Urabandai, meaning “behind Bandai”, is an area of highlands north of its namesake – the Bandai volcano. When Bandai erupted in 1888, its lava streamed into the Nagase-gawa River, forming more than a hundred lakes and ponds in its wake. Horrifying as the aftermath of the eruption was, it resulted in a magnificent landscape that draws thousands of visitors to the area each year. At Urabandai, dense forests open to lakes of varied hues and shapes, and each season brings a different allure to the scenery. We show you here the best way to soak up Urabandai’s beauty.
1. Trek up the Bandaisan Gold Line
Mount Bandai is one of the three peaks of Bandai Volcano, and is a part of the Bandai Asahi National Park. The tallest of the three, it stands at a height of 1,816 m (approximately 5,958 ft), and was once called Iwahashi-yama – “stone ladder to the sky.” While you can choose to ascend the volcano from Urabandai, the most accessible trail is up the western front, by the Bandaisan Gold Line. The route is open to vehicles. In the autumn however, a leisurely hike up gives you more time to gaze at the foliage blazing in its full auburn glory,
The trail starts at the Happodai Lookout, from which it is about 2.5 hours to the summit. It passes by a derelict mountain lodge, a natural hot spring, and a cluster of quaint mountain huts near the peak. The route reveals dramatic views of Mount Bandai’s surroundings to invigorate you along the way. Do ring the victory bell at the top before you descend into Urabandai.
Bandaisan Gold Line
Website: Bandaisan Gold Line
2. Explore Goshikinuma Lakes
Of the numerous lakes and ponds created by the eruption, the five Goshikinuma Lakes are perhaps the most ethereal of all. The colors of the Goshikinuma Lakes change with each season, almost as if they were trying to match the trees towering above them. Moreover, due to the variation in minerals deposited by Mount Bandai, each of the five lakes cast a different hue on the blue green spectrum – from the serene blue of Bishamon-numa, all the way to the glistening emerald of Ao-numa. Some of the lakes, like Aka-numa, can be identified by its brick red halo.
Visitors can go on a “Five Colored Pond Walk", a boardwalk that passes by all five lakes and several smaller ponds in slightly more than an hour. You can even hire a paddleboat for a romantic afternoon out on Bishamon-numa.
Address: Hibara Kengamine, Yama-gun, Kitashiobara-mura 969-2701, Fukushima Prefecture (Urabandai Visitors’ Centre)
Website: Goshikinuma Lakes (in Japanese)
3. Enjoy Lake Hibara
Though less popular than Goshikinuma, Lake Hibara is the largest lake in the Bandai Highlands. Hibara derives its name from the unfortunate village that now rests at its bottom. When the Bandai volcano erupted in 1888, an avalanche of debris piled into a dam that was subsequently filled with water. The village was completely submerged, and all there is as a reminder is the achingly beautiful Lake Hibara
Today, you can drive or trek the 31.5 km (19.6 mi) trail around Lake Hibara for a 360-degree view of its surroundings. There is also a ferry port on the south shore where you can take a cruise or paddle boat out onto the calm waters. For the avid fishermen, there is a thriving population of bass in the lake. You can even try your hand at fishing smelt when Hibara freezes over between January to March.
Address: Hibara, Kitashiobara-mura 966-0400, Fukushima Prefecture
Website: Lake Hibara (in Japanese)
4. Visit the Museum of the Mount Bandai Eruption
To understand how such a dreamy landscape could have been borne from such a devastating catastrophe, you should visit the Museum of the Mount Bandai Eruption. The museum was officially opened in 1988, on the 100th anniversary of the eruption. It provides detailed information on Japan’s volcanic activity, the topography and geography of Mount Bandai, as well as a vivid description of the flora and fauna sheltered in the highlands. A popular exhibit is the weather room, where visitors can examine actual seismographs and state of the art cameras to monitor meteorological activity. Even if you are not a volcano buff, the display of models and photographs at the museum is an engaging introduction to the phenomena.
Museum of the Mount Bandai Eruption
Address: Hibara Kengamine, Yama-gun, Kitashiobara-mura 969-2701, Fukushima Prefecture
5. Ski on Nekoma
In winter, Mount Bandai is covered with a fine cloak of snow that attracts admirers of a different sort. The undulating slopes of Bandai offer a variety of runs for skiers of all skill levels. At Urabandai, there is the notorious Nekoma which translates roughly to “Devil Cat”. The terrain challenges seasoned skiers with its steep slopes and dense forests, demanding a confident rhythm as you pound downhill. For those just learning to strap on their skis, most of the established ski resorts around Mount Bandai offers training courses.
The Urabandai Nekoma Ski Resort is a quaint option, run by a tribe of skiers themselves. It boasts 68 ha (168 acres) of piste terrain, and has nearly equal grounds for the amateurs, intermediates, and advanced visitors. For those seeking an unadulterated experience of skiing on Mount Bandai, the Urabandai Nekoma is a definite go-to.
Urabandai Nekoma Ski Resort
Address: 1163 Nekomayama, Kitashiobara Village, Fukushima Prefecture
The hidden side of Fukushima
In recent years, Fukushima has gained an unfortunate reputation as a nuclear wasteland. However, the region has more to offer than just a city struggling to recover. From Urabandai’s sprawling greenery, majestic mountains, and dazzling array of lakes, its evident beauty can be found even in the most unexpected of places. This article provides a mere peek into the charm of the area. Just behind Mount Bandai, a paradise waits to be found.
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