The list of amazing things to see and do in Japan do not end when you’ve done the rounds of the country’s most popular tourist hotspots – Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hokkaido. If you seek to travel deeper and explore a different side of Japan, take a bullet train from Tokyo to the northern prefecture of Aomori. Here’s a sampler of what the area has to offer:
Aomori Nebuta Festival
Summer is the height of festival season in Japan, and when it comes to festivals, Aomori’s representative festival, the Nebuta Matsuri, is considered to be among the country’s most colorful and most spectacular event. Held annually from August 2 to 7, this festival is highlighted by a parade of enormous paper lantern floats accompanied by dancers, musicians, and the heavy beating of large taiko drums. This takes place in the streets of downtown Aomori City, the prefectural capital.
If your travel dates don’t coincide with the actual festival dates, the next best thing to joining the Aomori Nebuta Festival is experiencing it at the Nebuta Warasse. More than a museum that documents and displays the rich history and artistry of Aomori’s most famous event, Nebuta Warasse is an interactive space that captures its spirit. On display all-year round are four full-sized floats used in the actual parade, while activities such as Haneto dancing and taiko drum playing can be enjoyed during scheduled times.
Address: 1 Chome-1-1 Yasukata, Aomori-shi, Aomori
Price: ¥600 (Adult), ¥450 (High School Student), ¥250 (Junior High / Elementary Student)
Neputa Village is a museum dedicated to another major festival held in Aomori – the Neputa Festival. Here, the festival atmosphere is recreated with its exhibit of massive fan-shaped floats used in the parades, as well as live musical performances. Additionally, visitors can take part in workshops that teach traditional crafts and playing the shamisen, a traditional stringed instrument that is strongly associated with the region.
Address: 61 Kamenokomachi, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori
Price: ¥550 (Adult), ¥350 (Junior High / High School Student), ¥200 (Elementary Student), ¥100 (Children over 3 years old)
Website: http://www.neputamura.com/ (Japanese only)
Inakadate Tanbo Art
The rural town of Inakadate is home to one of the most unique attractions in the world. It’s no secret that the Japanese love rice, but here, more than just for eating, rice is also transformed into works of art. With rice paddies as their canvas, locals use different colored rice varieties to be able to draw gigantic pictures. Since it started in 2003, the designs vary from DA Vinci’s Mona lisa to scenes inspired by traditional Japanese folklore. Viewing season is from June to October, but July to August is said to be the best time to catch the rice fields. It is during these months that the rice plants exhibit their most vivid colors.
Address: 123-1 Nakatsuji Inakadate, Inakadate-mura, Minamitsugaru-gun, Aomori and 10 Yahata Takahi, Inakadate-mura, Minamitsugaru-gun, Aomori
Price: ¥200 (Junior High Student and older), ¥100 (Elementary Student)
Website: http://www.vill.inakadate.lg.jp/ (Japanese only)
Hachinohe Sake Brewery
Owing to its cold climate, pure water, and high quality rice, Aomori is considered to be one of the best sake-producing regions in Japan. It is home to many sake breweries, many of which are long-established ones, and if you’re curious to see and learn how sake is made, you can sign up for a tour of their facilities. One of the most recommended brewery tours in Aomori is Hachinohe Shuzo’s. Brewing since 1775, the company’s history and expertise are made apparent in the brewery’s beautifully preserved buildings and the scale of its operations. The best part of the tour, of course, is the opportunity to sample the products. Get to taste 12 different kinds of sake for just a small fee.
Address: Honcho-9 Minatomachi, Hachinohe-shi, Aomori
Price: ¥500 (Fee for sake tasting)
Website: http://www.mutsu8000.com/ (Japanese only)
Get to experience one of Japan’s most beautiful mountains from up high aboard the Hakkoda Ropeway. This cable car ride is in service all year round making it possible for visitors to witness the seasonal beauty of Mt. Hakkoda and its surrounding areas. However, if you want to see the mountains at its most stunning state, choose between going in autumn or winter. From late September to mid-October, the slopes are covered with romantic autumn foliage, while from January to March, snow monsters or frost-covered trees dominate the landscape.
Address: 1-12 Kansuizawa Arakawa, Aomori-shi, Aomori
Price (One-way ticket): ¥1,850 (13 years old and above), ¥870 (Elementary Student)
Skiing at Hakkoda Mountain
Come winter time, the Hakkoda Mountains become a playground for winter sports enthusiasts. It’s a popular backcountry destination among skiers and snowboarders for a number of reasons: its high quality powder snow, ski routes that vary in difficulty, and most of all, its famed snow monsters that make its winter landscape quite unique from other ski destinations in Japan. There are a couple of ungroomed courses, which will definitely crank up the adrenaline of any experienced rider. For those with less experience, it is best to get in touch with Hakkoda’s Official Guide Service providers such as Mt. Hakkoda Guide Club and Hakkodasan Ski School & Guide.
Address: 1-12 Kansuizawa Arakawa, Aomori-shi, Aomori
Mt Hakkoda Guide Club: http://www.hakkoda-gc.com/ (Japanese only)
Hakkodasan Ski School & Guide: http://www.hakkouda-p.com/skischool/schoolguide.html (Japanese only)
If hiking is your kind of activity, then you must definitely include a side trip to the Oirase Gorge in your plans. This river valley is said to be among the most beautiful in Japan, especially in autumn when different colored leaves fill the landscape. The hiking trail is a 9-kilometer route that runs between Nenokuchi and Ishigedo towns, and can be completed in 2-3 hours. As you hike along the river banks, expect to encounter unique rock formations, over a dozen waterfalls, and a couple of foot bridges from which you can admire the scenery up close.
Address: Okuse, Towada, Aomori
Lake Towada is a must-see natural beauty when in Aomori. Dubbed as the largest caldera lake in Honshu, Japan’s main island, there are two ways to enjoy its scenery – aboard a sightseeing boat or atop one of the four observation decks set up around the lake. The former option is more popular among tourists as a rental car is needed to be able to circle around the crater.
Address: 486 Yasumiya Towada-kohan Okuse, Towada-shi, 018-5501, Aomori (Lake Towada Vistor Center)
Website: http://towadako.or.jp/ (Japanese only)
Aomori is the perfect destination for those who love the outdoors. Beyond gorgeous scenery, there is also wild nature to be had. In fact, it has Shirakami Sanchi, a vast mountainous area that straddles both Aomori and Akita Prefectures, and is home to one of the world’s largest remaining virgin beech forests. It was declared as a World Natural Heritage Site in 1993 for its unique and untouched ecosystem, and those who want an adventure like no other can choose among the 12 authorized hiking and climbing courses to explore this piece of paradise. Starting point on either side is the Visitors’ Center, where you can guide maps and learn more about the rich flora, fauna, and natural attractions to look out for during your excursion.
Address: 61-1 Tashiro Kanda, Nishimeya-mura, Nakatsugaru-gun, Aomori (Visitors’ Center)
Apart from forests and mountains, Aomori is also blessed with gorgeous coastlines and mighty ocean views. On the eastern seaboard, there’s Tanesashi Coast – a 12km section of dynamic beauty. It has patches of beaches with sand that sings (nakisuna) when stepped on, seaside meadows that overlook the ocean, and bouldered shores. Especially in the summer, this place is inviting for relaxing activities such as picnics, leisurely strolls, and biking.
Address: 14-167 Tanakubo, Samemachi, Hachinohe-shi, Aomori
Website: http://tanesashi.info/ (Japanese Only)
Winter Stove Train
Winters in Aomori can be notorious for heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere or do anything if you visit during this time. This region is actually an expert in providing unique winter activities, and one such attraction is Tsugaru Railway’s Winter Stove Train. Stay warm and cozy aboard this nostalgic train as it runs through Aomori’s snow-filled landscape. While you’re at it, you can roast your own surume – a type of dried squid delicacy, as the train’s stove can also be used for cooking. This train service runs from December until March with 2-3 trips daily. The journey starts at Tsugaru Goshogowara Station, which is just a short walk from JR Goshogowara Station.
Address: 38 Omachi, Goshogowara-shi, Aomori
Website: http://tsutetsu.com/stove.html (Japanese Only)
When it comes to onsen, Aomori has a lot to offer. Take your pick from accessible downtown onsen districts to gems that are either nestled deep in the mountains or facing the sea. Accommodations also vary from hotel ryokans complete with modern amenities to very traditional inns that have been accepting guests for more than a century. Wherever you end up staying, a satisfying and relaxing vacation is guaranteed.
Sannai Maruyama Site
Sannai Maruyama site is for anyone who likes history and culture. This area is one of Japan’s largest archeological sites that depicts the way of life of its human settlers from approximately 4000 years ago during the Jomon period. There are reconstructed structures, excavation sites, and displays of unearthed artifacts. Additionally, visitors can also try their hand at making Jomon period handicraft and toys.
Address: 305 Sannai Maruyama, Aomori-shi, Aomori
Aomori Museum of Art
In the mood for art? This modern art museum is known for showcasing the works of notable Aomori native artists such as Nara Yoshitomo’s pop art installations and Munakata Shiko’s woodblock prints and paintings. Other museum highlights include the three largest ballet Aleko backdrops painted by Marc Chagall, as well as the museum building’s design. Since it is located next to the Sannai Maruyama, its building’s architecture is inspired by it – in particular, the underground pits found at the archeological site.
Address: 185 Chikano, Yasuta, Aomori-shi, Aomori
Price: ¥510 (Adult), ¥300 (High School / College Student), ¥100 (Elementary / Junior High Student)
Try Aomori apple and apple related food
Taste the best apple in Japan when you come to Aomori. The region is the country’s top apple producer, so expect to encounter this fruit and its different iterations during your tour of the area. Aside from eating it as it is, enjoy freshly-baked apple pies or sip on apple cider drinks. If you’re staying in Hirosaki City, do check out Chez Moi – a French restaurant that serves an “Apple French course.”
The waters surrounding Aomori teem with marine life that seafood lovers can have an unlimited feast of fresh seafood all days of the year. Enjoy them raw as sashimi or as tasty regional dishes like ichigo-ni (sea urchin and abalone soup), jappajiru (soup made of fish guts and bones), and hotate kaiyaki (grilled scallops in miso-based broth cooked in large scallop shells).
Blue-fin tuna caught off the coast of Aomori’s Oma town is one of the highest valued catch you can feast on. Dubbed as the king of tuna, oma tuna is said to be the best serving of sashimi or sushi you can ever have. Head down to any one of the town’s restaurants likes Hamazushi to discover what the fuss is about.
Address: 69-3 Omadaira, Oma, Oma-machi, Shimokita-gun, Aomori
Price: ¥3,000 ~ ¥3,999
Website: https://tabelog.com/en/aomori/A0204/A020403/2000165/ (Japanese only)
All price information in this article are as of December 2017.
Thumbnail image is from Wikimedia Commons.