Pickup Now ! Vol.02

Out and about in the Bandai Highlands

Enjoy hiking for hours in vast forests and fields of blooming mountain flowers in spring or overcome dozens of challenging ski-slopes in winter, the Bandai Highlands in the western part of Fukushima prefecture offers equally as much versatility as tranquil beauty to all kinds of visitors.

Exploring Urabandai

When Mount Bandai last erupted in 1888 its lava flew into the Nagase River blocking off much of its natural flow and created the incredibly beautiful highland landscape with over 100 small ponds and lakes varying in size. The landscape known as Urabandai, which literally means “behind Bandai”, became popular amongst hikers eager to explore the vast forests and plains along the seemingly endless hiking trails the area came to offer.

The Goshikinuma, or Five Coloured Pond, Walk is by far the most popular amongst both domestic and foreign hikers. Although fairly short at about four kilometres the trail connects over forty ponds and lakes, including the area’s five major lakes at the base of Mount Bandai: Bishamon, Aka, Midoro, Benten and Ao. Due to the volcano’s eruption minerals were deposited in the newly-formed ponds and lakes giving them various shades of colours from green to blue and even slightly purple. As you take a moment to enjoy the scenery before you, you may notice that the shades change over time as the sun moves along the sky.

If you brought your hiking equipment you may start your ascent to the summit of Mount Bandai itself from the western end of Goshikinuma Walk, which takes about 4 hours one-way. Another popular starting point for the ascend starts from the Happodai Trailhead along the Bandaisan Gold Line, a scenic driving route connecting the Bandai Highlands with Aizu which easily rivals popular routes in the European Alps in terms of scenic beauty. From the Happodai Trailhead it would take only 90 minutes to reach the summit and along the way you will come across various mountain lodges to take a moment to rest and admire the landscape.

The scenic roads in the area were once toll roads yet nowadays in an effort to help promote tourism to the area these roads are free for anyone to drive and explore along. The Bandai-Azuma Lake Line is a great example of another scenic road worth driving along. Connecting the towns Inawashiro and Kitashiobara, the road offers stunning views over the highlands’ lakes and ponds and half-way along the road you will stumble upon the immense natural beauty of the Nakatsugawa Valley. With several family run ryokans and onsen scattered across the small towns along the road, the drive truly is an escape from the rushing life in Japan’s major cities.

While in spring the countless mountain flowers bloom in a great variety of colours, in autumn the trees’ leaves start changing engulfing the highlands in shades of bright red, orange and yellow. Due to its elevations Urabandai continuously offers a new view to admire the scenery from and you may even find yourself taking another moment to do so after just taking a few steps.

When winter comes

As autumn passes, winter comes to Mount Bandai. At 1816 meters tall, Mount Bandai is one of Japan’s most iconical mountains and has even earned the nickname Aizu-Fuji, the Fuji of Aizu, due to its resemblance to Mount Fuji. Along its slopes you will be able to find multiple ski resorts offering slopes with top-quality snow for any skill level of skiers and snowboarders and of course the natural beauty of the Highlands before you. These resorts tends to be open around mid-December to late April and some even offer shuttle bus services from and to their nearest train stations.

Prices for using the lifts along the slopes are about 350 to 500 yen per trip, but many resorts offer discounted promotions which may include seasonal usage or meals and drinks to savour after having enjoyed the fresh snow. The winter sport schools based in the area also offer lessons in skiing and snowboarding for children to experienced adults as well as tours for those who would like to go off the slopes into nature’s backcountry.

The Bandai Highlands truly have much to offer throughout the year for anyone who loves to be in the outdoors and appreciates its endless natural beauty which easily rivals that of the world’s most renowned sceneries.

Writer:Bjorn Koolen

Although he has lived in both Tokyo and Kyoto for quite some time now, Bjorn continues to explore Japan's less well-known corners for the country's endless beauty and delicious local dishes. By sharing his experience he hopes to inspire others  to create their own cherished memories of Japan.

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