20 Things to Do in Aomori From the Standards to Hidden Gems
Aomori is a nature-rich land full of traditions. Its apples and seafood, such as tuna, are highly reputed within Japan. It is also home to several famous festivals and a forest that has been registered as a World Heritage Site. Read on to discover 20 amazing things that you can do within this charming area!
Where is Aomori?
Aomori Prefecture covers the northernmost region of Honshu (main island of Japan). From Tokyo, you can reach Aomori in an hour by airplane or around three hours by shinkansen (bullet train). It takes 1.5 hours by airplane to get to Aomori from Kyoto or Osaka (Itami Airport). It has been increasing in popularity lately thanks to its plethora of attractions and specialty foods. Below are some of the major attractions of the area.
Rich in history and nature, this area covers the west side of Aomori Prefecture. In the center of northern Aomori Prefecture, but still within the Tsugaru area, you’ll find Aomori Station. Southwest of it, there is an elegant townscape created by Hirosaki Castle and its castle town. If you go further west from there, you’ll stumble upon the side facing the Sea of Japan, which is home to Shirakami Sanchi, a mountain range that is a designated World Heritage Site.
Relax at Sukayu Onsen
The highlight of Sukayu Onsen (Sukayu Hot Spring) is the Hiba Sennin-buro, an iconic wooden bathhouse. Inside this bathhouse that smells of sulfur, you’ll find four baths filled with cloudy hot water that varies in temperature. It is well known for its large, mixed-gender communal bath. There are time slots when only women are allowed inside, so if you don’t want to bathe with the opposite gender, come at one of those times. There are also small, gender-restricted baths called “Tama no Yu”. Try soaking in the hot spring water to experience a healing bath that will soothe your entire body!
The Nebuta Festival is a Must-See!
Known as one of the three biggest festivals in Tohoku, the Nebuta Festival is held in Aomori City every August. Spanning from the 2nd to 7th, it regularly gets more than 3 million attendees. During the festival, gigantic floats resembling humans called “nebuta” are pulled through the streets. Around them, dancers called “haneto” dance while shouting “rasse, rasse” and musicians called “hayashikata” play various instruments, riling up the crowd. The sight of these illuminated floats approaching you will be so impressive, you’ll think that they almost look alive! On the final day of the festival, the nebuta are put on a boat and paraded around Aomori Port. To top that off, 11,000 fireworks are launched to the sky, marking the end of the festival.
Visit the Nebuta Festival Museum Wa-Rasse
At the Wa-Rasse Museum, you will be able to learn about the history of the Nebuta Festival, as well as see real nebuta up close. Its biggest attraction is the Nebuta Hall that showcases the huge nebuta that were used in the actual festival. You will be able to touch the faces and hands of the floats, so you can feel the thickness of the washi (Japanese paper) and how complicated the frame is. You can also try dancing or playing music like one would do at the actual Nebuta Festival!
Take a Walk in Hirosaki Park
Hirosaki Park, famous for its sakura (cherry blossom), is a massive 492,000 sq.m. park that has Hirosaki Castle at its center. About 2,600 sakura trees come into bloom all at once there, treating visitors to “hanaikada” - a scene wherein sakura petals are scattered in the moat, painting the surface of the water in a pink hue - that looks just like what you’d see in a picture! If you visit this park, you shouldn’t miss Hirosaki Castle. You can enjoy this stately castle and its gate, which have over 400 years of history, together with the cherry blossoms. From the castle tower (top of the castle), you can clearly see Mt. Iwaki.
See the Scenery Change Every Season at Hakkoda Ropeway
You can see beautiful green mountains from Hakkoda Ropeway in the spring and summer. This view is especially amazing from the wooden deck on the summit. When autumn falls around, walking on the top of the mountain while gazing down at trees decorated in colors like red and gold feels really magical! Mt. Hakkoda is a heavy snowfall area, so it is also famous as a ski resort. In the winter, you can catch a view of frost-covered trees, which are created when ice and snow fall on the trees. When the buildup gets large enough, the tree may even be called a “snow monster”! Enjoy a completely different vibe every season at Mt. Hakkoda!
From Fruits to Sweets! Shop at the Aomori Tourist Information Center - ASPAM
The Aomori Tourist Information Center - ASPAM is located near Aomori Station and offers a panoramic view of the bay area. You will find specialty products of Aomori and souvenirs being sold there. Some of the popular products sold at this spot are apples, garlic, and seafood. The apple juice has such a robust flavor that you will feel as though you have actually bitten into a whole apple - give it a try! There are also traditional Aomori crafts available, such as kogin-zashi (needlework) and tsugaru-nuri (lacquerware), which make great gifts as they can be used in your daily life. If you happen to notice Tsugaru shamisen (three-stringed banjo) or Nebuta hayashi (music played during the Nebuta Festival) performances occurring on the day, make sure to stop, watch, and listen!
Go Hiking at Shirakami Sanchi
Shirakami Sanchi, a registered World Heritage Site, is where you’ll find unspoiled nature in the form of a primeval beech forest. There are many easy walking trails, so how about going hiking? Most tourists go on the Juniko course that includes Aoike Pond, which looks like spilled blue paint. Its waters are so clear that looking at it will make you feel like you’re going to be sucked in. The trail is fairly flat, so you can walk slowly and enjoy the fresh green leaves or autumn leaves on the beech trees. At the end of the course, you will find the teahouse Juniko-an, where you will be able to taste matcha (powdered green tea) made with spring water and sweets.
Ride the Famous Resort Shirakami Train
Resort Shirakami is a local train that runs on the Gono Line along the coast of the Sea of Japan, linking a stretch of 147.2km between Kawabe Station in Aomori and Higashi-Noshiro Station in Akita. Characterized by its spacious seats and large windows, you will get to hear Tsugaru shamisen performances while marveling at the beautiful landscape out through the train windows. Some of the major sightseeing spots that you can visit along the way are Aoike Pond in Shirakami Sanchi and the Senjojiki Coast. With Senjojiki Coast, you can actually see the bedrock that goes up to the beach as soon as you get off the train! There is a 2-day travel pass available for those who want to reduce their transport costs by even a little bit.
Buy Apples and Apple-Based Sweets
Aomori is the biggest producer of apples in Japan. It produces various kinds of apples, including Fuji, Mutsu, Tsugaru, and Orin. The type with the largest production output in the country is the Fuji apple. It is crispy and chewy, with a perfect balance of sweetness and sourness. One apple-based confectionery that you have to taste is the Kininaru Ringo, a kind of sweet wherein a whole apple from Aomori is soaked in syrup for more than a month and then covered in pie dough. Unlike the average apple pie that uses soft and sweet boiled apples, Kininaru Ringo retains the original crunchy texture and acidity of apples. It will let you taste the true flavors of Aomori-produced apples, making it a great souvenir! The gift recipient will probably be surprised to know that there is a whole apple inside the sweet. You can buy it at places like Aomori Airport, Aomori Station, and Shin-Aomori Station.
Visit Oma-zaki at the Northernmost Part of Honshu
Within Shimokita Peninsula, which is completely surrounded by the ocean, you’ll find Oma-zaki - a cape on the northernmost tip of Honshu. If the sky is clear, you might even be able to see the streets of Hokkaido beyond the sea. An interesting point about Oma is that it is known for its tuna fishing. There is even a monument in Oma-zaki that is associated with ippon-zuri (a traditional method of fishing in which tuna is caught using a single fishing line and rod)! How about taking a souvenir photo of the tuna monument at this cape that is surrounded by the deep blue sea?
Gobble Up Some Cheap and Delicious Oma Tuna
Located on the northernmost tip of Honshu, Oma is a town that is famous for its high-class tuna. The fishing method applied in Oma is one in which the fish is caught without hurting it, so you can taste sashimi that is extremely fresh. The taste of the tuna varies depending on the part: the akami (red flesh) will let you taste the simple deliciousness of tuna; the otoro (fatty tuna) has a robust taste thanks to its ample fat; and the chutoro (medium-fatty tuna) possesses the good parts of both akami and otoro. If you are in Oma, enjoy the fresh tuna in kaisen-don (a dish made by putting seafood and other sashimi pieces on top of white rice in a bowl) and sushi. There are even shops that hold tuna carving shows on an irregular basis. The sight of the tuna being carved using a long knife that looks like a sword is truly impressive! Stop and watch the show if you see one happening while you’re there.
Discover What Makes Osore-zan Special
In Buddhism, it is believed that after people die, they go to hell or paradise depending on how they lived. Osore-zan (Mt. Osore) is a place where you can catch a glimpse of the afterlife in the physical world. It looks like a scene from hell, with rocky terrain, a sulfur spring filling the area with a distinct smell, and virtually no vegetation. If you walk further into the mountain, you will arrive at a place called “Sai no Kawara”, which is dotted with stacks of rocks. These rock towers are believed to have been made by children who died before their parents. Even today, some people come to build rock towers in memory of the children who died early. In front of Sai no Kawara, there is an emerald green lake that is breathtakingly beautiful. This naturally made lake that offers completely different scenery from anything else on the mountain is called “Gokuraku-hama”, and it has an appearance that will make you think of gokuraku (paradise). The contrast between the barren surroundings and this extremely gorgeous lake is exactly like hell and paradise. If all of this sparks your curiosity, why not try visiting? You can even try soaking in an onsen meant for worshippers.
Etch the Sunset of Iwaki-san Into Your Mind
Also called “Tsugaru-Fuji”, Iwaki-san (Mt. Iwaki) is the highest mountain in Aomori with an altitude of 1,625m. It has long been an object of faith for the local residents. You can also see this mountain from Mutsu City, which is located at the center of Shimokita Peninsula, across the sea. When the setting sun sparkles at the hinterlands of Iwaki-san and the silhouette of the mountain clearly stands out from the sunset, you’re in for a mysteriously beautiful view!
This refers to the whole eastern part of Aomori Prefecture. Within the area, you will find Hachinohe, one of the leading fishing ports in the Tohoku region, facing the Pacific Ocean. The heart of the prefecture is also part of the Nambu area, and it offers many scenic spots, such as Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada. Expect to be treated to gorgeous nature while you’re there.
Go Hiking in Oirase Gorge
Oirase Keiryu (Oirase Gorge) is a clear stream that runs about 14km from Nenokuchi on the eastern shore of Lake Towada to Yakeyama. The whole area is covered in moss, including the trees and rocks. This is possible because of the constant high humidity from the abundant amount of water supplied by the beech forest. There is also a large number of falls and streams, whose combined water volume is large enough to turn the water white. The contrast between the white color of the water and the green of the trees is spectacular! Hiking is quite easy as the area is quite flat, so why not go for a walk while enjoying the refreshing air and the scent coming from the trees? Aside from early summer with its radiant verdure, another great season to visit the gorge is autumn.
Feel the Japanese Atmosphere at Tsuta Onsen Ryokan
Tsuta Onsen is an extremely rare hot spring, as its water comes directly from the bottom planks of a beech wood bath. The sight of the hot water bubbling from spaces between the planks is incredibly interesting! The wooden main building, which is over 100 years old, is carefully maintained and still retains a nostalgic vibe in its hallways, staircases, and windows. While you can definitely visit for a quick day soak, there’s something magical about staying for the night, relaxing, and feeling the time pass by.
Go for a Cruise with the Lake Towada Sightseeing Boat
Hop on a sightseeing boat and explore Lake Towada, the source of Oirase Gorge! You will be able to see the huge boulders and cliffs on the cape while cruising on the lake. There are even cliffs that change color, turning red, grey, or another color depending on the iron content of the volcanic ash inside the rocks. The trees on the lakeshore also change colors at all once in the autumn, so you will be treated to a powerful rocky landscape and beautiful fall foliage.
Taste Delicious Sake from Hachinohe Shuzou
Hachinohe Shuzou is a brewery that has a history dating back more than 240 years. They make sure to use rice and yeast produced in Aomori, as well as water from Hachinohe, so you can enjoy sake (rice wine) unique to the region. Its signature products are the Mutsu Otokoyama and Mutsu Hassen. They go down smoothly and have just the right amount of sweetness and deliciousness, which explains their popularity! Many kinds of sake are created under the same brand, so searching for one that fits your taste might make for a fun time. Many tourists like going on the brewery tour, which will take you around the distillery, teach you the brewing process, and let you taste some of the sake they make.
Enjoy Fresh Sushi at Hasshoku Center
As one of the Tohoku region’s leading fishing ports, Hachinohe is able to offer a huge selection of freshly caught seafood. Inside this port town, you will find Hachinohe Center, a major market frequented not only by tourists, but by locals, too. Aside from buying freshly caught seafood and just-harvested vegetables, you can also enjoy eating tours there. Make sure you try some sushi made with fresh seafood! Any topping will leave you satisfied, such as Botan shrimp that gushes out sweetness with every chew, squid, sea urchin that smells like the ocean, and thickly sliced toro (fatty tuna).
Try the Ichigo-ni at Hasshoku Ichibazushi
Hasshoku Ichibazushi is a kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant inside Hasshoku Center. Aside from sushi, you can eat ichigo-ni, which is a traditional dish of Aomori Prefecture. Ichigo-ni consists of sea urchin and abalone in a clear soup that has been seasoned with stock, salt, sake, and a little bit of soy sauce. Since it uses high-class ingredients, it is considered a luxurious dish that is eaten during special occasions and the New Year’s. The fresh sea urchin has no bad smell and is very sweet. This dish is seasoned simply, allowing the delicious flavors of the ingredients to stand out. You have to try it at least once!
Immerse Yourself in Art at Towada Art Center
Towada Art Center is a museum where contemporary works of artists who are active inside and outside Japan are displayed. There are a number of exhibition rooms inside its premises, and you can see the works by walking through the glass corridor that links these rooms. You can find artworks everywhere, including the exhibition rooms, front garden, corridors, staircases, museum shop, and the outer walls and floor of the indoor cafe. Many people like visiting this museum to appreciate art up close!
Aomori Prefecture is filled with attractions, including traditional festivals and buildings, contemporary art, lush nature, and specialty products like seafood and apples. Next time you’re planning a visit to Japan, use this article as a reference to create your travel itinerary to Aomori!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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