An easy weekend away from Tokyo for the adventurous type would certainly be the Urabandai region. Located in Fukushima prefecture, this mountainous, lake-filled destination is home to many hiking trails and outdoor activities suitable for all seasons.
We rented a car for a long weekend at the beginning of summer with hopes of scaling the main attraction, Mount Bandai. Although the weather had other ideas (I don’t think it stopped raining the entire weekend!), we still managed to find plenty of incredible scenery to uncover.
En route to Urabandai we made a quick photo-stop in the town of Ouchi-Juku (大内宿). This historical town is home to an immaculately preserved Edo-period strip of traditional thatched-roofed buildings.
Tsuruga-jo (Tsuruga castle, 鶴ヶ城) and Higashiyama Onsen (東山温泉) were both easy detours and made for some great photo-ops. Higashiyama Onsen gave an overwhelming feeling as though you had stepped straight into a scene from Spirited Away, and made me wish we had booked a relaxing night at one of the many available onsens here.
Given the wet weather, we decided to stay at a relatively low altitude and first up visited Goshikinuma (五色沼) or the five-coloured ponds, which are famous for having intensely-coloured ponds known to change with the seasons. It is mainly due to the different volcanic substances contained in the water which effects the colour.
You can also take a rowboat ride in the main pond – if the weather allows!
Our final day – with the sky still heavy with rain and visibility incredibly (and eerily) low, we decided to hike the Oguninuma Marshland Trail. A very enjoyable and beautiful walk. One word of advice would be to purchase (or rent from the visitor information centre) a bear-repelling bell. The noise from your jingling is supposed to keep them at a distance so you don’t accidentally startle them. Also advised is to walk with a large, brightly coloured umbrella which you can use to scare them aware, should you be unlucky enough to encounter one (not sure if this works or not?!). We passed countless warning signs of sightings in nearby areas, so better be safe than sorry!
It was only during the return drive to Tokyo that the clouds cleared and the sun came out – go figure! Ah well, gives us an excuse to return to conquer Mount Bandai next time 😉