My first visit to Tohoku was in October 2016 when it was autumn and the leaves were changing colours. It was also the time of harvest so we got to enjoy the best rice and the freshest of vegetables and fruits. Last month, I visited Tohoku again but in winter, to see for myself what is Japan’s definition of “powder snow”.
We visited some familiar spots and explored new ones – all beautiful in their own right, blanketed with snow like what we would see in movies and wallpapers. Here’s a breakdown of my trip, from local delicacies to the history and culture of Northern Japan.
EAT: Miso Butter Curry Milk Ramen & Niboshi Ramen
Ramen differs from each prefecture and Aomori is known for two types – miso butter curry milk and anchovy-based ramen. The former is especially popular among locals and tourists alike, made using miso broth and accented with curry powder, milk and a square of butter for aroma and flavour.
Niboshi ramen is made using anchovies for the stock for a strong, savoury note. It is also known as “Tsugaru Ramen” in Aomori, where each bowl comes with pork slices, bamboo shoots and plenty of scallion.
Miso Butter Curry Ramen: Sapporonoaji Onishi
Address: Onishi Create Building 1F, Fukukawa 1-chome 15-6, 030-0862 Aomori-shi, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Business Hour: 1100~2130
Niboshi Ramen: Nagaocyukasoba Aomori Station
Address: Aomori Station Building Ravina P1F, Yanagawa 1-chome 2-3, Aomori-shi, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Business Hour: 0700~2100
VISIT: Nebuta Museum
Nebuta Museum is home to many of Aomori’s greatest lantern floats for the Aomori Nebuta Festival – handmade using wire, wood and paper. It is a sight to behold as you walk into the belly of the museum and admire the intricate workmanship of the lanterns.
Entry is 600 yen per adult and the whole museum tour will take approximately 1-1.5 hours. There is also a “hands-on Nebuta” available to give you a feel of what a Nebuta is like.
Nebuta Museum, Wa Rasse
Address: Aomori-shi Bunka Kankou Kyuryuu Shisetsu, Aomori-shi Yasukata 1-1-1 030-0803
Business Hour: 08300~2200
Ticket: Adult 600yen, Student 250-450yen (depends on age)
Just across Nebuta Museum is A-Factory – a duty-free market-style shopping place offering local products such as sweets, processed goods, fresh vegetables and fruits. A must-try feature here is the apple cider (located on the first floor) where juices and ciders are made using Aomori grown apples.
The juice is thick and concentrated, and I really enjoyed the sparkling apple cider which is refreshing in both hot and cold weather. I drank it in the midst of snow!
Address: A-Factory, Yanagawa 1-chome 4-2, Aomori-shi, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Business Hour: 09000~2200
VISIT: Hakkoda Mountains
Hakkoda Mountains comprises 16 mountains including Mount Odake as the main peak. It is one of the most beautiful mountains in Japan especially during winter as the snow is soft and powder-like. The mountain is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders during winter so if you’re an avid skier, you should check it out.
The Hakkoda Ropeway is in service all year round and takes visitors up to the summit in about 10 minutes. It costs 1,850 yen per adult for a round trip and 870 yen per child.
Address: 1-12 Arakawa-Kansuizawa Aomori-shi, Aomori 030-0111 Japan
Business Hour: March 1st ~ Beginning of November 9:00~16:20
Mid-November ~ February 28th 9:00~15:40
Runs every 20 minutes (One way 10 minutes)
Ticket: One way Adult 1180yen, Child 570yen, Round trip Adult 1850yen, Child 870yen
EAT: Apple Cuisine at Yamazaki Restaurant
Aomori Prefecture is said to produce the best apples in Japan and Kiseki no Ringo (known as Miracle Apples) is the creation of famed farmer Akinori Kimura. These miracle apples are featured at Yamazaki Restaurant in Hirosaki, Aomori – where Kimura’s apples are incorporated in a variety of dishes in course meals.
The dishes are creative and delicious, from cold apple soup to apple pork chop. Definitely something to try if you’re into fine dining and new things. They also have patisserie a few doors away and the apple pound cake is said to be really good.
Address: 41 Oyakatamachi, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Business Hour: 1130~1400, 1730~2030
VISIT: Tsugaru Neputa Mura
Neputa Mura (ねぷた村) or Neputa Village is a museum about Hirosaki’s famous festival, the Neputa Matsuri – a spot for visitors to experience the Neputa Festival. You get to watch the Tsugaru-shamisen performance and try your hands on the Japanese drums (taiko) along with the Neputa musicians.
I found the drums relatively easy but the shamisen is trickier to master compared to guitar. Nonetheless, it’s fun to watch and experience if you’re there. There are also shops selling handmade craft and local produce like fresh apples, jams, compotes and apple chips.
Tsugaru Nebuta Village
Address: 61 Kamenokōmachi, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori Prefecture< Japan
Business Hour: 0900~1730
VISIT: Hirosaki Castle
Hirosaki Castle was the residence castle to the feudal lord of the Tsugaru Clan in the Edo Period and is one of the twelve remaining castle towers in Japan. The castle park is said to be very beautiful in Spring, but it was already so mesmerising during winter when I went.
I also got to try on a kimono, worn only by princesses during that time. It was my first time dressing up in a kimono and I was told the kimono rental at Hirosaki Castle is one of the more affordable ones in Japan.
Address: 1 Shimoshirogane-cho, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori Prefecture 036-8356 Japan
Honmaru/Kita no Kuruwa Area 9:00 ~ 17:00 (April 1st~November 23rd)
Botanical Garden 9:00~18:00 (Tickets are sold until 17:30)
*During the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival the paid hours are extended.
(Winter Closing) November 24th ~ March 31st
EXPERIENCE: Akita Nairiku Line
What better way to experience Tohoku than with the Akita Nairiku Line? We took the train from Takanosu station to Kakunodate – one of my favourite places in Tohoku. The winter scenery is spectacular from this line where you see beautiful white snow blankets on the landscape along the way; it really looks like Winter Wonderland.
While it takes slightly longer to get to Kakunodate compared to the JR Line, the view itself is worth the ride. A one-way ticket from Kakunodate to Takanosu is 1620 yen and takes roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Akita Nairiku Line
VISIT: Tsurunoyu Hotspring
I visited this hotspring during Autumn where the leaves were browning and thought it was a sight to behold. The view is breathtakingly beautiful during winter – almost magical. Nyuto Tsurunoyu is the oldest hotspring in the mountains, popular for its mineral baths that soothe aches and heals the body.
The spring water has a milky appearance from all the minerals from the mountain, and is available for both staying guests and day-trippers for a small admission fee. The baths are outdoor with gender segregated bathing and also mixed gender baths.
Nyuto Onsenkyo – Tsurunoyu Onsen
Address: Tazawako Sendatsuzawa Kokuyurin 50, Senboku-city, Akita, Japan
Kakunodate Samurai District is one of my must-visit places in Tohoku, one of the most popular cherry blossom spots in Tohoku. I have yet to experience spring in Kakunodate so I’m definitely coming back during cherry blossom season.
This former castle town is famous for its samurai tradition and historic homes. It is also very beautiful in winter and if you’re lucky, you’ll set to see Buke Maru – an Akita dog.
EAT: Hinai Jidori
Like how people grade different cow breeds and cuts, Hinai Jidori is nationally recognised and considered one of the best chickens in Japan. It used to be offered to the lord as a land tax between 17th and 19th century because of its unrivalled taste and texture.
The meat is moderately plump with a chewy yet tender texture and the flavour develops as the chicken is cooked. It is delicious when cooked in Kiritanpo or grilled and eaten with roasted miso which brings out the umami notes of the meat.
I think Tohoku remains one of the most beautiful places in Japan for me, especially after my second visit. It is easy to get around by train and the prefecture is rich in culture and boasts some of the best produce in Japan. I will return again – this time, in spring! ;)
For more information about Tohoku, visit the official website here: http://tohokusnowexperience.jp/bangsarbabe-in- tohoku/dj_tohoku/