Fenton’s second stop on his journey through Japan‘s lesser-visited region of Tohoku was Aomori, a hidden gem in Japan’s northern reaches. Join him as he slurps down ramen, looks spectacular in festival outfits, and soaks in the beauty of the turquoise lakeshores…
“First things first, as a proud cider drinker, I have wanted to visit Aomori for a long time – the ‘cidre’ capital of Japan, where apples appear in every conceivable part of the local cuisine. And it didn’t disappoint!
The prefectural capital, sometimes referred to as Aomori City, has the highest annual snowfall of any major city in the world, at nearly 800 cm (which is more than 2 and half times as much as Quebec City in Canada). My wife is very snow-averse, so a winter visit has always been out of the question, but I am happy to impart that the balmy summer is a perfect time to visit the region.
A bullet train through the countryside
The first thing you notice about the countryside here is just how verdant it is – tree-covered mountains stretch as far as the eye can see in the vast open space between the cities and towns. The name ‘Aomori’ actually translates to ‘Blue Forest’, as historically, the distinction between green and blue is a narrow one in Japan (but you’ll have to ask me about this bit separately!)
My own travels began with a bullet train from Hokkaido, through a tunnel under the turbulent waters of the Tsugaru Strait, to Cape Tappi – one of the most remote reaches of Japan’s main island, where a solitary lighthouse looks out to sea.
Ramen, museums and festivals in Goshogawara
Moving south we stopped in the town of Goshogawara for a filling bowl of ramen and a visit to the Tachineputa Museum. Every August a festival – or matsuri – is held in this town, as three colossal floats are paraded around the streets, with a new one introduced most years as an old one is retired. Housed and created in the museum, these floats need to be seen to be believed – 23 metres tall and weighing close to 20 tonnes, handmade out of wireframes and colourful traditional washi paper, depicting heroes, gods, and other figures from Japanese mythology.
Getting involved in the festivities…
Continuing to Aomori city itself, a change of clothes was required to take part in the main event – Aomori’s very own Nebuta Matsuri. Although the floats used here are not as tall as in Goshogawara, they are intricate and numerous, creating a spectacle unlike any other. Teams from local businesses will parade these enormous creations through the streets, followed by dancers and musicians, to the sounds of taiko drums and emphatic chants. Decked out in my own Haneto dancer costume, I sang, danced, and sweated my way through the three-kilometre parade route to the cheers and applause of spectators – a pretty memorable experience for anyone!
A late-night visit to a local izakaya (Japanese ‘pub’) was the perfect way to end the day.
A lake you have to see to believe
Early the following morning we set off on a scenic train journey, past rice fields and rocky coastal vistas, finishing our time in Aomori with some hiking in the Juniko Twelve Lakes, part of the UNESCO listed Shirakami-Sanchi wilderness region. One impossibly blue pond here, Aoike, looks almost photoshopped – its 10 metres of clear water is at its brightest at midday… which we timed exceptionally well, before a well-deserved lunch.
There was a lot of this region that I didn’t get a chance to visit this time around – Hachinohe, for example, on the Pacific side of the prefecture, famed for its seafood and nightlife, and Hirosaki, a photogenic castle town that is one of the best spots for cherry-blossoms in late spring. Another visit is definitely on the cards… maybe not when it’s snowing though.”
Get in touch today if you fancy chatting to Fenton about more of his Japan adventures. (He’s had a fair few!) Give him a call on 01242 253 073, or email [email protected] to start planning your dream Japan holiday today.