Shirakami Sanchi – Aomori, Akita

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Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, this expansive wilderness is one of the last remaining untouched beech forest in Japan. Shirakami Sanchi, stretching from Aomori to Akita Prefecture, boasts myriad hiking trails leading to breathtaking, panoramic views, along with waterfalls. Escape the heat from the city during the spring and summer seasons when the area turns green.

Access: 55-min by bus from JR Hirosaki Station
URL: http://www.en-aomori.com/scenery-014.html

Oirase Keiryu – Aomori

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Oirase Keiryu, a picturesque stream flowing from Lake Towada, is representative of Japan’s unique beauty. You will never be bored by the enchanting waterfalls and stunning rocks along the 14-kilometer trek between Lake Towada’s Nenokuchi and Yakeyama. Be it the lush greens of summer or brilliant shades of red in autumn, the gorgeous sight itself is well worth the journey.

Access: 50-min by bus from JR Hachinohe Station to Yakiyama (Nearby lake Towada)
URL: http://towadako.or.jp/towadako-oirase/ (Japanese only)

Oga Peninsula – Akita

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The rugged peninsula, projecting west into the Sea of Japan, is home to the Namahage ogres (demon-like characters) in traditional Japanese folklore. Some of the breathtaking vistas include extensive cliff coastlines, the “Godzilla Rock” and a shrine with a flight of 999 steps, said to be built by the ogres themselves.

Access: The trip from JR Oga Station around the peninsula takes about two hours (excluding sightseeing time).
URL: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/regional/akita/ogahantou.html

Tono – Iwate

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Tono – Iwate

Tono is the place to go and see how people live in beautiful harmony with nature, as Japan’s traditional landscape is perfectly preserved here. With old Japanese farmhouses and unchanged rural landscapes, you can discover ancient traditions and folklore in this countryside village beloved by all Japanese.

Tano-village

Places of Interest

Tono tourism association office
Hours: 8am – 7pm
Adress: 5-8 Shinkoku-cho, Tono-shi, Iwate
Access: Right outside JR Tono Station (Kamaishi Line)
URL: http://www.tonojikan.jp/Several_languages/english/english.html

Zao – Yamagata, Miyagi

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Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, this expansive wilderness is one of the last remaining untouched beech forest in Japan. Shirakami Sanchi, stretching from Aomori to Akita Prefecture, _boasts myriad hiking trails leading to breathtaking, panoramic views, along with waterfalls. Escape the heat from the city during the spring and summer seasons when the area turns green.

Access: 55-min by bus from JR Hirosaki Station.

Miharu Takizakura – Fukushima

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Blossoms cascade like a waterfall from the top of one large benishidare (weeping cherry blossom) tree, leaving a stream of petals on the ground. During its nocturnal light-up period, this sakura is especially beautiful; all will be moved by such a magical sight.


Miharu Takizakura – Fukushima

Hours: 6am – 6pm
Admission: 300 yen (free for junior high students and younger)
Address: Sakurakubo 91, Taki, Miharu-machi, Tamura-gun, Fukushima
Access: 30-min by bus from JR Miharu Station
URL: http://www.tif.ne.jp/lang/en/sightseeing/topic.html?id=41&category=4

Kitakami Tenschochi – Iwate

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About 10,000 sakura (dating back more than 90 years) form a magnificent, 2-km long tunnel along the Kitakami river. Enjoy the intertwined someiyoshino (hybrid sakura), yamazakura (mountain sakura) and yaezakura (double cherry blossom) from the sightseeing carriage at a leisurely pace.

Kitakami Tenschochi – Iwate

Hours: 24/7
Address: Chiwari 10, Tachibana, Kitakami-shi, Iwate
Access: 12-min by bus from JR Kitakami Station, get off at Tenshochi bus stop
URL: http://www.kitakami-kanko.jp/english/events.php?itemid=47

Matsushima Bay – Miyagi

Sakura in Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park and Matsushima

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Saigyo Hoshi, a renowned Japanese poet during the 12th century, expressed his love for cherry blossoms, as evidenced by his famous poem, “let me die under the blossoms in spring”. From Yukari no Koen (Yukari Park) you can see the wonderful contrast of the bursting blossoms of someiyoshino cherry trees with green pine trees and the blue waters of Matsushima Bay, considered to be “one of the Three Views of Japan.”

Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park

Hours: 24/7
Address: Inuta 10-174, Matsushima, Matsushima-machi, Miyagi
Access: 5-min by car from Matsushima Kaigan Station
URL: http://sendai-travel.jp/places/saigyo-modoshi-no-matsu-park/

Matsushima Bay – Miyagi

Hours: 10am – 4pm
Admission: Between 1000 yen – 1500 yen for a cruise
Address: Chonai 98-1, Matsushima, Matsushima-machi, Miyagi
Access: 10-min walk from JR Matsushima Kaigan Station
URL: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/regional/miyagi/matusima.html

Nebuta Matsuri

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Nebuta Matsuri Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Aug. 2 – 7
Highlight: fireworks festival on the final day

Aomori city comes alive every summer to celebrate the Nebuta festival. Historically the festival functioned as a means of keeping harvesters awake as they worked in the fields gathering rice and other produce. As dusk approaches the parade begins and many floats feature illuminated lanterns with various designs and shapes.

Hanagasa Matsuri

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Hanagasa Matsuri Yamagata City, Yamagata prefecture
Aug. 5 – 7
Highlight: different types of dances using straw flower hats

The iconic nature of the parade is the use of traditional agricultural workers hats decorated with red paper flowers that represent the beautiful safflower. The parade features all ages, with many young children dressed in traditional yukata. At the end of the festival, everyone is invited to celebrate and join in the last float, dancing the traditional hanagasa dance.

Waraji Matsuri

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Waraji Matsuri Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Named after the traditional straw sandals for traveling, the 300-year-old festival features a huge waraji that measures 12 meters in length and weighs 2 tons. The gigantic waraji is carried in a parade by people who pray for strong walking and safe traveling before housed in a shrine.

Tanabata Matsuri

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Tanabata Matsuri Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Aug. 6 – 8
Highlight: beautiful streamers in the shopping arcades
and fireworks on Aug. 5

The main arcades all through Sendai city are adorned with beautifully hung, crafted spheres made of washi-paper and bamboo, with long streamers hanging down like celestial jelly fish. One can spend hours happily strolling through!

Kanto Matsuri

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Kanto Matsuri Akita City, Akita Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Highlight: see participants balance 50kg lantern poles

A chorus of bamboo flutes signals the start of the festival and immediately various groups of men hoist the 12-meter bamboo poles hanging paper lanterns into the air. The Kanto festival can best be described as a performance of local groups showcasing their amazing dexterity and remarkable balancing prowess.

Forget ramen – the noodles here are one-of-a-kind!

Wanko Soba

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These soba noodles are for the competitive eater! Stack up your dishes and see who will become the noodle master. These small servings can quickly add up and a popular goal is to reach one hundred bowls of soba.

JaJa Men

This dish uses flat noodles made from soy and wheat and is considered one of the “Three Great Noodles of Morioka.” One defining feature is its miso paste, which is different in every restaurant. Enjoy it with a variety of vegetables and finish by mixing your remaining miso paste with a special egg soup.

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Negi Soba

If you’re not confident in your chopstick skills, this dish is for you! This peculiar soba is scooped with a long, curved green onion and is a specialty of Ouchi-Juku in Fukushima prefecture. To add some flavor, you can actually eat your utensil with your soba!

Inaniwa Udon

This extraordinary noodle is the only one of its kind. Inaniwa udon is thinner than regular udon, glossier than ramen and is typically handmade. This udon is quite chewy, giving it a pleasant texture. It’s no surprise that it’s considered one of Japan’s “Three Greatest Udon.”

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Reimen

Another one of the “Three Great Noodles of Morioka,” reimen is served chilled with a piece of fruit. Don’t get cold feet! The combination works surprisingly well and the soup is designed to taste best when cold.

Shiroishi Umen

There is a tale from the Edo period about a son looking for a dietary food for his sick father. He met a monk who told him about a way to make noodles without oil. His father recovered quickly and the dish was named after the area, Shiroishi. These noodles have a smooth taste from being kneaded with salt water.

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Yamagata castle (Kajo Park)

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Kajo Park covers the site of the former Yamagata Castle and has a beautiful variety of sakura. Take a walk around the castle moat enclosed in sakura, and watch how the trees brush the surface, painting the water with swirls of pink petals. At night, the illuminated park castes a magical light on the flowers.

Yamagata castle (Kajo Park)

Hours: 5:30am – 10pm
Admission: Free
Address: Kajomachi 1-1, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata
Access: 10-min walk from JR Yamagata Station
URL: http://yamagatakanko.com.e.db.hp.transer.com/spotdetail/?data_id=395

Look for sweets made by locals with plenty of love

Expect a vibrant spring and summer after the long and formidable winter!
Be amazed by Tohoku’s sweets and fruits.

Babahera

The sight of ice cream being sold under colorful parasols on the streets may be reminiscent of tropical countries and seaside resorts, but here in Akita prefecture, the sight of little old ladies selling ice cream on a regular roadside is commonplace.
This ice cream is called Babahera, a specialty of Akita. “Baba” refers to an elderly lady, while “hera” is the spatula that they use to shape the pink (strawberry flavor) and yellow (banana flavor) ice cream into a flower with practiced ease.

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Cherry Parfait

A variety of Yamagata’s delicious cherries top this luxurious parfait. Dig deep to discover the different unique ingredients that make up this multi-layered treat and compare the various cherries. The only time to enjoy this piece of art is during the cherry season, which usually starts in June.

Sansa Matsuri

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Sansa Matsuri Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
Aug. 1 – 4
The charm of the festival lies in a parade where taiko drummers and dancers proceed through the city. The origin can be traced back to a legend about a wicked demon. In summer evenings, locals would dress up in fancy costumes and dance and play drums to scare the demon away.

Pilgrimage to the 33 Kannon Buddha Temples


Aizu Culture through the eyes of a pilgrim


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Aizuwakamatsu, or Aizu for short, is a historic castle town known as the “land of the last samurai” in the Aizu district of Fukushima Prefecture in Tohoku. The people of Aizu were people of good faith and had a custom of paying respect to all 33 Kannon Buddha temples in the form of a pilgrimage. More than a tough, ascetic ritual, though, this pilgrimage was for entertainment.
In the Edo period, people would journey to the temples for sightseeing; even now, many people make the pilgrimage with friends. The image of Kannon makes its appearance everywhere, from wonderful temples in the city to the stone Buddhas in the mountains. Follow us on our journey as we visit some of them.

Visit the 33 Kannon Buddha Temples around Aizuwakamatu

Kannon, known as Kuan Yin or Goddess of Mercy to the Chinese, was known to have 33 manifestations. Most of the temples are modest, wooden structures, each dedicated to the various manifestation of Kannon. For example the Eryu-ji temple is dedicated to Juichimen Senju Kannon, the eleven-faced, one-thousand armed Kannon. The massive statue, standing at 8.5 meters high, was carved out of one single tree by Kobo Daishi (Kukai), the founder of Shingon Buddhism, in 808. It is designated as a National Treasure of Japan.

The temple itself was built in 1190. The statue is guarded by 28 Busyu divine generals and the gods of Wind and Thunder. The temple is believed to help visitors to overcome their negative attitude in life.
Another unique temple on the trail is Sazaedo Temple on Iimoriyama Hill, built in 1796 with an extraordinary, 16.5 meters high, three-storey hexagonal structure with a sloping double-helix ramp. Visitors ascend the ramp in a clockwise direction and descend anti-clockwise, thus not retracing any steps in their spiral track. It is an ingenious design.
Sazaedo
Sazaedo

In a forest on a remote mountain in Aizumisato, built in 830 at an altitude of 380 meters high, stands a simple but important rustic wooden temple called Sakudari Kannon Temple that is wedged against a rock face. It is said that Kukai founded this temple and carved its 80 centimeters high principle image, Kubinashi Kannon, which is placed upon an altar in a grotto concealed from public view. Not only is the structure of the temple truly amazing, the view is simply breathtaking.

Sakudari Kannon Temple
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Aizumisato
Aizumisato
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Sakudari Kannon Temple

Road to the Edo Period

The main street of Ouchi-Juku
The main street of Ouchi-Juku
There is a place where you can still enjoy the same experiences as a traveler from long ago: Ouchi-Juku, which lies south of Aizuwakamatsu on an old road called “Aizu Nishikaido.” The village is reminiscent of the old post towns on the ancient trade route in the Edo period; merchants and feudal lords would pass this way to rest and refresh. It is a living museum of old traditional houses with thatched roofs and bustling shops selling food, drinks and souvenirs. Here, you can experience and enjoy how the people of Aizu spent their everyday lives and lived their faith.

Another Japan Heritage

Aizu is a region steeped in samurai culture and natural beauty. One of the many scenic spots here is Lake Inawashiro, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountain ranges. It is a popular place for recreation for the local people, and also serves as the lifeline of the area by providing water for agriculture and hydro-electricity. The building of the canal during the Meiji era lead to the agricultural development of a previously barren land, and is considered a Japanese heritage site.
Lake Inawashiro
Lake Inawashiro
Tsuruga Castle
Tsuruga Castle
Eryuji Temple
Eryuji Temple
Sazaedo
Hours: 8:15am – sundown (April through December), 9am – 4pm (January
through March) Admission: 200 yen (middle and primary school students), 300
yen (university and high school students), 400 yen (adults)
Access: 4-min by
Akabe bus from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, get off at Imoriyama shita.
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Access: 12-min by car from Amaya Station (Aizu Railway Line)
Ouchi-Juku
Access: 15-min by car from Yunokami Onsen Station (Aizu Railway Line)
Lake Inawashiro
Access: Area around Inawashiro Station (Ban-etsu-West Line)
The interior of a local restaurant in Ouchi-juku
The interior of a local restaurant in Ouchi-juku

Japan Heritage
http://www.bunka.go.jp/seisaku/bunkazai/nihon_isan/pdf/nihon_isan_pamphlet_english.pdf

There are two other Japanese Heritage sites in Tohoku.

In this edition, we briefly mentioned “The waterway that cleared the way to the future” (Fukushima Prefecture), and the “Culture honed by Date Masamune” (Miyagi prefecture) inspired by Sengoku warlords, these will be featured in our next publication of WAttention Tohoku 2017 Autumn & Winter Edition.
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Nature and worship “A journey of rebirth”


In The Realm of the Gods at Dewa Sanzan

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In many cultures, mountains often have religious significance and are regarded as abodes of the gods. Tohoku has three holy mountains, known collectively as Dewa Sanzan, that is regarded as one of the most sacred sites in the country. Its landscape is defined by the stunning natural beauty of mystical mountains, volcanic lakes, hot springs and farmlands. This is where the soul of Japan lies in its traditional and religious culture, and where ancient mountain worship is still very much practiced. Against this background, we embarked on an epic journey to trace the footsteps of pilgrims who are followers of Shugendo.

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The Three Mountain Blessings

Shugendo is an ethnic religion influenced by Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism and spiritual faith. Its main purpose is to strengthen the connection between people and nature, reaching enlightenment in this way. Practitioners preach the teaching that “nature is a manifestation of the gods and we should live alongside it with respect.” Mountains and forests have paramount importance in Shugendo. The Dewa Sanzan mountains of Mt Haguro (419m), Mt Gassan (1984m) and Mt Yudono (1504m) are the centres of pilgrimage in the region. The followers, known as Shugenjas or Yamabushi (mountain monks), have been following the rites of worship for the last 1,400 years. Followers embark on long pilgrimages and practice austere feats of physical endurance of natural elements as an ascetic rite of passage to gain spiritual power. We had the privilege of experiencing the immersive ceremony of Shugendo first hand by visiting the three sacred mountains that represents the present, death and rebirth at Mt Haguro, Mt Gassan and Mt Yudono respectively.

Praying in the Official Shinto Style at Mt. Haguro
We arrived at Mt. Haguro as dusk was setting in and, after a short visit to Ideha Museum nearby to get an insight of Shugendo and Dewa Sanzan, we entered the sacred site through the torii, a wooden gateway that is found in all sacred sites in Japan. A long flight of stone steps, known as the Ishi-Dan, led down to an enchanting forest with towering cedar trees along the ancient pilgrim route. The 1.7km trail built in 1648 has 2,446 steps leading to the Sanjin Gosaiden shrine at the summit. There are 33 carvings etched on the steps and it is believed that if you can find all 33, your wishes will come true. As we were pressed for time, we could only follow the sacred path as far as the 600-year-old Goju-no-to, the five-storied pagoda, a recorded national treasure. In the gloom of the forest, the ornate pagoda exuded an air of mysticism that lent to the belief that a deity of the forest lives in it.
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro

When we arrived at Sanjin Gosaiden, the main shrine at the summit, we were met by a Yamabushi dressed in his traditional religious garb. He sounded a horagai, a religious conch trumpet, as a welcome and to ward off bad spirits. We were led to the inner sanctum of the shrine. There, a monk dressed in a splendid ceremonial robe with motifs of cranes performed a special ceremony accompanied by a beating taiko drum, followed by space clearing of malevolent energy around us by wafting a pole with white paper strips attached to the end and ringing bells to cleanse the air. He then chanted some mantras in a trance-like voice, which reverberated around the room, sending powerful vibrations into the ambience. We felt blessed and awed as we bowed twice, clapped our hands twice and bowed once again, completing the ritual where we were “spiritually born.”

Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
We stayed the night at a shukubo, a traditional temple lodge owned by a Yamabushi and his wife, who welcomed us graciously by kneeling Japanese style where they sat on the floor with their legs folded behind them. The delightful lodge was immaculately clean and the minimalist décor was the personified tranquility that we badly needed after a long journey. I would highly recommend staying in a shukubo to attain a Zen state of mind. Early next morning, our landlord performed a Shinto ritual prayer to bless us and wished us a safe journey to Mt Gassan and Mt. Yudono.

Stepping to Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono

We headed to Mt. Gassan in howling wind and rain to visit a shrine. The pilgrimage trail was officially closed for the season, but we braved the elements by treading precariously on the path of a slippery, wooden walkway laid across a marshland of dwarf bamboo and grassland.
After twenty minutes’ walk, we reached a small shrine presided by a giant stone rabbit, the guardian of the mountain.

Mt. Yudono
Mt. Yudono
This mountain symbolized the path to death and it was apt that the short journey we took in the inclement weather seemed to convey that message. In the summer, pilgrims could hike to the summit, where the main shrine lies; from there, they could also hike to Mt. Yudono, the last mountain on the holy trail.
Our visit to Mt. Yudono was an epic experience where we were sworn to secrecy by the priest about the ceremony of “rebirth” that we underwent to symbolize being spiritually reborn to start a new journey in life. It is a taboo to divulge the secret of the ritual, but suffice to say that the experience is something I will always remember.

Dewa Sanzan is a pilgrimage, but mere mortals with spiritual interest will find the journey enlightening and soul stirring. Reflecting on my own awesome experience of the religious encounter, I now appreciate why mountains belong to the realms of the gods.

Hagurosan

Access: 40-min by bus from JR Tsuruoka Station, get off at Zuishinmon.
55-min by bus to the summit.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/47/

Gassan

Hours: Closed late September until June
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-
Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to Gassan Hachigome.
URL:ttp://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/48/

Yudonosan

Hours: Closed late September until June Admission: 500 yen
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to
Yudonosan.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/49/

Mountain and sea delicacies that you can’t get in cities

Local dishes you’ve never had before!

Today, restaurant chains are so popular that there seems to be no diversity in the food and experience wherever you go. But this is not true in Tohoku, where food is reflective of local weather conditions and the region’s rich cultural heritage. Prepared to be greeted with an array of unique dishes that you have never heard of nor seen before. Time to challenge your taste buds!

Shark

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Your jaw might drop at the thought of eating shark meat, but in Miyagi prefecture they use every part of this marine mammal. Prepared in a multitude of ways, such as sashimi or shark fin soup, shark meat’s endless possibilities will surprise you.

Tuna Steak

The number one place to find tuna in Aomori prefecture is Fukaura Town, where natsu maguro (summer tuna) is available for a long period every year. This tuna has an exquisite taste both raw and cooked, and is most commonly found as part of a “tuna steak bowl.”

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Hoya (sea squirt)

Hoya looks like it’s part of another animal, but it’s actually a species of its own. The sea squirt is also called “sea pineapple” because of its thorny appearance, but its taste is anything but tropical. Being described as “the flavor of the ocean,” expect a surprising mix of sweet, salty, sour and sharp.

Hokki (surf clam)

The flavor of this ocean critter is said to reach its full potential when lightly cooked. In Miyagi prefecture, the favored way to eat hokki is as hokki meshi, a rice dish with thin slices of hokki.

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Shojin Ryori

This all-vegetarian Buddhist cuisine is part of monks’ daily lives. Buddhism teaches not to hurt any living creature and Shojin Ryori is an extension of that belief. Even so, this cuisine’s menu is not as meager as you might imagine. From pickled and braised wild mountain vegetables to bowls of miso soup with silken tofu, centuries of Shojin Ryori culture in this area has led to a variety of flavorful dishes. Yamagata’s three holy mountains are a famous pilgrimage spot and the abundance of mountain vegetables makes it a top location for experiencing the life of a Buddhist monk.

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Himemasu (landlocked sockeye salmon)

You don’t have to travel to the ocean to find fresh salmon. Himemasu can be found inland, making it a sweetwater fish with a different taste from saltwater salmon. Lake Towada is the top spot for this fish, where it is mainly served as sashimi to bring out its sweetness and soft texture.

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Hirosaki Castle – Aomori

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This is one of Japan’s three major sakura spots. The castle, as a backdrop to the flowers, provides the area with a reminiscent image. Not to be missed during full bloom are the flower petals on the castle’s outer moat, resembling a flower carpet. While the castle tower is under renovation this year, the beauty of the sakura stays unchanged.


Hirosaki Castle – Aomori

Hours: 9am – 5pm (paid area, closed from Nov. 24 – Mar. 31)
Admission: 510 yen (adults) and 160 yen (children) for full access to all paid areas
Address: Shimoshirogane-cho 1, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori
Access: 9-min by bus (Konan Dote-machi loop line) from JR Hirosaki Station, get off at Shiyakusho Mae (City Hall) bus stop
URL: http://www.hirosakipark.jp/en/

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Fukushima Prefecture

Fukushima Prefecture 36~ 45


36Bandai Azuma Skyline (磐梯吾妻スカイライン) in Fukushima

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First colors: End of September
Color Peak: Beginning of October until the middle of October
Recommended Spots: Tengu no Niwa, Fudosawa Bridge
Access: 1h10min bus ride from JR Fukushima Station
Address: Between Niwasaka and Tsuchiyu Onsen-machi, Fukushima-shi, 960-2157 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.tif.ne.jp


37Ura-Bandai & Nakatsu River Ravine (裏磐梯高原・中津川渓谷) in Yama-Inawashiro

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First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Access: 45min taxi ride from JR Inawashiro Station (JR Ban’etsu West Line)
Address: Kita-Shiobara-mura, Inawashiro-machi, Yama-gun, Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.jnto.go.jp

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Fukushima Prefecture


38Tatsuzawafudo Falls (達沢不動滝) in Yama-Inawashiro

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the beginning of November
Access: 40min bus ride into Tatsuzawa direction from JR Inawashiro Station (JR Ban’etsu West Line) until the last stop (40min walk)
Address: Kogai Kotatsusawa, Inawashiro-machi, Yama-gun, 969-2752 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
bandaisan.or.jp


39Shingukumano Shrine’s large ginkgo tree (新宮熊野神社の大イチョウ) in Kitakata

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First colors: Beginning of November
Color Peak: November 15th(Tuesday) – November 20th (Sunday)
Access: 10min taxi ride from Kitakata Station (JR Ban’etsu West Line); 10min taxi ride from JR Shiokawa Station (JR Ban’etsu West Line)
Address: Shingu Kumano 2258, Keitoku-machi, Kitakata-shi, 966-0923 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.tif.ne.jp

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Fukushima Prefecture


40Tsuruga Castle Park (鶴ヶ城公園) in Aizu-Wakamatsu

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First colors: End of October
Color Peak: End of October until the beginning of November
Event: Autumn Color Light-up
Date: October 21st (Friday) – November 13th (Sunday); sunset – 9pm
Access: 13min bus ride from JR Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (JR Ban’etsu West Line, JR Tadami Line, Aizu Line) ; 15min taxi ride from Minami-Wakamatsu Station (Aizu Line)
Address: 1-1 Otemachi, Aizu-Wakamatsu-shi, 965-0873 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.tsurugajo.com


41Midorigaoka Park (翠ヶ丘公園) in Sukagawa

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First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Beginning of October until the beginning of November
Access: 15min walk from Sukagawa Station (JR Tohoku Main Line)
Address: Atagoyama, Sukagawa-shi, 962-0867 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
tripadvisor.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Fukushima Prefecture


42Natsui River Ravine (夏井川渓谷) in Iwaki

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First colors: End of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November until the middle of November
Recommended Spots: Around the Kagoba Falls, View from the Natsui River Ravine observation deck
Access: (Kagoba Falls) 30min walk from Eda Station (JR Ban’etsu East Line)
Address: Within Ogawa-machi Kamiogawa and Kawamae-machi, Iwaki-shi, 979-3124 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.tif.ne.jp


43Tonohetsuri Cliff (塔のへつり) in Minamiaizu

First colors: Mid October
Color Peak: Late October to early November
Access: 3-min walk from Tonohetsuri Station on the Aizu Railway
Address: Minamiaizu District, Shitabayashi Yagoshima, Shimogō-machi 5316, Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★★☆
wattention.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Fukushima Prefecture


44Yukiwari Bridge & Yukiwari Ravine (雪割橋・雪割渓谷) in Nishishirakawa-Nishigo

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October until the beginning of November
Access: 30min bus ride from Shin-Shirakawa Station (JR Tohoku Main Line, JR Tohoku-Shinkansen) until Hatsudensho Mae (5min walk)
Address: Tsuryu, Nishigo-mura, Nishishirakawa-gun, 961-8081 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.welcome-fukushima.com


45Nanko Park (南湖公園) in Shirakawa

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First colors: End of October
Color Peak: End of October until the middle of November
Access: Bus ride from Shirakawa Station (JR Tohoku Main Line) or JR Shin-Shirakawa Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen, JR Tohoku Main Line) until Nanko Koen (5min walk)
Address: Nanko, Shirakawa-shi, 961-0812 Fukushima
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
shirakawa315.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Yamagata Prefecture

Yamagata Prefecture 30~ 35


30Sankyo Warehouse (山居倉庫) in Sakata

First colors: End of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Recommended Spots: Around the warehouse
Access: 10min ride with the free sightseeing bicycles from JR Sakata Station (JR Rikuu West Line, JR Uetsu Main Line); 8min ride with the Runrun Bus – Sakita Station University line to Sankyo Soko Mae
Address: 1-1-20 Sankyo-machi, Sakata-shi, 998-0838 Yamagata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp


31Chokai Forest (眺海の森) in Sakata

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Recommended Spots: Chokai Forest accommodation “Chokai no Mori Sansan”, temple on the top of the mountain “Mine no Yakushi”
Access: 25min taxi ride from JR Sagoshi Station (JR Rikuu West Line, JR Uetsu Main Line) or JR Amarume Station (JR Rikuu West Line, JR Uetsu Main Line)
Address: Ohira Tsuchibuchi, Sakata-shi, 999-6839 Yamagata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
yamagatakanko.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Yamagata Prefecture


32Mogami Gorge (最上峡) in Mogami – Tozawa

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October until the beginning of November
Recommended Spots: Around Shiraito Falls
Access: 10min taxi ride from Furukuchi Station (JR Rikuu West Line)
Address: Furukuchi, Tozawa-mura, Mogami-gun, 999-6401 Yamagata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
yamagatakanko.com


33Ravine of Bonji river & around Mount Yudono (梵字川渓谷・湯殿山周辺) in Tsuruoka

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First colors: Ravine of Bonji river – Middle of October; around Mountain Yudono – End of September
Color Peak: Beginning of October until the end of October
Access: 45min bus ride from JR Tsuruoka Station until Gassan Asahi Hakubutsu-mura
Address: Bonji River Ravine, Etchuyama Nabira, Tsuruoka-shi, 997-0403 Yamagata; Mt. Yudono, Rokuju Riyama Tamugimata, Tsuruoka-shi, 997-0532 Yamagata
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
yamagatakanko.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Yamagata Prefecture


34Yama-dera (山寺) in Yamagata

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Access: 5min walk from Yamadera Station (JR Senzan Line)
Address: 4495-15 Yamadera, Yamagata-shi, 999-3301 Yamagata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
wattention.com


35Tengendai (天元台) in Yonezawa

A photo posted by natsunori (@summer8forest) on

A photo posted by natsunori (@summer8forest) on

First colors: End of September
Color Peak: Middle of October
Recommended Spots: View out of the car of the Tengendai Ropeway in the morning.
Access: 40min bus ride from JR Yonezawa Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen, JR Ou Main Line, JR Yonesaka Line) until Shirabu-Onsen; 5min ride from Ropeway-Yumoto Station until Kogen Station
Address: Tengendai Kogen, Sumomoyama 12118-6, Yonezawa-shi, 992-1461 Yamagata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Miyagi Prefecture

Miyagi Prefecture 25~ 29


25Naruko-kyo (鳴子峡) in Osaki

First colors: End of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Recommended Spots: around the Narukokyo Resthouse near the western end of the gorge
Access: 30min walk from Nakayamadaira Onsen Station (JR Rikuu-to Line); buses are available from early October to mid November.
Address: Shitomae-87 Narukoonsen, Ōsaki-shi, 989-6100 Miyagi
Ranking: ★★★★☆ 
www.jnto.go.jp


26Entsu-in & Matsushima-chiku (円通院・松島地区) in Miyagi-Matsushima

First colors: End of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Event: Autumn Color Light-up, October 22nd (Saturday) – November 23rd (Wednesday)
Access: 8min walk from Matsushima Kaigan Station (JR Senseki Line); 20min walk from Matsushima Station (JR Tohoku Main Line)
Address: Chonai-67 Matsushima, Matsushima-machi, Miyagi-gun,981-0213 Miyagi
Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 
sendai-travel.jp

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Miyagi Prefecture


27Shiwahiko Shrine & Shiogama Shrine (志波彦神社・鹽竈神社) in Shiogama

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First colors: End of October
Color Peak: Middle of November
Access: 15min walk from Hon-Shiogama Station (JR Senseki Line)
Address: Shiwahiko Shrine & Shiogama Shrine, 1-1 Ichimoriyama, Shiogama-shi, 985-0074 Miyagi
Ranking: ★★☆☆☆ 
www.thm.pref.miyagi.jp


28Okunikkawa Valley (奥新川渓谷) in Sendai – Aoba

A photo posted by kan (@kiku_shin) on

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Access: 30min walk from Okunikkawa Station (JR Senzan Line)
Address: Nikkawa, Aoba-ku, Sendai-shi, 989-3434 Miyagi
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.tripadvisor.com


29Yamanaka Shichikashuku Highway (山中七ヶ宿街道) in Katta – Shichikashuku

First colors: End of September
Color Peak: Middle of October until the beginning of November
Recommended Spots: Lake Choro, Nametsu Otaki Fall, Lake Shichikashuku
Access: For Lake Choro -> a 50min taxi ride from Shiroishi-Zao Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen) , For Shichikashuku dam-> 30min taxi ride from from Shiroishi-Zao Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen)
Address: Shichikashuku Dam, Kiritoshi 52-40, Shichikashuku-machi, Katta-gun, 989-0536 Miyagi
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.tripadvisor.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Akita Prefecture

Akita Prefecture 19~ 24


19Mount Moriyoshi (森吉山) in Kita-Akita

A photo posted by @mado.ca on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October
Access: 20min taxi ride from Aniai Station (Akita Nairiku Line)
Address: Ani Kagi no Daki 79-5, Kita-Akita-shi, 018-4624 Akita
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.aniski.jp (Japanese only)


20Nyuto Onsen Village (乳頭温泉郷) in Semboku

A photo posted by ayuko! (@a1oxo5) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: The view from the Rotenburo (open air bath).
Access: 45min ride with the Ugo Transportation bus into Nyuto Onsen direction from Tazawako Station (JR Tazawako Line, JR Akita Shinkansen)
Address: Tazawako, Semboku-shi, 014-1204 Akita
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Akita Prefecture


23Dakigaeri Valley (抱返り渓谷) in Semboku

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: End of October until the beginning of November
Access: 30min taxi ride from JR Tazawako Station (JR Tazawako Line, JR Akita Shinkansen); 15min taxi ride from JR Kakunodate Station (JR Tazawako Line, JR Akita Shinkansen, Akita Nairiku Line)
Address: Tazawako Dakikaeri Prefectural Natural Park, Tazawako, Semboku-shi, Akita
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.city.semboku.akita.jp


24Oyasu Gorge (小安峡) in Yuzawa

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First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: End of October
Event: Autumn Color Festival
Date: October 16th (Sunday)
Access: 1h10min bus ride from Yuzawa Station (JR Ou Main Line)
Address: Minaseyumoto, Yuzawa-shi, 012-0183 Akita
URL: http://www.jalan.net/kankou/spt_05465ab2040005443/ (Japanese only)
Ranking: ★★★★☆

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Akita Prefecture


21Senshu Park (千秋公園) in Akita

A photo posted by @syuu_01 on

First colors: End of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Access: 10min walk from JR Akita Station
Address: Senshu Park, Akita-shi, 010-0876 Akita
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp


22Kakunodate (角館) in Semboku

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Recommended Spots: The street of the samurai’s residence.
Access: 5min taxi ride or 20min walk from Kakunodate Station (JR Tazawako Line, JR Akita Shinkansen, Akita Nairiku Line)
Address: Kakunodate-machi, Semboku-shi, 014-0300 Akita
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Iwate Prefecture

Iwate Prefecture 11~ 18


11Hachimantai (八幡平) in Hachimantai

八幡平の紅葉(熊沼)

First colors: End of September
Color Peak: Beginning of October
Event: Hachimantai Sanzoku Festival
Date: October 15th (Saturday) – October 16th (Sunday)
Access: 1,5hour Iwate Kenpoku Bus ride from JR Morioka Station; 1hour bus ride from Obuke Station (JR Hanawa Line)
Address: Sakura Park Event Hall, Kashiwadai, Hachimantai-shi, 028-7303 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.japan-iwate.info


12Park of Morioka castle – Iwate Park (盛岡城跡公園・岩手公園) in Morioka

First colors: End of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Recommended Spots: The bridge which connects the outer citadel and the inner citadel.
Access: 6min bus ride from JR Morioka Station; 25min walk from JR Morioka Station
Address: Uchimaru 1-37, Morioka-shi, 020-0023 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.japan-iwate.info

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Iwate Prefecture


13Geto Plateau Onsen Village (夏油 高原 温泉郷) in Kitakami

A photo posted by true (@tellus_jp) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Trekking route between Geto Plateau Ski Area and Geto Onsen
Access: 1hour bus ride from Kitakami Station (JR Kitakami Line, JR Tohoku Main Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen)
Address: Iwasakai Shinden, Waga-cho, Kitakami-shi, 024-0322 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.geto8.com


14Sennin Pass (仙人峠) in Kamaishi

A photo posted by mai .. yamanaka (@moco__3) on

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October until the beginning of November
Recommended Spots: Sennin tunnel
Access: 3min taxi ride from Rikuchu-Ohashi Station (JR Kamaishi Line)
Address: Ohashi, Kasshi-cho, Kamaishi-shi, 026-0055 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.city.kamaishi.iwate.jp (Japanese only)


15Mount Kurikoma (栗駒山) in Ichinoseki

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First colors: End of September
Color Peak: Beginning of October
Access: 1,5hour bus ride from Ichinoseki Station (JR Tohoku Main Line, JR Ofunato Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen)
Address: Genbi-cho, Ichinoseki-shi, 021-0101 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.tripadvisor.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Iwate Prefecture


16Chuson Temple (中尊寺) in Nishiiwai – Hiraizumi

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October until the beginning of November
Recommended Spots: Around the golden temple hall, the scripture hall and the main hall
Event: The Autumn Festival of Fujiwara
Date: November 1st (Tuesday) – November 3rd (Thursday)
Access: 5min taxi ride from Hiraizumi Station (JR Tohoku Main Line); 30min taxi ride from Ichinoseki Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen, JR Tohoku Line, JR Ofunato Line)
Address: 202 Koromonoseki, Hiraizumi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nichiiwai-gun, 029-4102 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★★☆
wattention.com


17Geibikei (猊鼻渓) in Ichinoseki

A photo posted by もす (@mozuyamaaa) on

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Access: 5min walk from Geibikei Station (JR Ofunato Line); 35min bus ride from Hiraizumi Station (JR Tohoku Main Line); 42min bus ride from Ichinoseki Station (JR Tohoku Main Line, JR Ofunato Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen)
Address: 467 Machiaza, Higashiyamachonagasaka, Ichinoseki-shi, 029-0302 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.japan-iwate.info


18Genbikei (厳美渓) in Ichinoseki

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Access: 20min bus ride until the terminal stop into Genbikei direction from JR Ichinoseki Station (JR Tohoku Main Line, JR Ofunato Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen)
Address: Taki no ue, Genbi-cho, Ichinoseki-shi, 021-0101 Iwate
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.japan-iwate.info

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Tohoku

Tohoku is located in the northeastern part of Japan’s Honshu island and consists of six prefectures — Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima. The region is famous for its jaw-dropping scenery, magnificent temples, unique culture, delicious food and friendly people.

Aomori Prefecture : Spots 1 ~ 10

Quick jump links:

To_01
6Hakkoda Mountains
Mid October
To_01
7Hirosaki Park
Early November

Go to Aomori list top

Iwate Prefecture : Spots 11 ~ 18

Quick jump links:

Iwate_11_R
11Hachimantai
Beginning of October
Iwate_15_R
15Mount Kurikoma
Beginning of October

Go to Iwate list top

Yamagata Prefecture : Spots 30 ~ 35

Quick jump links:

Yamagata_33_R
33Bonji River
October
Yamagata_34_R
34Yamadera
Beginning of November

Go to Yamagata list top

Fukushima Prefecture : Spots 36 ~ 45

Quick jump links:

Fukushima_36_R
36Bandai Azuma Skyline
Early to mid October
Fukushima_40_R
40Tsuruga Castle Park
End of October to early November
Fukushima_45_R
45Yukiwari Bridge
End of October to early November

Go to Fukushima list top

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Tohoku – Aomori Prefecture Part 1

Aomori Prefecture 1~ 10


1Yagen Mountain Stream (薬研渓流) in Mutsu

A photo posted by kaorist (@kaorist) on

A photo posted by キソキソ (@kuwakeen) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Yagen Bridge, Koyo Bridge, Otome Bridge (Suspension Bridge), Rotenburo (open air bath)
Access: Take the bus from Shimokita Station (JR Omita Line) and get off at Ohata. From there it´s a 20min taxi ride (reservation before is necessary).
Address: Yagen, Ohata-machi, Mutsu-shi, 039-4401 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.en-aomori.com


2Mount Osore (恐山) in Mutsu

A photo posted by Hisaya Wada (@komanosuke678) on

A photo posted by Sachi Wakasa (@sachiwakasa) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the beginning of November
Event: Autumn visit at Mount Osore!
Date: October 8th (Saturday) – October 10th (Monday), 6am – 6pm
Admission: 500 yen (adults), 200 yen (children)
Details: Different guided walks through the nature, Yosakoi performance, food stands, Segway, etc.
Access: 43 bus ride from Shimokita Station (JR Omita Line) until Osore-zan
Address: 3-2 Usoriyama, Tanabu, Mutsu-shi, 035-0021 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp


3Kawauchi River Valley (川内川渓谷) in Mutsu

A photo posted by meg* (@me9mi3to) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Sekirei Bridge, Ajisai Bridge, Asunaro Bridge
Access: 15min Taxi ride from Kawauchimachi Station; 40min JR Bus ride from Ominato Station (JR Ominato Line) into Wakinosawa direction until Kawauchi
Address: Kawauchimachi, Mutsu-shi, 039-5201 Aomori
aomorishokoren.or.jp (Japanese only)
Ranking: ★★★★☆

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Tohoku – Aomori Prefecture Part 2


4Jogakura Onsen & Jogakura Bridge (城ヶ倉温泉・城ヶ倉大橋) in Aomori

A photo posted by Qoo (@qoo_aomori) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October
Recommended Spots: view from Jogakura Bridge
Access: 1,5hour JR Bus ride from JR Aomori Station or JR Shin-Aomori Station into Towada-ko direction until Jogakura Onsen (30min walk)
Address: Minami-Arakawayama, Arakawa, Aomori-shi, 030-0111 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com


5Lake Towada (十和田湖) in Towada

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Event: Oirase Mountain Stream Eco Road Festival 2016
Date: October 29th (Saturday) – October 30th (Sunday), 9am – 3pm
Details: Different guided walks through the nature, Yosakoi performance, food stands, Segway, etc.
Access: 2h15min bus ride from Hachinohe Station (JR Hachinohe Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen, Aomori Railway Line); 2h45min bus ride from Shin-Aomori Station (JR Ou Main Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen, JR Hokkaido Shinkansen)
Address: Kowadakohanyasumiya 486, Okuse, Towada-shi, 018-5501 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp


6Hakkoda Mountains (八甲田連峰) in Aomori

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First colors: End of September
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Hakkoda Ropeway, Tamoyachi Shitsugen
Access: 1hour JR Bus ride from JR Aomori Station or JR Shin-Aomori Station into Towada-ko direction until Hakkoda Ropeway Station Mae
Address: Hakkoda Ropeway Sanroku Station, 1-12 Kansuizawa, Arakawa, Aomori-shi, 030-0111 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.hakkoda-ropeway.jp


7Hirosaki Park (弘前公園) in Hirosaki

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Event: Chrysanthemum and Autumn-Color Festival of Hirosaki Castle
Date: October 21st (Friday) – November 13th (Sunday), 9am – 5pm (Admission to the park until 4:30pm)
Admission: Botanical Garden of Hirosaki Castle 310yen (adults), 100yen (children); Botanical Garden of Hirosaki Castle + Around the castle + Fujita memorial garden 510yen (adults), 160yen (children)
Access: 15min Konan Bus ride from Hirosaki Station (JR Ou Main Line, JR Gono Line, Konan Line) into Fujishiro Eigyosho direction until Shiyakusho Mae Koen Iriguchi
Address: 1-1 Shimoshirogane-cho, Hirosaki-shi, 036-8356 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.hirosakipark.jp

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Tohoku – Aomori Prefecture Part 3


8Shirakami Sanchi (白神山地) in Nakatsugaru – Nishimeya Village

白神_暗門の滝

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Anmon Waterfall sidewalk
Access: 1h10min taxi ride from Hirosaki Station (JR Ou Main Line, JR Gono Line, Konan Line); 1,5hour bus ride from Hirosaki Bus Terminal
Address: Between Meya Bridge and Anmon Waterfall, Tashiro, Nishimeya-mura, Nakatsugaru-gun, 036-1411 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com


9Sukayu Onsen & Jigoku Numa (酸ヶ湯温泉・地獄沼) in Aomori

To_八甲田_地獄沼_R

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October
Recommended Spots: Manju Fukashi, Sukayu Camping Ground
Access: 1h40min JR Bus ride from JR Aomori Station or JR Shin-Aomori Station into Towada-ko direction until Jogakura Onsen
Address: Jigoku Numa, Arakawa, Aomori-shi, 030-0111 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com


10Nakano Maple Mountain (中野もみじ山) in Kuroishi

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Event: Nakano Maple Mountain Light-up ~ Light Fantasy
Date: October 13th (Thursday) – November 6th (Sunday), 4:30pm – 9pm
Access: 40min bus ride from Kuroishi Station (Konan Railway Konan Line) until Itadome (10min walk); 30min taxi ride from Kuroishi Station (Konan Railway Konan Line)
Address: Nakano Shrine, Fudodate 27, Minami-Nakano, Kuroishi-shi, 036-0405 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com

Winter Activities in Tohoku : World’s Best Sake!

Vital elements to making great sake include fresh water, clean rice, fermentation starter and proper temperature. The Tohoku region, characterized by harsh winters, unpolluted water and dry air, is known across Japan for having the ideal sake-making conditions. Thanks to the dedication of toji (experienced brew masters), Tohoku sake has a time-honored place deep in the heart of sake enthusiasts. Several breweries offer tours from November to March, the best season for sake brewing.

Urakasumi Sake Brewery

uragasumi
Founded in 1724, this brewery has been tickling the taste buds of sake connoisseurs for nearly 300 years. The establishment offers a wide range of products, including classic sakes, seasonal specialties, plum wine and tasting accessories. Visitors can also enjoy a tour of the brewery, which is followed by a fascinating tutored tasting session.

Information
Hours: Tour starts at 11am & 2pm (15 minutes long)
Access: 7-min walk from Honshiogama Station (JR Senseki Line)
Address: 2-19 Motomachi Shiogama-shi, Miyagi
*Reservation is required.

Dewazakura Sake Brewery

出羽桜_1992
Dewazakura Brewery is a fantastic place to be if you’re a sake lover. The brewery, based in Tendo in Yamagata Prefecture, proved itself worthy of global praise by winning the numerous top prize in its category at the International Wine Challenge, one of the world’s largest wine competitions. Dewazakura sake is refreshingly light, slightly sweet and deliciously drinkable—even for sake non- aficionados!

Information
Hours: 9am – 3pm
Closed: Sat, Sun and Holidays
Access: 15-min walk from JR Tendo Station (Yamagata Shinkansen & Ou Main Line)
Address: 1-4-6 Hitoichimachi Tendo-shi, Yamagata
*Reservation is required.

Other Recommended Sake Brewery Tours

Ryozeki Sake Brewery:
Hours: 9am – 11am or 1:30pm – 3:30pm
Access: 20-min walk from JR Yuzawa Station
Address: 4-3-18 Maemori, Yuzawa-shi, Akita
*Reservation is required at least 3 days prior to the tour date.

Suehiro Sake Brewery:
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Last entry 4:30pm)
Access: Take a bus from JR Aizuwakamatsu Station and get off at Yamatomachi Bus Stop. 1-min walk from the but stop.
Address: 12−38 Nisshin-machi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima
*Reservation is required at least 3 days prior to the tour date.

Tohoku Meijo Sake Brewery:
Hours: 10am –4:30pm
Closed: Mon, New Year’s Holidays
Access: 20-min walk from JR Yuzawa Station
Address: 125 Higashiyama, Jurizukaji-mura, Sakata-shi, Yamagata
*Reservation is required.

Winter Activities in Tohoku : Vintage Winter Rides

Make the most of your winter holiday by getting away with friends and family on transportation methods exclusive to Tohoku. Every winter, local operators run old-fashioned rides that bring Tohoku’s rich cultural heritage to life. Enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere on a stove train, kotatsu train or kotatsu boat as they tour along some of the most scenic routes in Japan.

Stove Train (Tsugaru Railway)

stovetrain
Equipped with two fully- red potbelly stoves, each train car boasts a warm, cozy atmosphere where travelers can mingle freely while winding through the vast snowfields of the Tsugaru plain. Dried squid, a traditional snack from centuries ago, is cooked on top of the stoves and served comfortably warm. Be prepared in advance, though: The train operates only three roundtrip rides from December to March, so be sure to check the schedule.

Stove Train
Date: Dec. 1 – Mar. 31
Access: 1-min walk from JR Goshogawara Station (Gono Line)
Price: 950 yen (Adult), 680 yen (Children)
*The train operates three round trips per day, so make sure to check the schedule.

Geibikei Boat

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Geibikei, a 2-kilometer gorge surrounded by towering cliffs, is famous year-round for its 90-minute sightseeing boat ride. December through February is an especially popular time to visit because traditional foods, such as hot pot and rice cooked in iron pots, is served on kotatsu, a Japanese wooden table that comes with a blanket and a heater underneath. Huddle around the kotatsu, listen to the guide hum folk songs and immerse yourself in scenic splendor—life doesn’t get any better!

Kotatsu Boat Ride
Date: Dec. 1 – End of Feb
Closed: New Year’s Holidays
Access: 5-min walk from Geibikei Station (JR Oofunato Line)
Price: 1,600 yen (Adult), 860 yen (Children), 200 yen (Infant), Boat ride with meals 3,300 yen – 5,500 yen
*Reservation is required for the boat ride with meals.

Kotatsu Train (Sanriku Railway)

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The Sanriku kotatsu train was forced to shut down temporarily after the railway was severely damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Reopened in 2014, it not only allows you to relax while enjoying mouthwatering bento lunches—made with fresh sea urchin, abalone and scallops caught from nearby coasts—but also offers panoramic coastal views of Iwate Prefecture.

 

Kotatsu Train
Access: Train starts either from Kuji Station or Miyako Station
Date: Dec. – Mar. Operates on Sat, Sun & Holidays
Price: 1,850 yen (Adult), 930 yen (Children) + 500 yen (Reserved seat fee)
The train operates one round trip per day, so make sure to check the schedule.

Winter Activities in Tohoku : Snow Activities

Gliding over or schussing through high-quality powder is the ultimate delight for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. Tohoku, just a few hours away from Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train), is the perfect destination for those who ache to spend some serene or invigorating time hitting the slopes. Aside from skiing and snowboarding, there are myriad other tantalizing activities on offer to meet every particular fancy.

Zao Onsen Ski Resort (Yamagata)

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At Zao Onsen Ski Resort, you can enjoy magnificent views of windblown juhyo (fir trees) heavily coated with thick, sparkling snow. These legendary “snow monsters” are often grotesquely shaped due to the extreme velocity of the northwest winter Siberian monsoon cutting through. January and February are the best times to see for yourself the weirdest and wildest—even scariest!—of snowscapes in all of Japan.

Access: 40 minutes from Yamagata Shinkansen Yamagata Station by bus

Appi Kogen Ski Resort (Iwate)

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Iwate Prefecture is proud home to several popular winter destinations, including the ever-so-famous Appi Kogen Ski Resort, one of the largest in Japan with 20-odd trails and a total length of 45.1 km. A vacation here, however, is not as exclusive to skiers and snowboarders as one might assume: Appi Family Park, for example, offers gentle slopes for sledding and tubing—as well as a snowman-making area open to “Frosty builders” of all ages!

Access: 50 minutes from Tohoku Shinkansen Morioka Station by JR Hanawa line or bus

Ura-Bandai (Fukushima)

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Skiers, snowboarders and sightseers never get enough of the silky, microfine snow at Ura-Bandai Kogen. Aside from thrilling, well-groomed trails designed to satisfy anyone from “bunny trail” novice to “black diamond” expert, there are also scenic backcountry fields for fans of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The views from the slopes are absolutely breathtaking—like scenes lifted straight off the canvas of a classic landscape painting!

Access: Urabandai Kogen: 30 minutes from JR Banetsusai Line Inawashiro Station by bus

Snowmobile Night Cruise (Zao Onsen Resort, Yamagata)

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See ghostly trees illuminated in magnificent colors every night during the peak winter season. The stark contrast of brilliant white, mystical black and rainbow hues creates a fantasy world you will not want to miss. Hop on the resort’s snowmobile, which is equipped with heating, and experience this amazing spectacle—at minus-10 degrees

Zao Night Cruise
Date: Dec. 23, 2016 – Mar. 5, 2017
Hours: 5pm – 9pm (Last tour starts at 8pm)
Access: 40-min bus ride from JR Yamagata Station
Price: 3,800 yen (Adult), 3,100 yen (Children)
Tel: 023-694-9518
*Reservation is required.

Other Recommended Ski Resorts

Onikobe Ski Resort : 40 minutes from Naruko Onsen (Miyagi) by city bus Located in Naruko onsen village, the ski resort has eight slopes for different levels and a snow park for kids.

Nekoma Ski Resort : 2 hours from Tohoku Shinkansen Koriyama Station by free shuttle (available during ski season,reservation required).
The ski resort attracts a great number of skiers with its fine powder snow and a beautiful view of Mount Bandai’s lakes and marshes.

Winter Activities in Tohoku : Yukimi Onsen

For many, taking a dip in an onsen (hot spring) surrounded by snow-capped mountains while watching snow fall gently is a tranquil experience bordering on the heavenly. This is called yukimi onsen, meaning enjoying snow views while soaking in an open-air hot spring. In Japan, it is common for people to do this in order to relax their bodies and minds, and to socialize with family and friends. Although stripping down naked in front of total strangers might sound daunting for some first-time visitors, the tradition (hadaka-no-tsukiai) goes back centuries; it is thought to break down boundaries between individuals, thus allowing relaxed, peaceful conversation.

Matsukawa Onsen

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Matsukawa is a charming, secluded hot spring town tucked neatly inside Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Established in the Edo Period, the water has a light, milky appearance because of its high sulfur content and is said to boost blood circulation, thus helping to heal many ailments. There are a couple of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) where guests can enjoy old- style open-air baths with scenic views for free. Visiting is a soothing and unforgettable way to experience the traditional appeal of rural Japanese culture.

Access: 90 minutes from Tohoku Shinkansen Morioka Station by bus

Sukayu Onsen

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Sukayu Onsen, famous for its giant mixed-gender bath, is located on a 925-meter high plateau on Aomori Prefecture’s Mt. Hakkoda. Every winter, visitors from Japan and abroad come seeking moments of supremely blissful relaxation and reflection at this picturesque hot spring hideaway. The main bath, sen-nin-buro, received its name from its massive size and features an old, large cypress cabin with a timeless atmosphere. If you are looking for a genuine, traditional Japanese public bathing experience, this is the perfect spot!

Access: 70 minutes from JR Aomori Station by bus

Nyuto Onsen

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Akita Prefecture’s Nyuto Onsen is one of the most unvisited in Japan due to its remote location. Surrounded by lovely beech forests and an abundance of seasonal scenery, it is blessed with a mineral-rich spring that has been helping to heal the ailments of locals for more than 350 years. There are seven traditional inns that offer outdoor baths with views of unparalleled beauty, especially in the winter when piles of snow blanket the mountains surrounding the isolated area. If you are in the market to experience the true peace and quiet of rural Japan, this is a blue-chip choice!
Access: 45 minutes from JR Tazawako Station by bus

Other Recommended Yukimi Onsen

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Tsuta Onsen: Towada-shi, Aomori
One of the most popular hidden onsens in Japan. Feel the spring water well up from the bottom of the bathtub.

Zao Onsen: Yamagata-shi, Yamagata
Discovered more than 1,900 years ago, the onsen is located in one of the most famous mountain resorts.

Naruko Onsen: Osaki-shi, Miyagi
Naruko Onsen consists of ve areas: Naruko, Higashi Naruko, Kawatabi, Nakayamadaira and Onikobe. With more than 370 hot spring sources available, visitors can fully enjoy the experience of traditional Japanese bathing.

Feudal Lord’s Treasure: Zuigan-ji Temple

© Zuigan-ji Temple
© Zuigan-ji Temple

Zuigan-ji Temple, designated as a Japanese National Treasure, was originally established in the year 828 by the noted Buddhist monk, Jikaku Daishi. Later, the famed feudal lord Date Masamune rebuilt it as his family temple in 1609. In order to replicate the robust, opulent Momoyama architectural style of the late 16th century, Masamune gathered 130 master craftsmen nationwide for the reconstruction. Today, Zuigan-ji stands as an idyllic reflection of Matsushima’s majestic natural beauty. With the main hall reopened to the public in 2016 – surrounded by dense, picturesque cedar trees on all sides – it houses a vast array of past treasures that nobody should miss!
© Zuigan-ji Temple
© Zuigan-ji Temple
Access: 5-min walk from JR Matsushima-Kaigan Station
Hours: 8am – 3:30pm (Jan. Dec.), 8am – 4pm (Feb. Nov.), 8am – 4:30pm (Mar. Oct.), 8am – 5pm (Apr. to Sep.)
Admission: 700 yen (Adult and high school students), 400 yen (Middle and elementary school students)

Yamagata Adventure (5) – Safflower dyeing experience

One of the popular spots in Yamagata are Safflower (jp.: Benibana) fields. From these bright orange flowers, you can extract the red coloring pigment carthamin, as well as the yellow pigment called carthamidin. You can create colors like light pink, cherry red, brown red and brown yellow with these pigments. Benibana used to be valued only for its colorful dyes, but since the petals’ numerous health benefits become known to the world, people started adding the flowers to several dishes.

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Our first coloring experiment was to dye a scarf in ikat style. We received a white scarf and were introduced to create a pattern using rubber bands and wooden sticks. Areas with tight knots and folds are meant to stay white after putting the scarf into the dye.

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The result turned out very well.

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The second task was creating a safflower picture while rubbing the petals over a vignette which was attached on a piece of silk.

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You need quite a lot of force to create the deep yellow-orange color.  After doing the same procedure for about 20min we separated the vignette from the piece of silk and put the silk into an alkaline solution to separate the yellow color from the red color.

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The yellow color fades away and the red color remains. The end product was put into a picture frame and is now a nice decoration. The petals can be used for dishes like pickled radish or sweet desserts.

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Information

Shinrin Joho-kan “Morina Tendo”

Hours: 9am – 6pm (Closed on January first)
Tel: 023-651-2002
Access: A 35-min walk or 10-min car ride from Tendo Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Address: 2-3-41 Kuwanomachi, Tendo-shi, 994-0022 Yamagata-ken
URL: http://www.city.tendo.yamagata.jp/busiindust/nourin/mori-na_tendo.html

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Yamagata Adventure (4) – Nakano Sake Shop

Right beside the Dewazakura Sake Brewery is the Nakano Sake Shop, which sells all the popular beverages produced in the brewery.

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Dewazakura Sake Brewery was founded in 1892 and due to its long tradition, experience and excellent quality, the company received gold and bronze awards in the sake category during the “International Wine Challenge” in 2008.

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We had the chance to taste the gold prize-winning sake called Ichiro, and we immediately came to the conclusion why this one has to be the best-seller of the brewery. It has a fresh flavor of grapefruit, lime and cantaloupe and was very delicious.

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The Champion Sake comes in a 720ml bottle and costs 3,024 yen.

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Since Yamagata is famous for its fruit growing culture, the brewery also produces wines based on local fruits like cherries and pears. They also produce special beverage with the twelve zodiac signs. This year being the year of the monkey, the package has a monkey illustration. After finishing the bottle, they recommend to keep the bottle, put glass pearls into it and fill the bottle with water to create a shiny and sparkling interior decoration item.

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Besides selling their own products, there are other related products on sale.

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The highlight of the shop is the full-scale-model of a liquor store from the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The original poster that is hung on the wall adds the finishing touch.

Information

Nakano Sake Shop
Hours: 9:30am – 5pm (Closed on Monday)
Tel: 0120-59-3010
Access: A 15-min walk from Tendo Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Address: Hitoichimachi 1-4-12, Tendo-shi, 994-0044 Yamagata
URL: http://www.dewazakura.co.jp/index.htm

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

Image_

Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

A Glorious Golden Age: Hiraizumi & Chuson-ji Temple Konjikido

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Hiraizumi consists of temples, gardens and more than 3,000 national treasures and important cultural properties that date back to the 11th and 12th centuries. The entire expanse, impressive and dazzling in appearance, was originally built by the Ohsu Fujiwara warrior clan to commemorate all who lost their lives in warfare, friend and foe alike. When the site was developed, the area was rich in gold production and a large amount of gold was used to decorate temples and statues. Nowadays, they provide visitors with a spiritual hideaway and are ideal locations for a quiet stroll

Ravishingly Beautiful

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A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a journey is worth more than a thousand pictures, especially when it comes to the spiritual eminence and artistic achievement of Chuson-ji. The temple’s main hall, Konjikido, is gorgeously decorated with gold, silver and jewels from floor to ceiling.
Konjikido, a gold-covered hall rivaling Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, received its name long ago because it was garnished with golden leaf inside and out.
The interior of Konjikido is decorated with luxury goods from the Silk Road, such as green turban snail shells, ivory pieces, precious stones and exotic jewels.
Marco Polo was so inspired by Konjikido’s radiance that he introduced Japan as “The Land of Gold” in his book The Travels of Marco Polo.

Access: 25-min walk from JR Hiraizumi Station
Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (Mar.1 to Nov.3), 8:30am – 4:30pm (Nov.4 to End of Feb.)
Admission: 800 yen (Adults), 500 yen (High school students), 300 yen (Middle school students) and 200 yen (Elementary school students)

God’s Creation Wonders : 4 Divine Spots in Tohoku

Here are four amazing places that will captivate not only the eyes but most importantly the heart and soul. For the locals, the grandeur of these majestic, centuries-old attractions continues to serve as a reminder of God’s omnipresence.

Hayachine Kagura

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Hayachine Kagura is a traditional folk performance that features a series of 40 masked dances with live music that originated from Mount Hayachine, the highest mountain in the Kitakami Range. Originally a ritual to worship gods 500 years ago, the dance is now performed by locals who take pride in showing their rich cultural heritage.

Hanamaki City Ohasama Exchange Vitalization Center
Hours: 11am-3pm, second Sunday of every month (except Aug, Dec and Jan) Access: 30 minutes from Shin-Hanamaki Station by car
Admission: 800 yen presale, 1,000 yen at the door

Tonohetsuri Cliff

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A popular scenic spot in Fukushima, the gigantic multi- layered rock was shaped by wind erosion over millions of years. Tonoheturi, meaning tower cli in Japanese, got its name because of its tower-like appearance.

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Take in the amazing suspension bridge, be mesmerized by nature’s breathtaking palette of autumn colors and enjoy a moment of peace at one of the temples nearby.

Access: 3-min walk from Tonohetsuri Station on Aizu Railway

Shirakami Sanchi

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A vast wilderness area stretching from Aomori to Akita Prefecture, Shirakami Sanchi has the largest remaining virgin beech forest in East Asia. The main attractions of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are the various hiking trails that lead to extraordinary panoramic views of waterfalls and peaceful solitude.

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Besides hiking, visitors are encouraged to spend the day shing, boating and camping around Juniko, an area to the northwest of Shirakami Sanchi.

Access: 55 minutes from JR Hirosaki Station by bus

Dragon Legends: Lake Tazawa and Lake Towada

Autumn foliage at Lake Towada
Autumn foliage at Lake Towada
Legends always add a touch of mystical, romantic appeal to travel destinations. Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan, and Lake Towada, the largest crater lake in Honshu, are two excellent examples. According to locals, Lady Tatsuko became a dragon after wishing for eternal beauty at Lake Tazawa.
Lake Tazawa
Lake Tazawa
Meanwhile, a boy named Hachirotaro was magically transformed into a huge dragon after drinking water from mountain streams in Towada.
Lake Towada
Lake Towada

The popularity of these legends sheds valuable light on the historic importance of water to the entire Tohoku region.

Lake Tazawa Access: 15 minutes from JR Tazawako Station by bus
Lake Towada Access: 2hr 15 minutes from JR Hachinohe Station by bus

Freshest of the Fresh: Seafood from the Sanriku Coast

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Sanriku refers to the three northeastern prefectures facing the Pacific Ocean: Aomori, Miyagi and Iwate. The Sanriku Coast is a bountiful fishing ground, supplying huge amounts of fresh, quality fish throughout the country for hundreds of years. In autumn and winter, fish and other sea creatures gorge themselves in preparation for the long cold season, enriching their flavor. As an example, Iwate’s donko hot pot features locally caught white-spotted greenling that release an intense, robust flavor of the sea. Miyagi and Aomori also are known for juicy seafood dishes bursting with remarkable flavor and served with exceptional creativity. Every city located along the coast has a fish market or two, so take a chance to taste the freshest of the local specialties on the spot – or bring home some fantastic seafood as souvenirs!

Make your own “Nokke-don (a rice bowl with toppings)” by adding the freshest seafood at Furukawa Fish Market.
Make your own “Nokke-don (a rice bowl with toppings)” by adding the freshest seafood at Furukawa Fish Market.
Aomori: Tuna butchering demonstration at Oma Town Tuna Festival
Aomori: Tuna butchering demonstration at Oma Town Tuna Festival
 Ippachizushi  Address: 1-10-11 Shinmachi Aomori-shi Aomori  Hours: 11:30am – 10pm (Mon. to Sat.), 11:30am to 9pm (Sun. & Holidays)

Ippachizushi

Address: 1-10-11 Shinmachi Aomori-shi Aomori
Hours: 11:30am – 10pm (Mon. to Sat.), 11:30am to 9pm (Sun. & Holidays)

Looks Great, Tastes Even Better: Kozuyu Soup, Fukushima Prefecture

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Originally developed for the samurai class, kozuyu later spread among the common people and has become a must for festivals, celebrations and momentous occasions in Aizu. In the past, fresh seafood was hard to come by in the landlocked region, so dried scallops and bonito were used to add flavor to the soup, which contains taro potatoes, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and tiny balls of wheat gluten called mamefu.

Salmon Harvest: Delicacies Abound, Niigata Prefecture

Murakami, dubbed “the Salmon City,” has a long history of catching and processing salmon. Over the centuries, the area has accumulated hundreds of homemade recipes that range from fermented, salted and sake-marinated salmon to salmon simmered in miso broth. When preparing fi sh, the locals make sure nothing is wasted: heads, bones and entrails are used either as main ingredients for stock or grilled to the perfect texture. During New Year’s season, many households hang rows of salmon upside down from the ceiling to dry; it’s a truly unique spectacle well worth seeing!

“Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
“Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
“Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon
“Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon

Heart Warming, Soul Lifting: Imoni and Konnyaku, Yamagata Prefecture

Imoni

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Imo, or tubers in Japanese, are traditionally a staple food in Tohoku. It is dense in nutrients and an ideal source of carbohydrates. The root vegetable is often cooked with meat and served in a thick soup for visitors, family and friends. In autumn, locals often gather near a river and enjoy imoni together, a tradition called imonikai.

Konnyaku

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Konnyaku has been known as a “miracle food” in Japan since about 1,200 years ago. The jelly-like substance is said to have many significant benefits, such as detoxification and beauty enhancement, and is loved by all generations. In Yamagata, people like to have their konnyaku in a round shape and skewered on a bamboo stick. The savory snack is an essential part of festive activities in Yamagata.

Photos provided by Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division

Scrumptious Winter: Iburigakko & Kiritanpo Hot Pot, Akita Prefecture

Kiritanpo

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Kiritanpo, mashed, steamed rice in the shape of a cylinder, is a specialty that is welded strongly on the identity of Akita Prefecture. In the past, kiritanpo was an easy-to-carry preserved food used primarily by hunters. Today, however, the delicacy is cut into bitesized pieces and served in a hot pot with chicken and a variety of vegetables.

Traditionally, kiritanpo is grilled over an open hearth.

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Iburigakko

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Iburigakko, smoked radish, is one of the most famous pickled vegetables in Tohoku. Smoked with cherry blossom wood then preserved with salt and malted rice, the appetizer gives off a fabulous aroma and goes perfectly with any variety of sake.

See Nostalgic Edo: Ouchi-juku Post Station in Shimogo, Fukushima Prefecture

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Ouchi-juku prospered in the Edo Period as an important post station connecting Aizu (parts of Fukushima and Niigata Prefectures) and Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Traditionally, the streets were lined with inns and houses providing lodging and meals to transient guests. The town was designated as a Group of Traditional Buildings by the government in the 1980s and has since remained a popular attraction.
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Ouchi-juku Post Station
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Varies depending on the stores)
Access: 10-min taxi ride from Yunokami-onsen Station (Aizu Railway)

Visit the Glorious Past: Merchant Houses in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture

Sakata, with its ideal geographic location, flourished as a trade center and major port from which goods were shipped from Tohoku to Kyoto and Tokyo in the Edo Period (1603-1867).

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Traces of the port’s glorious past are still clear in the present: in Sankyo Soko, a storehouse for rice built in 1893; a villa of the wealthy Honma family; and Soumaro, one of the most prominent Japanese restaurants in Sakata during the Edo Period.

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Beside its well preserved architecture, you can also enjoy a dance performance by Maiko (Geisha apprentices).

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Soumaro
Hours: 10am – 5pm
Access: 20-min walk from Sakata Station (Uetsu Honsen Line & Rikuu Saisen Line)

Step Back in Time: Kakunodate’s Samurai Residences, Akita Prefecture

Take a relaxing stroll around Kakunodate to immerse yourself in history.

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While many traditional Japanese buildings have been lost due to fire, weather and deterioration from age, the houses along Samurai Street have stood undamaged for over 300 years. Known as the “Little Kyoto of Tohoku,” the town maintains the refined, elegant atmosphere of old Japan.

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Hiburi-Kamakura is a one-of-a-kind traditional event held in February. People swing a bale of burning straw to wish for safety in the coming year.

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Kakunodate
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Varies depending on the residence)
Access: 20-min walk from JR Kakunodate Station (Akita Shinkansen), or 60-min bus ride (Airport Liner) from Akita Airport.
Admission: Varies depending on the residence

Pictures © Kakunodate Tourist Association

Unrivaled Beauty : Apple Fields, Aomori Prefecture

When Japanese think of Aomori, sweet, juicy apples spring immediately to mind. Aomori has such a long history of growing apples that apple fields have become an integral part of its local landscape.

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Hirosaki Apple Park is home to over 1,500 apple trees of 80 varieties and visitors are welcomed to assist with all stages of apple production, including apple picking.

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The park staff also arrange a series of activities throughout the year to show off their deeply rooted “apple pride.”

Apple Picking Experience at Hirosaki Apple Park
Hours: 9am-4:20pm (Aug. to mid-Nov.)
Access: 20 minutes from JR Hirosaki Station by bus, 7 minutes walk from bus stop to park
Admission: Free (The apples you pick will be charged at 320 Yen per kilo)

Revisiting Traditional Architectural Wisdom: Thatching

Thatching is the traditional Japanese craft of building a roof with dry vegetation like straw to achieve warmth and sustainability while also saving energy. In Tohoku, there remain many thatched roof houses that resemble a poetic retreat from the modern day. With stunning mountains as backdrops and beautiful creeks gently flowing, this is the ultimate destination for meditation and relaxation.


Tono Furusato Village

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Often used as a shooting location for movies, the nostalgic looking village also doubles as a tourist attraction where visitors can experience traditional Japanese craftwork like bamboo art and pottery making. The outgoing and friendly staff is dedicated to helping everyone get the most out of their visit.

You can sample home-made sake known as Doburoku at a traditional winter festival, Dobekko Festival.

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Instructors at Furusato Village are known as “Maburitto members,” or “protectors” in the Iwate dialect.

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Cultural Experience Activities at Tono Furusato Village
Village Hours: 9am-5pm (Mar. to Oct.), 9am-4pm (Nov. to Feb)
Access: 25 minutes from JR Tono Station by bus
Admission: 540 yen (Adults), 320 yen (Children)

Pictures © Tono Tourism Association Tono Furusato Village


Denshoen Park

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Traditional farming, authentic culture and local wisdom are carefully preserved at these charming thatched roof houses. Here, you can listen to Japanese folklore, try your hand at making Japanese crafts and savor local specialties.

Oshira-sama is a household deity unique to the Tohoku region. Made with 30 cm long mulberry sticks, Oshira-sama statues usually come in pairs, with the male figure representing a horse and the female a human.

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Cultural Experience Activities at Denshoen Park
Hours: 9am-5pm (Last entry at 4:30pm)
Access: 25 minutes from JR Tono Station by bus
Admission: 320 yen (Adults), 220 yen (Children)

Pictures © Tono Tourism Association Denshoen Park

Yamagata Adventure (3) – Summer Sweets Hunting

Tendo-City is not only famous for its delicious cherries and Shogi (Japanese chess) production, but also it’s a heaven for sweets lovers as well! After visiting the Oh! Show! Café located on the grounds of OHSYO FRUITS FARM, we visited two more places which serve delicious desserts to die for!

1. Akatsuka Ice Production – Ice Café ‘Kosui’

Akatsuka Ice Production was founded in 1908. They began producing ice products by using natural spring water from the Amayobari Mountain near Tendo-City.

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During the past 120 years, they have became one of the leading ice manufacturing companies by expanding their products which include ice cubes in all sizes and forms, as well as ice balls!

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Kosui started as a street stall and opened its own café in 2016 so that customers can enjoy the freshly made ice sweets even on rainy days. Kosui is popular for its ‘Kakigori,’ a dessert made of shaved ice which is popular in summer. Syrup and condensed milk are used as a topping to add flavor and sweetness to the shaved ice mountain.

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Since all the ingredients are provided by nearby farms and suppliers, the list of flavors changes by season. The selection which is available right now is shown on the wall, but according to the Café´s pamphlet there are many more varieties throughout the year.

There are two options for ordering a Kakigori dessert. The normal one is made out of shaved ice and the sweet topping. The special one comes with soft serve cream hidden inside the mountain of shaved ice!

My recommendation would be the special Kakigori, since the shaved ice won’t melt so fast due to the soft serve cream inside.

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The process of creating a Kakigori dessert. The topping consists of Strawberry sauce and purée, as well as sweet condensed milk.

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Closeups of the Sweet Strawberry Milk, Cherry Milk, Kiwi Yogurt and Brown Sugar Syrup Azuki Bean Milk Kakigori dessert.

Information

Akatsuka Seihyo – Ice Café Kosui
Hours:
May- September: 10:30am – 4:30pm (Monday to Friday), 10am – 5pm (Sat, Sun and Holidays), Closed on Tuesdays
October – April: 11am – 4pm (Monday to Friday), 10:30am – 4:30pm (Sat, Sun and Holidays), Closed on Tuesdays
Tel: 023-653-2446 (9am – 5pm)
Price: 200 yen to 600 yen
Access: A 15-min walk from Tendo Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Address: Kabushikigaisha Akatsuka Seihyo, Higashi-Honcho 3-6-40, Tendo-shi, 994-0026 Yamagata
URL: http://www.akatuka-ice.com/enjoy_ice/


2. Fruttier Fruit Bar

Fruttier is famous for its fresh fruits and its fruit desserts. The name “Fruttier” is a shortened version of the phrase “Fruits Communicator.”

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The most popular dessert is called Pontiti, a fruit punch like dessert in which a variety of freshly cut fruits are mixed together creating a perfect harmony. No colorings, flavors, preservatives are added, you can enjoy the freshest and purest flavor! The cute Pontiti characters welcome the visitors behind the counter of the Fruit Bar.

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Besides all the yummy parfaits, home-made juices and fruit shakes, you can also buy actual fresh fruits and the Pontiti fruit dessert (Mango 4,320 yen, Melon 4,320 yen, Fruit Pontiti 324 yen).

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We ordered the Cherry Parfait, with chocolate flavored whipped cream and the Fruit Mix Parfait with Kiwi Purée topping.

Information

Fruttier Fruit Bar
Hours: 10am – 6pm (Closed on Monday)
Tel: 0120-45-6651
Price: 308 yen – 928 yen
Access: A 10-min walk from Tendo Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Address: Fruttier Fruit Bar, Mikkamachi 1-4-2, Tendo-shi, 990-0036 Yamagata
URL: http://fruttier.com/fruitbar/

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Yamagata Adventure (2) – Cherry Picking Challenge & Cherry Parfait Heaven

Yamagata is famous for its tasty cherries and pears. Every tourist who visits Yamagata during early summer season should attend the Cherry-Picking events offered by the local orchards.

We visited OHSYO FRUITS FARM in Tendo-City in the morning, famous for its carefully grown fruit and its café which offers delicious sweets made with fresh fruit in Season.

Unbenannt-7The logo of the company received the “Excellent Design・Brand Design – Award” during the Yamagata Excellent Design Competition in 2015. The overall shape of the logo resembles a playing piece of a Shogi-Game, which is the Japanese version of chess. Tendo-City is not only famous for its cherries, but also famous for its production of Shogi pieces. The “O” marks the shape of a cherry, as well as the “O” of 王将 (ohsyo) which stands for the chess piece “King”.
Furthermore, the owner specifically used a perfect red circle to symbolize the Japanese flag in the hope of becoming the best cherry grower in Japan. The green leaf on top of the logo represents high spirits and work ethic of the company in day to day operation.

We entered the cherry orchard and were surprised to see an ocean full of sparkling red cherries! It is amazing how many cherries can grow on one single tree!

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The cherries grew like a bunch of big grapes as big as a hand!

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The representative director, Mr. Yahagi, explained how to pick the cherries in the correct way, without damaging the branches.

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We tried our best to pick them very carefully. During the cherry-picking event you can eat as much cherries as you like!

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Every fruit looked absolutely flawless without any holes or other damages. The orchards are all covered by nets to protect the trees from birds and other harmful environmental effects.

After filling our picking baskets, we went back to the farms café called “Oh! Show! Café.”

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The design of the furniture is based on the color of the cherries. Even the stools look like cherries. All the furniture is made by a famous local wood furniture manufacturer located in Tendo-City, called Tendo-Mokko. They are famous for formed plywood designs, which are simple and elegant yet very durable.

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We ordered the recommended cherry parfait (700 yen) which is decorated with seven different kinds of cherries.

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The parfait was made of cornflakes, cherry soft cream, red bean puree, whipped cream and of course, cherries! The flavor of the fruit parfait changes every season, featuring peach flavor in August, grape flavor in September and apple flavor in October.

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Beside the fruit parfait, you can also order soft cream which comes in a cup or cone and in different sizes.

In front of the café you have a chance to buy fresh cherries starting from 800 yen for about 250 gram. Depending on the type of cherry, the price goes up to 6,500 yen for 1kg. They come in boxes, so you can directly send them to your friends or family by post, as a nice early summer gift.

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Information

OHSYO FRUITS FARM – Yamagata Sakuranbo Farm
Hours: 9am – 5pm
Price: The cheapest plan without any reservation is called “After 3pm – Cherry Picking” and costs 1,200 yen per person. After 3pm you are allowed to pick and eat as much cherries as you like within 30min.
Date: June 10th – July 18th
Access: Tokyo Station – > Yamagata Shinkansen until Tendo Station (2:35 hrs) -> 15min car ride Tokyo Haneda Airport -> Yamagata Airport (55 min) -> 10min car ride
Address: 1303 Kawarago, Tendo-shi, 994-0103 Yamagata
Tel: 0120-15-0440
URL: http://www.ohsyo.co.jp/index.htm

Oh! Show! Café
Hours: 9am – 3pm (June – August open every day; September – October closed on Wednesday)
Price: 300 yen to 700 yen
URL: http://www.ohsyo.co.jp/kanko/softcream.htm

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Yamagata Adventure (1) – Soba-Making class on the high plateau

Yamagata prefecture, one of the six prefectures in the Tohoku region (the northern part of Japan), offers many exciting experiences you don’t want to miss! This series of articles features all the fun and magical places in and around Tendo City!

Located on the top of a high plateau near Tendo City’s ski resort, the Tendo Cultural Exchange Center offers Soba-Making classes. Soba are noodles made out of buckwheat flour and have a brown-greyish color.

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This area is located on the same altitude as the top of Tokyo’s Sky Tree, reaching 634m

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The Soba master already prepared our workplace and explained the soba making process in detail during the workshop. Even if you are not a master in Japanese, the instructions are easy to understand. It took us about 20 minutes to create Soba from scratch into long and thin noodles.

Unebannt-4The most difficult part was the cutting. The special knife, called Menkiri Bocho (Noodle cutting knife) was a lot heavier than I expected. Adjusting the knife and cutting the dough into thin noodles were very hard. I realized cutting the noodles evenly into long strips is an art form that takes some practice! For creating these long rectangular noodles, the dough had to be flattened and then folded several times before cutting.

 

After cutting the noodles, the Soba Master put them into a wooden tray…

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…and brought them to the kitchen to prepare our lunch.

There are two ways to serve Soba dishes. In summer, the Soba is typically served cold. The noodles are usually prepared on a separate bamboo tray called Zaru. The cold dipping sauce, which is made with dashi (soup stock made from fish and kelp), soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking) is served in a cup. In winter, the Soba is served as a hot noodle soup. Compared to the dip sauce in summer, the soup broth has a mild and comforting flavor.

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It only takes 2 minutes to cook the Soba noodles

The Soba noodles cook rather quickly. Once they are cooked, they are rinsed under cold water, then put into an ice bucket to be kept cold.

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The amount of noodles we made (500 grams of buckwheat flour) provides for four dishes.

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You can customize the cold dip sauce with freshly cut green onions and wasabi.

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The hot water that was used for boiling the noodles was put into a pot and brought to the table. This water is slightly white and thick, and supposedly very healthy. After you are finished with your meal, you can add the water to your dip sauce and enjoy it as a warm soup.

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Information

Tendo Kogen Ski Area・Tendo Kogen Family Land
Date: From May until October
Price: 2,500 yen (Making 500g of Soba which provides for four servings)
Additional 500 yen (Soba Master will prepare the noodle at the restaurant area)
*Reservation is necessary
Tel: 023-657-3628
Address: Tamugino 1321, Tendo-shi, 994-0104 Yamagata
Access: A 35-min ride by car from JR Tendo Station
URL: http://tendokogen.or.jp/soba2016/

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Kanto Matsuri

Designated as one of Tohoku’s top three festivals, the Kanto Matsuri is a sight to behold. The name “Kanto Matsuri” does not mean that it is in the Kanto region, “Kanto” is the name for the wooden poles with lanterns attached to them. Every year from August 3rd till August 6th in Akita City, Akita prefecture, young men parade with poles full of lanterns that can weigh up to 50kg (110lbs)!

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The kanto is eight meters high with 46 paper lanterns shaped like rice bales. The decorative paper streamers on top of the pole, which are often seen in Shinto rituals, drive away evil spirits. Kanto are always in the shape of an Akita cedar tree.

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More than 200 kantos are paraded through the city, turning the streets in the an amazing lit-up spectacle. Some members of the parade perform amazing tricks such as balancing the poles on one hand or on their face. This is because it is actually not allowed to hold the pole with your hands. While ensuring that the paper lanterns do not go out, men try to impress each other by showing off one amazing trick after another.

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The origin of this festival can be found in the more quiet and serene Tanabata festival. In some parts of Japan it is celebrated in August rather than in July because August is closer to the 7th month of the old Lunar calendar.

More Information

Access: 10 min walk from JR Akita Station, Akita City in Akita prefecture
Location: Kanto O-dori
(between the Sanno Jujiro Crossroads and Nichomebashi Bridge)
Dates: Aug. 3 – 6, 2016
Hours: 9:20am – 3:20pm (Day Parade, Aug. 4 & 5), 6:15pm – 8:35pm (Night Parade, Aug. 3 – 5)

Summer With A Bang! – Top 3 Fireworks Festivals in Japan 2016

Summertime in Japan isn’t complete without watermelons, shaved ice, wind chimes, mosquito coils and last but not least, fireworks of massive proportions!

It’s a great reason to put on a summer yukata, throng the streets and look up into the night sky for an hour or two.

Here are some of the top few heart-stopping, jaw-dropping fireworks festivals in Japan.

The Oomagari no Hanabi All Japan Fireworks Competition
Daisen City, Akita Prefecture

– Japan’s No. 1 Fireworks Competition –

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With an ideal backdrop of two mountains and a riverfront, Oomagari is where top firework technicians stage their best musical fireworks show to compete for the coveted Prime Minister’s Award for fireworks. Now into its 106th year, this offers one of the widest starmine displays.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 15,000 – 20,000
No. of spectators: 80,000
Date: August 27, 2016
Time: Day fireworks: 5:30pm~  Night fireworks: 6:50pm~
Access: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Oomagari Station, 30 minutes’ walk from the station to the venue.

Nagaoka Matsuri Great Fireworks Festival
Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture

– Historic Fireworks –

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The fireworks festival here has a painful past – August 1 was when Nagaoka City was practically razed to the ground during a World War II air-raid 71 years ago. These shells are launched in commemoration of the lives lost then, and a celebration of recovery.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 20,000
No. of spectators: 960,000
Date: August 2 and 3, 2016
Time: 7:20pm – 9:15pm
Access:  Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to JR Nagaoka Station, and walk for 30 minutes, or take the shuttle bus from the station.

 

Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival
Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture

– Fireworks Frenzy –

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The Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival boasts the most number of fireworks for such displays. Surrounded by mountains, the display is particularly dynamic in terms of sound. The 2km-long water starmine here is another treat for the senses.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 40,000
No. of spectators: 500,000
Date: August 15, 2016
Time: 7pm onwards
Access: Take the JR Chuo Main Line to Kami Suwa Station then walk for 8 minutes from the Kami Suwako West Exit

For more festivals in & around Tokyo: July 2016 Fireworks Festivals Schedule – In & Around Tokyo

Toshichi Onsen

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Toshichi Onsen is situated in the Towada Hachimantai National Park, which lies between Akita prefecture and Iwate prefecture. Sitting at an altitude of 1,400m, it is the highest hot spring in Tohoku region. It is said that its name came from the name of a logger, Toshichi, who discovered the hot spring. In this area, there are some open-air baths where you can take a bath and feel the fresh mountain air at the same time. Many climbers and skiers visit here every year. Towada Hachimantai Hot spring Resort including Toshichi Hot spring is designated as one of the Public Hot spring Resort in Japan.
Toshichi-Onsen-300x188Toshichi Onsen Saiunso It is a ryokan which stands around the summit of Mt. Hachimantai. Toshichi Onsen Saiunso has some open-air baths from which you can enjoy breathtaking view of both Mt. Iwate and Mt. Hachimantai.  The spring water is milky white and it contains sulfur that is effective in treating neuralgia, digestive disorders, diabetes, hypertension, various skin conditions, poor circulation, etc.

[ Information ]
Address : Kitanomata, Matsuoyoriki, Hachimantai,
Iwate Phone : 090-1495-0950
Hours: 8AM – 6PM
Admission: 600 Yen
Web: http://www.toshichi.com/index.html (Japanese only)

Yamadera, the mountain temple

Yama-dera (山寺) literally means “Mountain Temple” and is located in Yamagata City, Yamagata prefecture. It sits at the top of at the foot of the steep hill Hōshū-yama and is deemed an important historic site in Japan.

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The official name of the temple is Risshaku-Ji and it’s more than a thousand years old. It’s an important outpost for Tendai Buddhism and a branch of the Enyraku-Ji temple at the top of Mt. Hie in Kyoto. The fire that has been brought over from Mt. Hie to Yamadera hundreds of years ago is still burning in the temple today.

Temple of a 1,000 stairs

To reach the top of the temple complex you have to climb a total of 1,015 stairs. It might sound very tiring but the climb itself is beautiful with amazing nature surrounding you.

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Matsuo Basho, the haiku master was enchanted by the natural beauty of the temple environment. This poem was composed by Basho in 1689 when he visited Yama-dera.

“Calm and serene. (静けさや)

The sound of a cicada. (岩に染み入る)

 Penetrates the rock.”  (蝉の声)

After the long climb you are rewarded with a beautiful view over the valley.

The main hall of the temple sells fortunes and overlooks the valley as well. However, the view is obscured by other temples on the complex and surrounding trees.

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After a visit to Yamadera you can go to the Basho Yamadera Memorial Hall which is on a hill just across Yamadera. The area has beautiful sakura in spring and offers a nice view on the Yamadera complex. Next to the museum is a restaurant where you can enjoy tea and sweets, and maybe while looking at Yamadera you will be inspired to write a poem of your own.

Benibana – Japanese Safflower

The Benibana is grown in Yamagata prefecture in Japan and this little flower can do more than you would think. The inhabitants used the flower’s potential to turn Yamagata prefecture into an important place for luxury goods. Back in the old days the flower was mainly used as dye but now they also turn it into food products. Geisha from Kyoto would paint their lips with Benibana and rich nobles wore kimono dyed with the flower.

With the development of synthetic dyes during the Meiji period the demand for Benibana declined and the industry became much smaller. However, the flower still grows in Yamagata prefecture and the traditional process of turning these flowers into beautiful dye is very interesting.

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How to use Benibana

The safflower is an annual (sometimes biennual) plant. They bloom during the summer and are a beautiful shade of yellow and red. After gathering all the flowers, they are locally processed into a pulpy state called Benibana mochi. From this product the treasured dye can be extracted. Benibana actually contains only 1% of red while the other 99% is yellow. To get the red from the Benimochi, you must boil it so that all the yellow parts can be removed. This Benimochi was also easier to transport than a finished product and it gave the buyer more freedom in what color to use.

The Benimochi was transported by land or shipped by river boat down the Mogami River to the port of Sakata near the Japanese sea. From here it was shipped to Kyoto where it was used in Nishijin textile making and the manufacturing of lipstick and cosmetics. The red part of the flower was the most valued color, so it comes to no surprise that with only 1% of it in the flower it was the most expensive. Today, rouge to paint only your lower lip in a flower shape would cost you 500 yen and a full lips cost about 2,000 yen. It was also possible to get a pink color from the Benimochi. In Heian period, a roll cloth of a deeper red dyeing was said to be equal to a residence of noble men. This tells us that clothes dyed with Benibana were priceless in the old days.

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photos from Marugotokan Beni No Kura

The ship you can see clearest on the picture bears the marking of an old Benibana store that still exists today. This shop is called Marugotokan Beni No Kura and now helps to promote the local products of Yamagata all over Japan. When the Marutani Hasegawa family still runned the shop as a Benibana storehouse it was the commercial hub for Yamagata-city.

Benibana & Hanagasa Matsuri

The Benibana Matsuri takes place in June or July, depending on the harvest of the Benibana. The collected flowers are processed during demonstrations and Benibana cuisine is served to visitors. Beautiful floats are paraded through the city of Yamagata. Try your hand at lip cream making or fabric dyeing with Benibana.

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The Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri attracts more than 1 million spectators over three days in August and is now considered one of the major festivals of the Tohoku area in Japan. Dancers wearing the same outfit per group and holding hanagasa hats adorned with Yamagata Prefecture’s unique safflowers parade through the main street of Yamagata City. A total of 10,000 dancers participate in this dance every year. The parade is led by gorgeously decorated festival floats. The dancers shout ‘Yassho! Makkasho!’, this not only heightens the festival mood but it is also a phrase from a traditional Yamagata folk song.

The dancing has gradually changed over the years. In the past, dancers would mostly perform synchronized dance moves but today dance performances come in a wide variety, like twirling the hanagasa hats and other creative performances.

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Benibana today

The Benibana flowers serves as the symbol of Yamagata and is an important part of the prefecture’s culture. Students graduating from Elementary and Middle School make paper Benibana and wear them during the graduation ceremony. The dye is still used to make beautiful yellow, pink and red and now the locals even make soumen from the young leaves of the flower. Yamagata truly knows how to use the flower to its full potential, just like their ancestors before them.

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Local mascot Beni-chan
Local mascot Beni-chan

Yamagata Benibana Festival

Address: Shimo-Higashiyama 1360, Yamagata (Yamagata Takase Community Center)
Date: Mid July, 2016
Access: A 20-min walk from Takase Station (JR Senzan Line)

Yamagata Sakura Matsuri

During the sakura blooming season, Yamagata shows two sides. During the day you see colorful “pompom”-like tufts of flowers and at night you are transported to a flowery fairy world. Here are some of the best sakura viewing spots in Yamagata.

Daytime Sakura

Yamagata Castle

During the Edo period, Yamagata Castle was the residence of the lord of Yamagata domain. Its formal name is Ka-jō (Ka castle). When the sakura are in bloom the castle area holds a festival with actors and entertainment from the Edo period. You can even spot the official Geisha of Yamagata City. There are approximately 1,500 sakura trees in the park surrounding the castle.

Maiko of Yamagata City
Maiko of Yamagata City

Basho Yamadera Memorial Hall

This hall is built to honor the poet Matsuo Basho. In this area there is a museum about haiku and a restaurant where you can enjoy tea and sweets. The memorial hall is on top of a hill in front of Yamadera, so you can watch the sakura on the hill while enjoying the sakura in the park.

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Yamagata City Hall

From the top floor you have a beautiful view over all of Yamagata city. Including the sakura.

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Nighttime Sakura

When the sun goes down over Yamagata city there are still plenty of sakura to enjoy.

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Mamigasaki River

At night the sakura lane next to the river is lit up and festival stands start selling their food. Be sure to bring something extra to cover up, because it can get quite cold watching the sakura at night. And if you need to re-energize, visit the festival stands to order some konnyaku or dondon yaki ‘ (rolled op okonomiyaki on a stick), the soul food of Yamagata.

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Yamagata castle

We are at Yamagata castle again to enjoy the sakura, but this time the atmosphere is completely different. The lights peeking through the thick coverage of sakura look like little fairies flying in between the flowers. The reflection of the castle wall in the sakure petal covered water  makes you stop and admire the amazing colors.

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If you head deeper into the park you can see the same cherry blossoms from before, or are they? At night, the area is truly different.

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Bloom Period: Mid to Late April

How to get to Yamagata from Tokyo:

Train: 2h 30min to Yamagata Station with the Yamagata Tsubasa Shinkansen

Express bus: 5h 30min from Tokyo Station

Car: 4h 20min Urawa Main Line ⇒ Yamagata zao I.C

From Osaka :
Train: 5h from Shin-Osaka via Tokyo (JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line) to Yamagata Station by JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

A visit to Yamagata

Yamagata is a prefecture in Tohoku, the northern region of Japan. Famous for its nature, hot springs, fruits, flowers and spiritual places Yamagata is sure to make you fall in love with its charm.

During the Edo Period (1603–1867) Yamagata city was a powerhouse due to its status as a castle town and producer of luxury goods such as Beni (red safflower dye used to make cosmetics and fabric).

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Yamagata city and countryside

Paradise for foodies

Yamagata has cherry and apple trees everywhere. During the harvest season you can even participate in fruit picking activities. The fruits are yours to keep of course. The rice from Yamagata, Tsuyahime, has been voted as one of the best in all of Japan. And don’t forget Dondon Yaki (rolled up okonomiyaki on a stick) and Konnyaku (plant-based jelly boiled in a soy sauce broth), Yamagata’s soul food! And if that can’t still your appetite, you can always participate in the Imoni festival where they make Yamagata’s famous Imoni (potato stew) in a 6 diameter pot.

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Relax and enjoy

If you love Onsen, Yamagata has plenty to discover. Deep in the mountains you can find Onsen towns such as Ginzan and Kaminoyama Onsen. Or if you look to cool down instead of warming up, go skiing in the mountains while watching the famous Yamagata Snow Monsters.

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The spirit(uality) and festivity of Yamagata

Yamadera is a more than thousand year old temple at the top of a mountain. This temple was founded as a branch temple of Enryaku-ji on top of Mt. Hie near Kyoto. The flame that has been brought over from Mt. Hie still burns in Yamadera. Find out more about Yamadera here

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And if you are on a pilgrimage of self-discovery, don’t forget to visit Yamagata’s three sacred mountains: Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono.

On the first weekend of August there is a huge festival called “Hanagasa Matsuri” where hundreds of dancers perform on the street with paper flower-decorated straw hats. This festival is closely linked to the Benibana matsuri and the famous Benibana flower.

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Sakura

The Sakura in Yamagata are beautiful during spring and there are special light ups when they are in full bloom. Yamagata castle holds a special Sakura festival with re-enactments from the Edo period and the Mamigasaki River has beautiful lit up Sakura at night.

From Tokyo :
[Rail] 2h 30min (quickest) to Yamagata Station by JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line.
From Osaka :
[Rail] 5h from Shin-Osaka via Tokyo (JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line) to Yamagata Station by JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku – Part Ⅱ Shirakami Sanchi

Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku - Part II

Precious heritages of the Shirakami Sanchi

A number of beech forests around the world have lost much of their ecological diversity due to the formation of continental glaciers some two million years ago; however, the beech forests and primeval plant population survive in Japan because continental glaciation did not occur here. Moreover,the Japanese didn’t cut down beech trees for centuries because they served little purpose to them.

After World War II however, Japan’s beech forests were logged gradually. This situation threatened wildlife habitats, so an active conservation movement to preserve the forests was begun. This movement garnered so much attention from the world that in 1993, UNESCO recognised the value of beech forests and declared the 16,971 ha area of Shirakami Sanchi as a World Natural Heritage Site. Today,the precious beech forests of Shirakami Sanchi remain almost entirely undisturbed.

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This is an area of wilderness with no access trails or man-made facilities,and more than half of the heritage site comprises of deep valleys with steep slopes. Numerous kinds of plants grow in this precious beech forest, while various species of animals call this place home, despite the high altitude. Having escaped glaciation, these 8,000 year-old forests are home to 500 plant species that have been identified as those generally seen in alpine and sub-alpine zones, of which 108 have specially protected status.

There are threatened and semi-endemic species present, such as Ranzania japonica, Hylotelephium tsugaruense, and Tipularia japonica.

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Ranzania japonica

The beech forests have played a vital role in the ecosystem for thousands of years. All mammals found in the Tohoku region exist in Shirakami Sanchi, including the black bear and Japanese serow. There are 87 bird species currently identified in the area, including the Golden eagle and Hodgson’s hawk eagle. There is also a particularly rich insect population, with 2,212 recorded species.

Black bear and Japanese serow
Black bear and Japanese serow

Read also : World Heritage (1): Shirakami Sanchi

The outstanding beauty of Juniko

Juniko
Juniko

Juniko, which literally means “twelve lakes,” consists of 33 lakes and ponds scattered across a 780 ha area of beech forests in Shirakami Sanchi. These were created by a big earthquake of about 300 years ago. It is said the name Juniko comes from the fact that the twelve lakes can be seen from the top of a mountain.

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Aoike Pond, part of Lake Juniko, is known for its inky-blue beauty and clarity. The fallen beech trees lurking beneath the surface appear as ever-changing illusions. Oike, the largest of all ponds, is made up of two (eastern and western) ponds and Wakitsubo Pond is designated as one of the best water sources in Aomori Prefecture. Other drawing points here include 0’kuzure and the Nihon Canyon, a breathtaking gorge with steep, rugged rocks that are huge and dynamic.

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Please note that if you prefer touring all 33 ponds,it will take a full day and you would need a car. However, visiting the major ponds and forest area along the hiking trail will take just about an hour.

“Resort Shirakami” train

kumageratrainIf you travel to Tohoku, riding a train on the Gono Line is recommended. The line, stretching 147.2 km, was first opened in 1908 between Noshiro (now Higashi Noshiro) and Noshiro City (now Noshiro) as a branch of Japan National Railways’ Ou mainline. In 1936, the railway line fully opened when the final section between Mutsu Iwasaki and Fukaura was completed. Today, the railway line is known for providing one of the most scenic views in Japan.

Debuting in 1997 at the same time as the Akita Shinkansen, the Resort Shirakami is a train that operates in three configurations, named the Aoike, the Buna and the Kumagera. These limited express trains run from Akita along the Gono Line to Hirosaki, and then turn around before continuing northward along the Ou Line to Aomori. The train trip offers alluring vistas of the Japan Sea and the Shirakami Sanchi highlands, as well as expansive panoramas of the Tsugaru Plain. Specialty bentos (lunch boxes) are popular among passengers and if you are lucky, there will be local events taking place. You can also stopover to enjoy a soak in an onsen.

As the train trip is popular, seats may easily be sold out during some periods of the season, thus making a reservation in advance is recommended.

More information for Resort Shirakami or Gono Line:
https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/joyful/shirakami.html

More attractions around Shirakami Sanchi

There are a lot more attractions to draw tourists along the Gono Line.

Ajigasawa, situated on the west coast of Aomori Prefecture, connects the Sea of Japan in the north and Shirakami Sanchi. There are rich beech forests along the headwaters of Akaishi and Nakamura rivers to provide a freshening breeze. The town has highly-reputed onsen facilities and fried squid is a popular local food there.

Kikusui-breweryNoshiro in Akita Prefecture has a unique background, known as the “the town of basketball,” thanks to the success of the Noshiro Kogyo High School team. You will see a hoop at Noshiro Station. The town is also famous for its pine forest, which is one of the largest in the country. For sake lovers, there is a Kikusui Brewery that uses an old railroad tunnel.

How to get to Aomori

japanmap AomoriTo Shirakami Sanchi
It is a 5-hour train ride from Tokyo via Hachinohe (Tohoku Shinkansen Line) to Hirosaki Station on the JR Tohoku Line, and a 50min. bus ride from Hirosaki Bus Terminal to Tashiro. Alternatively, it’s 3 hr 55min. from Tokyo to Akita by Akita Shinkansen Line, then 50min. from Akita to Higashi-Noshiro station by JR Ou Line, and 33min. from Higashi-Noshiro to Akita Shirakami by JR Gono Line.

To Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center
A 5min. walk from Nishimeya Murayakubamae bus stop. The Nishimeya Murayakubamae bus stop is approx. 50min. by Konan bus (to Tashiro) from the Hirosaki Bus Terminal near the JR Hirosaki Station.

To Lake Juniko
From the JR Juniko Station on Gono Line,it’s a 15min. ride by Konan bus bound for Juniko. The Juniko Yogyojo bus stop is in front of the Juniko Visitor center.

Special thanks to: APTINET AOMORI Prefectural Government, JR East, and JNTO

Tohoku Secluded Hot Springs: Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen

Away from modern life

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Quality hot spring are scattered throughout the mountainous Aomori Prefecture, but for the most authentic experience, head over to Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen. The writer of this article has been to many different hot springs throughout Japan, but calls this the real deal.

That doesn’t mean it has the most gorgeous looking bath or spectacular ryokan attached to it, but actually kind of the opposite…hear me out!

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Located along Aoni Valley deep in the mountains of Aomori, every twist your bus or car makes up to the mountain, is a step away from modern society. It was only the beginning of the winter during my visit, but thick snow had already piled up so much it wasn’t hard to believe that Aomori is the snowiest city on earth.

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While too white to be true during winter, nature brings much more to these mountains than just snow. During autumn, the area is known for its golden foliage, and expect lots of fresh verdure as well as bright hydrangea flowers during the summer. The ryokan itself is surrounded by some sakura trees which are usually in full blossom during May, a bit later than in most other parts of Japan because of the long winters.

The moment you arrive at Lamp no Yado, which translates itself as “Inn of Lamps”, you will realize that you have come to a true mountain retreat completely surrounded by nature.

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Heading inside the ryokan, you make a slip in time to a more traditional Japan, completely untouched by the invasion of convenience stores and hamburgers. Electricity here is scarce and the whole ryokan is lit only by oil lamps, which add an authentic touch to the Japanese style rooms.

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Expect no power sockets in your room, but consider it a small price you pay to experience something truly unique.

The mountain vegetables and freshwater fish make for a divine, healthy meal that will allow one to appreciate the blessings of nature.

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Dinner at Lamp no Yado

The fish are grilled on an irori, a traditional Japanese hearth, which together with the tatami mats, a Japanese wooden table and your yukata (the kimono you wear at the inn), create an atmosphere that is about as Japanese as it gets.

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Lamp no Yado comes with a total of 4 different baths. One of these baths is a rotenburo, or open-door bath. The lukewarm water allows one to stay in for a long time without getting too hot. Ladies should note that this bath is gender free, which was more common in the old days in Japan. Special ladies only hours are available from 11am to 12pm and from 5pm to 6pm.

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Lamp no Yado’s open-door bath

The other 3 inside baths each look at the scenery from a different angle. The scent of the large wooden tubs add a lovely fragrance to the hot water. Ladies can feel at ease as men and women go in separate baths here.

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Lamp no Yado’s indoor bath

According to the owner, the natural hot spring water here is not only good for the body, but also has the power to “make a love that has cooled down hot again”. I believe that it is not only the water, but the unforgettable experience Aoni Onsen Lamp no Yado provides as a whole, that brings the romantic inside one. While its inconvenient location and lack of electricity make it a destination that is certainly not for everyone, if you appreciate a truly secluded hot spring far away from the hustle and bustle of modern society, this is one of the best mountain retreats to forget about the stress and worries that come with modern life. A relaxing soak in the middle of nature together with the precious people in your life next to you here, will be a lifetime memory for sure.

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Taste of Northern Tohoku

The rich land and sea of Tohoku produces great delicacies all year around. Indulge in fresh gifts of nature during the harvest season, as well as great local dishes to warm up to in the crisp winter!

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Slurp varieties of unique local noodles

Don’t forget to try unique and delicious local noodles! To eat like the locals, don’t hesitate to slurp loudly!

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Wanko soba
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Miso-curry-milk ramen

SWEETS
Fresh ingredients turn into mouthwatering sweets

Rich and fresh dairy products and fruits of Northern Tohoku are made into delicious sweets. Try anything with the region’s seasonal specialty – apples!

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Cheese cake from Koiwai Farm
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Sake jelly
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Apple pie

MEAT
The rich land nurtures great local meats

Get ready to be blown away by locally-grown meats of Northern Tohoku! From savory beef to flavorful chicken, the fertile land has the best meats to offer.

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Iwate wagyu-beef
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Sasuke buta-pork
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Hinaijidori oyakodon

SEAFOOD
Rich bounty of the sea turns richer in cold season

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, fresh seafood is abundant in Northern Tohoku. Tuna from Oma in Aomori is regarded one of the best in Japan!

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Nokke-don at Furukawa Market in Aomori

Yokote Kamakura (Snow Huts)

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Yokote Kamakura, Snow Huts in Yokote, Akita Pref.

Playing in snow huts is a popular pastime in winter for children living in the heavy snowfall areas. They make snow huts called “Kamakura ” in which they play games and eat traditional delicacies.

Yokote City in Akita prefecture is known for the Kamakura, and the locals have been celebrating Yokote Kamakura Festival for more than 400 years. The festival is held every February where about 100 snow huts and a number of snow creations are built on Kamakura-dori Street, in front of Yokote City Hall branch office and at Yokote-jo Castle. A wide range of events are held during the festival including Kamakura making and mini-kamakura illuminations.

Access:
(1) The JR Ou Honsen Line to Yokote Sta., and then walk 10 min.
(2) 3 min. by bus from JR Yokote Sta. to Yokote Chiikikyoku-mae Bus Stop.

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Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku – Part I Aomori

Discover the beauty of Nothern Tohoku

The best way to travel to the Tohoku region is to take advantage of the Shinkansen (bullet train). It will take just 3 hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori station in Aomori prefecture, which is best known for its marvellous Nebuta Festival, one of the Japan’s most famous and beloved festivals. It also has distinct cultures rooted in local communities, as well as an abundance of seafood and sansai (mountain vegetables). It is also an all-season resort: in spring, beautiful cherry blossoms bloom; in summer, verdant forests and lakes are found; in fall, leaves turn brilliant red or yellow; and in winter, snow blankets towns and mountains ranges.

Majestic nature and Exciting Festival

The northernmost prefecture on Honshu island, Aomori is endowed with abundant nature, including the well-known Mt. Hakkoda, Lake Towada, a large dual crater lake surrounded by beech forest with wild animals, and Oirase Stream, a striking mountain stream with over a dozen waterfalls. Also, the Shirakami-Sanchi (Shirakami Mountains), a World Natural Heritage site, is spread across 130,000 hectares on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures.

Facing both the Japan Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Aomori is blessed with various seafood which never fails to draw gourmands. Its most popular attraction is the Nebuta Festival, which brings in about 3 million visitors each year. For history enthusiasts, the Sannai-Maruyama Ruins – the largest archeological site of the Jomon Period (about 10,500-300 BC) – is a recommended destination.

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Things to do in Aomori

Enjoy spectacular view of rich nature

Aomori has a number of tourist spots, including outstanding natural sites such as Mt. Hakkoda and Lake Towada. Roads for buses and cars, as well as climbing routes and paths have been improved in recent years. Mountain cable cars are built so that children and the elderly can explore them too. However, note that it is a heavy snowfall area and you need to wear suitable winter clothing.

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Experience the tradition through festivals

Nebuta Festivals are celebrated in several northern regions, mainly in Aomori prefecture. The Aomori Nebuta Festival, which is celebrated annually from August 2-7, is the most recognised. Over 20 gigantic three-dimensional Nebuta (papier-mache dolls) depict ancient warriors, legendary creatures or Kabuki characters that illuminate the night with bright colours. Today, the Nebuta floats are made of a wood base,carefully covered with Japanese paper and lit from the inside with hundreds of light bulbs. Quite a few spirited dancers (called “haneto”) in native Nebuta costumes, surround the floats and dance to the tune of flutes and beating of drums.

For those who missed the Aomori Nebuta Festival, there is an exhibition hall, Neputa No Yakata, that displays three floats all year around in Goshogawara city. Situated 25km west of Aomori city, Goshogawara is another site of the Nebuta Festival – this one is called “Neputa.” It is said that the name came from the local direct “neputai,” which literally means “sleepy,” and the festival itself is a “sleepless festival” that prays for safety and a good harvest.
The 3 displayed Neputa, at 22m high and weighing of 16 tons, will be moved for 1.5km around the city from August 4-8. There is also a studio where visitors can see the work in progress and have a hands-on experience. Visit the official website (in Japanese) at www.tachineputa.jp.

In Hirosaki city, a central part of Tsugaru district, crowd-pleasing events include the Hirosaki Neputa Festival (characterised by 60 small and large fan-shaped floats) and Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival. Throughout the year, there are several flower festivals held in different cities throughout Aomori.

nebutaAomori Nebuta Festival
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Where is the most famous Onsen in Aomori?

There are a number of onsen (hot springs) with good reputation and high spring quality in Aomori. Koganesaki Furofushi Onsen is one of the most popular and is often featured in magazines and TV programs. Its name “furofushi” means “immortality” in Japanese. Bathers can see the wild waves of the Japan Sea while soaking in their outdoor spa, with a view of the distant horizon and a splendid sunset. For more information about the onsen, please visit www.furofushi.com.

hot-springKoganesaki Furofushi hot spring

Taste the season’s best

Enjoying local delicacies is a must during your journey. Aomori is known for its abundance and high quality seafood. Ohma tuna, one of the best grade tunas, is caught at Ohma Port facing the Tsugaru Strait that connects the Japan Sea with the Pacific Ocean. These tunas feed on fresh Pacific sauries, sardines and squids, and are sold almost exclusively to high-end sushi restaurants. Other seafood like squids and scallops caught in adjacent sea are also tasty.

Aomori Prefecture is Japan’s largest apple producer – there are approximately 60 kinds of apple varieties, thanks to its significant difference in temperature and improved cultivation methods,which are shipped seasonally. You can try apple picking in several farms, but there is a charge.

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How to get to Aomori

From Tokyo to Aomori
From JR Tokyo station, take the Tohoku Shinkansen (Northern Shinkansen) “Hayate” to Shin Aomori station. Hayate is the fastest train category on the Tohoku Shinkansen and it takes 3 hours 20 minutes to there.

Join the Kase-dori Festival and bring in a prosperous year

If you happen to visit Yamagata prefecture during February, don’t miss the Kase-dori Festival held in Kaminoyama City.

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Participants wearing straw coats dancing around the neighborhood.

Yamagata, one of the northern prefectures of Japan, is known for its snow laden climate and great ski resorts such as the Zao Onsen Ski Resort. The average temperature during February hovers somewhere around zero degrees (32℉), so I think you would agree that going outside without a decent coat or warm clothes is probably a bad idea, right?

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Half-naked young men waiting to become Kase-dori.

Well, the people who are participating in the Kase-dori Festival would beg to differ. Because, the main participants of this 350-year-old festival are wearing nothing but a simple straw coat called a Kendai and a loincloth underneath.

They are dressed as Kase-dori, a bird-looking creature that carries the spirit of God. The bird symbolizes a few different things: fire prevention, good harvest, and good fortune.

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The festival begins at Kaminoyama Castle where a group of Kase-dori dance around a bonfire. Then, they start making their ways into the neighborhood. Spectators bring a bucket of water and sprinkle (or dump) it on the Kase-dori to pray for fire prevention and a prosperous year. The outside temperature is slightly above freezing, getting a shower of ice cold water would be, well, excruciatingly cold I imagine…

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Spectators drenching the Kase-dori with water.

And don’t forget, if you see a strand of straw falling off from a Kendai, tie it in your hair (if you have a dark hair) or give it to a nearby girl who has a dark hair. Because the legend says that those who tie the straw from the Kase-dori in their hair will have a lifetime of lush and radiant hair.

At the castle and throughout Kaminoyama City, there are numerous stalls selling regional food and Kase-dori related goods. The locals, both kids and adults participate in the festival.

Dancing with the Kase-dori, trying out the local flavors, or dumping a bucket of water on a mythical creature, taking part in a regional festival like this one, is a great way to experience the local culture.

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Kids help out as well, selling Kase-dori charms and goods.

[ Information ]

Address: Motojonai 3-7, Kaminoyama, Yamagata
Access: A 12-min walk from Kaminoyama Onsen Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Date: February 11, 2017
Hour: 10am to 3:30pm

7 Great Winter Activities in Northern Tohoku

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1. Get sporty

Winter in Northern Tohoku is a paradise for those who enjoy winter sports. Majestic mountain ranges carpeted in fresh powder snow provide a number of great ski hills all over the region. Most ski hills, provide rental equipment and lessons, so it’s a great place to pick up skiing as well.

Read also:
Top 4 Central Japan Resorts

2. Get festive

Despite being famous for their grand summer festivals, Tohoku has a list of amazing winter festivals as well. Yokote is known for its Kamakura Festival where people can eat and drink inside snow domes, while artistic snow sculptures at snow festivals in Towadako and Iwate attract huge crowds every year.

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Yokote Kamakura Festival
Access: Yokote is 1 hour on JR Ou-honsen line from JR Akita station

3. Walk in Nature

The beech forest of Shirakami has a special beauty in winter. Go snowshoeing with a great guide and enjoy nature to the fullest. If you are up for something more authentic, try a “jifubuki” (ground snow storm) session and discover the harshness of Northern Tohoku winter first-hand.

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Trekking in Shirakami
Access: 1 hour bus ride from JR Hirosaki station

4. Indulge in Great Winter Food

Winter, like any other season, is full of seasonal delicacies. ­There are a number of local hotpots that let you enjoy a variety of local products in one pot. Another way to stay warm in the cold winter is by drinking atsukan (warm sake). Match locally-brewed sake with native dishes as they tend to create a wonderful harmony with each other.


Dinner at Lamp no Yado
Read also: Tohoku Secluded Hot Springs: Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen

5. Warm up in Hot Springs

“Yukimi buro”, literally meaning “snow viewing bath”, is what the Japanese indulge in during winter, as soaking in hot springs at an outdoor bath is one of the best ways to enjoy the tranquil beauty of snow. Fortunately, since scenic hot springs are scattered all around Northern Tohoku, you can enjoy “yukimi buro” in various regions during the snow-covered winter.

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Tsurunoyu at Nyuto Hot Springs
Access: Approx. 1 hour bus ride from JR Tazawako station

6. Submerge in Local Music

The Tsugaru region of Aomori is known for its Tsugaru jamisen, a 3-string instrument widely performed around the region. Its lively and rhythmic music is unlike other Japanese folk music, and sounds more like rock. You can enjoy a performance at various places in Aomori, including restaurants and bars.


Enjoy 30-min. performances at the ASPAM tourist center, offered twice daily
Access: An 8-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.
Read also: Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

7. Witness the Vast Nature

The northern tip of Honshu is lined with amazingly scenic landscapes along the coast of the Sea of Japan. To fully enjoy the view, hop onboard the Resort Shirakami, a special train where you can enjoy astounding scenery at every turn. You can also enjoy a shamisen performance and local folk songs as you enjoy the harsh yet breathtaking beauty of nature from within the warm train.

Resort Shirakami
Access: From JR Akita or JR Aomori station
Website: JR East Joyful Shirakami

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Tsugaru Shamisen performance

Ski in Japan: Top 5 Central Japan Resorts

Within just 3 hours of Central Japan, you can find slopes to suit any ski level, not to mention a great selection of spas. Our top four picks take you high, where trees freeze into “ice monsters” and the onsens thaw you out at the highest altitude in the country. For sliding and soaking fun in the heart of Japan, start here.

APPI Snow Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Private and group lessons available. Advanced booking needed
Number of courses: 21

With the mind-boggling number of courses available, this is the place to go to ski or snowboard to your heart’s content. Slope levels varying from beginner to advanced, plus meticulously manicured slopes and dry light snow makes this the ultimate skiing and snowboarding haven no matter what your level is.

Address: 117 Appi Kogen, Hachimantai City, Iwate Prefecture
Access: Take the JR Hanawa Line from Morioka Station, there is a free shuttle bus available between JR APPI Kogen Station and the resort buildings.
Web: http://www.appi.co.jp/foreign_country/english/winter/index.html

Manza Onsen Ski Resort (Gunma Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 9

If ski and spa is your ideal combination, Manza is your most convenient choice. At a 1,800m altitude, enjoy fresh powdered snow and choose from ten relaxing onsens – the highest in Japan – at the Prince Hotel, located right on the slopes.

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Address: Manza Onsen, Tsumagoi-mura, Agatsuma-gun
Access: Take the Seibu Kogen Bus to Manza ski area from Karuizawa Station. Guests of the Manza Prince Hotel or Manza Kogen Hotel can take a free shuttle bus through advanced booking.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/manzaonsen

Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort (Niigata Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Yes
Number of courses: 17

With a decent amount of courses, Gala Yukawa is the ideal ski resort for skiers and snowboarders of any level, and is also conveniently connected to the Shinkansen Station. Have a hot bath at hot spring SPA Gala No Yu afterwards to get the most out of this all-in-one ski facility.

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Address: Yuzawa 1039-2, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun
Access: Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to GALA Yuzawa Station from Tokyo Station
Web: http://www.galaresort.jp/winter/english

Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort (Yamagata Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Private lessons only (advanced booking needed)
Number of courses: 12

Soak in one of Japan’s most famous onsens after a full day of skiing amongst the awe-inspiring juhyo (ice-frosted trees) here. From December to February, the unique weather conditions create these natural wonders – often called “ice monsters” – particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.

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Address: Zao Onsen 708-1, Yamagata
Access: A 40-min. bus ride to Zao Onsen Bus Terminal from Yamagata Station.
Web: http://www.zao-spa.or.jp/english

Shizukuishi Ski Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 13

Experienced skiers will love the challenging slopes here at Mt. Iwate, home to the FIS ski and snowboard world cup multiple times. If you’re feeling brave, glide down its longest course, which is a good 4.5km long!

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Address: Takakura Onsen, Shizukuishi-machi, Iwate-gun
Access: A 20-min. taxi ride from Shizukuishi Station, or take the free shuttle bus to Prince Hotel Shizukuishi through advanced booking.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/shizukuishi

Training Through Tohoku (4): Traditional Crafts

The Tohoku Traditional Crafts List

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A cute hand-carved figurine or hand-stitched gift makes for a great keepsake in your living room display case or for daily use, and there’s no lack of such creative crafts in Tohoku. Bring back a piece of tradition for yourself or your friends with these items below!

Kogin-zashi (Aomori)

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A cotton threading technique native to Aomori’s Tsugaru region, it is said that over 600 varieties of these geometric patterns have been handed down since the Edo era. Artisans originally weaved white threads into the blue farming outfits known as kogin, but now apply this method to bags, wallets, and pincushions of every color.

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Tetsubin (Morioka)

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Nambu ironware in Iwate Prefecture dates back over 400 years, and Iwachu’s tetsubin cast-iron tea pots are perhaps the most exported craft from the Tohoku region, gaining worldwide popularity. This writer was surprised to find them on sale in his native Los Angeles just last week! Known to enhance the taste of teas by fortifying it with iron, these kettles will last a lifetime.

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It takes 15 years of experience before one can officially be considered a true ironware craftsman here, and the Made in Japan attention to detail is evident in every product, ranging from the iconic black kettle, to its new line of colorful frying pans, coffee kettles, and rice pots.

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Sasano-Ittoubori (Yamagata)

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Said to have originated in the Sasano area by Yonezawa City over 1,000 years ago according to local tradition, an experienced ittoubori (“one knife carvings”) craftsman can whittle one of these toys in just a matter of minutes. The hawk and chicken are the most representative of the twelve animal lineup, each bearing its distinct long curly tail.

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Kokeshi (Sendai)

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Though this traditional toy can be found throughout Japan, five of the original eleven designs originate in Miyagi Prefecture. The Naruko style pictured here is known for its kind face, and a head that squeaks when turned. Since no two faces are identical, each kokeshi doll makes for a one-of-a-kind gift.

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Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

Training Through Tohoku (2): The Must Eat List

Training Through Tohoku (3): Strange Foods

Training Through Tohoku (4): Traditional Crafts

Training Through Tohoku (3): Strange Foods

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The Strange Foods List

Trying new foods is half the adventure of traveling, and Tohoku is full of land and sea creatures—or the above dish, which looks straight from outer space—served so fresh that sometimes they’re still moving on your plate. Be on the look out, or perhaps beware, of the following!

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Dancing Squid (Aomori)

This freshly sliced squid dish is served so quickly that it actually moves or “dances” when you touch it with your chopsticks. Though most famous in Hakodate, Hokkaido, where even a festival dance called the Ika Odori (Squid Dance) exists, you can also catch it in Aomori—one of the Japan’s largest squid suppliers. Fear not if you find yourself squirming in your seat as well. They’ll usually grill, fry, or boil the unsliced portion for you to eat if you ask.

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Fujitsubo (Aomori)

On Aomori’s official list of “Eight Delicacies”, these creepy crustaceans are actually barnacles, often eaten steamed or boiled in shell. The naming is a lot more delicate than its appearance–meaning literally “wisteria vase”, the shape of the barnacles resembling in a crustacean wisteria, perhaps. Even within Aomori at peak season in the fall, it might take some searching to find a place that serves this uncommon specialty. We had to settle for just looking at it poke its head (or claws?) out at us in the market.

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Tataki Hakkinton Pork (Morioka)

This premium “platinum” (hakkinton) brand of pork, native to Hanamaki City in Iwate Prefecture is a rare sight, literally. Forget everything you’ve learned about always needing to cook your pork thoroughly, as here you can find it lightly grilled (tataki) and as pink on the inside as the pigs themselves.

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Same no Shinzou “shark heart” (Sendai)

Though shark-filled waters aren’t usually considered a blessing, they are in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the few places in Japan where you can find shark sashimi. Since raw shark can only be eaten when extremely fresh, it’s no wonder that it has a very clean taste, with hardly any fishiness to it. Not for the chicken-hearted.

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Tsuyahime Soft Serve Ice Cream (Yamagata)

It is said that Yamagata’s distinguished tsuyahime rice tastes great not just when freshly cooked, but even after cooling, and this is surely the the coldest way to enjoy it. Rice is used as a base for a number of Japanese treats, from mochi to the non-alcoholic fermented amazake drink, and this soft serve carries the same subtle sweetness—the perfect dessert for this article’s odd menu.

Next up: the Tohoku Must Buy List.

Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

Training Through Tohoku (2): The Must Eat List

Training Through Tohoku (3): Strange Foods

Training Through Tohoku (4): Traditional Crafts

Training Through Tohoku (2): The Must Eat List

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The Tohoku Must Eat List

Though seafood (like the highest quality black tuna pictured above) and beef are the biggest draws for foodies here, the tastes of Tohoku extend far beyond. Known to have a richer flavor than cuisine from other regions of Japan, these treats will have you dining like Lord Date Masamune…or well, like a king.

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Nokkedon (Aomori Prefecture)

“Nokke” means “topping”, and here at the Furukawa Ichiba, you can build your own seafood bowl!

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Start by picking up a set of ten vouchers (1,080 yen), two of which you’ll use to get your bowl of rice (or just one for a smaller portion for those cutting back on carbs).

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Then go on your own seafood hunt through three long rows of stalls, waiting for you to redeem your coupons for scallops, squid, sashimi and more.

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Not only is it fun to design your own don, but a great way to experience the morning market atmosphere of this coastal city.

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Furukawa Ichiba Access: A 5-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Reimen “Cold Noodles” (Morioka)

Located in central Iwate Prefecture, Morioka is the last place you’d expect to find a Korean-style noodle dish. But for over the past 50 years, these chewy noodles served in a refreshing cold and spicy soup have become one of the “Three Great Noodles” of the area, along with Wanko Soba and Jajamen.

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Gyutan “Cow tongue” (Sendai)

Though rumored that gyutan became popular throughout Sendai as it was the least wanted and most affordable part of the cow in post-war days, it now reigns as the capital’s chief delicacy. A bite of this—one of the juiciest and most flavor-packed cuts of beef—will show you why. Just don’t let the name get to you.

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Tama-konnyaku “Konjac balls” (Yamagata)

Rounding up our list (literally) these skewered konjac balls are made from the starchy konjac root native to Japan. This snack is so famous in Yamagata, that nearly every tourist spot and shopping area here is almost guaranteed to have a big pot of these gelatinous-textured treats, simmering in a soy sauce base (which sometimes includes Japanese sake).

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Now that you’ve got the essentials down for feasting in the northeast, get ready for some strange foods in our next article, perhaps not for the faint of heart!

Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

Training Through Tohoku (2): The Must Eat List

Training Through Tohoku (3): Strange Foods

Training Through Tohoku (4): Traditional Crafts

Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

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Statue of Sendai’s founding lord, Masamune Date

Tohoku – the northeastern region of Japan’s main island –  is most enjoyable in autumn, when this scenic area is aflame with fall colors, and its famed fruits and seafood are in full harvest. And with the Shinkansen shooting you up to the northernmost prefecture of Aomori in just 3 hours and 20 min, traveling by train is your most convenient choice.

WAttention toured through four of its major cities, from the picturesque port town of Aomori in the north, down to mountainous Yamagata in the south, to bring you some of the best – and sometimes strangest – sites, foods and souvenirs that Tohoku has to offer, in this five-part article series. 

The Tohoku Must-Do List

Home to ancient festivals, historic castle ruins, and even its own traditional music heritage, no Tohoku trip is complete without trying these activities!

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Visit the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum (Aomori)

While the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri – one of Japan’s 3 Biggest Fire Festivals – takes place for a week in early August, you can catch its larger than life floats (nebuta) here all year round.

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With a number of interactive stations, you can touch the washi (Japanese traditional paper) floats, try on a colorful hat that the haneto dancers wear, or even design your own nebuta face.

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“Rassera, rassera!”

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Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum Access: A 1-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Catch a Tsugaru-Jamisen (Shamisen) Performance (Aomori)

The three-stringed shamisen is one of Japan’s most recognizable instruments, but its most popular version, the tsugaru-jamisen is native here, named after the Tsugaru Peninsula in Western Aomori Prefecture. Delight in a 30-min. performance at the iconic A-shaped ASPAM tourist center, offered twice daily.

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ASPAM Access: An 8-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Say hi to Lord Date at Sendai Castle (Sendai)

Behold the statue of founder and now symbolic samurai of Sendai city, Masamune Date – whose helmet is said to be the inspiration for Darth Vader’s – upon the grounds of his castle.

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Though little remains of the castle itself, Mt. Aoba sits 100 m above Sendai City, offering the best panoramic view of this, Tohoku’s biggest city.

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And if you happen to catch him between performances, Lord Date will even take a selfie with you!

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Sendai Castle Access: A 20-min. bus ride (Loople Sendai Bus) from Sendai Station.

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Go fruit picking in an orchard (Yamagata)

Known as the “Kingdom of Fruits”, Yamagata’s sweet sakura cherries, pears, apples and more can be found throughout the country. But there’s no better way to enjoy these at their freshest than by picking them right off the tree.

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One taste and you’ll understand why Yamagata fruits are sometimes referred to as “nature’s candy”. Especially noteworthy is the sekai-ichi apple, (literally “World’s No. 1”).

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Join us for our next article, as we bring you our Tohoku Must Eat List!

Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

Training Through Tohoku (2): The Must Eat List

Training Through Tohoku (3): Strange Foods

Training Through Tohoku (4): Traditional Crafts

Picture Perfect Oirase Keiryu in Aomori

Ashura no Nagare, a photo spot representative of Oirase Keiyu.

The Oirase Keiryu has to be one of the most photographed and photogenic streams in Japan. And for good reason – even if you’re not a professional photographer and the only camera you’ve ever touched is on your smartphone, your photograph will look screensaver-worthy.

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The play of dappled sunlight on the gushing and frothy stream framed by fifty shades of green here – actually it could be 300 shades, as there are that many different types of moss alone – makes it photographic from any angle.

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The flow of the mountain stream is especially rapid during the summer months when water from melted snow flows into this tributary that then flows into Lake Towada, around 14km away from the start of the Oirase River.

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There are several waterfalls along the way, with the widest and most dynamic being the Choushi Waterfall at 20m, located where the Oirase stream begins its flow from the Towada Lake.

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Towada Lake is the largest caldera lake in Honshu, or the main island of Japan, and is also a popular spot for photographers.

Gorgeous in green, the Oirase stream and Towada Lake area – which has designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty and Natural Monuments – is also alluring when azure with autumn colors come October.

ACCESS: JR Tohoku buses run from Aomori Train Station via Oirase Stream to Towada Lake.

 

 

 

Aomori Nebuta Festival: Week Long Street Party

Every night this week till Friday, the sleepy streets of Aomori city roar into life with the chants of “ra-se-ra, ra-se-ra, ra-se-ra-se-ra-se-ra!” and thousands of feet spring off the ground as they dance to the rousing beat of drums – all because the nebuta are in town.

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In fact, the festival from over 400 years ago has its roots in chasing away sleepiness, as farmers of old believed that they were haunted by a sleep demon especially while busy mid-summer season, and so started a festival called “nemu-nagashi” to drive away sleepiness (or “nemu”).

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Nebuta now refers to giant lantern floats of around 7m tall, which are made of delicate washi paper plastered on a metal and bamboo frame. These are manually pushed around the route by participants, and ardent fans of the parade (and floats) can be heard shouting “kochi muite!”, which means “look over here!”. If the shouts are passionate enough, the float leader will signal for the float to face that side of the crowd, resulting in even higher pitched screams and squeals.

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Around a hundred “haneto” dancers wearing woven straw hats decorated with flowers lead the way of each nebuta, shouting “ra-se-ra, ra-se-ra!” to the crowds, who resound with the chorus “ra-se-ra-se-ra-se-ra!”, reminding one of a school sports event – except everyone is cheering for the same team.

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Anyone can take part in the parade, as long as you wear the haneto outfit, and are ready to shout and dance for the two-hour length of the parade. The haneto also carry with them lots of bells which are thrown out to delight the audience.

In the local dialect, participation in the festival is inquired using the verb haneru, as in “Are you going to haneru today?”, which was derived from the Japanese spelling of the haneto costume and the verb haneru which means to “jump”.

Drummers keep the beat of the parade throughout, and one’s heart can’t help but race at the uniform sound of the contingents of drummers spread out between the nebuta.

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During the nebuta season from Aug 2-7, do not be surprised to see fierce-looking goldfish hanging around everywhere, from shops to the train station and along the streets. This is the official nebuta mascot of the festival – the kingyo nebuta, or literally, goldfish nebuta.

The festival, which was designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1980, attracts the most tourists of any of the country’s nebuta festivals, and is counted among the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region.

This is definitely one festival for the bucket list, so catch it while you can!

Location: Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Dates: Aug. 1 – Aug. 7, 2016
Hours: 6pm – 9pm (Aug. 1), 7:10pm – 9pm (Aug. 2 to 6), 1pm – 3pm, 7:15pm – 9pm (Aug. 7)

World Heritage (1): Shirakami Sanchi

downimage_00000368Shirakami Sanchi: Beech Forest Sanctuary Transcending Time

With its four distinct seasons and deep valuing of tradition, it is no wonder that Japan ranks among the top of the list of countries with numerous natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Recognized as superb scenic and historic areas of “outstanding universal value”, to not be familiar with these locations is to miss the heart of Japan’s beauty. So join WAttention as we introduce you to these 19 registered spots, worthy of sharing with the world.

A visit to Shirakami Sanchi, one of the world’s largest and last remaining primeval beech forests, is like travelling back in time to nature untouched by mankind.

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Sprawling across northwest Akita and southwest Aomori Prefectures, Shirakami Sanchi is an expansive mountain range reaching as high as 1,243 m, split by six rivers, and accented with steep waterfalls, and interlocking deep gorges. Yet its defining characteristic is its vast virgin beech forest, particularly the central area of 16,971 ha, registered as one of Japan’s first natural heritage sites in 1993.

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Though continental glaciation destroyed most of the world’s beech forests, the lack of such devastation in Japan, as well as the Japanese beech’s suppleness and resistance to heavy snowfall has preserved Shirakami Sanchi through the ages. Yet also responsible for the protection of this wildlife refuge are the Japanese people, whose devotion to nature has kept this ecosystem remarkably unmarred by man’s influences. A walk through its lush foliage therefore is like entering a wondrous forest museum, unchanged by time. And only within this pristine woodlands can you get a rare glimpse of over 500 precious plant species, and incredibly endangered animals, including the Japanese serow, golden eagle, and black woodpecker.

A cool trek under the shade of these towering beech trees in the summer months is the best way to explore this wonderland. For a short leisurely stroll, the popular 3 km hike along the gushing Iwaki River to Anmon Falls, a dynamic three-tier waterfall with each precipitous drop higher and more breathtaking than the previous, can be completed in just over an hour.

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Or for a more strenuous sampling of the region’s landmarks, an 8-hour rugged climb to the highest peak, Mt. Shirakamidake, begins at Aoike pond, whose mysterious blue and green hues change throughout the day.

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As such unaltered treasures become more and more scarce, this irreplaceable relic continues to transcend time, testifying not just to the majesty of Japan’s native flora and fauna, but also Japan’s reverent preservation of such splendor.

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Access: A 55-min bus ride from JR Hirosaki Station (JR Ou Main Line) to the Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center. Get off at Tashiro (Nishimeya-murayakubamae) bus stop.

Read also : Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku – Part Ⅱ Shirakami Sanchi

Photo Credit: Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center, Alastair Rae, JNTO

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (4): Oirase Keiryu in Aomori Prefecture

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The Oirase Stream trail, which runs for 14km from Nenokuchi at Lake Towada, is a surreal setting of endless gushing and gurgling streams that course over moss-covered boulders, through an emerald green forest of ferns, Japanese beech and oaks. This scenery is particularly gorgeous, no pun intended, at the Oirase Gorge.

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The boardwalk along the stream is named Bakufu Kaido, or “Waterfall Road”, aptly so for the many waterfalls roaring along this route. Popular scenic spots include the Choshi Otaki Waterfall, Ashuranonagare and Kumoinotaki Waterfall.

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It’s also a good excuse to try the new “long-nosed” Hayabusa Shinkansen which connects Tokyo to Shin-Aomori in a mere 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Hachinohe Station, and a bus to the Towada Lake Area

Last Cool Trek: Fukiware no Taki in Gunma Prefecture

 

Aomori’s ancient festival of floats

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Larger than life lanterns at the Aomori Nebuta Festival

Ready to celebrate Japan’s ancient traditions at a matsuri of massive proportions? Grab your geta, and head up to the Aomori Nebuta Festival on Aug. 1-7, one of the most colorful and lively festivals in Japan.

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One of Japan’s Big Three Fire Festivals, this 6-day festival in Aomori city, located along the northern tip of Honshu, attracts over 3 million visitors per year – nearly 10 times the population of the city itself! Above all, locals and tourists flock here to gaze upon the enormous lantern floats (nebuta), decorated as historical and mythical characters.

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Towering as high as 5 meters and weighing up to 4 tons, locals prepare year-round to construct these intricate floats out of traditional washi paper and wire. According to tradition, this festival began by placing lanterns as offerings on the water as a purification rite, but over time the scale of these lanterns grew to their current magnitude. While originally lit by candlelight, hundreds of lightbulbs are now weaved throughout to brilliantly illuminate these multistory lanterns.

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But these visually impressive floats are just half the festival fun. Each night, over 20 of these nebuta parade along to the equally colorful haneto dancers. Draped in vibrant red and yellow sashes, these haneto are known particularly for their loud shouting and wild dancing. With up to 2,000 of them surrounding a single float, moving merrily to the beat of the taiko and tunes of the fue (traditional Japanese flute), they help create one of the liveliest festival parades in all of Japan.

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And the best part is, unlike other parades where you are limited to viewing from the sidelines, here you can actually join in the parade action yourself by renting a haneto costume (about 4,000 yen)! Regardless of experience, anyone with a haneto costume can fall in step to the enthusiastic dancing, and join the throng of thousands shouting at the top of their lungs, “Rassera! Rassera!”

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On the final evening, be sure to catch the boat parade, where the selected prize-winning nebuta are set out to sail on boats down the Aomori Bay. With 11,000 fireworks bursting above, and these gorgeous lanterns lighting up Aomori Bay below, it’s the perfect evening entertainment to say farewell to this summer festival.

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Aomori Nebuta Festival
Time: Aug. 1 Festival Eve 6pm-9pm; Aug 2-6 Nighttime parade 7:10pm-9pm; Aug. 7 Daytime parade 1pm-3pm, Boat parade and fireworks display 7:15pm-9pm
Access: JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori Station via Tohoku Shinkansen, Shin-Aomori Station to Aomori Station via Ouu Line.
URL: Official Site

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (2): Goshikinuma in Fukushima Prefecture

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Here you can row a pleasure boat in one of the largest lakes in the 800m high Bandai Highlands, Lake Hibara, before embarking on a 3.6km route through the cluster of lakes at Goshiki-numa Park nearby.

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This natural wonder was formed when Mount Bandai erupted on July 15th, 1988. The main lakes in this park are called Akanuma, Bentennuma, Rurinuma, Aonuma and Bishamonnuma. The park is a must-see spot in the Bandai Highlands region.

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Minerals from this devastating eruption tints each of these lakes a different hue, ranging from emerald green to cobalt blue to reddish green, the color of which fluctuates throughout the year according to the weather. The easy trek can be completed in around an hour.

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Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Kooriyama Station (1 hr 20 mins), change to the JR Banetsu Nishi Line to Inawashiroko Station (35mins) then take the local bus to Ura Bandai.

Next cool trek: Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture

Onsen Oasis: Zao Dairotenburo

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King of Onsens – The Princess Water hot spring

Some hot springs are so good you never forget them. For me, the Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring in Yamagata prefecture is one of those. A decade has passed since my trip there, but I can still remember thinking to myself excitedly, “So this is what a real onsen is like!” as the sulphuric hot spring smell became stronger and stronger and started to permeate the taxi as we ascended the mountain.

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What I saw upon arrival, was beyond my expectations. While famous throughout the country, Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring has managed to resist modernization into a tourist attraction, and I mean that in the very best possible way.

Unlike other man-made onsens that are designed and dugged, this is a natural onsen around which some basic structures have been built to allow people to enjoy it – so don’t expect any saunas, showers or any drink dispensing machines!

All you will find, is the huge crater-shaped natural stone baths located on the top of a mountain hill surrounded by mountain forests. As you soak in the steaming hot, silky smooth, milky water, you realize that people must have come to enjoy this hot spring in the exact same way for centuries.

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The milky water feels like music to your skin, or rather makes your skin sing! This is not is not just one’s imagination, as the water comes from a natural sulfur spring with strong acidity. The water is so good for softening and whitening the skin that it has become known as “Princess water”.

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The Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring is open from mid-April to the end of November. You will be mesmerized by either fresh verdure or golden foliage depending on the time of the year, but whenever you visit, this hot spring and its surrounding nature are well worth you visit and make for an authentic experience you will not forget!

*Click here for an explanation on how to take a Japanese bath for beginners!

Spot information

Name: Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring

Price: 470 yen

Hours: 6 am – 7 pm (clost from end November to mid-April)

Location: Zao Onsen 832, Yamagata

URL: http://www.joy.hi-ho.ne.jp/ma0011/T-Yamagata01.htm (Japanese)