The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster made the prefecture of Fukushima internationally known for all the wrong reasons. The words “radiation” and “unsafe” became synonymous to the town’s image, where both local and foreign tourists completely abandoned the area rendering it from a place for sightseeing to a place to fear and skip.
I am not disputing the health concerns associated with the nuclear disaster; in fact I have to admit that I had a brief period of paranoia on how safe we actually are in Japan- from the food that I eat, to the water I drink, a worry that cannot be shrug off even if I reside 164 miles away from the disaster zone.
But a year had passed and I wanted to do my part on helping the recovery of the region by visiting few places around Fukushima prefecture. Maybe after you have read this post, you will realize how beautiful Fukushima is. It is such a shame that a man-made error had overshadowed what the prefecture is about- extremely friendly people and nature at its best.
On a beautiful Saturday morning, I made my way from Koriyama to Inawashiro aboard the JR Ban-etsu West Line. Inside the train, you can hear a gasp of awe, as we pass an unblocked view of Mt. Bandai (Bandai-san). It is the same reaction when you are on a train bound for Kawaguchiko and suddenly a view of Mt. Fuji appears from your window. I admired how fascinated Japanese are with mountains and for this alone I admire them dearly.
After 40 minutes, we arrived at the town of Inawashiro to the tune of “I love you baby, Fukushima, I need you baby, Fukushima”. I’m not making it up, it was actually playing at the station. I find it done in a good taste for a good purpose- for foreign tourist like me to see Fukushima prefecture beyond the news headlines of radiation level conspiracy.
As much as I wanted to add Bandai-san on the list of mountains I climbed in Japan, I opted to go for a more relax way of exploring Urabandai via the 3.6 km long Goshikinuma (Five Colored Lakes) Walking Trail of Urabandai.
Similar to the story of how Mt. Fuji eruption created the now famous five lakes, the eruption of Mt. Bandai last 1888 not only created hundreds of lakes but changes the over-all landscape of the Bandai-kogen plateau.
Out of the many lakes created by the eruption, the most celebrated are the one found along the walking trails of Goshikinuma. Due to the minerals deposited by Mt. Bandai eruption, the lakes mysteriously changes hues every season, making it as scenic place to capture regardless if its summer or winter.
Since the story of Fuji-san’s five lakes is almost the same as Bandai-san’s colored lakes, so what distinguished them for each other you might ask? Personally, I love how Bandai-san and its surrounding lakes appears to be untouched and not cultivated for tourism purpose. There is an ambiance of wilderness- where trees grow exactly as they please, where the walking path is not populated by shops selling souvenir but of fallen leaves.
Savoring the beautiful day and walking the Goshiki-numa trail with me are couples on a date, family on a trip, friends on a reunion hike and my favorite – Ojiisans with their DSLR.
I named them the “koyo hunter (autumn leaves hunter)”. They hide behind bushes, armed with tripod and assortment of lenses and they know where the best spot is, this all in the name of an amazing shot.
The Goshikinuma Walking Trail can be accessed in two ways, either via the Goshiki-numa Iriguchi bus stop or the Bandai-Kogen bus stop. Whichever starting point you choose, it takes an approximate 1 hour and 10 minutes by foot to walk from one end to another. I made Goshiki-numa Iriguchi bus stop as my starting point, for the reason that I wanted to visit the Tourist Information Center first to ask for a map and know my way around the area.
A rental car is the most preferable way of exploring Urabandai. Though there is bus service (Toto Bandai Bus) from Inawashiro Station to any of the two bus stop I mentioned above, the issue is the time of departures is normally one per hour.
One of the highlight of my trip was meeting and conversing in my broken Japanese with several elderly tourist couples. One of them not only gave me a ride all the way from Bandai Kogen to Inawashiro train station but generously gave me food and souvenir. I guess they are just happy to see foreign tourist around the area or maybe I have this unexplained charm towards old couple or I just look hungry and homeless. Nonetheless, this is another aspect of traveling I enjoyed the most, meeting new people.
With a radiation level of below 0.2 µSv/h or almost similar levels to any city around the world, Urabandai has to be, if not the top reason why you should visit Fukushima again.