Tsurugajo Castle, Aizu-Wakamatsu City, is a must-visit for anyone visiting Tohoku this spring. Located just 2.5 hours from Tokyo, Aizu-Wakamatsu is an historic city which looks absolutely amazing in cherry blossom season.
Tsurugajo Castle – originally constructed in the 14th century – has passed through the hands of many local rulers. The castle was most recently rebuilt in 1965, and remains an important symbol of the ‘samurai spirit’ of the people of Fukushima.
The Last Samurai
During the Edo Period, the Aizu clan were very important in terms of power and strategic location.
In the 1850s, a civil war broke out between loyalists to the Tokugawa Shogunate and forces supporting the new Meiji Government. The Aizu clan were very loyal to the shogunate, and fought Meiji government forces at the Battle of Aizu – which ended in the fall of Tsurugajo Castle.
The Battle of Aizu was the final large-scale battle of the war, meaning that the fall of Tsurugajo Castle in 1858 effectively symbolizes the end of the samurai era.
After the Boshin War, the new Meiji government ushered in countless changes that led to the 20th century modernization of Japan.
Spring at Tsurugajo Castle
Tsurugajo Castle Park’s cherry trees, of which there are over one thousand, burst in flower in mid to late April every year. The castle grounds are a popular place for visitors to come and enjoy hanami (flower viewing).
Before coming to Japan, I wasn’t aware of the variety of cherry blossoms that exist! While it’s not possible to remember all of them, I definitely recommend you remember just this one variety: somei yoshino.
Somei yoshino cherry blossom is the kind of blossom that Japan is most famous for. Its petals are incredibly light in colour, and its flowers are gathered in balls.
If you picture almost-white petals fluttering in the wind, chances are the cherry blossom you’re thinking about is somei yoshino blossom.
Things to do at Tsurugajo Castle in Spring
1) Explore the Castle
Tsurugajo Castle has been converted into a museum. The museum is a treasure trove of artefacts and information relating to the samurai history of Aizu-Wakamatsu City.
Much of the information has been translated into English so it’s a great place to visit even if you don’t speak Japanese.
Once you reach the top floor of the castle, you get the chance to soak up panoramic views from look-out areas. This is a nice chance to snap some great photos of the castle grounds filled with cherry blossom.
It is also possible for you to book an English language guided tour of Tsurugajo Castle through the Aizu-Wakamatsu Tourism Association to ensure you get the most out of your trip to the castle.
2) Rent a Kimono
From April this year, it will be possible to rent a kimono from Tsurukan – a visitor center just 5 minutes from the north entrance to the castle by foot.
Both men and women can rent kimono. There are countless styles to choose from, including those made from Aizu-Wakamatsu City’s famous local product Aizu Momen Cotton.
Rent a kimono from the shop and take photos in and around the castle park. For an extra fee, you can borrow the kimono for the rest of the day and return it the following day!
The only poster currently available about this service is in Japanese but I will update this blog with the English poster when it becomes available. Click here to see a larger version of the poster.
Here are some ideas for other places within the castle park walls where it’s good to take photos. Other ideas include the bridge which leads up to the north entrance the castle and inside Rinkaku Tea House!
3) Stay Until Evening
Tsurugajo Castle looks incredible as the sun sets, but don’t worry if you don’t make it in time for sunset – the castle is lit up at night during the cherry blossom season!
Although Tsurukan center is not open in the evenings, it’s a good and convenient place to eat lunch when visiting the castle.
As well as restaurants, the center includes a couple of cafés and even a gelato shop.
Also, visitors passing through the north gate of the castle to travel between Tsurukan and Tsurugajo Castle will pass by an ice cream shop with loads of interesting flavours of ice cream including:
- Shio Miruku – Salt Milk
- Sakura no Hana – Sakura Flowers
- Kuro Vanilla – Black Vanilla
- Kuri Milk – Chesnut Milk
Yum! Definitely check out!
5) Buy Souvenirs
Tsurukan visitor center also includes a wide selection of popular souvenirs made in Aizu. You can even choose to make your own souvenir!
Fukushima Prefecture is famous for its akabeko – a lucky red cow (read more here) – and you can paint your own right here! You can choose from a number of zodiac animals too.
It’s really fun making your own souvenir as it feels like a very personal and special gift.
You don’t need to make any bookings for this experience but I recommend leaving yourself plenty of time to paint before Tsurukan closes for the day!
Reaching Tsurugajo Castle
Aizu-Wakamatsu City and Tsurugajo Castle is about a 2.5 hour journey from Tokyo. See here for information on getting to Aizu-Wakamatsu City from Tokyo.
There is a handy loop bus system in place in the city. Buying a one-day pass will give you the opportunity to travel around the city using the buses freely for a whole day. See here for more information about using loop buses to get around Aizu-Wakamatsu City.
Visiting Tsurugajo Castle
- Opening Hours: 8:30am to 5:00pm (Last Entry at 4:30pm)
- Open every day
- Entrance Price: Adults 410 yen, Children 150 yen (Add 100 yen for additional ticket to visit the Rinkaku Tea Rooms.
- Booking an English Guided Tour: Fill out this reservation form
- More information about the castle
- Tsurugajo Castle Official Website
- Opening Hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm (Closes at 4:00pm between December and March)
- Open every day
- Facilities: 3 restaurants, 2 cafés, 1 ice cream store, tax-free souvenir shop, kimono rental shop.
- More information about the castle (my blog)
Samurai Train Tour
Meet the samurai performance group Kamui that I mentioned in my blog last year in April this year!
Between April 26 and 28, a tour will run between Asakusa in Tokyo, Nikko, Aizu and Yonezawa. It’s a little difficult to judge when cherry blossom will be in full bloom, but there’s a chance the season may overlap with the tour dates!
You can attend the tour with family and friends and it’ll be lots of fun so definitely give it a go if you can! Click here to find out more!
For more ideas on what to do in Spring in Fukushima, please see the link below:
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