Okay Devon is back today with Japlanning's first prefecture guide! Starting with the Aomori prefecture right at the top of the main island of Japan.
Aomori prefecture is the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s main island, Honshu. Located roughly 3 hours from Tokyo by train, Aomori City is situated on Mutsu Bay and is the main departure point for Hokkaido. Aomori prefecture is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site – it contains the world’s largest virgin forest of beech trees located in the Shirakami Mountains. With warm summers and cold winters, there’s plenty to do in every season.
The Shinkansen train line was completed in late 2010 to Aomori City and since then Aomori has been setting itself up for the increase in tourism.
In this guide, we’ll focus on Aomori City and immediate surrounds.
Aomori prefecture is famous for apples! Delicious, delicious apples. In fact, the Aomori prefecture even produces the famous Fuji apple named after Fujisaki Aomori. (Sorry Mt. Fuji.) The A-Factory located downtown sells Aomori-produced food and the ability watch the cider making process. YUM! Stop by ASPAM (Aomori Prefectural Center for Tourism and Industry) afterwards. Shaped like a gigantic letter “A” it’s hard to miss. There’s a tourist information deck, gift shops (for all your apple product needs!) and restaurants.
Check out the shops, you’ll find some products unique to Aomori and maybe even feel brave enough to try some scallop ice cream, another famous product from Aomori. Inside ASPAM there’s also a 360-degree observation deck on the 13th floor but that does have an additional cost. If you’re lucky you might even bump into Ikubee, Aomori’s mascot!
10:00 to 21:00 but are subject to change.
The A-Factory and ASPAM are a 7 minute walk from the JR Aomori Station. Parking is available near the Warasse Nebuta Museum Parking and is ¥210 for the first hour, ¥ 100 every 30 minutes after.
Seen the Buddha in Nara? Then this stop is a necessity for any Buddha connoisseur trying to complete Japanese Big Buddha Bingo! Constructed in 1984, the Daibutsu at Seiryu-ji Temple is the tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha in Japan. Get a guide in English and follow the map to see the five-story pagoda, the Seiryu Falls, and participate in the Shikoku temple trek – follow in the footsteps of the training Dashi, grab a staff and say your mantra as you place your feet on 88 stones containing the holy sand from other Buddhist temples around Japan.
Before entering the Buddha, make sure you’re properly cleansed. Weather dependent, kick off your shoes and walk across the raised stone path and light some incense. Once inside the Buddha, take a self-guided tour and pay close attention to the artwork, featuring some graphic images depicting Hell and Paradise.
Famished after all that spirituality? Buckwheat noodles & drinks are sold at the Senshin Hermitage on the way back to the entrance. There’s also a small shop that sells charms and local goods.
- Adults & Students ¥400,
- Elementary School Students ¥200
- April to October: 8:00 to 17:30
- November to March: 9:00 to 16:30pm
The Daibutsu at Seiryu-ji Temple is located at 45 Kuwabara Yamazaki, Aomori-shi, Aomori 030-0935. It is a 25 minute drive from JR Aomori Station.
City Bus – It’s a 45 minute bus ride to Seiryu-ji temple. Take the bus bound for Showa Daibutsu from JR Aomori Station and get off at the last stop.
Discovered in 1992, these are the largest pre-historic ruins of the Jomon-period, estimating to date back 4,000-5,000 years. Free volunteer guided tours leave every two hours and offer tours in Japanese, English or Korean, with no reservation necessary. If you’d like to do a self-guided tour, they offer English map at reception. Explore the reconstructed Jomon village, and the ruins themselves. At the exhibition & experience centres, you’ll see earthenware, personal ornaments, small knitted baskets or “Jomom pochettes”. Activities for children include making mini-clay figures.
- Free Entry
- April 1 – September 30 9:00 – 16:00
- October 1 – March 31 9:00 – 15:30
- Closed: December 31-January 2
The site is wheelchair accessible and are available for rental at the exhibition centre. Ask at the information desk if you require one.
Sannai-Maruyama Ruins and Aomori Museum of Art are a 20 minute drive from JR Aomori Station or 30 minute drive from Aomori Airport
Next door to the Sannai-Maruyama Ruins, The Aomori Museum of Art. See the famous “White Dog” sculpture, artwork from Aomori prefecture and even a Pablo Picasso.
- Adults ¥500, ¥300
- University/High School students, ¥100
- Middle/Elementary School students
- January 6- September 30: 9:00-18:00
- October 1 – March 31: 9:30-17:00
- Closed every 2nd and 4th Monday.
- Final admission is 30 minutes before close.
The Aomori Museum of Art is located at 185 Chikano, Yasuta, Aomori City, Aomori 038-0021
City Bus – from JR Aomori Station take the bus for Unten Menkyo-Center from Aomori Station. It’s a 20 minute bus ride to the Sannai-Maruyama-Iseki-Mae bus stop for the ruins. Take the Kenritsu-Bijutsukan-mae bus stop to go directly to the Aomori Museum of Art, but both sites are a 5 minute walk from one another if you miss your stop. The bus costs ¥300 each way.
In a recent study, it was found that citizens of Aomori spent more time at Hanami (or Cherry Blossom Viewing) more than any other prefecture in Japan! They take Hanami seriously. Check out Aomori during Golden Week when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and lanterns illuminate them at night. From Aomori City take a day trip to the 17th century Hirosaki Castle and see the 2600 cherry trees on spectacular display.
Hirosaki Castle: ¥300 (Free the last Sunday of May)
Closed Nov 24- Mar 31
Hirosaki Castle is a 1 hour drive from Aomori City or 35 to 50 minute train ride on the JR Ou Main line to Hirosaki Station. Once you arrive at the station it’s a 20 minute walk or a short bus ride.
Perhaps the most well-known festival in Aomori City, the Nebuta-matsuri Festival is held annually from August 2nd to 7th. Created by placing paper over wire frames, the Nebuta-matsuri festival features huge lantern floats designed after warriors, demons and mythical creatures. This high-energy festival loves for people to join in the fun and tourists can participate in the parade as ‘haneto’ (Nebuta participants). Rent or purchase a costume, follow behind one of the floats and dance and cheer the night away! Make sure you catch the last night with the spectacular fireworks display for the conclusion of the festival. Thinking of catching Nebuta? It attracts of 3 million visitors from out of town (10 TIMES its population) so book accommodation early.
Can’t make it during the festival? Located just a one-minute walk from the JR Aomori station, the Warasse Nebuta Museum has floats from previous years are on display. Learn the history of Nebuta, watch some videos from previous years and experience the festival by practicing your haneto skills in traditional festival activities; beating drums, clanging symbols and dancing! Before you leave, don’t forget to try your hand digitally designing your own Nebuta mask and grab some cool souvenirs on the way out. Expect to spend 1 to 2 hours in the museum.
Adults ¥600, High School Students ¥450, and Middle/Elementary School Students ¥250
September to April 9:00 to 18:00
May to August 9:00 to 19:00
Closed December 31 & January 1
Parking next door – ¥210 for the first hour, ¥ 100 every 30 minutes after.
Inakadate village hosts one of the prefectures coolest festivals and took advantage of their notoriety as a farming prefecture to an extreme. Each September they create “tanbo” or rice paddy art. The artwork is designed by computer firstly and then villagers get to work: plating different colors of rice stalks in roped off sections similar to ‘color by numbers’. The results are incredible! Tourists can visit, take some pictures from the observation deck to view the art and then stop by the gift shop to see pictures from previous years tanbo artwork. The artwork can usually be viewed until the harvest in early October.
Inakadate village is a 40 minute drive or 60 minute bus ride from Aomori airport. From Aomori City take the Ou Line to Hirosaki and then on to Inakadate Station. (36 minutes) Both fields are a 5 minute taxi ride from Inakadate Station.
To get through the long, cold winter, there’s a variety of festivals. Moya Hills Winter festival features a ski tournament, or head to Gappo park in Aomori and take a turn on the giant snow slide or participate in the snowball competition. Dates are flexible for these so make sure you check out the Aomori official website (in English) before booking.
Aomori is located 3hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori Station via the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line.
1 hour and 10 minutes from Haneda to Aomori Airport. Transfer to a Bus which will bring you to Aomori station.
Although Aomori does have a rather extensive bus system, if traveling out of downtown, it may be easiest and quickest to rent a car. If traveling by train or air, car rental facilities are available at both locations. As an added bonus to attract tourists, Aomori has been making an effort to include signs in multiple languages including English, so traveling by car is a breeze.