Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Traditional Culture of Aizuwakamatsu

Aizuwakamatsu in western Fukushima Prefecture is known for its quality sake, traditional crafts and rich samurai history. If you have an interest in Japanese culture then Aizuwakamatsu is the place for you.

In the second part of this three-part series on Aizuwakamatsu we will explore the traditional culture and crafts of Aizuwakamatsu. Make sure you check out part 1 of the series about samurai culture before reading this post.

After the Boshin Civil War (1868-1869) and the fall of the Aizu clan, merchants played a big role in the rebirth of the area and its traditional culture. Industries that were first established by the samurai of the Aizu clan such as sake brewing and lacquerware were revived by local merchants, where they flourished and gained recognition across the country. Let’s take a look at some of the traditional culture and crafts of Aizuwakamatsu.

Aizu Lacquerware

Aizu lacquerware has a history that dates back over 600 years and was spurred on by the support of samurai warlord Gamo Ujisato (1556-1595) as well as Hoshina Masayuki (1611-1673), the first lord of the Aizu clan. Lacquerware is a traditional art of Japan made from the sap of the lacquer or urushi tree, native to Japan.

Aizu Lacquerware Plates at Suzuzen


Traditional techniques and methods developed in the Aizu region are used to create unique and rare pieces of art. Aizu lacquerware is characterized by its glossy black and red lacquer and decorative patterns.

Aizu Lacquerware Coating


A great place to check out some of Aizu’s finest traditional lacquerware is Suzuzen, which was founded in 1832. Suzuzen started out as a lacquerware wholesaler, trading nationwide with the seal of approval from the Edo Bakufu (Tokugawa Shogunate). Panel exhibits at Suzuzen walk visitors through the history of Aizu-ware and the Suzuzen facility.

Aizu Lacquerware Furniture at Suzuzen


Today Aizu lacquerware is famous all over Japan for its beauty and durability.

Aizu Lacquerware

Aizu Painted Candles

In the Tensho era (1573-1593), local samurai lord Ujisato Gamo ordered artisans to adorn candles with paintings and a new folk art was born in Aizuwakamatsu. Seasonal flowers are painstakingly hand painted on the candles one at a time to create a work of art. This traditional craft was once the main industry of Aizu Domain.

Hoshiban Erosoku-ten, which was founded in 1772 was the official purveyor to Aizu Domain during the Edo period (1603-1868). The current head, Kazue Hoshi is the ninth-generation owner with the time-honored tradition of painted candles being passed down from generation to generation over the years.

This shop is the only establishment still in existence that adheres to the same centuries-old process for creating Aizu painted candles. You can find the traditional shop in the Nanokamachi Street, a quaint shopping street, which retains the traditional landscape of the Taisho period (1912-1926).

Aizu Painted Candles

Aizu Hariko

Aizu Hariko have been made for nearly 400 years throughout the Aizu area. It started when Gamo Ujisato, the Lord of Aizu, invited doll makers from Kyoto to Aizu. This traditional toy is usually painted in red, and is considered a lucky charm in the Aizu region to bring good luck, a good harvest or success in business.

Aizu Hariko

Aizu Sake

Aizuwakamatsu is home to many sake breweries producing award-winning sake that is known all over Japan. The local Japanese sake is made with high-quality rice and natural local spring water.

Aizu Sake


You can learn about the process of making sake by taking a tour at Yamatogawa Shuzoten. This traditional sake brewery was founded in 1790 with the current owner the 9th generation sake master. They use spring water sourced from Mount Iida and organic sake rice to produce their amazing sake. 

Yamatogawa Shuzoten

You can sample some of their finest with some sake tasting in their show room.

Sake Tasting at Yamatogawa Shuzoten

Aizu Ashinomaki Onsen Village

Aizu Ashinomaki Onsen is an area rich in nature with beautiful mountains and rivers. It is home to an abundance of natural hot springs (onsen), which can be enjoyed while taking in the breath-taking natural surrounds. Located in the Ookawaso Valley about a 25-minute drive from central Aizuwakamatsu, it used to be called “The Phantom Village” due to its remote location.

Aizu Ashinomaki Onsen


A stay at the Aizu Ashinomaki Hot Spring Resort Hotel will give you a chance to experience traditional Japanese-style accommodation and outdoor baths overlooking the Ookawa River. This is a great place to experience some traditional Japanese culture with kaiseki ryori (multi-course meals), shamisen performances and mochitsuki (rice cake making). The elegant performance stage at the hotel is said to resemble the setting of a scene from the popular anime, Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer).

Performance Stage at Aizu Ashinomaki Hot Spring Resort Hotel


Ouchi-juku is an Edo period (1603-1868) post town located in the mountains southwest of Aizuwakamatsu City. The remote village is a well-preserved example of what an Edo period post town on the Nikko Kaido Route would have looked like in the age of the samurai. This well-traveled route was used by feudal lords who traveled between their domain and Edo (Tokyo).

Looking down at Ouchi-juku


The village is home to around 40 traditional thatched roof houses that were built about 400 years ago. Many of the houses have remained unchanged since their original construction.

Ouchi-juku Wooden Houses


Ouchi-juku was designated a Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings by the Japanese government in 1981. The traditional techniques and skills used to preserve the wooden thatched roof houses have been added to UNESCO’s Representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Ouchi-juku Traditional Houses


I hope you enjoyed this brief look at Aizuwakamatsu’s traditional culture and crafts. Please stay tuned for part 3 where we will explore the amazing food of Aizuwakamatsu. 

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