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Aizu Wakamatsu

The samurai heartlands of northern Japan, where you can get a sense of how these noble clansmen lived and died.

As samurai culture died with the coming of the Meiji era, there were a few places in Japan which held out until the very end. The most persistent of all was Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture. Nowadays the town stands as a monument to that culture, with its castle and other traditions preserving the history of the military clans which once called the region home.

To take it all in within a day, there’s a handy sightseeing bus which loops around the town. You’ll be able to visit Tsuruga Park and Tsurugajo Castle, where the rulers of the region were based. During the Boshin War, which was fought between the new government of Japan and the samurai who rejected their ascension, this mountain-encircled town was a key stronghold for the latter.

Both the castle and the park saw their fair share of violence. Nowadays, however, they’re extremely peaceful places, and a great spot for cherry blossom viewing. To get a window into the more gruesome side of the town’s history, head along to the White Tiger Brigade memorial at Mt. Imori, dedicated to a group of young samurai who committed seppuku during the war.

Other keynotes include Sazaedo Temple, and Aizu Bukyashiki: a fantastically preserved old mansion. Although samurai history is quite bloody, this town brings the nicer sides of it to life, making for a fantastic day out for anyone interested in these proud warrior clans.

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