With the opening of the Tohoku Shinkansen Line directly from Tokyo to Aomori on December 4, 2010, visiting the Aomori area has become easier and faster: only 3 hours and 20 minutes. The picturesque scenery in each season, fine onsen hot springs, fresh seafood and other delicious delicacies, and traditional festivals make Aomori an alluring spot to visit, and also recently the home of nice art museums.
The southern gateway of Aomori is Hachinohe. At Hasshoku Center, fresh seafood from Hachinohe Port, dry seafood, and rare local foods of Hachinohe are available. You can buy seafood and use the charcoal grills to cook it at the center. About 400 shops open early in the morning every Sunday at Minato Sunday Asaichi, one of the largest morning markets in Hachinohe. Umi no Asaichi is another morning market where, at some shops, you can eat the fresh seafood on site. (Note the markets are closed from December to early March.)
Komaki Onsen in Misawa City is a huge hot springs resort (660,000 sq. meters) where you can enjoy soaking in various baths including an open-air bath.
Towada / Lake Towada / Oirase / Hakkoda
Breathtaking scenery can be seen from a boat on Lake Towada or from a lakeside observatory deck. The red and yellow autumn leaves are excellent, but the mysterious scenery of winter is also recommended. Oirase Keiryu Stream is a 14-km stream from the lake at Nenokuchi; the gap between the highest and lowest points in the stream is about 200 meters and is dotted with picturesque spots. Strolling around this area is delightful, especially the view of fresh, green spring leaves and the colorful leaves of autumn.
Hakkoda-san is the general name for the northern and southern Hakkoda mountain ranges. The highest peak is 1,584 meters above sea level. There are many moors and alpine plants and the ropeway ride provides a splendid view of the moors and mountains. The skiing is great at Hakkoda Ski Resort, which has a dynamic super-long course among the natural geographical features such as juhyo (trees covered with hoarfrost) and moguls from mid-December to mid-May. Walking tours among the beautiful juhyo trees are held, and a path between 9-meter-high snow walls is open for three days in late March as part of a winter event.
Tsuta Onsen is surrounded by tall beech trees and is the only hot springs ryokan (Japanese style hotel). The bath is just above the spring source and hot water springs directly into the bath without the use of pipes. Sukayu Onsen is the oldest hot springs at Hakkoda Onsen and its huge co-ed bath, Sennin Buro or 1,000-person bath, is famous. Ranpu no Yado (Lamp Hotel) at Aoni Onsen is a quiet, remote hot springs resort, located in the mountains and uses only kerosene lamps at light.
The pop museum Towada Art Center on Kanchogai Street is constructed of different sizes of white boxes connected by glass corridors and was designed by the famous young architect Ryue Nishizawa. The entire length of Kanchogai Street resembles an open-air museum with the colorful works of Yayoi Kusama and others exhibited along the street.
Sannai-Maruyama is one of the largest sites of the Jomon period (about 5,500-4,000 years ago) in Japan. Aomori Museum of Art, next to the site, was designed by Jun Aoki. “Aomori-Ken,” an 8.5-meter tall dog statue calmly meditating, is a must-see. The exhibit of Studio Ghibli’s Layout is being held from October 9, 2010, through January 10, 2011, and an exhibition commemorating the opening of the Tohoku Shinkansen Line is slated to take place from December 4, 2010, through March 21, 2011.
At Nebuta no Sato Nebuta Kaikan in Aomori Shizen Park, eight nebutas (gigantic lanterns carried on a float) are always on display. Visitors can enjoy a simulation of the Nebuta festival and experience the making of the papier-mache nebuta. Near Aomori Station, a cultural and tourism facility called “Nebuta no Ie – Warasse” is scheduled to open in January 2011, so everyone can experience the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri festival throughout the year.
One of the popular foods at Furukawa Market near Aomori Station is “Nokke-Don.” For this dish, you buy a bowl of rice for 100 yen and then buy your favorites toppings such as sashimi or salmon roe at the various shops. It is a very popular system for eating fresh seafood inexpensively. Local seafood is also available at the fresh market of AugA in front of Aomori Station. Aspam has an observatory deck and local products are available at the shops. Asamushi Onsen is a hot springs resort that retains an atmosphere of onsen town of good olden days.
If you have time, why not go even farther north? In a few hours on the Tsugaru Kaikyo Ferry, you will reach Hakodate in Hokkaido.
Hirosaki, a peaceful castle town around Hirosaki Castle, is the place to enjoy walking at a leisurely pace. Zenringai is a town with temples of the Soto Sect of Buddhism. Classic Western-style buildings, such as Aomori Bank Memorial Hall and Hirosaki Gakuin Foreign Missionary Hall, are worth visiting. Hirosaki Castle is well-known for its breathtaking cherry blossoms in late April. Hirosaki is also known for its apples, so why not try an apple pie? You can see large neputa floats and neputa-shaped goods, hear festival music, and experience painting a small fish-shaped neputa at Tsugaruhan Neputa-mura Village.
The beautiful, shapely mountain seen from Hirosaki is Mount Iwaki (1,625 meters). It is also called “Tsugaru Fuji” because of its size and beauty. The summit offers a panoramic view of Shirakami mountain range, the Sea of Japan and as far north as Hokkaido. The sunset view is also wonderful. Iwakiyama Shrine was built at the foot of the mountain about 1,200 years ago. The huge 22-meter-high two-storied gate, the inner gate and the halls are all interesting.
Seibien in Inakadate Village is one of the three major gardens of the Meiji period (1868-1912) in Japan and now is even more popular since rumored to be in the animated film “The Borrower Arrietty” by Studio Ghibli. Tanbo Art, a huge aerial picture, is created by planting three different colors of rice plants – ancient rice of yellow and purple plants and the current green plant – in a paddy about 145 by 50 meters behind the village office building. You can see the picture from an observatory deck of the building that resembles a castle tower. At Hotel Apple Land at Minamida Onsen, you can take a bath with a number of apples in the water. The aroma of the apples is very relaxing and pleasant.
Goshogawara is well-known for tachineputa, very, very tall festival lanterns. Tachineputa no Yakata displays three tachineputas that are more than 20 meters high. If you visit in winter, a ride on the stove train of Tsugaru Railway is recommended. The nostalgic train with old-fashioned coal-fired stoves makes two runs a day from December to March. Another typical experience in the snow region is walking in the drifting snow dressed in traditional clothes. Strong windows blow the snow upward from the ground, so strong it’s almost blinding.
Shirakami mountain range was one of the first sites chosen to be a World Heritage site (natural heritage) in Japan together with Yakushima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture. Walking leisurely in the mysterious and natural beech forest, visiting Anmon no Taki Waterfall on the streamside path (about two hours), and trekking while taking in the panoramic view of the majestic mountains (about four hours) are just a few of the things to do. The Anmom no Taki area includes three separate waterfalls (26, 37 and 42 meters down), and each one is overwhelmingly beautiful. In winter, snow trekking and riding a snowmobile in the beech forest are fun activities.
Koganezaki Furo-Fushi Onsen
Koganezaki Furo-Fushi Onsen facing the Sea of Japan is one of the most famous hot springs in the Tohoku region. The sunset view while soaking in an open-air bath is splendid. (Note that bathing around the time of sunset is limited to those who are staying at the hotel.) The JR Gono Line train goes to the Sea of Japan from Aomori Station via Hirosaki and Goshogawara. It is a scenic and restful trip.
Nebuta, or Neputa, festivals are one of the most renowned festivals held in summer. The difference in the name is due to the difference of pronunciation in the local dialects. Large and small floats for the festivals are created in about 30 municipalities in Aomori Prefecture. The brightly colored nebuta, or neputa, stand out against the dark sky and the energetic festival music enhances the mood. Aomori Nebuta Festival, one of the three major festivals in Tohoku, is held in Aomori City on August 2-7. This dynamic festival consists of nebuta floats, music, and dancers called haneto. Hirosaki Neputa Festival is held in Hirosaki City on August 1-7. About 60 neputa floats including fan-shaped ones parade in the city. Goshogawara Neputa Festival is held in Goshogawara City on August 4-7, and is another energetic festival in which gigantic tachineputa floats are paraded to lively music and the beating of drums.
Hachinohe Sansha Festival is a gorgeous festival of floats that boasts about a 280-year history and tradition; 27 floats are paraded following a portable shrine. It takes place on June 31-August 4. Hachinohe Enburi is a festival to pray for an abundant harvest of the year and is held in Hachinohe City on February 17-20. Dancers wearing elaborate decorations and a horse head dance, swinging their heads.
Aomori Prefecture produces more than half of the total apple production in Japan. Apple picking can be done from September to November. Guaranteed to be delicious, Aomori apples make a good souvenir. Garlic called “White Roppen,” white and of high quality, is also delicious.
“Towada Bara-yaki,” a dish of onions and beef ribs cooked with sweet soy sauce soup, is worth trying, and the local sake is quite tasty.
Fresh seafood, such as scallops and squid, is also delicious. Oma maguro (tuna) is famous for being caught by pole-and-line fishing, and the plump tuna is superb. “Kaiyakimiso” is scallops and egg seasoned with miso in soup that is cooked in the shell of the scallop. “Jappajiru” is a stew with pieces of cod, daikon radish, and carrots. “Ichigoni” is a splendid dish using sea urchin and abalone.
With the new train line, Aomori has become much closer to Tokyo. Visit Aomori and enjoy a variety of vacation activities!