prayers written out for you to copy over. Choose what you want to pray for (good grades? a promotion? an attractive new partner?) and write it down — in costume if you like!
The Giant Kannon Statue (会津慈母大観音像) — The Jewel of Aizumura
Last but not least, we couldn’t forget to mention what is perhaps Aizumura’s most stunning feature, the absolutely giant statue of Aizu Jibo Kannon. It’s one of their major power spots! Kannon is a Buddhist bodhisattva associated with mercy and compassion, often presented as a goddess in religious settings all over Asia. At Aizumura, the Kannon statue is 57 meters (187 ft) tall, with a base you can enter and stairs you can walk up, if you choose.
It’s a little hard to take a picture with just Kannon and whoever’s modeling, but she’ll certainly show up in the backdrop of your pictures at the park. In fact, she’ll probably show up in the background of your pictures taken all over the region — the statue is big!
At the statue’s base, there’s a little shrine area and a spot where you can write your wishes and prayers on “ema,” wooden tablets. Hang them on the inside wall to send your thoughts to the Kannon, and the nearby Fushimi Inari. The fox-shaped ema are especially cute!
And with that, you’ve seen some of Aizumura’s best photo spots! If you spend a few hours at the park exploring we’re sure you’ll find some other great places hidden among the old buildings, but if you love to take pictures, we bet your mind is already racing at the possibilities. Where will you start when you visit Aizumura, and what will you wear!?
Lunch Break! Aizu’s Culinary Specialties
After a morning of exploring the park and finding the best possible photo scenery, you’ll need to take a little rest and get some of that energy back. Lucky for you, right next to the park is a lunch spot with tons of local ambience, which is worth a visit. The restaurant is called Jumonjiya, and they serve up some local culinary specialties.
Dogairihei-1602 Kawahigashimachi Asayama, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima
Mon~Fri: 11:00～14:30 / Sat~Sun: 11:00～19:00
What exactly does Aizu specialize in, you ask? Well the answer is sauce katsu-don! You might have tried katsu before, Japanese breaded pork cutlets, but this version of the high-protein dish is a little unique. It includes huge quantities of tender pork katsu dipped entirely into a savory-sweet sauce, before being quickly (to preserve the crispy breading) piled onto a bed of rice and shredded cabbage. The portions here were truly impressive, with a standard serving coming with two whole pork cutlets, all incredibly juicy and sauced up. If you want something that will fill you up quickly and have you ready to get back to your photoshoot in no time, this is it!
Another specialty of the region is Kitakata ramen, one of Japan’s three most popular ramen varieties (alongside Hakata and Sapporo ramen), and Jumonjiya does their own special version of the dish. Traditional Kitakata ramen is submerged in a bowl of clear pork broth, full of rich pork and soy flavor but unclouded. The noodles are totally distinct, thicker and flatter than in ramen elsewhere in Japan, and the whole thing is topped with bamboo shoots, scallions, and slices of braised pork.
The ramen at Jumonjiya is, firstly, huge! On top of that, it has a slightly thicker broth than your standard Kitakata ramen, with a hefty pile of the Kitakata noodles piled inside. Alongside the noodles, thick-cut bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms, carrots, napa cabbage, and boiled egg join thinly sliced pork, and a sprinkling of scallions. The copious noodles and vegetables make for a pretty excellent choice.
We recommend you stay the night in the area and head north to Kitakata City the next day for a bowl of really traditional Kitakata ramen as well. Compare the Jumonjiya ramen and a standard bowl from Kitakata — you’ll find that they have similar delicious appeal, but slightly different approaches to the dish. We tried the classic Kitakata ramen at Bannai Shokudo, a popular ramen stop in a city of delicious noodles. Making good food since the 1950s, the shop is always crowded with adoring fans, and the consistently delicious ramen has even helped Bannai Shokudo spawn a series of successful branches across Japan (and a few scattered throughout the US!)
Bannai Shokudo (Original Kitakata Location)
7230 Hosoda, Kitakata, Fukushima
7:00 ~ 18:00 (closed Thursdays)
Explore the Beauty of Aizu
Got some extra time to enjoy the area? Then we highly recommend you tour Aizumura’s surroundings! Look out into the distance to see the beauty of Mount Bandai, a volcano rising dramatically from expansive land carpeted with bucolic hayfields. Or venture a little further for some fantastic sightseeing! Stay the night in the area, grab some ramen in Kitakata, and let us tell you what else to check out.
The Goshiki-numa (五色沼), or Five Colored Marshes
Created as a result of a historic Mount Bandai volcanic eruption, the various marshes (called “numa” or 沼 in Japanese) of Goshikinuma are known for their brilliant blue-green hues. People now flock to a few of the most popular ones, and hike trails connecting them, to admire the vivid views so rare in Japan.
The largest lake of the Goshiki-numa, Mount Bandai is always right there in the background, creating a lovely mountainous backdrop. Head down the rocky steps towards the lake shore, though, and you’ll find…
Rowboats! Row out to the middle of the lake and you’ll be surprised at how clear the water is. Keep an eye out as you cut through the wavelets! No only is there lovely driftwood sticking up precariously out of the water, but Bishamon-numa is also home to the “Goshikinuma Heart Koi”, a white koi fish with a distinct orange heart on its side. Supposedly spotting the koi will bring you luck!
8:00 ~ 16:30 (closed Dec. to Mar.)
700 yen/30 minutes or 1,300 yen/1 hour
The Trails to Ao-numa and Ruri-numa
Some of the smaller marshes are found along hiking trails through the forest, with their gem-like surfaces reflecting the foliage. Ao-numa (青沼) and Ruri-numa (るり沼) are popular destinations, but don’t miss the gorgeous Haha-numa (母沼) and Yanagi-numa (柳沼) either. A little further past Ruri-numa you can also find the popular Benten-numa (弁天沼)!
Don’t forget your bear bell! It seemed quite safe to us, and there were lots of people walking worry-free along the trail, but there are indeed wild bears in the area. You can borrow a bell from the rest stop area at the beginning of the trail, just to be safe!
Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城)
Tsuruga Castle, AKA Tsuruga-jo, AKA Wakamatsu Castle ⇧
Seen enough of Aizu’s scenery at the marshes? Inside Tsuruga Castle you’ll find a pretty interesting and well-constructed museum, with everything from life-size models of castle life to real (and spectacular) helmets from historic local leaders, teaching you about the area’s battles and samurai. About 75% of the signage is also in English, so even you don’t speak a word of Japanese, you’ll leave the castle feeling pretty educated on the warriors that made history there, from its first construction in the 1300s to its 2011 renovations. Before you head back outside, make your way up to the top and look out from the roof to see some great views of Aizu. You can even see the Kannon in Aizumura off in the distance!
Rinkaku Tea House & Garden
Steeped in Japanese tea ceremony history, the Rinkaku tea house and the paths surrounding it are, no-question, worth a stroll if you’re visiting Tsuruga Castle. Learn about the tea house’s history starting way back in the 1500s, and its 120 years kept inside castle walls for safety.
You can have your own little tea experience on the benches set up in the garden as well (or hide under a roof in less ideal weather). They’ll give you a cup of matcha, either hot or iced, with a little Japanese sweet made to go with. We tried sweet potato manju with our tea! The tea and snacks will cost you an extra 600 yen, but it’s a great chance to take a seat for a few minutes and enjoy the zen atmosphere of the garden.
If sweet potato doesn’t sound all that exciting to you, the snack shop outside the castle offers a few local specialties, and we’d definitely recommend their “tempura brown sugar manju”. They’re little brown-sugar cakes filled with red bean, fried in tempura batter. They come on a stick, and are most delicious when finished with a splash of soy sauce. The perfect combination of sweet and salty — utterly delectable.
Nighttime Light Shows on the Castle Walls
Before finishing up your trip to Aizumura and its lovely surroundings, check to see if Tsuruga Castle has a “light up event” going on that night. We had good timing and got to see purple gradients and orange flowers dance across the castle walls.
Saying Goodbye to Aizu
Aizumura’s the perfect place to have a blast and pose for picture after picture, until you’re about ready to drop (and rip that wig right off your head). But thanks to the pastoral paradise of Aizu (inside and outside of Aizumura’s grounds), you can spend the next day letting the fresh air and hearty food refresh you from the inside out. A visit to the area is a great way to spend a couple days during your trip to Japan, whether you’re an intense cosplay fan or a go-with-the-flow backpacker. Don’t get trapped following the rest of Japan’s tourists along the route between Tokyo and Kyoto — get out there and see what northern Japan has to offer!
⇩ See more of Aizumura in our video below! ⇩