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My second weekend of “Kenji-absence” was spent mostly cleaning and resting, but the third weekend I decided I wanted to get out of the house, and planned a small road trip with two friends, Amy and Sarah, to Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures up north in the Tohoku region.

Fukushima has the unfortunate privilege to be famous in the western media due to the nuclear plant meltdown that happened after the earthquake and tsunami three years ago, but beyond a very small area, the prefecture actually is a really great place! As long as you stay out of the radiation zone that is. Since we weren’t going anywhere near there, we weren’t worried at all.

Our first destination in Fukushima was the city of Aizu-Wakamatsu, a city full of samurai history, with a great castle, some museums, and an old area of town with samurai residences. We started off pretty early in the morning driving up there, about a 3 hour drive. We visited a post office, ate some lunch, then went up to visit the castle and grounds. We also saw a nice, if small, garden in the city, before heading south toward Ouchijuku. Ouchijuku is a post town from back when travel by most people was regulated to foot travel only. So you had to have frequent towns along the roads to accomodate travelers with food and places to stay. Ouchijuku preserves that old style town with thatched roofs and no power lines (a rarity in Japan!). It is a really awesome looking place!

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Cherry blossom-lined streets in Aizu-Wakamatsu

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The castle area provided some fantastic pictures of the cherry blossoms

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And pictures of us too!

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A few more

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Inside and around the castle

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Oyakuen is a nice garden with a big pond in the middle, and features over 400 varieties of herbs

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There weren’t a lot of flowers yet, but a few nice daffodils

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And some cute ducks too!

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Then on to Ouchijuku

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Good cooling method

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Lots of fun shops selling all sorts of things

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We had to get some ice cream… I got “soba” flavor, buckwheat noodle! I don’t like the noodles themselves much, but I like the flavor in other things!

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These cute okiagari dolls (named because their bottoms are rounded so you can’t knock them over) were super cute… I got two little ones! And I love the Fukushima postcard of them too!

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From the top of the small hill, and another post card!

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Back down into town to check out the tiny museum

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And getting a cute akabeko doll as well to finish up the shopping

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Before checking out the tiny little shrine on the outskirts of town

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Carp streamers up for Children’s Day in May

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Fukushima postcard set

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And the cute akabeko character stuff I got at the garden today!

From there, we drove into Yamagata to stay the night in Yonezawa, which will be included in the next post. Fukushima was lots of fun… I want to explore more there again!