International Student Picks: Aomori’s Top 4 Spots

Mar 11 2020
Nov 26 2020
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International Student Picks: Aomori’s Top 4 Spots

Located at the northernmost part of Japan’s main island, Aomori is the only prefecture that has a land link (via railway) to Hokkaido. Did you know that Aomori is currently getting a lot of attention from both inside and outside Japan? According to the Tohoku Bureau of Economy, Trade, and Industry, of the top ten most popular places visited by overseas travelers in the Tohoku Region between August 2017 and July 2018, six were in Aomori. In addition, the cruise travel website Cruisemans listed Aomori Port as number four in their ranking of top ports of call around the world. This placed it above places like Venice, Italy, and Santorini in Greece. One of the reasons for this was the appeal of things like the Aomori Nebuta Festival and the cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle

While it’s possible to get around Aomori by train and bus, renting a car is recommended for the best experience. We asked visiting international college students about the places in Aomori they’d most like to visit and will share the four most popular places here. We also asked local residents for their knowledge on each spot and have included tours for each place, so be sure to consider them when planning your visit.

Experience Aomori’s Traditional Culture

Nebuta Festival

The Nebuta Festival features large floats with huge lanterns that move around the city in a bright and festive parade. The festival is said to have its origins in the Nara Period, and it can be traced back to the customs relating to the Star Festival (Tanabata Festival) of that time. For locals, it’s the most important event of the year. The festival draws 2 million people every year, and along with the Sendai Tanabata Festival and the Akita Kanto Festival makes up the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku. Not only can visitors watch the parade, but it’s also possible for travelers and guests to join in the dancing and parade procession, making it popular with travelers from both inside and outside Japan. Perhaps the best way to enjoy the festival is to dress up in traditional garments and be a haneto dancer in the parade, and dance energetically alongside the locals. (In order to participate, special clothing is required. Rental clothes are available). While dancing to the traditional music as a haneto, it’s almost as if all the passion in your body builds up and you become one with all the excitement around you. Wearing traditional festival gear and forming bonds with the local residents makes for a truly special experience, so be sure to give it a try.

There are a few places in Aomori prefecture where you can learn about Nebuta, even if it’s not the festival season. The most famous is Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse in Aomori City and the Tachineputa Museum in Goshogawara.

Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse

Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse

Wa Rasse is a museum where visitors can learn about the traditional Nebuta Festival that takes place every year in July and August. It features a number of videos and dioramas that explain the origins and history of Nebuta, and how Aomori city and the festival developed together. Also on display are four full sized Nebuta floats that were actually used during the festival, and guests can dress up and try becoming haneto and dance to traditional music in front of the floats.

“The museum lets you enjoy Nebuta at any time of the year, so I recommend it for people who can’t come during the summer or can’t participate directly in the festival. It makes me really happy when people who get to know Nebuta at Wa Rasse are able to come back again during the summer for the actual festival,” said a local college student in her 20’s. The festival really is something very special for locals.

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Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum Aomori
Tour
Trip with a Rent a Car in Aomori city: A tour the whole family can enjoy, complete with visits to an aquarium and an art museum

Tachineputa Museum

Tachineputa Museum

Goshogawara’s Tachineputa floats stand over 20 meters tall and weigh 16 tons, making them very different from the fan-shaped Neputa of Hirosaki and the doll-shaped Neputa in Aomori city. The Tachineputa are said to date back to the late Meiji era when the floats of the time were much larger. The procession starts off with a large taiko drum and is followed by a float with the Tachineputa that is pulled by two lines of several dozen people using ropes attached to both sides of the float. In between the two lines of people is a music ensemble consisting of drummers, flautists, and people playing tehiragane (small cymbals) followed by a group of haneto who dance and chant "yattamare!”

Tachineputa is said to have begun as a local custom in the city more than 100 years ago in the mid-Meiji era, and it lasted until the early Taisho era. Floats about 21 meters tall would have been be carried by several hundred young people and paraded around the city. However, with the development of electricity, the floats were made smaller to avoid power lines and eventually ended up being the same size as the current Neputa used elsewhere (about 4.5 meters). However, in 1996, a group of volunteers used a picture as a model to recreate a Neputa reminiscent of the past, over 20 meters tall, and they called it Tachineputa. The spirit and determination of the locals who recreated this old tradition resonated with the whole country.

At the Tachineputa Museum, visitors can see actual floats that are used in the Tachineputa Festival held in Goshogawara every August. The displays and videos give visitors a sense of what it’s like to actually be at the festival, with live performances further adding to the experience. Through displays and the opportunity to try making a Tachineputa lantern for themselves, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the festival. The museum is located about 90 minutes by car from Aomori city, hence car rental is recommended so that visitors can fully enjoy their experience.

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Tachineputanoyakata Museum Aomori
Tour
Trip with a Rent a Car in Aomori Pref: Enjoy gourmet foods and Neputa, an important intangible folk cultural property

Relax in the Lake Towada Area and Enjoy the Area’s Nature Using All Five Senses

Next, let’s take a look at some of Aomori’s incredible nature. Particularly popular during our interviews were Towada and the surrounding Kamikita region. Kamikita is about 90 minutes by car from within Aomori city. The area draws many visitors who come to photograph the beauty of the area as it changes with the seasons at places like Towada Lake, Oirase Valley, and Tsutanuma Lake. These places are all surrounded by incredible nature and feature Insta-worthy spots to visit, making it worth renting a car and going out to capture that perfect photograph.

Tsutanuma Lake

Tsutanuma Lake

“The first thing that comes to mind when talking about Tsutanuma is the fall leaves. Just a short walk from the lake is the beginning of the climbing trail for the Shirkami mountain range, so for those who enjoy hiking it’s a great spot to admire the scenery. You just might find yourself hiking all the way to Aoike,” a college student from Aomori told us.

Once the fall colors peak, tourists and photographers flock to this secluded spot. In the early morning, Tsutanuma is lit by the sunrise, and when paired with the vibrant red leaves reflecting off the lake’s surface, it creates the most amazing sight. As the sun continues to rise, the sky’s color gradually changes from blue to white, creating a beautiful contrast with the colorful leaves illuminated by the morning sun. Many people arrive around 5:00 a.m. and stay to enjoy the changes in light as the day progresses. There are several other lakes in the area, so visitors can stroll along the walkways connecting them while enjoying the scenery.

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Tsutanuma Lake Aomori

Oirase Valley

Oirase Valley

“Oirase Valley is my favorite place in Aomori. Everywhere you look is lush and green, and the fresh air feels great. There’s a lot of negative ions in the air, so it really helps relieve your stress. The fall is also great. Walking along the steady, pure stream and listening to the sounds of the water really cleanses your soul,” a man in his 20’s from Aomori city told us.

Roads and walkways line the stream, making it easy to enjoy a stroll and take in the lush forest, strong waterfalls, and pure waters of the stream. The scenery changes with the seasons, and is especially beautiful when the new leaves grow in spring and when the leaves change color in autumn, so it’s worth making multiple visits. Visitors can feel like they’ve truly become one with the surrounding nature. Oirase Valley is just 20 minutes by car from Tsutanuma Lake, so you can spend a little time refreshing yourself in the jaw-dropping nature of the surroundings.

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Oirase Gorge Aomori

From the traditional and exciting Nebuta Festival that draws spectators from all over the country to the stunning nature that draws tourists and photographers alike, Aomori’s many delights are definitely worth a visit on your next trip. With cruise companies continuing to add Aomori as a port of call, its popularity as a tourist destination will surely only continue to grow.

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