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Edited by: Declan Murphy
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Aomori Prefecture Travel Guide      Maps    Video

Hirosaki Castle, Aomori
Hirosaki Castle
Aomori is a remote, mountainous and primarily rural prefecture at the far northern end of Honshu. Its population has been declining for more than 20 years to less than 1.5 million as young people leave for the work and educational opportunities provided by cities such as Sapporo to the north, and the main cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka etc to the south.

What Aomori lacks in economic rigour, is more than made up for with beauty and tranquility, and a curious reputation for preserving "authentic" Japanese culture, whatever that might actually mean, in such forms as folk music (the Tsugaru Jamisen for example) and dance, and its fascinating matsuri. Aomori is particularly well known throughout Japan for its festivals, especially those of early August - the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori City and Neputa Matsuri in the nearby castle town of Hirosaki, which was the political and cultural capital of this region until the early Meiji Period. Although the population of each city is tiny when compared to those of the south and west, the festivals feature in travel brochures and covered in news bulletins throughout Japan, especially the Nebuta.

Aomori City is the largest town and a useful port for transferring to or from Hokkaido using the ferries. Although very heavily damaged during B-29 bombing raids at the end of the war, it has some points of interest nearby including the historic Sannai Maruyama site and the Hakkoda Maru floating museum. Apart from these and the Nebuta festival, Aomori City is also a very useful transport hub for exploring the area as there are quite a few affordable ryokan and hotels in Aomori, although early bookings are advised during peak seasons.

Nebuta Matsuri, Aomori
Nebuta Matsuri
Although people have lived in the Aomori area since the Jomon Period, building extensive settlements at places such as Sannai Maruyama, the Aomori region remains largely unspoilt. It is noted for its nature, particularly Lake Towada & beautiful Oirase gorge, the World Heritage listed forests of the Shirakami mountains, and the hiking opportunities offered by the national parks. The Hakkoda mountains with their strange snow monsters provide good skiing and snowboarding, and there are many onsens, with those of the Kuroishi area particularly good.

The historic town of Hirosaki is worth an overnight visit or longer stay. The attractions include the castle, historic buildings (including a samurai quarter) and temples. Famous nationwide for its cherry blossoms (1 million plus visitors each year) and the Neputa festival, the town also has numerous western style buildings from the Meiji period including the former library, the interesting Aomori bank building, the local Catholic and Anglican churches and other structures. The main drawcard though is Hirosaki Castle, an early 17th century fortification built from 1611 by the feudal lords of the Tsugaru clan. Lacking the defences of many of the more powerful fortifications built in southern and western Japan prior to and during the Edo period, and with little in the way of metal to be sold for scrap, much of the castle was left intact by the Meiji government and has since been preserved or reconstructed.

Sannaimaruyama Jomon site, Aomori
Sannaimaruyama Jomon site
The northeast contains the Shimokita Peninsula, a remote northeastern cape stretching towards Hokkaido. The coast has fishing villages, but the interior is almost uninhabited. The area is famous for its dialect (the sometimes incomprehensible shimokita-ben), folk music, and wild coastline. Mount Osore and the extensive national park provides some difficult but rewarding hiking, and this area has some isolated onsens such as those of the Yagen Valley. The Shimokita peninsula also has the world's northernmost population of monkeys (nihonzaru). Due in part to habitat loss there are only about 400 monkeys. The cold climate has resulted in macaques that are noticeably smaller than their counterparts further south (see Jigokudani) but they are the same species. The northern tip of the peninsula is the limit for the fauna of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, as the animals of Hokkaido (such as the Brown Bears) across the Tsugaru strait are north of the Blakiston line. To get to the Shimokita peninsula there is a train line from Aomori City to Ominato at the northernmost end of Mutsu Bay, ferries from Hakodate across the strait to Oma, and from Kanita across Mutsu Bay to Wakinosawa. There are some buses to major sites (these run infrequently during the off-season), but renting a car is the easiest way to travel the peninsula.

Highlights

Tours - The Japan Discovery Tours visit Aomori.
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

Photographs and contributions

Driving in Aomori
Driving in Aomori
Do you have good photographs or a story to share about Aomori? Please share it with us.

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Opening hours, prices, booking procedures, schedules etc are subject to changes beyond our control. This site is just a guide, and we advise that you always check and confirm in advance. Suggestions, additions and correction of errors are always welcome. Please contact us.

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