Awesome autumn at Aomori’s Oirase Keiryu
Aomori (青森県 Aomori-ken), the northernmost prefecture of Tohoku, is abundant in beautiful nature, and if you ask me, no place is more picturesque than Oirase Keiryu (奥入瀬渓流 Oirase keiryū), an extremely scenic mountain stream flowing out of Lake Towada (十和田湖). This is probably my favourite place in Tohoku, and the best times to visit are during late October to early November to enjoy its renowned yellow autumn foliage, and during mid-May to June for its fresh, verdant greenery.
Both seasons offer cool and comfortable temperatures, so why not visit multiple times and enjoy the different colours? My colleagues Sue and Julia visited during the shinryoku (新緑 fresh greens) season last June, and you can take a look at their experience here. In this article, I’ll be introducing the views I encountered when I visited in late October 2022, so stay tuned if you’re planning to make a visit during the autumn season!
Easy-to-walk paths alongside the stream. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
One of the reasons why Oirase Keiryu is well-loved by so many people is the easy access to its stunning views. The stream is about 14km long, and running alongside it is an easy-to-walk and relatively flat hiking path that is suitable for almost everyone. For the best views, I highly recommend walking upstream, in the direction towards Lake Towada, so that you can see the water flowing towards you.
The Oirase Stream Eco-Tourism Project’s site has a fantastic English map with the hiking distances and times, which you can check out here.
Enjoy nature’s soothing atmosphere as you walk along Oirase Keiryu. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
The rustling of the leaves above, sunlight peeking through the canopies, the fresh air and the sound of flowing water…all these make hiking at Oirase Keiryu very relaxing, and are what I look forward to every time I visit (five times so far!). Don’t you think that there’s something soothing and relaxing about the sound of flowing water?
Every time I hike along Oirase Keiryu, I feel that at least for that short moment, the sound of the water washes away stressful thoughts from the hustle and bustle of daily life and calms the mind. Maybe it is a mindset, but being in nature always makes me feel at ease, and recharges me. The moving water also discharges a lot of negative ions, which bring more energy and positive vibes!
Although Oirase Keiryu’s beauty is best enjoyed hiking and experiencing the dynamic movement of the water, bus services run parallel to the walking path, so you don’t have to worry about bringing along young children or the elderly to enjoy the mesmerising sights as well. However, do take note that most parts of the trail might not suitable for bringing wheelchairs and baby strollers, as they are mostly unpaved dirt trails.
I recommend exploring the stretch from Kumoi no taki Waterfall to Choshi Otaki Waterfall, then taking the sightseeing boat from Nenokuchi to Yasumiya. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Oirase Keiryu spans 14km from Yakeyama (焼山) to Nenokuchi (子ノ口) on the banks of Lake Towada (十和田湖 Towada-ko). For first time visitors, I suggest hiking the 6km stretch between Kumoi no taki Waterfall (雲井の滝) and Choshi Otaki Waterfall (銚子大滝Chо̄shi О̄taki), which takes around 1.5–2 hours when going at a leisurely pace. From Choshi Otaki, it is another 30-minute walk or 5-minute bus ride to Nenokuchi, where you can catch a sightseeing boat across Lake Towada to reach Yasumiya (休屋) on the other side.
So many waterfalls at Oirase Keiryu. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Along Oirase Keiryu are various waterfalls and miles of virgin forests. Here, the air is cool and clean, and the constantly flowing waters of the stream make the ambient temperatures even more pleasant. Coming from a tropical city like Singapore, I relish hiking opportunities like this as I know that the atmosphere is something I could never experience at home, where it is always hot and humid.
You can also get up close to some of the waterfalls, and admire how different the movement of the water is: some waterfalls are tall and thin, with water that gracefully cascades down, while others are short and wide, and have water that powerfully crashes down.
Get up-close to Kumoi no taki Waterfall. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
I recommend starting your hike at the Kumoi no taki Waterfall bus stop. Although you can see the waterfall from the road, right next to the bus stop is a path that leads you to Kumoi no taki Waterfall, so don’t miss out and go take a closer look.
Setting off on a hike at Oirase Keiryu. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
After taking a look at Kumoi no taki Waterfall, it’s time to cross the road and start walking alongside Oirase Keiryu. At this part of the trail, the stream is wide, and the water flow is slow and steady. On both sides of the stream are beech trees—recognisable by their thin, straight trunks—with leaves turning yellow in their autumn glory. It was a beautiful day with bright blue skies, the perfect weather for a hike.
Moss-covered stairs. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
One of my favourite spots along the hike is this moss-covered stairway. Nature has grown in abundance here, with plants and moss overtaking the stone steps and wooden handrails. Walking up these stairs feels like walking in the world of Princess Mononoke, and is a very surreal experience that makes you think, “Nature is beautiful.”
Flowing water. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
As you continue walking, you’ll notice that Oirase Keiryu’s water moves faster here, turning white at parts where it flows over the rocks. This is one my other favourite views of Oirase Keiryu, sections where the water flow is fast and dynamic; full of life and movement.
Take your time to enjoy the scenery along the stream. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
The water along the stream is always flowing and always changing, and it’s just so beautiful to walk beside the stream and enjoy the views. There are even wooden benches and tables at sections where the ground is wider, so you can take a break or have a picnic while enjoying the scenery.
Don’t forget to heed the signs. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Along the walking path, you might see signs bearing reminders like: “The beauty of this area is for everyone to enjoy. Please help keep it beautiful.”, so do keep them in mind and preserve the beauty of Oirase Keiryu, so that many more visitors can enjoy it.
Kudan no taki Waterfall. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
As we near our destination of Choshi Otaki, keep a lookout for another picturesque waterfall, Kudan no taki (九段の滝), which has a name that means “Waterfall of nine levels”. If you look closely, don’t the layers in the rocks resemble steps and levels? The water flow here is gentle, falling in silky white strings that cascade down the rockface.
Choshi Otaki, the end of our hike. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
After walking for about 1.5 hours from our starting point of Kumoi no taki Waterfall, you will finally reach Choshi Otaki, the largest and widest waterfall at Oirase Keiryu. Although not a very tall waterfall, it is relatively wide, and the powerful sound of the falling water will invigorate you as you near the end of the hike.
Take a sightseeing boat across Lake Towada. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
From Choshi Otaki, you can either continue walking for another 30 minutes, or take a 5-minute bus ride to reach Nenokuchi on the shores of Lake Towada. If you have the time, and if the weather is good, I highly recommend taking a ride on the sightseeing boat. The 50-minute ride will bring you across Lake Towada—the largest caldera lake on mainland Japan.
A ticket for the sightseeing boat costs about ¥1,650, and takes you to Yasumiya on the other side. Alternatively, you can take a 20-minute bus ride from Choshi Otaki to Yasumiya.
Fantastic views from the boat. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
During autumn, the leaves on the trees surrounding Lake Towada are ablaze in fiery yellows and oranges, and on a clear day with azure blue skies, the scenery is simply stunning. Although there are seats inside the boat, I highly recommend standing out on the deck and enjoying the open views of the surrounding scenery. The wind outside might be a bit chilly, so don’t forget to keep yourself warm!
Explore Yasumiya. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
At Yasumiya, you can take a leisurely stroll along the lakeshore, admire the views of the lake, and the bask in verdant vegetation. There are many walking paths to explore, with some directly on the shoreline, and some leading into the forested area surrounding the lake.
Enjoy strolling along the lakeside at Yasumiya. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Don’t forget to grab a snack to eat as you walk! A must-try snack here is the otome-mochi (乙女もち), which are flat, round rice cakes (mochi) on a skewer, coated with a delicious, sweet-savoury miso sauce. Its name comes from a famous attraction in the area, the Otome-no-zou (乙女の像 Statue of Maidens), which is a symbol of Lake Towada.
Towada Shrine. (Image credit: photoAC)
While at Yasumiya, I highly recommend checking out Towada Shrine (十和田神社 Towada-jinja). Located amidst tall cedar trees, the shrine is believed to have been founded in the 9th century, and was a symbol of the Tohoku region’s strong belief in the water gods until the separation of Shintoism and Buddhism.
The atmosphere here is very tranquil and serene, and as someone who has visited many shrines around Japan, I could feel something special about this shrine that I don’t normally feel in other shrines. Though not a large shrine, Towada Shrine is known to be one of the best power spots in Tohoku, so do come and experience it for yourself!
Scenic and gorgeous nature spots can be found all over Aomori, and Oirase Keiryu just one of its awesome autumn places. But not just limited to the gleaming golden foliage in autumn, Oirase Keiryu’s beauty also shines in other times of the year, with lush, verdant greenery brimming with life the shinryoku season, or the sparkling snowy white wonderland in winter, when there are even night illuminations. Oirase Keiryu is a captivating place to visit, and one of my personal favourites in Tohoku, so I do hope that you can visit it someday too!
Oirase Keiryu can be reached by bus from Aomori Station or Hachinohe Station. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
There are many bus stops along Oirase Keiryu, and buses run every day from April to November. If you are not a keen hiker, or if you are travelling with the elderly or young children, you can get off at photo spots to take photos, enjoy the atmosphere, then hop on the next bus to head to the next scenic spot.
Oirase Keiryu (Kumoi no taki bus stop) is a 2-hour 15-minute bus ride from JR Aomori Station (青森駅), or a 1-hour 45-minute bus ride from JR Hachinohe Station (八戸駅). Buses from both stations are operated by JR Tohoku Bus, and are fully covered by the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area).
For non-pass holders, there is a 2-day unlimited ride ticket (青森･八戸･十和田湖フリーきっぷ Aomori･Hachinohe･Towadako furīkippu) for ¥5,800. (For reference, a one-way trip from Aomori Station to Lake Towada (Yasumiya) is ¥3,480).
You can check the bus timetable here for the April–November 2023 schedule. The bus operates on a first-come-first-served basis, and reservations are not possible.
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
If you are visiting Oirase Keiryu and Aomori Prefecture, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the area for 5 consecutive days. The pass also covers the JR Tohoku bus services between Aomori Station/Hachinohe Station and Oirase Keiryu/Lake Towada. At only ¥30,000, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Oirase Keiryu (~¥41,000), making it a convenient and affordable option for travellers.
With the pass, you can also make seat reservations for bullet trains and some Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation. 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.
The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)
Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh