Aomori in Winter

Aomori Prefecture is located at the northernmost tip of Honshu. Located at approximately the same latitude as New York, Beijing, Rome and Madrid, Aomori receives a great deal of snowfall in winter, bringing beautiful snowy landscapes everywhere the eye can see. Some of the finest experiences in the world await you in Aomori's winter wonderland, including breathtaking views of scenery fashioned of snow, winter fun and sporting activities, and relaxation in hot springs to warm up on a chilly day. And on top of all that, Aomori offers excellent local cuisine and festivals found nowhere else in the country. Why not come up for a visit?

Spectacular Scenery

With an abundance of nature, Aomori has many locations offering spectacular scenery. Among the wonderful sights are the Hakkoda Mountains to the south of the city of Aomori, where the main peak of Odake rises to an altitude of 1,585 meters. This mountain range is included in the list of 100 Famous Japanese Mountains. The mountains are filled with flowing rivers and with beautiful valleys and waterfalls, particularly in the upper reaches. The buna, or Japanese beech, can be found up to an altitude of 1,000 meters, beyond which there are evergreen forests of the Aomori todomatsu, a type of fir tree. Growing thickly on the mountain slopes, these evergreens grow in size from the rime that accumulates from freezing fog moisture and from falling snow, creating the so-called "snow monsters." These rime- and snow-laden trees are truly one of Aomori's great scenic views and are definitely worth a trip to see. An aerial lift called the Hakkoda Ropeway makes it easy to visit the snow monster region, which is brimming with sightseers in the peak viewing season of January and February. Among those who use the aerial lift are skiers and snowboarders, who flock to enjoy the beautiful trails woven among the snow monsters. The area is popular among people from around Japan as well as from abroad. Even those without skiing or snowboarding equipment, though, can enjoy winter activities. Just make sure you come bundled up and go the top where you can rent snowshoes and go trekking. Enjoy fun in the snow to your heart's content with the majestic mountainous scenery in the background!

Another attraction in Aomori Prefecture is the Shirakami-Sanchi highlands, a World Heritage Site. Winter there is harsh, and the number of areas accessible in winter is limited, but there are locations where the winter of Shirakami can be experienced. One such place is Juni-ko, or Twelve Lakes. Over an area of about four kilometers, Juni-ko encompasses some 33 lakes and marshes. The name Juni-ko comes from the 12 ponds that can be seen when looking down from an observation point on Mount Kuzure-yama. This is one of the few areas where the winter of Shirakami can be experienced. Enveloped by the stillness of the wilderness and surrounded by the mystic air of the winter beech forest, don some snowshoes and go for a hike! Take a guided tour and search for animal tracks and mountain birds.

Hot Springs

With more than a thousand hot springs, Aomori Prefecture is one of Japan's foremost areas for enjoying hot spring baths. Some are off the beaten path and little known while others are famous for various qualities. After expending all your energy having fun in the snow, a relaxing time in a hot spring to heal the fatigue is another great reason for a trip to Aomori in winter.

Sukayu Onsen is a mountain hot spring lodge in Hakkoda with a history of some three hundred years. Located in the bracing highlands about 900 meters above sea level, Sukayu Onsen grew in popularity as a health spa. Although it continues to draw visitors seeking the health benefits of the water sources, the hot spring is more often these days a destination of mountain climbers, skiers, snowboarders and general sightseers to the Hakkoda Mountains. Its famous "thousand-person bath" is 292 square meters in size and made completely of hinoki, or Japanese cypress, a wood valued for its fine aroma. The hot spring facilities include baths with four different water sources, providing a variety of temperatures and hot spring water properties.

Hotel Apple Land in Hirakawa is a hot spring facility famous for its open-air apple hot spring bath, in which specialty apples of Aomori Prefecture can be found bobbing about. The sweet-and-sour aroma of the apples hangs over the bath while natural apple substances in the water moisturize the skin and improve blood circulation. The apple hot spring is particularly popular among the female clientele.

Many of Aomori Prefecture's hot spring facilities are located along or near the coast. Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen in Fukaura is one such facility with an open-air bath that sticks out over the Sea of Japan. Soaking in the hot spring bath is a wondrous sensation that feels as though you are floating in the wide open sea. And in the evening, gazing at the sunset is a wonderful delight. Enjoy some extravagant time at your leisure.

Dining

The blessings of bountiful forests and of villages that benefit from that bounty. And blessings of the seas that surround Aomori in three directions. Rich in food sources, Aomori has a variety of local food traditions and excellent cuisine utilizing ingredients characteristic of each region within Aomori. When traveling around the prefecture, make sure to eat your fill before leaving.

There are many restaurants, particularly along the coastline, that offer fresh sushi, a popular cuisine among overseas tourists. Bordering the sea, the city of Aomori is very much a sushi town with many excellent sushi restaurants. Look for the "Aomori Sushi Coupons" available for sale in the city valid for a great meal at a fixed price. Another excellent treat that can be found in Hachinohe is "Hachinohe sushi," which includes special types of mackerel and ika (squid), freshly caught and unloaded at the Port of Hachinohe. Oma maguro (tuna) is also a premium grade of maguro that can be found in Oma at the northernmost tip of Honshu. Make sure to sample the excellent food while in Aomori!

Each area of Aomori has its own tradition of hotpot. A local cuisine found on the Shimokita Peninsula in the north is miso kai-yaki, a dish of shellfish boiled in miso. Seafood is placed in large scallop shells in place of the pot normally used for hotpot, and to this are added the broth from dried seafood, miso and beaten egg, and the ingredients are allowed to simmer. Aomori has many other outstanding hotpot styles for savoring winter, including jappa-jiru, in which the bony parts of Pacific cod from the Tsugaru region are cooked, senbei-jiru, in which senbei (rice crackers) are placed in broth made from cornucopia of ingredients from the Hachinohe region, and botan nabe, a popular dish in the Wakinosawa region where the main ingredient, wild boar, comes from.

Matsuri (Festivals)

In regions of Japan where it snows, snow festivals are held. Ranging from small to large in size, the many snow festivals of Aomori Prefecture include two of the festivals counted in the Michinoku Godai Snow Festivals, which are characteristic of the north Tohoku region.

One of the two local Michinoku Godai Snow Festivals is the Hachinohe Enburi. The name "Hachinohe Enburi" is also the name of the dance featured in the festival and is a folk form of entertainment from the Hachinohe area that has been nationally designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan. The purpose of the enburi is to pray for an abundant harvest in the upcoming season. The tayu dancers wear festive eboshi hats shaped like a horse's head and move their heads in great movements to represent the work of rice farmers, a unique characteristic of the festival. During the festival season, enburi groups gather from Hachinohe and the surrounding areas to celebrate. A typical year sees around 250,000 people attend.

The other is the Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival, held in Hirosaki Park at Hirosaki Castle. Among the events are a display of about 200 lanterns of all sizes made by residents and about 300 mini-kamakura (igloos) lit inside with candles, and illumination lights up the castle and the venerable pine trees, giving the area a magical sense of illusion. During the long holiday at the end of April and beginning of May, Hirosaki Park also hosts the "Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival." There are about 2,600 cherry blossom trees of some 50 species in the park, praised for the beauty that comes from the most thorough care in Japan. The highlight of the festival is just when the cherry blossoms in the park begin to fall. The petals cover the surface of the castle moat, seeming to make a pink carpet. The sight of the carpet flowing in the spring wind is called the hana ikada, or petal raft, and has been described on Facebook as "The world's most beautiful sight, a place I must go before I die!" In addition to coming to Aomori for the beauty of winter, come to see the beauty of spring after winter gives way to warmer days.