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Awesome Aomori: Special announcements from Tohoku’s northernmost prefecture!

Awesome Aomori: Special announcements from Tohoku’s northernmost prefecture!

Have you travelled around Aomori Prefecture (青森県) before? It is the northernmost prefecture in the Tohoku Region (東北地方 Tōhoku-chihō), and is known for its plentiful wonderful sights, from the glorious views of cherry blossoms during spring at Hirosaki Park (弘前公園 Hirosaki-kōen) in the city of Hirosaki (弘前市 Hirosaki-shi), to the stunning paddy art fields in the summer in the village of Inakadate (田舎館村 Inakadate-mura).


A great way to get around Aomori Prefecture is by train, with train lines such as the Gonō Line (五能線 Gonō-sen) being widely regarded as one of the most scenic lines in Japan. Other train lines such as the Konan Railways Konan Line (弘南鉄道弘南線Kōnan Tetsudō Kōnan-sen) offer a journey through Aomori’s idyllic countryside, and passengers can see a more picturesque side of the prefecture.


Trains on the Konan Railways Konan Line. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


For this article, I would like to share some exciting announcements involving Aomori Prefecture, including a special train by Konan Railways running on the Konan Line, a special sightseeing campaign that highlights the best that Aomori’s western region of Tsugaru (津軽) has to offer, and a new blog that shares information on exciting happenings around the area.


Curious to know more about what is going on in Aomori? Then read on!


① Enjoy the 14 Tales of Tsugaru

The different aspects of Tsugaru.


Have you visited Tsugaru before? It is located on the western part of Aomori Prefecture, and the name “Tsugaru” is also the old name for the region. There are also many fascinating things that visitors can look forward to in Tsugaru, from lively summer festivals featuring larger-than-life floats; to scenic parks, and historical buildings.


If you are thinking or planning to travel around Tsugaru, you might want to check out “14 Tales of Tsugaru” (津軽14の物語 Tsugaru Jūyon no Monogatari), a collaboration project between JR East and the 14 municipalities of Aomori as part of “Tsugaru Tsunagaru” (ツガルツナガル), a campaign that aims to promote tourism to the region. The campaign spans from 1 April to 30 June this year, and during this period, you can find all the latest exciting activities that are happening in Tsugaru, from various outdoor activities to gastronomical delights.


Here are some of the activities that are taking place in Tsugaru that you can explore if you are heading there soon:


Konan Railways RINGO BASE

Apple picking at RINGO BASE. (Image credit:りんご畑の秘密基地RINGO BASE)


Planning to go on a railway adventure around Tsugaru? If you are planning to travel by rail on Konan Railways soon, then why not take part in some apple picking? Aomori Prefecture is widely known for its apples, and what better way to explore the prefecture than by picking some apples by yourself!


Just a 5-minute walk from Konan Railways Ishikawa Station (弘南鉄道石川駅Kōnan Tetsudō Ishikawa-eki) is RINGO BASE, an apple farm that aims to provide a unique farming experience for visitors travelling on the train line. A wide variety of apples is available at the farm depending on the season—Koizora (恋空), Tsugaru (つがる), Shinano Sweet (シナノスイート), just to name a few—and visitors can enjoy them to their hearts’ content.


In spring (1 May–30 June), visitors can participate in farming activities such as pruning and flower picking, while in autumn (1 September–30 November), they can harvest the fruits and remove leaves from the farm area. During these two seasons, the farm also offers “Nannimoshinai Experience” (ナンニモシナイ体験), where visitors can simply spend their time relaxing on a chair or hammock under one of the many apple trees. “Nannimoshinai” literally means not doing anything; indeed, not doing anything is a great way to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the season.


For more information, you can check out the following link (in Japanese only): https://www.trip-tsugaru.com/tour/5006/


Address: 86-4 Terayama, Ishikawa, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori 036-8124
Access: 5-minute walk from Konan Railways Ishikawa Station (弘南鉄道石川駅)
Operating hours: 10am–12pm (opens on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays only)
Admission rates: ¥1,500 per adult (apple picking / “Nannimoshinai Experience”)


Go on a cycling + railway adventure!

Exploring Tsugaru by rail and bicycle. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


If you love exploring a region by rail and bicycle, then try out the Konan Railways Share Cycle Service (弘南鉄道シェアサイクルサービス), where you can not only travel on the train lines of Konan Railways, but also rent a bicycle and bring it onboard the train! With this service, visitors can discover Tsugaru more intimately and continue their journeys by bicycle after their train rides.


Take note that the service is available at Konan Railways Hirosaki Station (弘南鉄道弘前駅 Kōnan Tetsudō Hirosaki-eki) from 1 April to 30 November this year on the Konan Railways Konan Line. The service is also available only on weekends and national holidays, and visitors must make reservations for the bicycles at least three days in advance on the Time Trip Tsugaru site.


For more information on this service, you can have a look at the following link: https://www.trip-tsugaru.com/tour/3268/


Take a taxi tour around Tsuruta

Tsuru-no-Mai Hashi Bridge. (Image credit: 鶴田町)


Want to experience a convenient day trip around Tsuruta (鶴田町 Tsuruta-machi)? The small town is home to the iconic Tsuru-no-Mai Hashi Bridge (鶴の舞橋 Tsuru-no-mai-hashi), a 300-metre long, triple-arch wooden bridge that features the majestic Mount Iwaki (岩木山 Iwaki-san) in the backdrop, and is only a short taxi ride away from JR Mutsu-Tsuruda Station (陸奥鶴田駅 Mutsu-Tsuruda-eki).


If you like to have a brief yet memorable trip around Tsuruta, you can join a taxi day tour around the town that includes visiting the Tsuru-no-Mai Hashi Bridge, dropping by Michi no Eki Tsuruta: Tsuru no Sato Aruja (道の駅つるた 鶴の里あるじゃ), a roadside station that features a farmer’s market showcasing the town’s best agricultural produce; enjoy a traditional shamisen performance, and even taking part in tasting locally produced wines and Steuben grape juices at a local winery (complementary apple pie included)!


Take note that the tour is conducted on selected days from April to June. For more information, you can check out the following link (in Japanese only): https://www.trip-tsugaru.com/3746/


② Special tatami train along the Konan Line!

Special tatami train on the Konan Line. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


You may have ridden conventional trains around Japan, with train cars fitted with regular seats and furbished with modern interior designs. But have you ever hopped onto a train where the train cars look and feel like a homely Japanese tatami room from the countryside? If you want to experience riding such a train, then you want to keep a lookout for a special event train that will make its run around Aomori soon.


The Konan Railway Event Train (弘南鉄道イベント列車 Kōnan Tetsudō Ibento Ressha) will be specially running on the Konan Railway Konan Line between Hirosaki Station (弘前駅 Hirosaki-eki) and Kuroishi Station (黒石駅 Kuroishi-eki), and the train has been refurbished with tatami mats and wooden furnishings, and the train car have been changed to be barrier-free.


Wooden tables inside the train car. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


The train car can also fit wooden tables inside for passengers to use. With the refurbishments, passengers onboard will feel like they are in a cosy traditional Japanese tatami room reminiscent of countryside homes. How cool is that!


Colourful murals inside the train car. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


In addition, the Konan Railways Event Train features colourful murals that showcase the wonders of Aomori Prefecture, from images of apples that Aomori Prefecture is famous for, to some of the prefecture’s popular attractions such as the Former Hirosaki Library and its iconic paddy art fields.


Wooden carvings will also be installed inside the train car. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


What’s more, the train car will also include intricate wooden carvings and exhibits that are based on the Goldfish Neputa Train (金魚ねぷた列車 Kingyo Neputa Ressha), another special train that is operated by Konan Railways every summer. Fun fact: the designs are originally inspired by “Kingyo Zukushi” (きんぎょづくし), a nishiki-e style painting by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) who was a famous ukiyo-e master from the Edo Era.


Illuminating goldfish decorations inside the train car. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


Best of all, passengers in the train cars will be enthralled by illuminating goldfish decorations that are hung from the train ceiling. With the eye-catching decorations onboard, passengers will have a memorable railway experience!


Close-up views of the goldfish decorations inside the train car. (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


One of the wooden carvings in the train (left) and its original inspiration (right). (Image credit: 弘南鉄道)


The operation schedule for this train is still pending, and you can refer to Konan Railway’s official website for the latest updates.


③ Learn more about Tsugaru by checking out “Meet the Heart”

“Meet the Heart” blog by JR East. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)


If you want to know the latest news and updates happening in Tsugaru as well as in Akita Prefecture (秋田県), you can check out “Meet the Heart,” a blog by JR East Akita Branch. The blog entails exciting activities that are taking place in Tsugaru and Akita, shares the latest content on their social media, and introduces limited edition souvenirs and merchandise.


Say hello to the blog’s adorable mascots! (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)


In addition, you can also check out all the adorable mascots on the blog, each with their own quirky stories and personalities. The mascots are inspired by famous icons of Akita and Tsugaru, from the adorable Akita inu dog and ferocious Namahage to the prehistoric clay figurines of Aomori’s shakōki-dōgu (遮光器土偶) and the famous Kumagera (くまげら black woodpecker) that is native to the Shirakami-Sanchi area.


English column entries on “Meet the Heart.” (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)


One of the best things about “Meet the Heart” is that there are column entries that share fascinating insights about Tsugaru (and Aomori as a whole) and Akita, and they are available in Japanese, English and Chinese Mandarin too! You can gain new information on what is going on in the two areas, and get inspired for your next trip!


Explore Akita and Aomori with the Resort Shirakami!

Resort Shirakami, a Joyful Train by JR East. (Image credit: JR East)


If you would like to explore Aomori Prefecture, why not consider taking Resort Shirakami? It is JR East’s pioneer Joyful Train, and it plies the scenic Gonō Line, travelling between prefectures Akita and Aomori. Passengers onboard the train will get to enjoy many memorable experiences, such as the splendid views of the Sea of Japan, making a side trip to visit the breathtaking Jūniko (十二湖), and treading the rocky shores of Senjōjiki (千畳敷).


JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)


Planning to travel to Aomori and other parts of the Tohoku Region? Then consider getting the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass that offers unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including shinkansen) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At ¥30,000, it is cheaper than a return ticket from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori (more than ¥35,000).


The pass can be used at the automatic ticket gates, and 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, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.


The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)


*Note: the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) does not cover train lines operated by Konan Railways.


Header image credit: 田舎館村企画観光課


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