Translated by MATCHA-PR
Feel the Warmth of Aomori - People, Food, Beautiful Nature and Onsen
This article introduces some of the things that make Aomori a unique destination in Japan. Although famous for its low temperatures in winter, the people living in the area, the delicious food, the beautiful scenery and the onsen are some of the things th
Written by MATCHA-PR
Aomori Prefecture 青森県 is located in the northernmost point of the Honshū island. Among the many prefectures of Japan, it is a very cold area. In winter, temperatures fall even to -10℃. However, the travelers who come to Aomori feel nothing else but the “warmth” of the locals.
The people of Aomori are kind, at their own pace, and they all love Aomori. Travelers from abroad often say that the Japanese are kind, but the people of Aomori stand out among the Japanese through their kindness. For this reason, they easily make conversation even with new comers in the area, recommending them the best food and places to visit.
This time we will take you on a journey through Aomori upon which you will be able to feel the warmth of people’s heart. We will also feature information on hotsprings (onsen), in order for you to enjoy a trip which will warm up both your body and your heart.
1. Meet the Locals and Taste Delicious Food in Miroku Yokochō
Hachinohe 八戸 is a city in Aomori prefecture visited yearly by many travelers who seek the beautiful landscape of the coastal lines and the delicious seafood of the area. If you get the chance to visit Hachinohe, we warmly recommend you to stop by Hachinohe Miroku Yokochō 八戸みろく横丁.
On a 80m long narrow street a total of 26 small food stalls line up, each with a capacity of around ten customers. Visitors can enjoy a large variety of food here, from sushi and Western specialties, to food roasted on skewers, oden, ramen, Korean dishes and other specialties.
The food stalls on Miroku Yokochō open around 5 PM. At 6 PM they are all open for business and by 8 PM the stalls are full of customers – both locals and travelers. If you would like to go to a particular stall we recommend you arrive early.
In the small space where only about 10 people fit it at one time, the customers naturally make conversation with each other. There are many locals among the customers, who will be more than happy to share information on sightseeing destinations and recommended souvenirs.
“That restaurant serves delicious food!” or “If you come all the way to Aomori you must taste this dish” are phrases often heard in such circumstances, proving that the locals are the best guides through the area.
People who have met for the first time are smiling and having a good time together.
No matter how deep is the snow, the locals say that “it actually didn't snow that much" and compare this year's quantity of snow to that of other years.
The famous Aomori dish "Sembei soup"
In Miroku yokochō they serve specialties made with local ingredients.
You can taste here local cuisine, for example fish dishes, made with fish from the sea of Hachinohe which is a port city, the famous basashi 馬刺し (horse meat sashimi) of Gonohe, a town nearby, or Hachinohe ramen.
By the way, all the stalls serve the famous local dish Hachinohe sembei soup (*1). The taste of the soup varies depending on the shop, so it would be a good idea to compare. The vegetable soup base has just the right salty taste, while the crunchy sembei biscuits have a rich texture, matching perfectly with the soup.
*1… The sembei soup is a local dish of Hachinohe. Sembei are traditional Japanese crackers made with usual flour or rice flour, and fried thinly. The Hachinohe sembei soup, made with sembei cooked especially for this dish, is a soy sauce based soup or pot dish.
2. Warm Up With Coffee Made by a Buddhist Priest
A Buddhist monk making coffee for the visitors? Believe it or not, there is a place where you can witness this in the mountainside of Aomori prefecture. The place is called Shōfūtei 松楓亭 and is located in the precincts of Kuromoriyama Jōsenji Temple.
Jōsenji Temple 淨仙寺 is located in the central area of Aomori prefecture, and in winter, the whole mountain – Kuromori-yama, where the temple is located, becomes covered in several meters of snow. As you climb Mount Kuromori, Jōsenji Temple will appear right before your eyes. Because it is a very quiet place and the air is clear, it seems to be another world, completely separated from the environment inhabited by people.
Shōfūtei is located right in front of the main hall of the temple. It is a small building.
Serving delicious coffee to the customers in this café is none other than the vice-chief priest, Mr. Hirano Takaki.
“Because there are plenty of onsen in this area, there are many homes without a bathtub.”
From everyday talk to information on snowfall or local onsen, he kindly talks with the customers in the nice Tsugaru dialect, the dialect spoken in Tsugaru, a region in Western Aomori.
After receiving the order, he turns the coffee beans into powder and pours in the coffee attentively. While waiting for the coffee, you will notice that the only sound to be heard is that of the stove and that time flows here at a slow, relaxing pace.
The donuts are also prepared only after receiving the order. Seeing how warm and soft they are, you will feel you can’t wait until they are done.
The coffee (400 yen) made by the vice-chief priest and the fresh donuts (150 yen) are ready. The coffee has a deep, intense aroma. We also had a taste of the warm donuts. Crunchy on the outside and soft in the inside, these donuts are made with soba flour to which a taste of coffee powder is added, so they go perfectly well with the fresh coffee.
To simply enjoy a cup of coffee while sinking in your thoughts. It is a welcome break from the daily routine. How about coming to Jōsenji Temple and spend a relaxing time in this way?
3. Talking With the Sakuramori of Hirosaki Castle
The “Hirosaki Sakura Festival” held in Hirosaki city 弘前市, is one of the leading sakura festivals in Japan. Hirosaki is famous for its sakura, and has been designated both as one of the a hundred famous sakura viewing places in Japan, and as one of the a hundred landscapes co-created by humans and nature. With 2600 sakura trees of almost 50 types, such as "Somei Yoshino Sakura" or "Weeping Sakura", the beauty of Hirosaki Castle Park will charm any visitor.
Taking care of this beautiful landscape on a daily basis are the sakuramori 桜守 or “sakura guardians”. Their duty is to ensure that the sakura trees are healthy so that they can bloom properly.
We talked to Mr. Ebina, who works as a sakuramori in Hirosaki.
- What do you do in order to keep the sakura trees healthy?
Mr. Ebina: We keep track of the timing when the tree went into bloom, of the condition of the blossoms, of the small changes in the tree’s condition. During the seasons when the sakura are not in bloom, we mark the time when the leaves sprout out, the changes in the length of the branches, the time when the leaves fall, so we keep the trees under close supervision all year round. The sakura trees let go of their leaves by themselves, so we can examine their state of health based on the condition of the leaves.
- This supposes constant work, right?
Ebina: Well, yes. Besides, we have to keep watch of other things also. Trees don’t grow by themselves. We have to take into consideration the state of the soil, of the weather and of the entire surrounding environment.
- What is the most important thing to a sakuramori?
Ebina: Well, if you don’t love the sakura, it’s hard to continue in this line of work. The blossoms appear for just a short time, but the trees are alive during the other times also. It is important to be close to the trees not only in the season of sakura viewing, but all year round.
Mr. Ebina, who puts all his heart in watching the sakura of Hirosaki Castle, has shared with us a secret. It concerns the best timing to enjoy the cherry blossoms of Hirosaki Castle. If you come to the park before 7 o’clock in the morning, there are not many people and the entrance is free (after 7 o’clock you must pay an entrance fee).
It is definitely worth seeing the sakura cultivated with such dedication when they are in full bloom.
Bonus: Warm Up Your Body at the Secret Onsen in Aomori
If the stories heard so far have warmed up your heart, let’s talk about the onsen where you can warm up your body. We will introduce the various hotsprings around Aomori.
1. Furōfushi onsen
Koganezaki Furōfushi, the onsen with a view of the sea (mixed bath)
Koganezaki Furōfushi onsen 黄金崎不老ふ死温泉 is an onsen resort located in the town of Fukaura, along the coastline. As you can see in the picture, it is an exquisite open air bathing place that is one with the sea. There are two baths, a mixed one and one for women only, but the main one is the mixed bath displayed in the picture.
The water of the Furōfushi onsen is rich in iron. For this reason you will feel the smell of iron while bathing. The color of the water is brownish, which will probably surprise you at the beginning, but as soon as you enter, you will see how fast you will warm up.
In the open air bath, there are baskets and shelves right beside the bathtub, where you should leave your clothes. We recommend female guests to undress at the women only bath and come over to the mixed bath with a towel wrapped around the body.
The ones who enter for the first time in a mixed bath will probably feel nervous at first, but if you are well prepared with a towel at hand, you will able to enter the bath with no problems.
2. Sukayu Onsen
Sukayu onsen 酸ヶ湯温泉 is an onsen resort at the foot of Hakkōda in Aomory city, and, as suggested by its name, the special characteristic of this onsen is the strong, acidic water.
As you can guess from the picture above, a special feature of this onsen is the bath where many people can enter at the same time – the Senninburo 千人風呂. The building itself has a distinctive atmosphere, being made entirely out of cypress, as typical of a building from the old days.
At Sukayu onsen there are two large bathing places – the Atsu no yu 熱の湯 and the Shiburokubu no yu 四分六分の湯, as well as streaming hot water. Although “Atsu no yu” and “Shiburokubu no yu” are close to one another, the kind of water you can enjoy in each of them differs, due to the fact that their water is provided from different sources.
Please take care, as the real water temperature differs from what their names suggest. In the case of “Atsu no yu”, natural hotspring water is used. For this reason, it is rather lukewarm. The name “Atsu no yu” 熱の湯 comes from the fact that if you take your time to relax in the lukewarm water, your body will become warm from within. On the other hand, the water of “Shiburokubu no yu” consists of natural hotspring water mixed with cold water. However, because the natural water is of a very high temperature, the water of this bath is warmer than the one of “Atsu no yu”.
3. Tsuta onsen
Tsuta onsen 蔦温泉 is an onsen resort in the town of Towada. It is located in Towada jukai 十和田樹海 (“The Towada Sea of Trees”), a natural beech forest, and there are no convenience stores in the surroundings. It is an onsen bath in an unexplored area.
The main hall, built in the Taishō Period, has a very distinct atmosphere and you feel as if you slipped through time once you enter.
The interior of each of the guest rooms is different and you will want to come here several times in order to enjoy all the rooms.
The best bath in Tsuta onsen is “Kyūan no yu”, where the bathtub is made of cypress. You can feel warmth not only from the onsen itself, but also from the wooden bathtub, where you will feel you can relax completely. Moreover, as you sit in the bathtub you feel the onsen water boiling under you. This aspect adds to the rare features of this resort.
What do you think? Going to Aomori, I felt that it is a place full of a warmth that makes you forget that this area is one of the coldest in Japan. Besides the people, places and things introduced in this article, there have been many other occasions I could get information on what is worth seeing in Aomori.
If you became interested in Aomori by reading this article, please take the next occasion and experience the warmth of this area by yourself.
Sponsored by Aomori Prefecture
Read also (MATCHA articles, Japanese):
■有形文化財を活用したレトロな佇まい「スターバックス コーヒー 弘前公園前店」
Furōfushi onsen 不老ふ死温泉
Address: Aomori, Nishitsugaru-gun, Fukaura-machi Henashi, Shimokiyotaki 15
Opening Hours: From sunrise to sunset (for lodgers), 8:00 - 16:00 (onsen bath only)
Wi-Fi: in the lobby area
Other Languages: -
Pamphlets in other languages: -
Nearest station: there is a special bus from JR Wespatsubayama Station (JRウェスパ椿山駅)
Price range: Adults 600 yen, Children 300 yen
Official Website: Furōfushi onsen
Sukayu onsen 酸ヶ湯温泉
Addrees: Aomori, Aomori city, Arakawa, Minamiarakawa-yama Kokuyūrin Sukayuzawa 50
Opening Hours: 7:00 - 17:30 (*from 8:00 to 9:00 women only)
Closed on: -
Other Languages: -
Pamphlets in other languages: -
1) from Aomori Station (East Exit) take the JR bus. After a 70 minute ride you willreach Sukayu Onsen-mae Station 酸ヶ湯温泉前.
2) From Shin-Aomori Station (East Exit) take the JR bus. You will reach Sukayu Onsen-mae Station in 80 minutes.
Price range: 600 yen (Hiba Senninburo or Tama no yu Bath); 1,000 yen (enter as many times you want in both baths, towel included)
Official Website: Sukayu onsen (Japanese)
Tsuta Onsen 蔦温泉
Address: Aomori, Towada, Okuse, Tsuta Onsen 1
Opening Hours: Women 10:00 - 12:00・21:00 – next morning; Men 13:00 - 20:00
Closed on: -
Other Languages: -
Pamphlets in other languages: -
Access: take the JR bus “Mizuumi” (みずうみ号) from JR Aomori Station JR青森駅 (or JR Shin-aomori Station JR新青森駅) and get off at Tsuta Onsen Station 蔦温泉.
Price range: Adults 800 yen, Children (primary school) 500 yen
Official Website: Tsuta Onsen