Aomori’s amazing artworks & architectures!
Aomori (青森県 Aomori-ken) is the northernmost prefecture of Tohoku Region (東北 Tōhoku-chihō). It is also among prefectures with capital cities that bear the same name: Aomori (青森市 Aomori-shi). Like its neighbouring prefectures Iwate and Akita, it experiences short summers and long winters each year, and the prefecture is famous for its pristine natural sceneries.
Aomori's nature throughout the year. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
The capital city, Aomori, is located in the northern side of the prefecture, right at the south of the Aomori Bay (青森湾 Aomori-wan). Translated as “blue forest”, the city is home to many tourist attractions, and its connectivity and transport network also make it easy for visitors to travel not just within the city, but also within the prefecture.
The capital city Aomori at the mouth of Aomori Bay. (Image credit: M Murakami / CC BY 2.0)
Aomori is also home to JR Shin-Aomori Station (JR新青森駅 Shin-Aomori-eki) and JR Aomori Station (JR青森駅 Aomori-eki), the city’s two main train stations, with each serving different purposes. The former is the bigger and newer station that serves as the terminal point for the Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線), and at the same time serves as the starting point of the Hokkaido Shinkansen (北海道新幹線), which travels through the northernmost prefecture of Japan. The latter is the smaller Aomori Station, located closer to the city centre and Aomori Bay, with many tourist attractions nearby.
JR Shin-Aomori Station. (Image credit: Kentaro Ohno / CC BY 2.0)
JR Aomori Station near the city centre. (Image credit: x768 / CC BY 2.0)
Plus, because of JR Shin-Aomori Station, visitors can also make use of the bullet trains to make quick getaways to other prefectures in Tohoku. Rather than just exploring Aomori, they can expand their travel itineraries by including other places within the regions, regardless of the season. Imagine visiting the larger-than-life festivals in the summer, or the mesmerising festivals of winter, without having to move out of Aomori and just staying put there. Thanks to the train connectivity brought by JR East, travelling between prefectures is made feasible and visitors can make a regional travel itinerary with ease.
JR Shin-Aomori Station enable travellers to make quick getaways to other prefectures. (Image credit: JR East)
Travellers can easily visit other prefectures from Aomori. (Image credit: 宮城県観光課 (left), 岩手県観光協会 (right))
As Japan aims to attract more visitors from around the world, it begins to consider their various needs and concerns. That includes those of Muslim travellers, who are increasingly becoming more emotionally vested in travelling to Japan despite concerns about access to halal or Muslim-friendly food, or places to pray. Aomori is one destination that is slowly gaining attention and it’s beginning to see more and more visitors pouring in throughout the year.
Although Aomori is known for its natural beauty, in this article I will be focusing on the best man-made structures that the “blue forest” has to offer.
Imposing castles and awe-inspiring bridges
Mention “Aomori” and various images come to mind for different people. The prefecture is a place of many identities, juxtaposing tradition and modernity. While it is famous for its spectacular festivals and beautiful nature, the city is also home to some amazing structures that visitors ought to check out. Case in point: the magnificent Hirosaki Castle.
Hirosaki Castle. (Image credit: JNTO)
Hirosaki Castle (弘前城 Hirosaki-jō) is a prominent castle in the city of Hirosaki. Built in the 17th century, it is preserved as a historical landmark with many visitors coming here to enjoy gazing at the castle and surrounding areas. There’s an interesting fact about Hirosaki Castle: its castle tower (天守 tenshu) was struck by lightning in early 16th century, and was rebuilt in early 18th century. Since then, the tower is the only one in Tohoku built during the Edo Period (江戸時代 Edo-jidai), which dates 1603–1868 AD. There are only a few of such structures still standing in Japan!
Hirosaki Castle. (Image credit: Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO)
Unfortunately, the castle’s stone foundations have been undergoing major renovations since 2013. But interestingly, the castle keep will be moved to enable renovation works on the stone foundation and walls. But the good news is, the keep has reopened to the public since April 2016. And incredibly, the restoration process itself is a marvel; it’s called hikiya (曳屋, literally translates as ‘to tug a house’) due to its sheer complexity it’s slated to take up to 10 years to complete. If you like to know more about the renovation works on Hirosaki Castle in further detail, you can have a look at the official website here.
Hirosaki Castle’s tower rebuilt in the Edo Period and maintained ever since. (Image credit: JNTO)
Visitors will not only remember fondly about the castle’s architecture; the surrounding Hirosaki Park (弘前公園 Hirosaki-kōen) is also recognised as one of the best cherry blossom spots in Japan. The park is lined with over 2,500 cherry blossom trees, and in spring, cherry blossom petals will render the entire park and moats pale pink. It is even selected one of Japan’s Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites (さくら名所100選 Sakura-meisho-hyaku-sen), chosen by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association.
Hirosaki Park for cherry blossom viewing. (Image credit: Hirosaki City / JNTO)
Visitors planning to visit Hirosaki Castle, especially during spring, should not miss the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (弘前さくらまつり Hirosaki-sakura-matsuri). Traditionally held over Japan’s Golden Week period (end of April to beginning of May), the festival is held at Hirosaki Park and it experiences over 2 million people each year.
Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Night illuminations during the festival. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Aomori is not known only for its historical structures. Its capital city is where you can find the Aomori Bay Bridge (青森ベイブリッジ Aomori-Bei-Burijji), an imposing architectural work of art that defines the city skyline. At 1,129m, it is the longest bridge in the city and the second longest in the prefecture (second to Hachinohe-Ōhashi Bridge).
Aomori Bay Bridge in Aomori City. (Image credit: Robert Montgomery / CC BY 2.0)
The Aomori Bay Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge, where cables hanging from pylons support the bridge deck, similar to the Yokohama Bay Bridge and Great Seto Bridge. But there’s something unique about this one: a lot of emphasis is particularly placed on the bridge design. Notice how the shape of the suspension cables, as well as the base of the bridge resemble the letter “A”, deliberately to stand for “Aomori”!
The suspension cables and base of the bridge resemble the letter “A” to stand for “Aomori”. (Image credit: Robert Montgomery / CC BY 2.0)
Aomori Bay Bridge is an instance of modern architectural marvel in the city of Aomori. But if you want something more traditional, check out Jōgakura Bridge (城ヶ倉大橋 Jōgakura-ōhashi). In the southern side of the city, deep in the Hakkōda Mountains (八甲田山系 Hakkōda-sankei) lies this 360-metre architectural marvel. Unlike the Aomori Bay Bridge, this one uses the more ancient deck arch construction, and it is the longest bridge of its type in Japan. The most amazing part of the bridge? The panoramic surrounding views, which is spectacular especially in autumn.
Jōgakura Bridge over the Jōgakura Creek in the Hakkōda Mountains. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Jōgakura Bridge in autumn. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
For the more adventurous travellers looking for something different, they should look for the Tsuru-no-Mai Bridge (鶴の舞橋 Tsuru-no-mai-hashi). In the idyllic town of Tsuruta (鶴田町 Tsuruta-machi), and next to the picturesque Fujimiko Park (富士見湖パーク) stands this artistic 300-metre structure stretching over the Tsugaru-Fujimi Lake. It is a triple arch bridge made entirely of wood from Aomori Hiba, a tree type native to Aomori that has been coveted for centuries. What’s amazing about the Tsuru-no-Mai Bridge is how it is meant to look like a crane is flying with the majestic Mount Iwaki in the background, and how visitors who crosses the bridge will be blessed with longevity.
Tsuru-no-Mai Bridge, resembling a crane flying with Mount Iwaki in the background. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Tsuru-no-Mai Bridge after sunset. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Stunning lanterns and floats throughout the year
If there’s one thing that grants Aomori its unique identity, it’s the Aomori Nebuta Festival (青森ねぶたまつり Aomori Nebuta-matsuri). Celebrated traditionally in the first week of every August, this week-long summer festival is known worldwide, with over 3 million visitors coming to witness the spectacle every year. Aomori Nebuta Festival is one of “Tohoku’s Three Great Festivals”, alongside the Sendai Tanabata Festival (仙台七夕まつり Sendai Tanabata-matsuri) in Miyagi Prefecture and Akita Kanto Festival (秋田竿燈まつり Akita Kantō-matsuri) in Akita Prefecture.
Carissa also covered these in her article, so do check it out!
Aomori Nebuta Festival. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Aomori Nebuta Festival as one of "Tohoku's Three Great Festivals". (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
For visitors wanting to know more about the history of the festival, they can visit the Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE (ねぶたの家ワ・ラッセ), a museum solely devoted to Nebuta Festival. The museum inside features photo galleries of the actual festival, exhibits, and even floats constructed for past festivals. There are even occasional performances available for visitors, with restaurants and souvenirs to complete all visitors’ enjoyable experience coming here.
Nebuta City WA-RASSE, a museum dedicated to the iconic festival. (Image credit: JTA / JNTO)
Nebuta City WA-RASSE (ねぶたの家ワ・ラッセ)
Address: 1-1-1 Yasukata, Bunka Kankou Kouryuu Shisetsu, Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture 030-0803
Nearest station: JR Aomori Station (JR青森駅)
Opening hours: 9am–7pm (May–August), 9am–6pm (September–April)
Admission fee: ¥620 per adult (¥550 per adult for groups of 10 or more)
When people think of the Nebuta Festival, they often imagine the main one held at the capital city Aomori. However, the fire festival isn’t celebrated only there; it’s also held at the ancient city of Hirosaki! Named Hirosaki Neputa Festival (弘前ねぷたまつり Hirosaki-Neputa-matsuri), the event is organised by the locals and held in the first week of every August. It is also listed one of Japan’s Intangible Folk Cultural Properties.
Hirosaki Neputa Festival. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Like the main one in Aomori, Hirosaki Neputa Festival feature astounding lantern floats with amazingly intricate artwork and designs. Each float features a front image (鏡絵 kagami-e), which translates as “mirror painting”, and a back image (見送り絵 miokuri-e), which translates as “farewell painting”. Every float features something visually stunning, and it’s always fun to see what kind of imagery you’d get.
Lantern float designs at Hirosaki Neputa Festival. (Image credit: Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO)
The surprise doesn’t stop here at Hirosaki. There’s something special during winter too: the Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival (弘前城雪燈籠まつり Hirosaki-jo-yuki-Tōrō-matsuri)! The site is also the venue for an annual winter festival that began in 1977, and is also one of Tohoku’s Five Great Snow Festivals (みちのく五大雪まつり Michinoku-go-daiyukimatsuri).
Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
The snow lanterns are specially handcrafted by the locals, and there are also huge snow sculptures on display, such as a large replica of Hirosaki Castle’s tower and igloos with lit candles inside. There’s also projection mapping during the festival!
Snow lanterns on display during the festival. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Lit candles at the festival at night. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Fields of artwork
If there’s anything Tohoku is famous for, it’s scenery. The region has some of the best sceneries in Japan, and every season has something fantastic for visitors. Aomori is no exception, as it boasts amazing sceneries for every season. In fact, the best sceneries need not necessarily be natural; some of them are specially prepared by the locals. Behold, the glorious paddy field arts of Aomori!
Amazing paddy field art at Inakadate. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
The peaceful village of Inakadate (田舎館村 Inakadate-mura), with a population of less than 10,000, is home to amazing paddy field art (田んぼアート tanbo-āto), a distinctively Japanese art form where people plant rice of various types and colours to create images in a paddy field.
Paddy field art as a way to revitalise the village in the early 1990s. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
In 1993, the locals were looking for ways to revitalise their village. As rice plantation has been part of the village’s livelihood for more than 2,000 years, they decided to honour this tradition by making art out of their paddy fields and showcasing them to the world.
Different artworks of paddy field art. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Since then, people have pouring in to witness the captivating designs, which started out simple at first. The locals opted for designs of Mount Iwaki during the initial years, but gradually they went for more complex designs. Check this out: some of the newer designs include that of Marilyn Monroe and Ultraman in 2013, Star Wars in 2015, and—check this out―Shin Godzilla himself in 2016!
Aomori in different seasons. (Image credit: Aomori Prefecture)
Aomori’s majestic natural beauty, abundant delicious food (yes, that includes not just its apples but many other fruits too), amazing hot springs and spectacular festivals are more than enough reason to warrant anyone to visit Aomori. But Aomori isn't just about nature; it also has a generous share of marvellous man-made structures. The region intends to wow everyone from around the world, and I hope more people discover the splendidness of the “blue forest”.
More details on Aomori
Aomori Prefecture is located in the northernmost part of Tohoku, just below Hokkaido Prefecture, and its capital city is also named Aomori. Visitors from Tokyo can take the Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線) bullet train to JR Shin-Aomori Station (JR新青森駅 Shin-Aomori-eki), which should take just over 3 hours.
Hirosaki Castle: the castle is located in the city of Hirosaki, and is open from 9am to 5pm, with extended hours during the cherry blossom festival. It is closed during from 24 November to 31 March for the winter, but the surrounding park will remain open during that period. The entrance fee to the castle keep is ¥310 (castle only), or ¥510 (castle, botanical garden and Fujita Memorial Garden).
Visitors can take the JR Ōu Main Line (JR奥羽本線 Ōu-honsen) from JR Shin-Aomori Station to JR Hirosaki Station (JR弘前駅 Hirosaki-eki). Take the Dotemachi Loop Bus on the west side of the train station and drop off at Shiyakusho-mae bus stop. The train journey from Shin-Aomori to Hirosaki takes 40–50 minutes and costs ¥590 per adult. For the bus ride, it’s ¥100 per adult and the journey takes 10–15 minutes.
Aomori Bay Bridge: the bridge is located in Aomori city, and is open to public. Visitors can take the JR Ōu Main Line from JR Shin-Aomori Station to JR Aomori Station (JR青森駅 Aomori-eki). The train journey takes only 6 minutes, and the fare is ¥190 per adult.
Tsuru-no-Mai Bridge: the bridge is in the town of Tsuruta. Visitors can take the JR Ōu Main Line from JR Shin-Aomori Station to JR Kawabe Station (JR川部駅 Kawabe-eki), then switch to JR Gonō Line (JR五能線 Gonō-sen) and continue to JR Mutsu-Tsuruda Station (JR陸奥鶴田駅 Mutsu-Tsuruda-eki). From the station, take a taxi to reach Tsugaru Fujimiko Park, where the bridge is located. The train journey from Shin-Aomori to Mutsu-Tsuruda takes around 1 hour 15 minutes, and costs ¥770 per adult. The taxi ride takes 10 minutes, and the fare costs approximately ¥2,000.
Aomori Nebuta Festival: the festival takes place on 2–7 August every year. The main parade takes place from 7pm to 9pm for 2–6 August, and from 1pm to 3pm on the last day with a final parade and fireworks from 7pm to 9pm. It takes place at the main road, a 5-minute walk from JR Aomori Station.
(NOTE: Due to the coronavirus, the Aomori Nebuta Festival for this year has been cancelled.)
Hirosaki Neputa Festival: the festival is on 1–7 August every year. The main parade traditionally takes place at the Dotemachi Course, a 20–30-minute walk from JR Hirosaki Station.
(NOTE: Due to the coronavirus, the Hirosaki Neputa Festival for this year has also been cancelled.)
Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival: the festival takes place over a period of 5 days in February every year. The shops and stalls at the festivals are open usually from 9am to 9pm, with night illuminations and projection mapping starting from 4:30pm onwards. Entry is free for visitors.
Paddy field art: the fields are located in the town of Inakadate, and this event takes place from June to mid-October. Visitors can make their way to JR Hirosaki Station, then take a 1-minute walk to Hirosaki Station under Konan Railways (弘南鉄道 Kōnan-Tetsudō), and take the Konan Line (弘南線 Kōnan-sen) to Tamboato Station (田んぼアート駅 Tanboāto-eki). Take note that this station operates only from April to November.
(INSIDER TIP: If you have the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), you can travel on the Tohoku Shinkansen and JR lines mentioned above, and make seat reservations for free!)
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The new JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It's only ¥30,000, making it much cheaper than a round-trip train fare between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori (approximately ¥35,740). Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to a month in advance for free on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.
The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)
Header image credit: Aomori Prefecture