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Apple of my eye: Aomori’s amazing apple treats

Apple of my eye: Aomori’s amazing apple treats

Attention all apple lovers: did you know that Aomori Prefecture (青森県 Aomori-ken) is known as the undisputed top producer of apples (りんご ringo) in Japan, producing close to 60% of the country’s apples? Apples are so synonymous with Aomori Prefecture that for many Japanese people, apples are the first thing that come to mind whenever someone mentions Aomori.

 

If you enjoy eating apples, you will be glad to know that aside from just apple fruits, apples can be also enjoyed in a variety of other ways all year round. In this article, I will introduce my top recommendations for apple desserts, snacks, and drinks for your next visit to Aomori!

 

Apple-picking

Within Aomori Prefecture, Hirosaki City (弘前市 Hirosaki-shi) is one of the leaders of apple production, so if you’re visiting during autumn (September to November), you should definitely try your hand at apple-picking, a fun activity for the whole family.

 

Fuji apple trees at Hirosaki Apple Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Did you know? Hirosaki wasn’t always a producer of apples, but thanks to one farmer’s persistence, many delicious, chemical-free apples can now be grown in Hirosaki. To find out more about the story of Hirosaki and apples, check out the movie Kiseki no Ringo (奇跡のリンゴ Miracle Apples), based on the tale of one farmer’s quest to cultivate chemical-free apples in Hirosaki.

 

If you’d like to try apple-picking, check out Hirosaki Apple Park (弘前りんご公園 Hirosaki ringo kōen), which has over 2,300 trees of over 65 varieties of apples, and offers a stunning backdrop of Mount Iwaki in the distance.

 

Hoshi no Kinka are yellow apples. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

From August until mid-November, you can pick different varieties of apples, depending on what is in season. When my colleague Afiq and I visited in late October, we got to pick yellow “Hoshi no Kinka” (星の金貨) apples.

 

It was my first time hearing of the Hoshi no Kinka variety. The enthusiastic staff explained that it is a hybrid made by crossing the “Fuji” (ふじ) and “Aori No.3” (青り3号) varieties, resulting in a new variety that has the crisp texture of Fuji, and the sweetness of Aori No.3.

 

Do you know how to properly pick an apple? The staff explained that we should cup the apple with our hand, lift it, gently twist it, and the stem should break off easily. We shouldn’t pull or tug, as these actions may damage the branch and affect the other apples on the tree. The staff also mentioned that having the stem attached will help the apple last longer.

 

Slightly red Hoshi no Kinka apples are said to be sweet. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Another tip? The staff also shared with us that Hoshi no Kinka apples with a bit of redness means that it is on the sweeter side, so if you prefer your apples to be sweet, take note. For the apple-picking activity, each person can pick up to four apples, and you only pay for the amount you pick. It costs around ¥36 per 100g.

 

Mount Iwaki. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Before or after the apple-picking experience, take your time to explore the vast grounds of Hirosaki Apple Park. The park offers gorgeous views of Mount Iwaki in the background, and when the apples are in season, it is a beautiful sight to see the colourful fruits decorating the trees.

 

Hirosaki Apple Park's apple flowers in spring. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)

 

If you cannot visit during the autumn apple-picking season, another beautiful time to visit is during spring, around the first week of May, when apple flowers are in bloom. Apple flowers are small, white with a faint hint of pink, and delicate, and the view of them together with Mount Iwaki is a wondrous sight to behold.

 

Explore the vast apple park and buy back apple souvenirs before you leave. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After exploring the vast apple orchard, take a break at the souvenir shop, where you can purchase a huge variety of apple products. There's also a small cafe inside, Ringo no Ie (りんごの家), where you can grab light meals or dessert. Some unique offerings include apple-infused dishes like apple curry, apple ramen, or apple meat cutlets, as well as desserts like apple parfait, apple shake, apple cream puff, and an assortment of apple juices.

 

Hirosaki Apple Park (弘前市りんご公園)
Address: 125 Terasawa, Shimizutomita, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori 036-8262
Access: Take a 20-minute ride on the Tamenobu bus (ためのぶ号) from JR Hirosaki Station (弘前駅). (The bus only operates from April to November)
Opening hours: Apple-picking is available from 09:00–16:00 (August until mid-November)
Fee: Approximately ¥36 per 100g of apples picked

 

Easy as (apple) pie

Aside from fresh apple fruits, apples can be also enjoyed in a variety of other ways. Let’s start with a perennial favourite: apple pie!

 

Apple pies are abundant in Hirosaki. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

When in Hirosaki, you shouldn’t miss the special dessert that Hirosaki is known for: apple pie. Being Japan’s top producer of apples, Hirosaki has no shortage of apples, and the city has dozens of shops selling freshly baked apple pies.

 

Guess what? Hirosaki city’s local tourism office has made an apple pie guide map pamphlet, which highlights over 40 shops around Hirosaki that sell apple pie. In addition to photos and prices, it even ranks the sweetness, sourness, and cinnamon flavour of the apple pies, so that you can search for something that suits your preferences.

 

Fujita Memorial Garden and Taisho Roman Tea Room. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

If you cannot decide, how about a place that offers a variety of apple pies? One of the most unique places to enjoy apple pie is the Taisho Roman Tea Room (大正浪漫喫茶室Taishō Roman Kissashitsu) located in a corner of the Fujita Memorial Garden  (藤田記念庭園 Fujita Kinen Teien).

 

With its Western-style architecture and tall windows overlooking the garden, this café is a fantastic place to take a break. The café sells nine varieties of apple pies, both warm and cold, from different shops around Hirosaki, and also has different sets for you to better enjoy your apple pie.

 

Enjoy an afternoon tea break with a view. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

If you’re feeling indulgent, I recommend the special plate and drink set, which comes with vanilla ice cream and berry sauce, as well as a drink. A slice of delicious apple pie served with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream, drizzled with tangy berry sauce, and paired with a soothing cup of tea served in a stylish cup…what a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!

 

Taisho Roman Tea Room (大正浪漫喫茶室)
Address: 8-1 Kamishirogane-cho, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori 036-8207
Access: Taisho Roman Tea Room is a 5-minute walk from the Shiyakushomae Bus Stop, which can be reached by a 20-minute bus ride from JR Hirosaki Station (弘前駅).
Opening hours: 9:30–16:30 (Last order at 16:00)

 

A-FACTORY, an apple snack heaven

Visit A-FACTORY for all your apple souvenir needs. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Heading over to Aomori City (青森市 Aomori-shi), near Aomori Station (青森駅 Aomori-eki) you can find A-FACTORY, a one-stop shop for apple souvenirs. Located just a 3-minute walk from Aomori Station, A-FACTORY sells everything from apple juice to apple jellies, from freshly harvested apples to apple pastries and apple-themed handicrafts. My top picks are the 100% apple juice, apple chip snacks, and locally brewed apple cidre, Aomori Cidre (アオモリシードル Aomori Shīdoru).

 

Aomori Cidre

The Aomori Cidre tasting bar. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

While at A-FACTORY, a must-try is the Aomori Cidre tasting bar on the second floor, where you can sample from four different types of cidre:

  • Aomori Cidre Sweet (3% alcohol content)
  • Aomori Cidre Standard (5% alcohol content)
  • Aomori Cidre Dry (7% alcohol content)
  • Sasino Cidre Brut (8% alcohol content)

 

Trying out the tasting bar. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

To sample, you need to purchase a card, which comes in denominations of ¥400 or ¥800. Each sample is 30ml (25ml for Sasino Cidre Brut) and costs ¥200, so you can try as much as the value on your card.

 

Personally, I enjoyed the Standard version of the cidre the most, as to me, it had the best balance of sweetness and dryness.

 

A variety of Aomori Cidre is sold at A-FACTORY. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After tasting the different types of Aomori Cidre, you can purchase them on the first floor of A-FACTORY, and they come in various bottle sizes. Although the tasting bar only had four types of cidre, there are also other types of Aomori Cidre on sale that weren’t available at the tasting bar, such as a Medium version, and a non-alcoholic version.

 

Apple gelato

Another must-try at A-FACTORY is the delicious all-natural apple gelato on the first floor’s gelato shop, Gelato Natura Due. Although the gelato shop also has regular flavours, the seasonal apple flavours are without a doubt the highlight for me.

 

Apple gelato is a must-try. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The variety of apple flavours change with the season, but no matter which type of apple, the gelato literally tastes like blended frozen apples with an added dash of sweetness...so delicious! The apple flavour is very concentrated, and you can even see bits of the apple skin in the ice cream.

 

Variety of apple flavoured ice cream. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The gelato is available in cup or cone, and you can choose to have a single flavour (¥350), double flavours (¥450), or triple flavours (¥450). I always go for the triple flavour to maximise the variety I get to try, as there are always about 5­–6 different apple flavours alone! Take note that triple and apple sherbets are only served in cups.

 

A-FACTORY
Address: 1-4-2 Yanagikawa, Aomori-shi, Aomori 038-0012
Access: 3-minute walk from JR Aomori Station (青森駅)
Opening hours: 10:00–19:00 (Shopping) | 11:00–18:00 (Dining)

 

50 shades of apple juice

Apple juice vending machines. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Around Aomori Prefecture, you might come across an interesting vending machine, one that dispenses only apple juice—up to seven different kinds! These juices use apples from Aomori, and are offered in single types (made from a single variety of apple), or a blend of different types of apples.

 

The seven types of apple juice that these machines dispense are:

  • Aomori apples (blend) (青森りんご)
  • Jonagold (ジョナゴールド)
  • Fuji (ふじ)
  • Tsugaru (つがる)
  • Ourin (王林)
  • Toki (トキ)
  • Kiou (きおう)

 

Different flavours of apple juice, and a graph ranking their sweetness versus sourness. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Depending on the machine, you might see just a single variety, three varieties, or even up to seven being offered. Near these vending machines, there is usually a poster ranking the sweetness and sourness of each variety on a graph, so that you can choose which type suits your preferences. So far, the Ourin is my favourite, as it’s sweet, but not sour.

 

Apple juice in cans decorated with nebuta. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Other than vending machines, you can find so many different types of apple juice when in Aomori, be it at the souvenir shops, or convenience stores, or grocery stores. One of the more interesting ones come in cans decorated with nebuta, another famous icon of Aomori Prefecture.

 

My favourite apple juice. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

My personal favourite is this straight apple juice: it is sweet, overflowing with apple flavour, and doesn’t have a sour or astringent aftertaste. I always buy two large 1.5L packs whenever I visit Aomori, and can easily finish them in two days. Recently, I found out that they are also sold in smaller packets, which make good souvenirs for family and friends.

 

Getting there

Large apple statue at Hirosaki Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

If you enjoy apples, be sure to plan a visit to Hirosaki City and Aomori Prefecture to indulge in your apple cravings. JR Shin-Aomori Station (新青森駅) is a 3-hour ride on the Tohoku Shinkansen from JR Tо̄kyо̄ Station (東京駅), and Hirosaki and Aomori are easily accessible from there.

  • Aomori Station: 5-minute train ride on the JR Ou Main Line from Shin-Aomori Station
  • Hirosaki Station: 40-minute train ride from Shin-Aomori Station, or 45 minutes from Aomori Station on the JR Ou Main Line.


JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are visiting Hirosaki, Aomori, and the Tohoku region, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥20,000, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Hirosaki (~¥36,000). You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass. 

 

Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh

 

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