Surrounded by nothing but lush greenery and the occasional bear, Mini Oze Park in Minamiaizu is a wonderful place to visit if you are craving getting away from the rush of city life. This park, despite its name, is not mini in size. You could happily spend a few hours wandering around the different areas of the park – each of which have a different theme and a range of plants.
The reason it is called “Mini Oze Park” is that it was designed as a miniature-sized version of Oze National Park, a large area which spreads across Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma and Niigata Prefectures.
While Oze National Park is a great area to hike, Mini Oze Park offers the flexibility of shorter walks, which can be customised to match a range of fitness levels, as well as having cafés and a number of galleries and museums nearby.
I visited Mini Oze Park in September, and I found it quite nostalgic, as coming here reminded me of going on walks with my family as a child. I would definitely recommend it for families and group trips.
Although it is true that Mini Oze Park reminded me of trips in the British countryside, there are of course a number of typically Japanese aspects to this sightseeing spot, such as a nearby shrine, and the inclusion of a gallery with a Japanese calligraphy permanent exhibition.
I’m very interested in calligraphy, and I have been practicing it myself for a number of months, so I really enjoyed coming to this gallery, even though I couldn’t understand anything!! Even my Japanese coworkers struggled to read the kanji words depicted in this local artist’s work.
One other very Japanese thing you can find in Mini Oze Park is a very special, odd food.
Japanese is famous for its delicious and unique combinations of flavours, and also for its weird and wonderful snacks. My coworker had told me I definitely had to eat something called “Sansho Ice Cream” when I came here. When I asked him what it was, he just laughed and told me he couldn’t tell me, but that I had to promise to eat it.
After a visit to the gallery and walking around for about an hour, we decided to stop by at the café. I couldn’t see “Sansho Ice Cream” on the menu, so I asked a member of staff.
She told me that unfortunately the season for “sansho” was over, but that I could come back next year to try it… I finally got my friend to explain what it is…
Sansho is a type of small lizard that can be dried and eaten as a snack. Mini-Oze Park sells it as a topping for ice cream!
The next day, incidentally I found a pack of sansho lizards in a convenience store near our accommodation. I was really tempted to buy them and make a special sansho ice cream for my colleague who had first recommend me order it without knowing what I was getting myself into!
As well as strange dried lizards, Minamiaizu area is also famous for its soba. The winters in Minamiaizu are very harsh and snowy, so many different ways of farming to cope have been devised in response. It is difficult to grow rice in the fields in this area of Fukushima Prefecture, so the staple carb here is soba noodles. There are a number of “new soba” festivals every year to celebrating harvesting the soba plants in Autumn.
We were lucky enough to sample a range of interesting and unique soba noodle ramen flavours during our time in Minamiaizu.
The noodles used in the above recipes are a blend of soba flour and asparagus. We ate these at a restaurant called Bono, inside Tajima Station, but there are many restaurants serving delicious food all around this area.
The flowers and foliage on display in the park depends on the season, but summer offers a variety of eye-catching plants and unique photo opportunities! You may even be lucky enough to spot some animals and insects that you can’t see back home!
Public transport access to Minamiaizu in general is not very regular and the bus stops may be a little hard to find (with no English place names), so I recommend hiring a car.
Here is a recommended route that you could explore on your trip to Fukushima Prefecture: