Covering much of the southeast of Fukushima prefecture, Iwaki is known for its gorgeous beaches and great waves, rich history and an even richer seafood. But the area’s proximity to the Daiichi nuclear plant (to which it lies about 50 kilometers south) has caused a steady decline of visitors in recent years. Radiation levels at Iwaki are up to three times higher than before the 2011 tsunami but remain well within national safety limits. Locals have re-embraced the caostline, and most of the tourists attractions are up and running again.
Founded during the Nara period, Iwaki was once the point of the Nakaso Barrier between the Yamato clan in the south and the Emishi tribes in the wild north. The name Iwaki means rocky castle – fitting for the home of the powerful clan that ruled the area up until the Edo period. Though the borders between north and south Japan are long gone, visitors can still go to the site of the Nakaso Barrier and see into Iwaki’s samurai past.
To the locals in Fukushima, a trip to Iwaki means lounging on the sand at one of the many beaches. For lovers of fishing, pick your pole and head on up to Hisanohama beach. You might even get to watch local fishermen snag their catch of the day. Surfers can grab their boards and hit the waves – surf rental and lessons are available.
Yotsukura beach is the most accessible of Iwaki’s beaches, just a short walk from Yotsukura station. The annual August Beach Bomb, popular among both the locals and foreign residents, is a great chance to party on the sand with friendly Fukushimans.
You don’t have to be at the beach to enjoy the wonders of the ocean. A trip to Iwaki’s Aquamarine Fukushima aquarium offers a glimpse of rarely seen sea animals. For those traveling with children, check out the new addition of the Children’s Experience World, full of uniquely shaped tanks where you can learn about the ocean universe like never before. Afterwards, take a short walk along the coast to Iwaki La La Mew and sample the catch of the day at the seafood market.
One of Iwaki’s most famous tourist attractions is Spa Resort Hawaiians. Once the site of a coal mine, Hawaiians originally opened as Japan’s first theme park in 1966 and then in 1990 became the much-loved spa resort it is today. Take your pick of one of several child-friendly indoor water parks or catch a Hawaiian-themed beach show complete with hula dancers and fire eaters. For those who wish to spend the weekend, Hotel Hawaiians offers rooms throughout the year.
In early August, the area outside Iwaki Station is awash in colorful decorations for the annual Taira Tanabata Festival. Get decked out in your yukata and spend the day under the rainbow of tanabata flags before heading down to the shore to watch the famous Iwaki fireworks festival.