It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Aomori Prefecture (青森県).
As you can see in the map above, Aomori Prefecture is the northernmost prefecture in Honshu, Japan’s largest island. It is part of the Tohoku region (東北地方) and its capital city is Aomori (青森). Nine other cities make up Aomori Prefecture: Goshogawara (五所川原), Hachinohe (八戸), Hirakawa (平川), Hirosaki (弘前), Kuroishi (黒石), Misawa (三沢), Mutsu (むつ), Towada (十和田) and Tsugaru (つがる).
Unfortunately I haven’t been to Aomori yet, but it’s high on my list of places to visit. If I could visit at any time of year I would definitely go in August for the world-famous Aomori Nebuta Festival (青森ねぶた祭り) (as mentioned by Japan Australia, who is also keen to go to the festival one day). The festival, which takes place from 2nd – 7th August each year in Aomori City, features massive lantern floats which are paraded through the streets. I was lucky enough to see one of these floats in action at Rokkonsai last year, but it would be great to go to the actual festival and see the lantern floats illuminated at night.
One thing that fewer people are aware of is that neighbouring castle town Hirosaki (弘前) has its own smaller version of the lantern float festival called the Neputa Festival (ねぷた祭り). Neputa actually happens at the same time as Nebuta, running from 1st – 7th August. If you’re in that part of Japan, you can get two festivals for the price of one!
Hirosaki is worth visiting even without the festival, as it is home to a lovely castle which is one of the few ‘original’ castles in Japan. The castle’s five-story keep burnt down in 1627 after being struck by lightning, but it was rebuilt in 1810. The castle is currently undergoing major reconstruction work, due to finish around 2023.
Zooming Japan reminded me that the Shimokita Peninsula (下北半島) is also an interesting spot to visit in Aomori Prefecture. The Shimokita Peninsula is located at the northernmost tip of Honshu, and is most known for Osorezan (恐山 / ‘Mount Fear’). Osorezan is one of Japan’s three most sacred places (the other two being Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture and Hieizan in Kyoto Prefecture), and I’m curious to visit there someday. The area is rich in volcanic activity and the whole place is quite grey and barren. A strong smell of sulphur fills the air, and hundreds of Jizo statues stand watching. Osorezan is known as an entrance to the afterlife, and has become particularly known as a place for the souls of dead children and unborn babies (hence the Jizo statues who protect them). Parents leave offerings to Jizo in the form of piles of pebbles which are meant to help their lost children form a bridge to cross over into the afterlife. It looks like a fascinating but slightly gruesome and miserable place.
If hiking is more your thing, the Shirakami Sanchi mountain range (白神山地 / literally ‘white god mountain area’) is a must. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is most popular in autumn when the coloured leaves are at their best, but certain paths are inaccessible between November and April due to snowfall. Shirakami Sanchi actually straddles both Aomori and Akita prefectures, so perhaps you’ll be seeing this beautiful part of Japan again in this series!
Finally, I couldn’t write about Aomori Prefecture without mentioning Lake Towada (十和田湖), which is part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park (十和田八幡平国立公園). Lake Towada, which is the largest caldera lake or crater lake in Honshu, is also on the border between Akita and Aomori prefectures. It’s absolutely stunning, especially in autumn!
The Omiyage Section
Aomori is most famous for its apples, so the souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ) from this prefecture tend to be apple-based. As far as I know there’s no Kit Kat that is specific to Aomori – yet! In the bottom left of the image below you can see a kind of apple pie pastry called ‘Ki ni naru Ringo’ (気になるリンゴ). According to this blogger, it’s “what happiness tastes like”. It does look really yummy!
Next week I will be writing about Iwate (岩手県). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!