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Shinryoku season: Exploring Goshikinuma and Urabandai’s a-bandai-nt greenery

Shinryoku season: Exploring Goshikinuma and Urabandai’s a-bandai-nt greenery

Fresh and vivid greenery, vibrant and full of life—this is what the shinryoku season has to offer. From mid-May to June, during the fringe period between spring and summer, is an underrated period known as shinryoku (新緑 fresh greens), when bright green leaves start to sprout. Shinryoku is the perfect time to explore Nature, for it’s when you can truly feel that Nature is alive and brimming with new life that’s ready to grow!

 

Abundant greenery and scenery at Urabandai. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

One nature spot I’ve always wanted to check out is Urabandai (裏磐梯) in Western Fukushima, a place that is known for its picturesque ponds at Goshikinuma (五色沼) and scenic lakeside views around Lake Hibara (桧原湖 Hibara-ko). This shinryoku season, I finally got the chance to visit Urabandai, and it was indeed a beautiful place to explore during the shinryoku season, when it was a-bandai-nt in greenery!

 

Map of Urabandai. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

In this article, let me share with you some of the scenic must-see spots when visiting Urabandai during the shinryoku season. We’ll start our journey from JR Inawashiro Station (猪苗代駅), where we’ll take a 30-minute bus ride to Goshikinuma.

 

① Goshiki-numa Ponds Nature Trail

Colourful ponds at Goshikinuma. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Boasting beautiful views that are hard to describe in words, Goshikinuma received a 1-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide, and is definitely a must-see while in Urabandai. Goshikinuma is a group of colourful ponds, many of which were formed after the 1888 eruption of Mount Bandai (磐梯山 Bandai-san) caused rocks and soil to block off a river, creating the ponds. 

 

After the eruption of Mount Bandai, volcanic elements and minerals remained trapped in the water, contributing to the large variety of stunning colours of the different ponds. The ponds’ waters have such striking colours that you might think they’re photoshopped at first glance, but they’re naturally coloured from minerals in the waters, and are just mesmerising to look at.  Other factors like the season, weather conditions, time of day, and angle of view also affect how the colours of the ponds’ waters look, so Goshikinuma is definitely a place I’d love to visit multiple times!

 

Walking along the Goshiki-numa Ponds Nature Trail. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

During the shinryoku season, these ponds are surrounded by unbelievably vivid and verdant greenery, so I was really looking forward to hiking around the area. After coming back from Goshikinuma, I can now tell you that the scenery was indeed amazing. Most of Goshikinuma’s ponds can be accessed via a pleasant 1.5 hour walk along the 3.6km-long Goshiki-numa Ponds Nature Trail (五色沼自然探勝路 Goshikinuma Shizen Tanshо̄ro), and the beginning of the trail is just a short walk from the Goshikinuma Iriguchi (五色沼入口) Bus Stop. Without further ado, let me show you the lovely views of Goshikinuma during the shinryoku season:

 

The largest pond: Bishamonnuma

Enjoy boats and carps at Bishamonnuma. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Along the trail, the first pond I passed by was Bishamonnuma (毘沙門沼), which also happens to be the largest of the ponds at Goshikinuma. Bishamonnuma has a beautiful blue-green colour and offers views of Mount Bandai from the many observation decks around it. Due to its large size, Bishamonnuma is the only pond at Goshikinuma where boats can be rented and rowed on.

 

Bishamonnuma's waters are also home to a large number of carp, and it was fun to walk around the edges of the pond, where the water is shallower and clearer, to try and spot carp. Both “carp” (鯉) and “love” (恋) are pronounced as “koi” in Japanese, and it is said that visitors will be blessed with luck in love if they manage to see the white carp with a red heart-shaped mark on the side of its body. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to spot that elusive lucky carp, but I did manage to see many other colourful carps swimming around in the waters.

 

The red pond: Akanuma

See the reddish plants around Akanuma? (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

From Bishamonnuma, I walked for about 25 minutes along the trail and reached the next pond: Akanuma (赤沼). “Akanuma” means “red pond”, and can you guess how it got this name? Hint: it has something to do with the high iron content in Akanuma’s waters. Having absorbed the iron from the water, some of the surrounding plants have been dyed with a reddish tinge, hence the name "Akanuma". Taking a close look a the pond, I could clearly see a red ring along the perimeter of the pond.

 

Akanuma is surrounded by thick vegetation, and during the shinryoku period the plants emerge a bright, green colour, brimming with life. Don’t they look so fresh and lush?

 

The tri-coloured pond: Midoronuma

Can you see the three colours of Midoronuma? (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After admiring the lush greenery around Akanuma, I continued walking along the trail, and after 3 minutes, I reached Midoronuma (みどろ沼), another pond surrounded by plants in various verdant shades of green.

 

When I first heard the name Midoronuma, I though the “mi” meant “three” (三) because of the three distinct colours of the waters that could be seen. The “mi” actually means “deep”, but the highlight of this pond is still the striking sight of three colours of water: yellowish green, yellowish brown, and blue-green. As you’ll see later, most of the ponds at Goshikinuma have blue waters, so Midoronuma is a very unique sight!

 

The bright blue pond: Bentennuma

Stunningly bright blue waters of Bentennuma. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Continuing on from Midoronuma, I walked for about 15 minutes before I started seeing glimpses of bright blue peeking through the trees: I had reached the next pond, Bentennuma (弁天沼). Bentennuma is the second largest pond at Goshikinuma, and is slightly past the midpoint of the Goshiku-numa Ponds Nature Trail.

 

Rather than being a single colour throughout, it seemed as though the colour of the water in the foreground and the colour of the water further in the distance formed a gradient, with the water in the foreground being clearer, and the water in the distance being a stunningly bright blue. It was such a captivating sight; the colours of the water are more vivid in person, much more than my camera could capture.

 

View of Bentennuma from the observation deck. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Continuing on along the trail, there was an elevated wooden observation deck overlooking Bentennuma, which provided good views of Mount Yanabe (簗部山), Mount Nishi-Daiten (西大巓), and Mount Nishi-Azumayama (西吾妻山) in the distance. The weather was starting to clear up, and I spent quite a while just standing here and gazing at the view of the blue waters and the lush shinryoku greenery.

 

The deep blue pond: Rurinuma

Enjoy a view of Mount Bandai from Rurinuma. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The next pond, Rurinuma (るり沼), was just a short 3-minute walk away. “Ruri” means “lapis lazuli” in Japanese, a mineral known for having an intense deep blue colour. Like its namesake, Rurinuma also has an enchanting deep blue-green colour. From the small observation deck near the pond, I could enjoy the view of Rurinuma surrounded in greenery, with Mount Bandai in the background.

 

The bluest pond: Aonuma

Blue waters at Aonuma. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Right across the trail from Rurinuma was Aonuma (青沼), the bluest of all the ponds at Goshikinuma. Indeed, the water at this pond was a mesmerising bright blue, so it’s fitting that its name “Aonuma” means “blue pond”.

 

The fantasy-like colour of the water here is mainly due to the presence of allophane—a compound made of aluminium and silica—which reflects light in a manner that makes the water appear bluer. The thick green vegetation surrounding the pond just made the waters appear even brighter!

 

The mirror-like pond: Yanaginuma

Still waters at Yanaginuma turn the pond surface into a mirror. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Finally, a 10-minute walk from Aonuma brought me to Yanaginuma (柳沼), the pond closest to the end of the trail. It was cloudy when I started walking along the Goshiku-numa Ponds Nature Trail, but the weather was finally clearing up. The pond surface of Yanaginuma was relatively still, turning the pond into a giant mirror that reflected the trees and the sky.

 

From Yanaginuma, it was only a 4-minute walk to the end of the Nature Trail, and on the way to the next must-see spot: Lake Hibara.

 

② Sightseeing cruise on Lake Hibara

Scenery around Lake Hibara. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Lake Hibara (桧原湖 Hibara-ko) is the centrepiece of Urabandai, and is the largest lake in the area. The eruption of Mount Bandai in 1888 not only created the colourful ponds at Goshikinuma, it also created many larger lakes after debris dammed up the river. Among them, the largest is Lake Hibara, which has a perimeter of 31km and a maximum depth of 31m. Around the lake, there are a number of eateries, souvenir shops, and boat rental shops.

 

Enjoy fantastic views of Lake Hibara and Mount Bandai by riding a sightseeing boat. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After hiking around Goshikinuma, it was time to rest my feet for a bit, relax, and enjoy the scenery from a sightseeing cruise. 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.

 

The double-decker sightseeing boat has comfortable seats, but I really enjoyed going out on deck to soak in the open-air views of the surroundings. The refreshing feeling of the lake breeze in my face as I gazed at the picture-perfect views of Mount Bandai across the lake was simply wonderful! By now the weather was clear, and the blue skies made the views even more enchanting.

 

If you are short on time, or are travelling with elderly folks or young children, I highly recommend this experience. A ride on the Lake Hibara Sightseeing Cruise (桧原湖観光船 Hibara-ko Kankо̄sen) is 35 minutes long, costs ¥1,400/adult, and departs about once every hour.

 

Lake Hibara Sightseeing Cruise (桧原湖観光船)
Address: 1172 Obudairahara, Hibara, Kitashiobara, Yama, Fukushima 969-2701
Access: From JR Inawashiro Station (猪苗代駅), take a 37-minute bus ride and get off at Urabandai-Kogen Eki (裏磐梯高原駅) Bus Stop, then walk 2 minutes to the boat pier.
Admission fee: ¥1,400/adult

 

③ Lake Hibara Nature Trail

Map of the Lake Hibara Nature Trail. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

After a short respite on the sightseeing cruise, let’s go on another hike, this time along the 6km-long Lake Hibara Nature Trail (桧原湖畔探勝路 Hibara Kohan Tanshо̄ro). It takes around 1.5 hours to walk one-way, but as I didn’t really have time, I only went to the Suspension Bridge (吊り橋 Tsuribashi), which is the highlight of the trail, then went back.

 

From the boat pier at Lake Hibara, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the start of the trail, which is right by the Nagamine Funatsuki (長峯舟付) Bus Stop.

 

Enjoying quiet moments along the trail. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Unlike the Goshiki-numa Ponds Nature Trail, which had many other hikers when I visited, I didn’t encounter any other hikers along the Lake Hibara Nature Trail. This trail hugs around the eastern short of Lake Hibara, and was much quieter. Along the way, I spotted boat docks and cabins, and about two people fishing. At some spots along the trail, there were benches overlooking the lake, which were perfect for taking in the tranquil views.

 

The suspension bridge is the highlight of the Lake Hibara Nature Trail. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

As it was the shinryoku season, the entire trail was filled with trees, leaves, and grass in a vivid green, teeming with life and energy. Seeing this made me energised as well! The highlight of the trail, the Suspension Bridge, was about a 30-minute walk from the trailhead. From the bridge, I could get a good view of adventurers riding their boats around Lake Hibara, hobbyists fishing, and the many little islands that dot Lake Hibara.

 

It’s a pity that I was rushing for time, but if I have the chance to visit again, I would definitely walk the entire trail to the end.

 

Lake Hibara Lakeside Trail (桧原湖畔探勝路)
Access: From JR Inawashiro Station, take a 35-minute bus ride to the Nagamine Funatsuki (長峯舟付) Bus Stop. The trail is right by the bus stop. Alternatively, the trail is a 15-minute walk from the boat pier at Lake Hibara.
Admission: Free

 

Getting there

Stunning views around Urabandai. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Urabandai is full of spectacular sights, especially during the shinryoku season. Whether it’s the picturesque ponds at Goshikinuma, the lovely Lake Hibara, or spectacular views of Mount Bandai, Urabandai is a serene sanctuary where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.

 

Urabandai's sights can be reached by a bus ride from JR Inawashiro Station (猪苗代駅), which is on the JR Ban-etsu West Line.

  • Goshiki-numa Ponds Nature Trail: From JR Inawashiro Station, take a 31-minute bus ride (¥790/adult) to the Goshikinuma Iriguchi (五色沼入口) Bus Stop.
  • Lake Hibara Sightseeing Cruise: From JR Inawashiro Station, take a 37-minute bus ride (¥910/adult) to the Urabandai Kogen Eki (裏磐梯高原駅) Bus Stop.
  • Lake Hibara Nature Trail: From JR Inawashiro Station, take a 35-minute bus ride (¥870/adult) to the Nagamine Funatsuki (長峯舟付) Bus Stop.

 

If you are coming from Tokyo or Sendai, you can take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama Station (郡山駅), then transfer to the Ban-etsu West Line to reach Inawashiro Station.

 

The FruiTea Fukushima passes by Inawashiro Station. (Image credit: JR East (top) and JR East / Carissa Loh (bottom))

 

If you are travelling on a weekend, why not take a ride on a special train—the FruiTea Fukushima, a travelling café train? From spring to autumn, the FruiTea Fukushima is runs on the Ban-etsu West Line, operating between Koriyama Station and Kitakata Station, and making a stop at JR Inawashiro Station. Enjoy dining on delicious desserts while enjoying the view of Mount Bandai from the window!

 

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are visiting Urabandai, 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 ¥20,000, it costs about the same as  a round-trip between Tokyo and Inawashiro, but you get unlimited rides for 5 days. 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, here

 

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.

 

Japan's Green & Great Shinryoku Show @#StayAtHome

Join us for Japan's Green & Great Shinryoku Show. (Video credit: JAPAN RAIL CAFE)

 

If you want to find out more about our trip to the various shinryoku spots in Eastern Japan, join my colleagues and I for a virtual tour at Japan’s Green and Great Shinryoku Show @#StayAtホーム. You can watch the recorded event in the video above, or on Facebook as well as YouTube. See you at the Shinryoku Show!

 

Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh

 

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