Outside of Japan, Aomori Prefecture is best known for its colorful but fearsome nebuta floats, while locally the region is famous for its apple orchards, onsen (hot springs) and spectacular skiiing conditions. This northern region is also blessed with boundless natural beauty in the form of lush forests and lakes, mountains and streams. From the best places to hit the slopes to picturesque trails through the woods, ancient archaeological digs to cultural discoveries, these top ten things to do in Aomori showcase the best of the region.
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Onsens and Orchards: The Top 10 Things to Do in Aomori Prefecture
Oirase Stream and Lake Towada
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Oirase Stream, also known as Oirase Gorge, is a small river running through the woods on the border of Aomori and Akita prefectures fed by the waters of nearby Lake Towada. The fourteen-kilometer walk along its banks is filled with scenic waterfalls, bridges and mossy rocks surrounded by thick groves of Japanese maple, beech, oak and white cedar trees. Whether you start the journey from the Yakeyama trailhead or begin at the lake, the picturesque hike along the banks is well worth the trip.
Hakkoda Ropeway and Ski Resort
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The Hakkoda Ropeway is a scenic trip by cable car up Mount Hakkoda. Beautiful in any season, the ropeway is especially popular from November to May, when skiiers and snowboarders gather to experience Aomori's seasonal snow. The prefecture's location beside the Sea of Japan means heavy snowfall in the winter, attracting powder hounds from all the globe. In the summer, a pleasant mountain trail opens up near the summit, and takes just under an hour to complete.
Sannai Maruyama Historical Site
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The Sannai Maruyama Historical Site is one of several significant archaeological sites in the Tohoku region (northern Japan) and Hokkaido being considered for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The site contains artifacts and evidence of permanent dwellings dating back to the Early and Middle Jomon Periods of Japan, about 5,450 years ago. The Sannai Maruyama Historical Site brings this prehistoric Jomon village back to life, with burial mounds, reconstructed dwellings, mining and storage pits to explore.
Photo by © Aomori prefecture
Hirosaki Castle is a partially reconstructed castle in Hirosaki, with the main keep dating back to 1810, after the original was burned down during a lightning storm in 1627. The surrounding park is one of the most popular cherry blossom spots in Japan, with two million visitors coming each year to admire the 2,600 or so flowering trees surrounding the castle and its moat in spring. Another notable festival is the Hirosaki Castle Yuki-doro Festival, when the grounds are lit up with artistic snow lanterns and sculptures.
Apples and Hot Springs
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Aomori has many unique and interesting onsen (Japanese hot springs) to enjoy, and as the nation's leading producer of apples, it was only a matter of time before the two crossed paths. 'Apple baths' are gaining popularity, and are currently a mainstay of Minamida Onsen Hotel Apple Land as well as the luxurious Kai Tsugaru onsen resort by Hoshino Resorts. Find apple-free baths at the Hotel Grandmer Sankaiso and Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen, which have outdoor hot springs with views over the ocean, while the remote Sukaya Onsen features an enormous mixed-gender bath known as the Sennin Buro, the 'Bath of a Thousand Bathers'.
Seiryu Temple and the Showa Buddha
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At a height of 2,135 meters, the Showa Buddha at Seiryu (Blue Dragon) Temple in Aomori is the tallest seated bronze Buddha statue in Japan, even larger than the ones in Nara and Kamakura. Visitors can enter the platform underneath to visit the exhibits on Buddhist belief as well as the war memorial on the second floor. Seiryu Temple is also home to spacious gardens, a pond shaped like the Tohoku region and an impressive five-story pagoda, one of the tallest in the country and certainly the tallest in northern Japan.
Juniko and Ao-ike (The Blue Pond)
Photo by © Aomori prefecture
The Juniko or 'Twelve Lakes' refers to the collective 33 bodies of water in the Tsugaru Quasi-National Park, so-called 'twelve' because only the largest could be seen from the summit of Mount Okuzure. The most beautiful of these is the mysterious Aoike or 'Blue Pond', a deep, clear pond that appears an otherworldly shade of blue, though it's still unclear as to why. The best way to explore the area is by making base at the mountain campsite and taking the time to explore the area's numerous mountain trails, forests and unspoiled nature.
Nebuta House Wa Rasse
Photo by Yuya Saito/Flickr
The iconic Nebuta Matsuri or Float Festival is held in the prefectural capital, Aomori City, every summer, attracting some three million spectators each year. The captivating floats, essentially enormous lanterns made of paper, steel and ink, have become a symbol of Aomori and can now be enjoyed at any time of the year at the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum in the city. The museum exhibits the statuesque lanterns, as well as musical performances, interactive displays and a passageway dedicated to the history of the festival.
Takayama Inari Shrine
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Takayama Inari Shrine is located in the western region of the Tsugaru Peninsula, home of Aomori's sacred Iwaki Mountain and vast fields of flooded rice paddies. The kami or deity enshrined here is Inari, who happens to be the god of all the plentiful rice, and blesses farmers with bountiful harvests. The shrine's beautiful gardens and rows of crimson torii gates culminate in stone steps, ornate lanterns and a comparatively modest wooden shrine. Depite its remote location, Takayama Inari Shrine's reputation as a spiritually powerful place is spreading.
Miroku Yokocho: Hachinohe's Yatai Mura (Food Stall Village)
Photo by © Aomori prefecture
In coastal Hachinohe, the Yatai Mura or 'Food Stall Village' known as Miroku Yokocho offers a chance to experience local nightlife. The lively neighborhood features over 26 food stalls and eateries with outdoor seating and an open, casual atmosphere. Along the narrow street, diners will find plenty of fresh and delicious local fare, especially seafood like clams, octopus and scallops as well as senbei-jiru, a local hotpot specialty made with Aomori senbei, Japanese rice crackers.
Along with five other prefectures, Akita, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata, Aomori Prefecture is part of Tohoku, the colder northern region of Japan which few tourists from overseas visit. Aomori, meaning 'green forest', is rich in natural beauty, and is the country's leading apple producer. Visit this remote but inviting region and lose yourself in the wonders that await.