Akira and I got up the next morning, got dressed, and went to Mister Donuts for breakfast. Our plan was to make a giant loop through Fukushima Prefecture, first to Ouchi-juku and then to Goshiki-numa, before ending up back in Fukushima City for the night.
So we hopped in the same rental car as the day before and began the two hour drive to our first destination. It was a beautiful, sunny day. As before, the drive started out on the highway, but soon turned to narrower, windier roads. We listened to good music and chatted as Akira drove us deeper into the mountains, to the point that for a while, we seemed like the only ones on the road.
We found Ouchi-juku easily, with no mishaps during the drive. Parking was a little bit of a struggle, but Akira managed to angle us into an uphill spot. I was surprised that so many people had come to visit. This place was far from the main highway, after all. But the parking lot was filling up well, and there were plenty of people walking about. Still not so many that it felt overcrowded, though.
Ouchi-juku used to be a post town on the Aizu West Road that connected Fukushima Prefecture and Tochigi Prefecture back in the Edo Period. After the Meiji Restoration, the highway was built far from Ouchi-juku, and it was forgotten for a time before it was restored to look like it does now. All of the electric wires are buried, and the road is not paved.
The main street is lined with thatch-roofed buildings. Most of them house souvenir shops and little restaurants, from which both of us bought souvenirs for our coworkers. I also found a gorgeous teal mug at one of the shops, which I brought back with me.
We toured all the buildings on one side of the street, then climbed a steep set of stairs up to a little temple on top of a hill. From here there was a fantastic panoramic view of Ouchi-juku and the mountains beyond. We patiently waited our turn for the prime photo spot, then climbed back down another set of stairs.
We were pretty hungry by then, so we stopped at a little restaurant right at the base of the hill. Inside was a fire pit where iwana (Japanese char) were being cooked. We took our seats on cushions on the floor and waited for our food to arrive. Akira ordered tempura-don (tempura-donburi, or tempura over rice) and I had tempura soba. Both came with iwana, and both were delicious.
After lunch, we wandered down the other side of the street, stopping to buy souvenirs and for a bathroom break before heading back to the car and our next destination: Goshiki-numa.
It took a little over an hour and a half to get to Goshiki-numa from Ouchi-juku. On the way, we stopped at the Mt. Bandai rest area and took photos with the mountain and some cherry trees that were still in full blossom. The area around Goshiki-numa is actually a popular place for skiing in the wintertime, and we passed by several lodges on our way up to the lakes. Of course, it’s at a higher elevation than anywhere else we’d been that day, so there was still some snow on the ground as we pulled into the parking lot.
Goshiki-numa, when translated literally from kanji (五色沼) means “five color lakes.” According to the signboard that we encountered before the first lake, the lakes were created in the 1800’s when Mt. Bandai erupted. Differing levels of acidity in the water caused them to become different colors. There are actually more than five lakes (some were more like ponds) along the trail we took, but the following five are the most famous and the area’s namesake.
The first lake is called Bishamon, after the Japanese name for a Buddhist deity. It is the largest of the five, and is a pretty teal color. You can rent rowboats and row yourselves around the lake, taking in the color of the water and the awesome view of Mt. Bandai beyond. Most of the people we saw stayed at this lake and didn’t continue along the four kilometer (about two and a half mile) trail. Granted, there was still quite a bit of snow on the trail, and many of the people we saw were not in the type of footwear that was appropriate for traversing the slippery ice and slush. Both of us had worn hiking boots, so we were fine.
The next pond was called Aka-numa, or “Red Pond,” though it was mostly an acidic green color with a red rim. A few people had followed the trail to this point, but once we got beyond the snowy patch just past Aka-numa, we could count on one hand the number of people we saw along the rest of the way.
The third pond was called Midoro, meaning mixture. On one end was a teal color similar to Bishamon, and on the other was more of a jade green. In between, underwater moss colored the water to a murky reddish-brown.
The fourth pond, Benten (named after Benten, goddess of arts and wisdom), was my favorite of the five. It was a beautiful, almost cornflower blue. There was even a wooden viewing platform where you could climb up and get a better look at the lake and the mountains beyond. We took our time around this one, as I was so in awe of the color.
The fifth pond is called Ao-numa, or “Blue Pond,” but by the time we got there, the sun had gone down so far that most of the pond was in shadow and we weren’t able to see its true blue color. It did make a great mirrored surface for some photos, though.
We continued along the trail to almost the end, where I was disappointed (and Akira was amused) to find that Yanagi Pond (yanagi being the Japanese word for weeping willows), in the withering sunshine, looked just about like every other lake I’d ever seen in my life. Later research reveals that this lake is actually one of the best for the autumn foliage viewing that is popular in the area, so Akira and I would both love to come back in the fall sometime and take in the colors. (I did some autumn color viewing in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture last year, which you can find at this link.)
We walked back to the rental car, taking the lakes back in as we went. As we’d found with our last two lakes, all of the colors were less visible in the lack of light. If you’re planning on going, I highly recommend that you arrive while you still have plenty of daylight left, that way you can view the lakes in all their beauty.
Back in the car, we cranked the music, drove to the visitor’s center for a bathroom break, and then made the one hour drive through the winding mountain roads back to Fukushima. We’d stay the night that night, have breakfast and check out of our hotel in the morning, and then take our Shinkansen back to my place, where we had one day trip (More on that later.) and then spent the rest of Golden Week relaxing.