Minamiaizu has sake, soba, seasonal food, and more. It’s a small town with lots of local Japanese atmosphere!
The small town of Minamiaizu is located in the mountainous south-western portion of Fukushima Prefecture. It was established in just 2006, on March 20th, when the town of Tajima and the villages of Tateiwa, Ina, and Nango came together to form one community. About 45km away from Aizuwakamatsu (a city with a larger population and a bigger reputation) Minamiaizu is sometimes referred to as the “Entrance to the Aizu Region.”
Minamiaizu’s history stretches far into the past. Thanks to the discovery of local archeological finds like paleoliths, there’s evidence of people living in the region since Japan’s Jomon period (14,000 – 300 BCE), back in the stone age! In the slightly more recent Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), Minamiaizu’s Tajima area was the samurai domain of the Naganuma clan, and the site of Shigiyama Castle (鴫山城). Later, in the Edo period (1603 – 1868), the territory containing both Tajima and the Tateiwa, Ina, and Nango area all came under the direct control of the shogunate. From that point on, the area flourished as a stop on the historic Aizunishikaido route, connecting northern Japan to Edo (now Tokyo).
At the present, Minamiaizu is 43km east-to-west, 38km north-to-south, with a total area of 886.47km², and just about 92% of that space is covered in forest. As a town gifted with an abundance of natural beauty, and natural resources, the community works with the great outdoors to make great food, brew smooth sake, and produce a plethora of local products.
There are four sake breweries in Minamiaizu, each producing their own nihonshu (日本酒, Japanese sake) with unique flavors and notes: Aizu Brewery, Kaito Otokoyama Brewery, Kokken Brewery, and Hanaizumi Sake Brewery. Minamiaizu boasts great local sake thanks to the area’s fresh air, water, and rice. Most of the sake made by these four breweries is consumed locally, and only a small number of bottles are circulated outside of Fukushima Prefecture―a clear sign of just how much the community treasures this locally-made nihonshu.
Minamiaizu sits at a particularly high elevation, between 500m and 800m, and the area is sometimes referred to as the Aizu Highlands. With dew forming on the ground each morning thanks to the cool, breezy weather, it’s perfect for the fields of buckwheat, or “soba” (そば), used in soba noodles. Before the soba harvest in the summer each year, local soba fields bloom into a carpet of small, white flowers.
The Aizu Highlands, surrounded by mountain peaks, create an ideal environment for growing vegetables that thrive at higher elevations. Minamiaizu is the place to indulge in the freshest seasonal produce, like thick stalks of flavorful asparagus, and Nango’s famous tomatoes.
Minamiaizu’s traditional artisans have strong roots, and continue to produce local crafts to this day, like aizome (藍染め) indigo dyeing, traditional woodworking, Aizu momen (会津木綿) traditionally woven textiles, and ceramics. Within the city are a number of shops and workshops where travelers can try out hands-on experiences with the traditional crafts, and even more places to purchase beautifully-made items to take home as souvenirs and mementos.