Rail Report: Tasty treats and fun day trips with the FruiTea Fukushima
Do you have a sweet tooth or enjoy afternoon tea? If so, one train you wouldn’t want to miss out on riding is the FruiTea Fukushima (フルーティアふくしま Furūtia Fukushima), a café-themed sightseeing train running in Fukushima Prefecture (福島県 Fukushima-ken) that will charm your sweet-tooth with its seasonal tarts and pastries.
Different fruits in different seasons. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
On this travelling café train, which is one of JR East’s dining Joyful Trains, passengers can expect to dig into delectable desserts made with the season’s best fruits. Fukushima Prefecture produces much of Japan's fruits—including peaches, pears, apples, and grapes—with the most famous being peaches. With access to quality fruit, local pastry chefs can unleash their creativity and produce delightful creations, some of which are served on the FruiTea Fukushima.
Day trips with the FruiTea Fukushima. (Image credit: JR East)
Last month, my colleagues and I took trips on the FruiTea Fukushima, enjoying the delicious dessert set as well as the fabulous views of Mount Bandai. Although we all boarded at Kōriyama Station (郡山駅 Kо̄riyama-eki), we each got off at different stations to explore different parts of Fukushima’s Aizu region. Read on to find out more about the train, as well as three different day trips you can take while riding the FruiTea Fukushima!
All aboard for delicious desserts
Departing Koriyama Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
We departed from Kо̄riyama Station, where we had a warm send-off, complete with local volunteers holding banners with which we could take photos with. This is something I love about riding Joyful Trains: the warm welcomes and hospitality are second to none.
The FruiTea Fukushima. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
On the exterior, striking red and black cover the trendy two-carriage train, and the interior resembles a stylish café with its white leather armchair sofa seats. The FruiTea Fukushima can seat up to 36 people, and tables are divided into box seats for four people, box seats for two people, and single seats. While most dining trains do not allow single travellers, the FruiTea Fukushima welcomes them, which is great news for solo travellers.
Outbound dessert set for October 2022. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Using fruits in season, the featured fruits and dessert menu change every month, letting travellers sample the finest fruit that the current season has to offer. For example, September had peaches, October had pears, while November has persimmons. Each passenger also got a small gift of an akabeko keychain. Akabeko (赤べこ) means “red cow” in the local dialect, and is a traditional craft from Fukushima that represents good luck and protection.
Juicy Japanese pear tarts were on the menu for October 2022. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Local confectionery stores from Fukushima—fruits peaks for the outbound journey, Cocco Tree and Takino for the inbound journey—create original desserts and pastries for the FruiTea Fukushima, and these are served with locally-produced fruit juice, hot coffee, and free-flow iced coffee and tea.
During our trip in October, we got to feast on two tarts from fruits peaks, of which the highlights were the juicy Japanese pears (和梨 wanashi). One was a custard tart, while the other was a chocolate cream tart, but both used incredibly sweet and juicy Japanese pears that oozed flavour.
View of Mount Bandai from the train window. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
However, this train is not just about the desserts. From spring to autumn, the FruiTea Fukushima runs on the scenic Ban-etsu West Line (磐越西線 Ban’etsu-sai-sen), and riders will get to see amazing scenery of Mount Bandai and the rice fields around Inawashiro.
My colleagues and I all got off at different stations when riding this train, and here are three day trips you can take when riding the FruiTea Fukushima to the three different stations!
① Inawashiro Station: abundant nature
Exterior of Inawashiro Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
First up is Inawashiro Station (猪苗代駅 Inawashiro-eki), the closest train station to Mount Bandai. If you love nature, then this is the day trip for you. From Inawashiro Station, travellers can take a buses to Lake Inawashiro, a large freshwater lake, or to Urabandai (裏磐梯), where there is a stunning collection of ponds known as Goshikinuma.
Lake Inawashiro in autumn. (Image credit: JR Times / Afiq)
Lake Inawashiro (猪苗代湖 Inawashiro-ko) is just a 10-minute bus ride from Inawashiro Station, and is also known as the “Heavenly Mirror Lake”. During winter, many beautiful swans come to the lake, but during autumn, when my colleague Afiq visited, the lake was filled with friendly and curious ducks. Visitors can buy bread scraps to feed the ducks, and hop aboard duck-shaped boats to enjoy the lake’s views.
Autumn colours at Goshikinuma. (Image credit: 裏磐梯観光協会)
A 30-minute bus ride from Inawashiro Station, Goshikinuma (五色沼) is a group of otherworldly, colourful ponds, which have waters of such picturesque colours that at first glance you might think they’re photoshopped, but they’re actually naturally coloured from minerals in the waters. If you’re planning to visit, there is an easy-to-walk, 3.6km-long Goshikinuma Nature Trail (五色沼自然探勝路 Goshikinuma Shizen Tanshо̄ro), that links the main ponds in this area.
Goshikinuma is easily accessible by public transport, and a one-way hike takes just 1.5 houra, passing by beautiful natural scenery and breathtaking views. Hiking is amazing during summer and autumn, while in winter you can enjoy the ski resort and activities like snow-shoeing and wakasagi (ワカサギ smelt) fishing.
Take a sightseeing boat to enjoy Lake Hibara’s views. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
At the other end of the Goshikinuma trail is Lake Hibara (桧原湖 Hibara-ko), which is the largest lake in the Urabandai area. The eruption of Mount Bandai in 1888 created not only the colourful ponds at Goshikinuma, but also many larger lakes after debris dammed up the river. The beauty of Lake Hibara is best appreciated from the surface of the lake, and a sightseeing cruise is perfect for enjoying the scenery in comfort!
For more information about Urabandai and Goshikinuma, you can check out this article.
② Aizu-Wakamatsu Station: samurai and history
Exterior of Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Next up is a day trip for history buffs: the castle town of Aizu Wakamatsu (会津若松). Aizu-Wakamatsu is a former samurai castle town built around Tsuruga Castle, a beautiful castle featuring red roof tiles. If you look at the exterior of Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (会津若松駅 Aizu-Wakamatsu-eki), you’ll notice the unique shape of the building, as well as the red roof tiles, which pay homage to Tsuruga Castle.
Tsuruga Castle (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
A 20-minute bus ride or 35-minute walk from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城 Tsuruga-jо̄) is located on the vast grounds of Tsuruga Castle Park. Built on a stone foundation, the mighty castle features red roof tiles, and is the only castle in Japan to do so.
Originally built in 1384, the castle was torn down in 1874 after the Boshin War, after the Aizu clan surrendered to the Meiji government. The only original structures that remained were the stone walls. With donations from many people, the castle tower was beautifully reconstructed and opened in 1965.
Around Tsuruga Castle Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Inside the castle tower, there are displays of swords and armour belonging to samurai lords of the past, as well as artifacts that reflect the long history of the Aizu Region. Visitors can also climb to the top of the castle tower to get a sweeping view of the city and its surrounding mountains. However, when I visited in October 2022, the castle tower was undergoing renovations, and is expected to reopen in April 2023, in time for the cherry blossom season.
Although we couldn’t enter the castle tower when I visited in autumn, other activities we could enjoy were taking a boat ride on the outer moat (¥800 for 30 minutes), shopping for souvenirs, and enjoying a cup of green tea at the Tea House Rinkaku.
Aizu sauce katsudon
Aizu Sauce Katsudon. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
While in Aizu, one dish you cannot miss is Aizu sauce katsudon (ソースカツ丼 sōsu katsudon). Katsudon is deep-fried pork cutlet with rice, and many prefectures have their own version of this dish.
For the Aizu Region, their version is this very delicious sauce katsudon. After deep-frying, the crispy pork cutlet is served with a layer of sweet and salty sauce, creating an irresistibly delectable dish that goes great with shredded cabbage and warm rice. You can find many shops around Aizu Wakamatsu serving sauce katsudon, so be sure to check it out!
For more information about Aizu Wakamatsu, you can check out this article.
③ Kitakata Station: warehouses and ramen
Exterior of Kitakata Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Finally, we have Kitakata Station (喜多方駅 Kitakata-eki), the terminal station of the FruiTea Fukushima. Like Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, the exterior of the station building is decorated to reflect the uniqueness of the area: the red bricks and crossed tile designs pay homage to the traditional warehouses that used to fill the area. If you enjoy ramen and traditional street strolls, this is the day trip for you!
Traditional warehouse in Kitakata. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
In the past, Kitakata was filled with warehouses (蔵 kura), as it used to be a merchant town. Now, many of these old warehouses have been transformed to restaurants and shops, while retaining their traditional exteriors, and this makes for a wonderful atmosphere to walk along.
Kitakata ramen. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
While in Kitakata, one thing you must try is Kitakata ramen (喜多方ラーメン). Along with Sapporo’s miso ramen and Hakata’s tonkotsu ramen, Kitakata ramen is considered one of the top three ramen in Japan. Did you know? Kitakata has one of the highest ratios of ramen shops to population in Japan, and there are so many ramen shops to choose from!
For Kitakata ramen, its distinctive feature is the large, flat, and curly noodles, which are very chewy. Kitakata ramen's broth is stewed from pork bones (豚骨 tonkotsu) and seasoned with soy sauce (醤油 shо̄yu). Toppings usually include roasted pork, spring onions, and bamboo shoots.
For more information about Kitakata, you can check out this article.
How to ride
Route of the FruiTea Fukushima. (Image credit: JR East)
From spring to autumn, the FruiTea Fukushima runs between JR Kōriyama Station and JR Kitakata Station on the JR Ban-etsu West Line. In winter, it runs between JR Kōriyama Station and JR Sendai Station (仙台駅) on the JR Tōhoku Main Line (東北本線).
- Regular: Kōriyama ↔️ Kitakata on the Ban-etsu West Line
- Winter: Kōriyama ↔️ Sendai on the Tōhoku Main Line
- ¥5,200/adult (Kōriyama to Inawashiro)
- ¥5,700/adult (Kōriyama to Aizu-Wakamatsu)
- ¥5,900/adult (Kōriyama to Kitakata)
- (Winter) ¥6,700/adult (Sendai to Fukushima)
- (Winter) ¥7,300/adult (Sendai to Koriyama)
Booking limit: Minimum one pax / maximum four pax per booking
Booking deadline: 3 days before departure
Note: The FruiTea Fukushima is a package-only train. You will not be able to board this train with just a rail pass.
The FruiTea Fukushima’s packages can only be booked online, via JR East’s website.
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
If you are visiting the Tohoku region to ride the FruiTea Fukushima and explore the Aizu region, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days at only ¥30,000. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.
The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass. After exploring Aizu and Fukushima, you can use the pass to visit Sendai, Yamagata, Morioka and more!
Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh and Nazrul Buang