Japan City Guides: Aomori
Aomori, located in the far north of Japan is one of the country's most beautiful prefectures and the prefectural capital, Aomori city, is among Japan's most pleasant towns to visit or live.
Located in Mutsu Bay, Aomori city retains its Edo Period grid pattern, though the city was heavily bombed in World War II. Most of Aomori's attractions are recent buildings including a number of contemporary architectural gems: the Wa Rasse and A-Factory near Aomori Station, Aomori Bay Bridge and the Aomori Prefecture Tourist Center (ASPAM).
Aomori has a population of over 300,000 people and was the main crossing point to Hokkaido before the opening of the Seikan Tunnel in 1988.
Things to see and do in Aomori City
There are some major things to see and do within easy walking distance of Aomori Station. Turning left out of the station is the A-Factory (Tel: 017 752 1890) consisting of apple based workshops including a cider maker, a market and stylish cafes and restaurants with a view of the elegant span of the Aomori Bay Bridge. Directly opposite is the superb Wa Rasse (Tel: 017 752 1311), which opened in 2011 and is a cultural and arts center dedicated to Aomori's famous Nebuta Festival, displaying five floats from the previous year's festival along with video installations, sounds, photographs and introductions to some of the famous Nebuta artists over the ages.
Just under Aomori Bay Bridge is the Memorial Ship Hakkoda-Maru (Tel: 017 735 8150), which was the train ferry that plied the route from Aomori to Hakodate, making its last voyage in 1988 before the opening of the Seikan Tunnel. The vessel is now a floating museum dedicated to the history of the passage and also a beer garden in summer.
Walking along the bay brings you to the Aomori Prefecture Tourist Center ASPAM (Tel: 017 735 5311), a 76m-tall A-shaped tower housing a Tourist Information Office, a market, an event space, restaurants and an observation deck with fantastic views of Aomori city and Mutsu Bay. Next to ASPAM is Aoi Umi Park, a seaside park with places to sit and enjoy the sea breezes. In summer Nebuta floats are produced here at Nebuta Rasseland.
View of Mutsu Bay from the observation deck of ASPAM and the A-Factory near Aomori Station
The Memorial Ship Hakkoda-Maru in Mutsu Bay and Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum
Walking straight out of Aomori Station along Shinmachi Shopping Street (Amenity Street) brings you to the Auga Department Store on your right. The basement floor has a traditional fresh fish market and some excellent sushi bars for a taste of Aomori's rich seafood cuisine. Shinmachi Street has a number of antique and craft stores and is a pleasant place to stroll and window shop.
Two streets north of Shinmachi east of Uto Shrine is the interesting Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum (Tel: 017 777 1585), which has a large collection of Jomon period pottery, miniature reconstructions of Jomon huts and tools from this early period of Japanese history, the study of which was revolutionized by the discovery and excavation of the Sannai Maruyama Site and the Komakino stone circles in Aomori, south west of the city near the Aomori Museum of Art. Other exhibits at the Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum include displays on the area's life and culture in the Edo period, Aomori city's importance as a port and a collection of the stick-like Oshira house gods. The war years are covered with contemporary photographs, posters and uniforms as is the Hakkoda Mountains Incident of 1902, when 199 out of 210 soldiers were killed in a training exercise during a blizzard on the Hakkoda Mountains.
Nebuta Float at Wa Rasse in Aomori & the Aomori Contemporary Art Center designed by Tadao Ando
Guide To Museums & Art Galleries in Aomori
Aomori has some superb museums and galleries outside the city center limits which can be reached by public bus from Aomori Station, taxi or rental car.
Nebuta-no-Sato (Tel: 017 738 1230), 9 km south of Aomori city is a large wooden pavilion set in a forested park. The pavilion contains a number of illuminated, revolving Nebuta floats and puts on a daily Nebuta show. Visitors can also buy a selection of Nebuta goods including bamboo taketombo (flying propellers) and Nebuta Kingyo (goldfish lanterns) as well as enjoy lunch in the Nebuta-no-Sato restaurant.
The Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum of Art (Tel: 017 777 4567) exhibits the woodblock prints of Aomori native Munakata Shiko (1903-1975), the "Vincent van Gogh of Aomori" including his masterpiece Ten Great Disciples of Buddha, as well as the artist's oil paintings, illustrated books and calligraphy. To get to the Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum of Art by public transport take a Yokouchi Kanjo-sen bus from Aomori Station.
The Aomori Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) on the grounds of Aomori Public College was designed by the internationally-acclaimed architect Tadao Ando and the building and its water feature blends beautifully with the surrounding woodland. The Aomori Contemporary Art Center stages frequent exhibitions by both Japanese and foreign contemporary artists. There are buses to the university campus from Aomori Station.
The Aomori Museum of Art (Tel: 017 777 4567) is close to the Jomon-period Sannai Maruyama archeological site and the white cubic building was designed by architect Jun Aoki to harmonize with its historical surroundings. The Aomori Museum of Art houses various permanent and temporary exhibitions including works by Shiko Munakata, Marc Chagall and Paul Klee. The huge, white dog sculpture by Yoshitomo Nara at the museum has become a symbol of Aomori. Take a bus bound for the Driving License Center and get off at Kenritsu Bijitsukan-mae (20 minutes).
Other museums in and around Aomori city include the Aomori City Forestry Museum (Tel: 017 766 7800) housed in the former Aomori Forest Office Building, which dates from 1908 and built in Aomori cypress. The museum is a 10 minute walk from the West Exit of Aomori Station. Also out this way is the Michinoku Traditional Wooden Boat Museum (Tel: 017 761 2311) with a collection of sixty-seven traditional wooden fishing vessels. The museum is the largest of its kind in Japan.
Out near Aomori Airport in Namioka is the Ken Tsuneda Atelier in Storehouse Museum (Tel: 0172 62 2442) dedicated to the life and works of the "farmer artist" Ken Tsuneda (1910-), whose oil paintings are displayed in the museum.
The Oirase Gorge and rapids near Lake Towada is particularly beautiful in the fall
Hakkoda-san and Lake Towada are two areas of outstanding natural beauty in Aomori Prefecture
Other popular places to visit in Aomori include the Showa Daibutsu at Seiryu-ji Temple, which has Japan's largest seated bronze statue of the Nyorai Buddha at over 21m in height. Seiryu-ji Temple also has a 39m tall pagoda on its grounds. Visitors can enjoy morning meditation sessions and vegetarian meals.
The Aomori Machinaka Baths near the Aomori Fresh Fish & Vegetable Center are an excellent place to unwind after a hard day sightseeing and has a number of different baths including an outdoor rotemburo.
The Sanfuri Yokocho Aomori Yataimura is a recreation of a Meiji-era dining area with a number of small, intimate stalls serving up local cuisine including kaiyaki miso, Kuraishi beef and rice cracker soup.
The main districts for shopping in Aomori are the areas around Aomori Station and along Shinmachi Street. Close to Aomori Station are A-Factory, the Auga Department Store, Aomori Fresh Fish & Vegetable Center, an interesting enclosed market with many stalls selling a variety of fresh fish and vegetables and ASPAM, where you can purchase Aomori's signature products of apples, apple cider, sake, hiba cypress woodwork, Kokeshi dolls, Koginsashi embroidery, Tsugaru lacquerware, Kanayama-yaki ceramics and marine products.
Shinmachi Street has a number of antique and local craft stores and the Sakurano, Beny Mart and Nakasan shopping centers.
Hirosaki Castle is set in beautiful grounds with scenic moats and bridges
Around Aomori Travel Guide
Just 30 minutes by express train west of Aomori is the lovely castle town of Hirosaki, which besides its huge castle grounds famous for their thousands of cherry trees, has a number of Edo Period wooden houses once owned by local samurai and merchant families, a collection of Meiji-era buildings, the Fujita memorial Garden, a Botanical Garden within the castle park and some lovely temples including the five-story pagoda at Saisho-in.
Towada-ko (Lake Towada) is Japan's third largest and third deepest lake and known for the clarity of its water. Tour boats sail the lake from Yasumiya bus terminal from where there are buses to Aomori city. By car Towada-ko is around 2 hours driving time. A further 30km along Route 454 is the tiny village of Shingo and the Tomb of Christ - where locals claim that Jesus Christ did not die in Jerusalem but escaped to live in northern Tohoku as a rice farmer.
Route 103 from Aomori city leads up to Hakkoda-san, consisting of eight dormant volcanoes, and an area known for its winter skiing and summer hiking to admire Hakkoda's many alpine plants. The Hakkoda Ropeway goes up to Tamoyachi-dake at 1326m from where the Odake peak is a short hike at 1584m. There are a number of onsen hot spring resorts in the area including Sukayu Onsen - famous for its huge mixed Senninburo bath open to both sexes (a rarity in Japan), Jogakura Onsen, Sarakuya Onsen and Yachi Onsen. Hakkoda-san is known for its "Snow Monsters" - trees glazed with snow and for a variety of winter events including winter walks along roads flanked with snow up to 9m in height.
Running 14km between Yakeyama at the foot of Hakkoda-san and Nenokuchi on the shore of Towada-ko is the fantastically beautiful Oirase Gorge, where the crystal-clear Oirase River runs along the road through a beautiful deciduous forest, known for its spectacular foliage colors in autumn. A number of icy rapids and plunging waterfalls add to the beauty of the place, whose main center is the charming Ishigedo. Oirase Gorge is a favorite with cyclists and hikers and is a must-see if you are in Aomori.
The long and bleak Shimokita Peninsula is shaped like an ax-head north east of Aomori city and is best known for Osore-zan, the "fearful mountain" that is believed to be the gateway to the afterlife and the home of wandering spirits. Osore-Bodaiji Temple sits adjacent to a sulfurous crater lake and people come to commune with dead relatives through mediums, often blind women, called itako. The temple closes on November 1 for winter and reopens in May. Other settlements on the Shimokita Peninsula are the fishing and agricultural towns of Mutsu, with train connections to Noheji, and Wakinosawa, which has ferries back to Aomori. Omazaki is the northern most point in Honshu.
Asamushi Hot Springs
The onsen resort of Asamushi lies to the north east of Aomori city on Mutsu Bay and is a 30 minute drive or short train journey. There are a number of hot spring hotels and free foot baths in front of JR Asamushi Onsen Station.
Aomori Accommodation Guide
Aomori has a large number of hotels for a city of its size to cater for the up to 3 million visitors who flock to the town in August to see the Nebuta Festival in early August. Hotels in Aomori city are located throughout the town and range from cheap chain hotels such as the Super Hotel to more upmarket establishments such as the Aomori Washington Hotel. Some recommended hotels in Aomori city include the Richmond Hotel, Smile Hotel, Hotel Route Inn, Sunroute Aomori Hotel, and the Hotel Crowne Palais.
Eating in Aomori
Aomori is rightly known for its delicious food, especially seafood, kaiyaki miso, oden and apples and varieties of fine sake. Good places to sample the local cuisine include the basement of Auga Department Store, A-Factory and Sanfuri Yokocho (see above). There are also a number of restaurants serving local cuisine in the ASPAM center. For a change there is an Indian restaurant Taji (Tel: 017 752 6271) not far from Aomori Station on Shinmachi Street and another Indian restaurant on Hirosaki Station approach.
Sushi bar at Auga Fish Market, Aomori.
Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum
Aomori Prefecture's main festivals are the Nebuta in Aomori city from August 2-7, the Neputa in Hirosaki from August 1-7, the Goshogawara Tachineputa August 3-8, the Hachinohe Sansha Taisai July 31-August 4 and the Kuroishi Festival from August 15-16.
The Nebuta Festival in August in Aomori city draws over 3 million spectators to see each gorgeously created float
Access - Getting to Aomori
Aomori Airport has daily JAL flights from Haneda Airport in Tokyo (80 minutes), Shin-Chitose Airport in Sapporo (50 min), and Itami Airport in Osaka (95 mins), as well as a Fuji Dream Airlines flight from Komaki Airport in Nagoya (1 hour, 20 mins) as well as four times a week flights to Seoul (3 hours) operated by Korean Airlines. There are buses from Aomori Airport to Aomori Station (35 mins; 680 yen), Hirosaki (55 mins; 1000 yen) and Goshogawara (55 mins; 1000 yen).
Trains To Aomori
From Tokyo Station or Ueno Station JR Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa via Omiya, Sendai, Morioka and Hachinohe to Shin Aomori Station and then change for a train to Aomori Station or Hirosaki. Journey time is 3 hours, 20 minutes from Tokyo Station to Shin Aomori and the current fare is around 23,000 yen. All seats are reserved. To Hakodate in Hokkaido by Super Hakucho Express the journey time is 1 hours and 51 minutes. The overnight Shindai Tokkyu Express to Osaka takes 14 hours, 47 minutes. Express trains to Hirosaki via Shin Aomori Station take 36 minutes or around 50 minutes on a local train. There are Aoimori Railway trains from Aomori to Noheji (change for JR Ominato Line trains to Yokohama and Shimokita Station in Mutsu on the Shimokita Peninsula), Misawa and Hachinohe. From Shin Aomori Station there are trains to Kanita, Minmaya and Tappizaki on the Tsugaru Line.
Bus To Aomori
Ferry To Hokkaido
There are Tsugaru Kaikyo ferries from Aomori Port to Hakodate in 3 hours, 40 minutes. (Tel: 017 766 4733) and also from Oma at the tip of the Shimokita Peninsula to Hakodate in 1 hour 40 minutes (2 sailings per day). There are eight daily sailings on the Aomori - Hakodate route including two on the luxury Blue Dolphin.
The Hakocho Express connects Aomori with Hakodate in Hokkaido while the Hayate Shinkansen runs from Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori Station
Getting Around Aomori
Aomori city center is small enough to get around on foot, local bus, taxi or rental cycle. If you wish to explore further afield in the Shimokita Peninsula and Lake Towada area, a rental car will cost around 7,000 yen per day or less for a K vehicle. The Shuttle Route Bus Nebutan-go runs past a few of Aomori's main attractions in a loop from Shin Aomori Station and costs 500 yen for a day pass. There are 20 services a day from 6.42am to 6.53am that run both clockwise and counter clockwise. From Shin Aomori Station the clockwise bus stops at Aomori Station, A-Factory, ASPAM, Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum, Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum of Art, the Sannai Maruyama site and the Aomori Museum of Art.
Aomori car and bike rental
There are a number of places to rent both cars and bicycles throughout Aomori. For car rental Mazda (Tel: 017 773 2932), Nippon Rent-A-Car (Tel: 017 722 2369) and Japaren (Tel: 017 773 3900).
Tourist Information Centers
The main tourist information center in Aomori is the Aomori City Tourist Information & Exchange Center (Tel: 017 723 4670) just outside Aomori Station with information in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. There are other tourist information centers at Shin Aomori Station (Tel: 017 752 6311), Aomori Airport (Tel: 017 739 2007) and inside the ASPAM building (Tel: 017 734 2500).
Maps of Aomori
Oirase Stream Aomori
Aomori Prefecture Map
View Aomori & Akita Map in a larger map