Translated by MATCHA-PR
Aomori in Winter – Incredible Activities You Can Only Enjoy Here
Written by MATCHA-PR
This article features winter activities that are specific to Aomori prefecture. Enjoy snow hiking and the sight of the beautiful lakes in the Shirakami mountains, delicious angler dishes and traveling on trains with a stove.
Aomori prefecture is located in the northernmost area of Honshū island and is the home of Natural World Heritage sites such as Shirakamisanchi, Towada Lakeand Hakkōda, Mount Iwaki, the Hotokegaura Gulf of the Shimokita Peninsulaand other places with amazing natural landscapes, which make this region one of the most beautiful parts of Japan.
Winters in Aomori are very cold, and the region is known as one of the few places with heavy snowfall in Japan. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to Aomori in winter! There are actually seafood dishes that can be tasted only during the cold season, as well as amusements that can be enjoyed only when it is snowing. We have selected four activities that you can only enjoy in Aomori during winter.
1. Warm Up by the Stove on Tsugaru Trains
The stove installed in the car
These special train cars with a stove run yearly from December 1st through March 31st, from Tsugaru Goshogawara Station to Tsugaru Nakasato Station. The special characteristic of this train is that the passenger cars are provided with actual working coal stoves. These stoves are called Daruma stoves.
Daruma stoves used to be the most widespread heating device in Japan and are quite the nostalgic item for older Japanese people. Younger generations and visitors to Japan are sure to be glad for their warmth too though!
Only in the Stove Cars! The Taste of Fresh Roasted Surume
One experience that you can only enjoy when traveling on the stove equipped trains is roasting surume. Surume is a type of dried squid that tastes better the longer that you chew it.
The stove also used to be a tool for cooking, as you can boil water and fry food on it. By roasting surume on the stove, you will feel you have traveled back in time to old Japan.
Passengers who meet for the first time are sharing the same car and the stove for roasting surume, Now this is indeed an experience that you can only enjoy when traveling on these trains.
You can buy surume on the train for 300 yen a piece, so you don’t need to prepare anything in advance either.
As you look outside the window, a white world spreads out before your eyes. The only thing working in this world of silver is the stove. It is as if we weren’t part of this unique landscape. It happened to be a sunny day, but it seems that days with heavy snowfall are not unusual here either.
When the fire begins to die down, the train master adds coal into the fire right before your eyes. The coal is taken with a scoop and placed right in the heart of the fire. Seeing this scene will make you think that you are watching an old movie.
Due to the added coal, the car becomes very warm once again.
Besides the Stove Trains, Tsugaru Railways runs also Wind Chime Trains in summer and a Cricket Train in autumn. It is a pleasant experience to travel with the Tsugaru Railways in every season. You can see pictures of the Tsugaru trains in each season in this gallery.
Related Article: Only in Winter! Warm up your Body and your Heart on the Stove Train, Aomori(Japanese)
The Stove Train (Goshogawara Station)
Address: Aomori, Goshogawara, Ōmachi 39
Season: from December 1st through March 31st
Hours: 3 times a day (in December, it runs twice a day on weekdays, and 3 times on weekends and holidays)
Price: Train Ticket fee+Stove Wagon fee (400 yen)
Website: The Stove Train of Tsugaru Railways (Japanese)
2. See White Frost Covered Trees in Hakkōda
After sharing the stove train with other passengers and getting a taste of life in old Japan, now let's take some time to admire the natural wonders of Aomori. We will first introduce Hakkōda, a spot famous for its heavy snowfall every year.
On the coldest days of winter, the temperature on top of the mountain falls below 20 degrees Celsius - you might get the shivers just thinking about it! However, this feature of Hakkōda gives birth to some wonderful artistic creations of nature: the frost covered trees.
In order to see the frozen trees of Hakkōda, you need to take a ride on the ropeway that leads to the top of the mountain; take either a JR bus or rental car to the Sanroku Station of the ropeway.
It takes around 10 minutes to reach the station on the top of the mountain from Sanroku Station. You can admire the grandeur of the mountains in Hakkōda from the window. Although they are covered in snow, there is no wind and the weather is very pleasant. Some might just think that it's a regular mountain covered in snow and not think it is particularly special, but they would be mistaken.
As you reach higher altitudes, the landscape changes dramatically. The surroundings transform into a dreamlike world full of trees covered in snow.
We reached the station on the top of the mountain. Covered in snow, the handrails have become indiscernible, as a proof of how cold it is.
When you step out of the station on the summit, you will see that the surroundings are completely white, just like during a snowstorm. It is incredibly cold and you wouldn't want to stand still in these temperatures for very long.
However, once you have reached the summit, you can see the beautiful frost covered trees right before your eyes. Covered in snow, the shape of the trees disappears completely. They have turned into “snow monsters”. If you get close enough you will see that they are very tall, and they look as if they were almost ready to attack.
Related article: An Icy World At -20℃! The Frost Covered Trees Of Hakkoda, Aomori(Japanese)
Address: Aomori, Aomori city, Arakawa Kansuizawa 1-12
Hours: 9:00 - 16:20 (until 15:40 in winter)
Nearest station: JR Aomori Station
Access: 60 minute bus ride from JR Aomori Station
Price: one-way ride on the ropeway 1180 yen, round trip 1850 yen
Website: Hakkōda Ropeway
3. Snow Hiking at the World Natural Heritage Site Shirakamisanchi - Jūniko
Shirakamisanchi, the mountainous area that spreads through Aomori and Akita prefectures, was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1993 along with Yakushima Island in Kagoshima prefecture. The beech forest in the area is one of the largest in the world and is natural and almost untouched by humans. When you step into this forest, you will feel the overwhelming power of nature and the smallness of humans.
The beautiful Shirakami mountain range is closed in winter because of the snow. The only way to see the beautiful scenery of this area in winter is by taking the Jūniko hiking track.
The Charm of Jūniko
The Blue Lake in the warm season, photo courtesy of Fukaura Tourism Division
Jūniko is the name of the 33 lakes in the Shirakami mountains. The snow and the beech trees reflected in the clear water of the lakes are such a beautiful sight that it will leave you breathless. As you stand on the lakeside, with no wavelets disturbing the water surface and surrounded by the deep silence of the mountain, you will feel as if time has stopped.
Among the many lakes in the area, we especially recommend the Blue Lakethat takes on a vivid bluish color.
This picture shows the Blue Lake in summer. The water of this lake is very clear, and it shines thanks to the reflecting rays of the sun, which help it to keep its distinctive deep blue color. You’re sure to feel at a loss for words when you see this for the very first time, and the mystery of how or why the lake has such a vivid blue color is sure to puzzle you as well. No one knows why this lake is so blue, a reason has not yet been discovered despite many different studies. This mystery adds to the charm of this spot.
The Blue Lake in winter
The Blue Lake in winter is also very beautiful. After walking through deep layers of snow, once the clear lake comes into your sight, you will be standing in amazement for a while. The lakes registered as World Heritage sites really do have a calming effect upon the human spirit.
This time we asked the Awone Shirakami Jūniko to guide us on the hiking trip. We have to mention that during winter (from December 1st through March 30th) you cannot enter this area without a guide. The trains going to Jūniko also stop running, so please be careful when planning your trip.
Before going on the hiking trip, the guide explains what is our current location and what track we will take. Along the course that lasts around 3 hours there are many attractions, so you will be able to enjoy the charm of the Jūniko Lakes to the fullest.
The snow becomes deeper on the way, so we have to put on snowshoes, which you can borrow for free. Snowshoes are tools that you put on over your shoes, in order to prevent yourself from sinking too deeply into the snow. In recent years snowshoes made out of aluminium or rubber are available, but at Awone Shirakami Jūniko they use wooden snowshoes, which are handmade, just as in the Japan of old.
It’s a bit hard to get used to walking with the snowshoes on at first, but you soon adapt to it and will find yourself proceeding along with no problems. Once you enter the mountain proper, the snow will become so deep that you won’t be able to walk without them at all, so be sure to step carefully.
During summer there are many travelers who come here to hike, but hiking in winter in the Shirakami - Jūniko area is an activity that not many people know about.
In the heart of the forest, with nobody around, in a place surrounded by deep silence, you will feel enwrapped in a dreamlike atmosphere.
On the hills, the hikers can use a sledge and slide down. To be able to play on a mountain during snowfall is something that you can only enjoy when snow hiking.
The Wakitsubo Lake, photo courtesy of the Tourism Division of FukauraWakitsubo Lake. It is the clearest of the Jūniko lakes, and so beautiful that you will be grateful for having had the chance to walk all this way to see it.
Wakitsubo Lake in winter
Lake Wakitsubo during winter will also charm you with its beauty. Toward the end of the snow hiking track, right when we got accustomed to wearing the snowshoes, the Wakitsubo Lake, much larger than the Blue Lake, will appear through the trees.
Related Article: World Natural Heritage Site: Winter Hiking In Aomori's Shirakamisanchi & Juniko Areas (Japanese)
Awone Shirakami Jūniko
Address: Aomori, Nishitsugaru-gun, Fukaura-machi Matsukami Shimohamamatsu 14
Hours: hiking begins at 9:00 and the participants will return at around 12:00; or, start at 13:00 and return at around 16:00 (December 1st - March 30th）
Closed: never (reservation is needed)
Nearest station: Jūniko Station on the JR Gonōsen
Access: pick up service available for the ones who made reservations in advance
Price: from 3000 yen
Website Awone Shirakami Juniko(Japanese)
4. The Delicious Winter Cuisine in Cold Shimokita Peninsula
After working up an appetite by hiking in a snow-covered mountain, let’s end our trip to Aomori by tasting some of its delicious local cuisine. The best winter dish available here is without a doubt angler fish!
The angler is a popular variety of fish most commonly eaten in the winter time, mainly in hot pot style dishes. The anglerfish in Aomori prefecture comes from very clean, clear waters, and, although you can find delicious angler dishes all around the country, we really recommend visiting the Kazamaura Angler Festival, which is held annually in Kazamaura, Aomori prefecture.
Kazamaura Angler Festival is an event held from the start of December through to the end of March in Shimofuro Onsen in Kazamaura. During this period, all the ryokan inns and hotels in Shimofuro Onsen offer angler sashimi, angler hot pot dishes, fried angler and other exciting and delicious dishes. If you visit Shimofuro Onsen during this period, you will surely enjoy many amazing varieties of angler dishes.
The main attractions of the Angler Festival are the special events - for example, you can watch the process of cutting angler in the snow (*1), where you can see live anglerfish.
*1 Cutting angler in snow is a special practice that exists only in Kazamaura. The anglerfish is very slippery, so it is difficult to cut on a plate or other kitchen surface. This practice makes it possible to smoothly cut the fish by using the snow.
The angler taken out of the aquarium will open its mouth widely. This is how it behaves when it is excited. The man in charge of cutting the angler invites the children to touch the fish, but they seem to be scared of it.
Cut Before Your Eyes! Cutting the Angler in Snow
At the Angler Festival you can witness how the fish is cut, from the start to the end. The angler which will be cut today has been brought in.
The man in charge of filleting the angler is a chef working in a local restaurant.
This is angler sushi, a specialty that you can taste only in Kazamaura, whose sea is rich in angler. This is something that you could never get to taste in Tokyo or other regions of Japan. The sushi uses sauce also made from anglerfish.
It has a distinctive taste, a rich texture and an intense aroma given by the special sauce, that matches perfectly with the fish.
This is angler soup, made of a miso soup base, vegetables and parts of angler fish. The angler taste gives a rich aroma to the soup, which warms up our frozen bodies.
Kazamaura Angler Festival
Address: Aomori, Shimokita-gun, Kazamaura Shimofuro 127
Website: Kazamaura Angler Festival (Japanese)
In Aomori prefecture there are many winter activities that can only be enjoyed in this prefecture. How about creating some beautiful memories in the winter landscapes of Aomori?
If you’d like to see more about Aomori prefecture, please take a look at these articles: Feel the Warmth of Aomori - People, Food, Beautiful Nature and Onsen, and A Retro Atmosphere At Starbucks Coffee in Hirosaki, Aomori.