Tucked in the southwestern mountains of Fukushima, Ouchi-juku is a hidden gem destination partly because of its history. While most travellers have been kept away by the nuclear catastrophe almost a decade ago, radiation levels in this town have declined far below the danger limit. In fact, the levels that airplane passengers are exposed to at cruising altitude and the official threshold for radioactive substances in food from Fukushima is much lower than those in the European Union and the U.S. Long story short: Ouchi-juku is perfectly safe to visit.
It may not be the most accessible places in Japan, but the best places in the world often aren’t. From Tokyo, it is about two and a half hours by shinkansen (bullet train) to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. From there, take a train to Yunokami Onsen Station and then a taxi or a bus to Ouchi-juku.
As soon as you arrive, you will feel Ouchi-juku's magic. Like a time capsule you find yourself lucky enough to wander into, the town is lined with buildings over 300 years old, with running water on each side of the streets. Ouchi-juku certainly looks like a scene from a moving postcard.
Scale up a short but steep set of stairs at the end of the main road and it will lead you to a temple with a panoramic view of the town. As you take in the beauty of the mountain scene, imagine feudal lords of the Edo Period (1603 to 1868) passing through Ouchi-juku on their way to the city more than a hundred years ago.
If you have a chance, match your visit with one of the many festivals Ouchi-juku organises around the year, most notably the Ouchi-juku Snow Festival, which happens every year in February. In July, local merrymakers dressed in traditional Edo Period costumes transform the town into a scene from the past. If you manage to get a hold of a happi (festival attire jacket), you could even join the locals in their celebrations.