Ramen, breathtaking historical buildings, ancient shrines – what more could you want from a day out? Kitakata City has all of this, and more to offer.
Although Aizu-Wakamatsu is a well-known area of Fukushima Prefecture for experiencing traditional Japanese culture, the warehouse-lined streets of Kitakata are a wonderful place to wander and explore traditional Japan.
Warehouses that became popular in the Meiji and Taisho eras were used both as places to store dried goods, sake and other foodstuffs, and as spaces where brewing and lacquer-work could be carried out. Some of the warehouses here even date back to the Edo period!
It’s said that, in the olden days, if you were a man from Kitakata, and you hadn’t purchased – or built – a warehouse by the time that you were 40 that this was a massive source of shame for a family! Many of these storehouses are still used today, and there are over 4000 still standing.
The style and shape of the warehouses depends on the district. Those in the Sugiyama district of Kitakata City definitely look Japanese in style, many with covered wooden walls with unique shaped roofs.
Those in the Mitsuya district, on the other hand, are given a really European look due to their red brick walls. As well as walking, there is also the option of exploring the town by bikes that are available to hire!
You can definitely see the European influence that rapidly poured into many of Japan’s industries, although nowadays it feels like that influence stopped at the architecture, seeing as most of the warehouses still in use produce typically “Japanese” foods such as Japanese sake.
During my visit, I was told that one of the reasons that Kitakata has so many warehouses is that its location gives it very high quality water, making food produced in the city popular across the country. For this reason, many families produced rice, miso paste, sake and, of course, the local delicacy, Kitata Ramen.
Kitakata Ramen is one of the big Top 3 ramens of Japan. (The other two being Fukuoka Ramen and Sapporo Ramen). Kitakata’s ramen differs from that of Fukuoka and Sapporo due to its famous slightly wavy noodles.
There are still a huge number of ramen restaurants for one town, including those specialisng in Asara (Ramen that you eat for breakfast). So, if you are a big ramen fan, you could potentially do a tour of Kitakata, eating ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I was shown around Kitakata by Matsuzaki san and Yamada san, the respective chairman and vicechairman of Kitakata Global Club, who are both involved in the food industry.
They are both very active in the community and Matsuzaki san is also the owner of peanut and bean specialist store Okuya, which sells a really huge variety of snacks made from peanuts, including peanut ice cream (heavenly) and Camembert-covered nuts.
It was so interesting hearing from him about how he is friends with many of the sake producers from the area, and has known them since his childhood. Kitakata is really a great place to visit if you are a foodie.
I visited a local restaurant for dinner where I got to sample a large sample of local food (and sake!). Everything was delicious, but I think my favourite was the vegetables and fish topped with 5 different types of miso sauce (top left photo).
Another highlight of Kitakata (which I visited earlier in the day) is Nagatoko, the worship hall of Shingu Kumano Shrine. Unbelievably, this worship hall was built over 1000 years ago, and its unique due to the it being completely open, with no walls, but pillars holding it up. Luckily, there were English information sheets provided so that I could understand a little bit about this long history.
Matsuzaki san explained to me about how hundreds of people would gather at this one space on New Years Eve – the most special time of year for Japanese families. I would love to come here at New Years one time, I can imagine the scene must be incredible with so many people celebrating together.
As you may have noticed, next to the worship hall stands an extraordinary ginkgo tree, which is over 800 years old. The pairing of these two historical places right next to each other is really magical, especially in Autumn (when I went) when the ginkgo tree’s bright yellow leaves line the floor of the worship hall.
Here’s a little preview of what you can expect from Nagatoko during winter this year.
That’s all for now, but I will be making a model travel plan for Kitakata soon, which I’ll upload to this site! Thank you for reading.
Here’s an example of a 1 day itinerary you could use to explore Kitakata