Fukushima is the southernmost prefecture of the Tōhoku Region in northern Honshū and consists of three subregions:
- the Aizu Region (会津), or Aizu District, in the west with the principal city of Aizuwakamatsu,
- the Nakadōri Region (中通り), or the Ken-nan District, in the centre with the principal cities of Kōriyama and the prefecture’s capital, Fukushima, and
- the Hamadōri Region (浜通り), or the Soma-Futaba-Iwaki District in the east facing the Pacific Ocean, with the principal city of Iwaki.
Fukushima is bounded by Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures to the north, by the Pacific Ocean to the east, by Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma prefectures to the south, and by Niigata Prefecture to the west. It contains three major mountain ranges, all running in a north-south direction. The Abukuma Mountains (阿武隈山地) separate the Pacific coastal plains from the Fukushima and Kōriyama basins in the centre of the prefecture, which in turn are separated from the Aizu district to the west by the Ōu Mountains (奥羽山脈 Ōu-sanmyaku). The Echigo Mountains (越後山脈) rise in the western part of the prefecture. Hiuchigadake (燧ケ岳, 2,346 metres) in southwestern Fukushima is the highest mountain in the Tōhoku Region. Principal rivers include the Abukumagawa (阿武隈川), Nippashigawa (日橋川), and Tadamigawa (只見川). Hot summers and cold winters are typical of the entire prefecture. Precipitation is plentiful on the western side of the Ōu Mountains, with heavy winter snowfall, while the eastern areas tend to be drier.
The Fukushima area has long been a significant transportation link between northeastern Honshū and the rest of the island. Remains of early settlements and rice cultivation date back to the Jōmon (14,000 to 300 BCE) and the Yayoi (300 BCE to 300 CE) periods. In the fifth century, the Shirakawa and the Nakoso barriers were set up to protect Japan from the “northern barbarians”. In the eighth century, the area was known as Mutsu Province (陸奥国 Mutsu no kuni) under the ancient provincial system (国軍 kokugun). During the Kakamura Period (1185–1333) the domains of Aizu (会津), Date (伊達), and Sōma (相馬) were established.
The Ashina (蘆名氏) clan of Aizu erected Kurokawa Castle in the fourteenth century but lost the castle to Date Masamune (伊達 政宗, 1567-1636) in 1589. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi finally unified Japan in 1590, Date was removed from the Aizu domain and Kurokawa Castle, now known as Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城 Tsurugajō), was transferred to Gamō Ujisato (蒲生氏郷, 1556-1595), one of Toyotomi’s retainers. Toyotomi’s successor and founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, installed two clans related to the Tokugawa in the Fukushima region, the Hoshina clan in Aizu, who were later permitted to use the family name of Matsudaira and who ruled Aizu for nine generations, and the Shirakawa clan.
The Matsudaira clan (松平氏) were Tokugawa’s staunchest supporters until the very end of their rule, continuing their struggle against the Satsuma-Chōshū alliance in what is known as the Boshin War (1868-69) even after the last Tokugawa shōgun had surrendered in Edo. The tragic fate of the Byakkotai (白虎隊, “White Tiger Corps”), a unit of teenage samurai, who committed suicide after they thought Tsuruga Castle had fallen to the enemy, is characteristic of this struggle. The new Meiji administration abolished the old domain system in 1871 and established Fukushima Prefecture in its present form under the modern prefectural system in 1876.
Agriculture is the principal occupation, with approximately fifty per cent of the acreage devoted to rice production. Other crops include tobacco, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, apples, and pears. Energy is provided by hydroelectric projects. Until March 2011, nuclear power had been generated by the nuclear power plants Fukushima Dai-ichi and Dai-ni in the coastal Futaba District (双葉郡 Futaba-gun). Dai-ichi has been disabled by the Tōhoku Earthquake and the ensuing tsunami on March 11, 2011, Dai-ni has been shut down, too.
Major industrial products are metal, chemical and machine goods, foodstuffs, and textiles.
Bandai-Asahi National Park (磐梯朝日国立公園) is a national park between Fukushima, Yamagata, and Niigata prefectures.
- Fukushima City: Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art, housing works of French Impressionism, 20th-century American realism, modern Japanese paintings, prints, earthenwares, ceramics and textiles
- Aizuwakamatsu: Tsuruga Castle (destroyed in 1874, reconstructed in 1965); Aizu Matsudaira’s Royal Garden (御薬園 Oyakuen); Aizu Buke Yashiki (historic samurai residence of the Matsudaira clan and their retainers); Mount Iimori with the graves of the Byakkotai and Sazaedo; Aizu Hanko Nisshinkan (the school of the Aizu clan for samurai offspring established in 1803); the Matsudaira family graves; Noguchi Museum; Shinsengumi Museum; Fukushima Prefectural Museum; Lake Inawashiro (猪苗代湖 Inawashiro-ko), Japan’s third-largest freshwater lake.
- Hibara: Urabandai Goshikinuma Ponds, nine ponds, each of different colour ranging from cobalt to dark brown; Morohashi Museum of Modern Art; Yellow Fall, a golden waterfall only visible in winter, due to frozen water containing iron and sulfur.
- Oze: Oze National Park (尾瀬国立公園 Oze kokuritsukōen), stretching over four prefectures, the park features greenland and marshes and is famous for its fields of flowers.
- Bandai-Azuma Sky Line: a toll road is running on 1,350 metres of altitude featuring eight scenic spots, such as Mount Azuma Kofuji and the Snow Corridor in winter.
- 1,867,150 residents (April 2018)
- 13,782.76 square kilometres
- Population density: 135 inhabitants per square kilometre (April 2018)
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
Following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, a series of equipment failures in the Daiichi nuclear power plant located in the towns of Okuma and Futaba in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture resulted in a nuclear meltdown and the release of nuclear material. The disaster was the largest nuclear catastrophe since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and was eventually assessed to be Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). A nuclear emergency was declared by the Japanese government on March 11, and the evacuation of all inhabitants living within a radius of twenty kilometres of the nuclear power plant ordered. Everyone living within a thirty-kilometre radius was urged to stay indoors and to evacuate on March 25.
While the evacuation order is still in force, some areas within the 20-kilometre zone, namely parts of Kawauchi Village, Tamura City, and Minamisōma City have been declared “Area 1″ on April 1, 2012, meaning that the evacuation order is ready to be lifted. Some parts of these cities and villages remain “Area 2″, where residents are banned from living. The rest of the 20-kilometre evacuation zone (the towns of Namie, Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, and Naraha), as well as parts of Minamisōma City, are still classified as “Area 3″, where “residents will face difficulties in returning for a long time”.
For more information, refer to the status reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the Fukushima nuclear accident. Find an updated map on the evacuation zone here. The latest IAEA mission report on the decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1-4 dates from May 13, 2015, has been published here (PDF).
Travelling to other parts of Fukushima Prefecture poses no health risk!
- Fukushima Prefecture (from the Japan Directory)
- Fukushima Prefecture Official Web Page (in Japanese and English)
- Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art
- Aizu Sazaedo
- Urabandai Tourist Association (in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean)