This article was commisioned by the Fukushima Mimpo Newspaper for the "University of Aizu Essay Relay."
It was translated, heavily edited (shortened), and published (14 June 2009, p. 9).
If you have any suggestions for improving it, please share.
The Japanese version is available here.

I do ♥ Aizu!

By Michael Cohen
University of Aizu
公園 マイケル 教授
会津大学

Aizu-Wakamatsu has been my home since the university opened 16 years ago, and i have lived here longer than anywhere else. While i have been in Aizu, i have matured from a young man to middle-aged, and my children have never lived anywhere else.

We are happy to be here, and i am pleased to have an opportunity to share impressions of the area. We like downtown Aizu-Wakamatsu. The size of Aizu is intimate, so whenever we go to festivals (Tokaichi, etc.), we are sure to meet some friends. We enjoy usual area activities, recently including sakura around the university, and hanami at Tsurugajyo Castle. Besides well-known attractions like the castle and Prefectural Museum (conveniently next to the library), i like the batting center at Sun Golf. Summers we enjoy fireworks (はなび) in Kita-Kata.

We welcome many visitors to Aizu, both privately and for University functions. We sometimes take such visitors to the sake museums. For special occasions, like international conferences at the University, we like the onsen in Higashi-yama, especially Takinoyu (瀧の湯) and Toho Onsen (御宿 東鳳). Guests are always impressed by the samurai Matsudai Katamori graveyard (monumental stone turtles) behind Bukeyashiki. We also enjoy the onsen in the middle of the city, such as Fujinoyu (富士の湯), where my wife has the occasional neck massage (かたもみ). The flesh-eating "doctor fish" at Fujinoyu and Sunpia are an exotic novelty that thrill visitors.

We also like to bring guests to unusual restaurants, such as Shibukawa Donya (traditional fare) or Wapameishi Takino with its fertility totems. Besides the Noguchi house, Inawashiro also has the beer garden and glassware gallery, which we visit every couple of years (usually with visitors).

I love movies, so was disappointed that the only theater in Aizu showing western, Hollywood-style movies has closed. We bemoan the hollowing-out "donut" of downtown, as family-run businesses have trouble competing with big chains. My daughters like the glitzy fashion of Apita, but i prefer the more organic charm of downtown. There are a few "live houses" for music, including Bard Land, recently relocated to Royal Plaza (from its previous location near the closed movie theater), where many of my students play, and Ca'on on Omatchi-dori.

We like the homey atmosphere of shops and cafes near Nanukomachi, including Ichibankan "Noguchi" Kiseten. There are several "time slip" places that are special. Besides the explicit retro antiques of the Cott'n Club Nostalgia shop, we savor the charmingly anachronistic Yamada Dongo shop, whose atmosphere and even prices evoke another era, and the Yamada Momen cotton factory, with its quaint belts running from the ceiling, like an industrial revolution factory. I find the indigo hues sold in Nanukomachi very organic, satisfying and mysterious. The lacquerware of "Sakamoto Eyes," while not inexpensive, is well crafted and artistically sophisticated, and we often buy omiyage and wedding presents there. I have a special fondness for double-helical shapes (like DNA), so Sazaedo was a revelation: More than two-hundred years old, it is a marvel of engineering.

Our children have had good teachers here in Aizu, at Tomiyo Yotien (東明幼稚園), Matsunaga Elementary, Gakuho, Ikki Junior High, and Aoi High School. The teachers are unfailingly dedicated and professional (even if my children's efforts don't always match their teachers'). Such excellence is exemplified by Hasegawa Yoko (長谷川 葉子), with whom our daughters danced for many years at Aizu Ballet School (あいづ バレエ スクール), including annual recitals at Fugado. Creative, athletically demanding, rhythmically and technically sophisticated, she elicited the best of my daughters and the rest of her students, and has been an inspiration to me as a teacher.

Unlike many foreigners, i enjoy Aizu winters. With students, family, and friends, we have enjoyed the local winter sports areas for skiing and snow-boarding (and miss the ice-skating at SunPia). Over the years we have had season passes for Numajiri, Inawashiro Resort, and lately Alts Bandai with its twinned Nekoma. Besides weekend excursions, i enjoy "ski club" nighta with university colleagues.

In Ura Bandai during warm seasons we bring visitors to Goshiki-Numa. We have a membership in the Morihashi "Dali" Museum, and are happy that a world-class art museum is convenient in such a beautiful natural spot. As a scientist studying color, i also think it's interesting that the colors of the signage in Ura Bandai, such as at the post office or the convenience shops, are desaturated from their usual eye-catching garish intensities, the muted colors mandated by virtue of the area's status as a nature preserve. Also deserving of mention are the Higashi-yama Art Museum, behind the Higashi-yama dam, and the Mini-moai Museum (ミニモアイ美術館) in Minamiaizu-Gun, with its unique collection of "outsider art."

We like bicycling around the area. Normally Japanese bike riders don't like to wear helmets, but (like the serious athletes and the Mormons) i wear one for safety, and hope that younger riders can follow such an example. We also enjoy riding our Segway scooter around the University, as seen in the picture of my wife and me (taken by Kawaai Mariko-san).

During the summer we enjoy riding our bicycles through the Aizu Recreation Area to Inawashiro Lake, usually Koishigahama (小石ヶ浜), the closest beach to Aizu, but sometimes Nakadahama (中田浜). Inawashiro is the 4th biggest lake in Japan, and its crystal clear water, ideal for relaxing swims, is a real treasure. The old road (not Rt. 49) back to Iimoriyama is a real pleasure, as it goes through Kanaya, one of my favorite places in the world, whose green vista calms the eyes and whose terraced fields soothe the soul. In the fields near the bottom of the hill, one can pick wild fiddleheads (ここみ).

When our children were younger, we very much enjoyed the field athletic (obstacle) courses scattered around the area, including those at Seaburiyama with its vista of the lake, Misako (Hongo) Hakuho-zan with its gladed attractions, Aizu Dome with its rope hill and roller slides, and Oururi Park in Kawaguchi. For many years we enjoyed swimming at Aizu International Swimming School (会津 インタナショナル スイミング スクール), but lately enjoy Nishinkan pool near the castle, the oldest pool in Japan!

We enjoy shopping locally. We belong to several cooperatives (daily foods, organic foods, tofu, etc.). We try to eat healthily, and don't mind paying a local farmer a little bit extra for organically grown rice. We patronize the regular shops (like "Rin-Don"), but also would like to mention the bakery next to the University, staffed by students at the special education school. It's reasonably priced, with a pleasant environment, featuring fine baked goods. The Farmers' Market along Route 49, and Aizu Fruits Garden (Haga Nohen in Kawa-Higashi) for apple picking, are both recommendable. And in Oku Aizu, we liked the Tamanashi Dofu shop nestled in the roots of a huge tree.

Further afield, our biggest nature adventures have been the Setagoro River Gorge hike and the Irimizu Caves near Hoshinomura. To traverse the underground passage through these caves, one must crawl through a thigh-high stream of cool water, avoiding the claustrophobic ceiling. My family dislikes anything that is wet, dark, confined, or cold, so i was proud that they bravely pushed through, since this tunnel was all four!

Aizu people are very friendly and helpful, welcoming and supportive: conservative but kind. My international students have been especially coddled by generous local citizens. University seminars and festivals are a good way for residents to learn about research and extra-curricular activities, and to meet University personnel and students. We hope that readers will be encouraged to visit and exchange more suggestions about loving Aizu!