Last fall I took my two youngest kids on an Aomori 3-day trip. Why Aomori? Because my ten-year-old son asked to take the Shinkansen somewhere north, and we had never been to Aomori. It was an easy, yet exciting trip for three
days. We hiked the most beautiful river I have seen in Japan, road on a boat, made moss balls, visited ancient ruins, stayed at a 300-year-old onsen, picked apples, and studied art at some amazing museums. Aomori, the northern most prefecture on Honshu (the main Japan island), has so much to offer and is only three hours from Tokyo on the Shinkansen. I recommend visiting Aomori during the Autumn foliage season (late September – late October), spring cherry blossom season (April-May) or for a cooler summer destination (July-August). We visited the first week of November due to school holidays. It was actually the tail end of foliage, but still quite beautiful. It was very cold early in the day and at night so bring jackets and hats. Winter is brutally cold, and many locations are cut off from public transport from mid-November thru March so I would not not visit at that time of year.
Aomori 3-Day Trip – Off the Path, Northern Nature & Culture
We started our trip late on a Thursday night from Tokyo and returned home late on a Sunday night. Here is the itinerary and highlights. Hope you enjoy and follow a similar path some day soon!
- Left Tokyo on the Tohoku Shinkansen at 17:20 to Hachinohe Station arriving at 20:13 (Shinkansen to Hachinohe departs Tokyo about every 25-30 mins throughout the day).
- We stayed at the Tokyu Inn business hotel right near Hachinohe Station since we arrived late and were departing on a bus near the station early the next morning.
Our goal of the day was to hike part of the Oirase Valley along the stream, take a boat across Towada Lake and stay in the little town of Towada. The Oirase stream flows from Lake Towada, and the 14km section between
Nenokuchi (the entry of the river to Lake Towada) and Yakeyama is called the Oirase mountain stream. The stream runs through a beautiful valley that is filled with white cedar, Japanese beech, and maple trees which are magnificent in autumn colors (best time is October). I have traveled throughout Japan and I believe the Oirase valley and stream is one of the most beautiful spots in Japan. There are many sections of the 14km that have beautiful wooden paths and vistas with waterfalls. Because I was traveling with a two and ten-year-old children we walked only 6km, however, if you walk the entire way it takes about five hours. One way bicycles are also available for rent at Nenokuchi and Yakeyama (note: no baby seats available).
- From Hachinohe Station, we took a bus 1.5 hours to Ishigedo Station, which is 8.9km down on the 14km trail. Buses leave about every 30-60 mins throughout the day. Check the schedule for late April – mid-November on this page (page in Japanese).
- We spent about 2.5 hours walking the trail from Ishigedo to Nenokuchi. The walk was amazing, and both children had a blast. I had a stroller that I was able to navigate on the wooden path and road.
- Once we arrived at Nenokuchi, which is the little town on one side of Towado Lake we caught the ferry boat to the town of Towado which is actually in Akita Prefecture. The ferry boat runs a few times each hour between 8:30 a.m. to late afternoon from late April to mid-November. The ferry boat ticket is 1,400 yen for adults and 700 for children. Lake Towada (十和田湖) is the largest crater lake in Honshū island, Japan. Located on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures, it lies 400 meters (1,800 ft) above sea level and is 327 m (1,073 ft) deep, drained by the Oirase river. With a surface area of 61.1 km², Towada is Japan’s 12th largest
lake, its bright blue color is due to its great depth. Keep an eye out for a statue of two maidens in the water and a shrine on the shore; both very beautiful.
- We arrived at the town of Towada late in the afternoon. Towado is bit of a ghost town having been impacted by the economic recession, however, there has been some recent improvement. There is an amazing local Towada Visitors Center that has
exhibits on the local wildlife and vegetation. There is also one of the best Japanese craft store I have seen outside of Tokyo where you will find arts and crafts from artists across of Tohoku.
- We spent the night at Towada Lakeside Hotel. which was simple but had clean rooms, a nice Japanese bath facility and served Japanese dinner and breakfast in our room.
We left the hotel early and took the boat back across the lake to Nenokuchi. From Nenokuchi we took the bus up the Oirase valley to Yakeyama station (bus stop). At Yakeyama, there is the Oirase Stream Museum, which includes some artwork, some simple food for sale and the Moss Man store.
- My son was so excited to make moss balls (see on left). The owner of this moss ball store is quite a famous retired wrestler and has quite a talent teaching children. Plan on about one hour to make a moss ball to take
home. Super fun!
- We enjoyed a light lunch of noodles at Yakeyama bus stop before catching a bus headed for Aomori City. Our
destination was to Hakkoda Ropeway bus stop to ride the Hakkōda Mountains ropeway (八甲田ロープウェー ) to the mountain summit. We were able to see some final fall foliage, as well as, snow on the summit the first week of November. The kids love the early snow. Plan for about two hours to visit the mountain. After descending we jumped into a cab for about 1,000 yen to get to the Sukayu Onsen for the evening. If the bus is still running, you can backtrack 2-3 stops to get to the Onsen, but with the two kids it was easier jumping in a cab.
- Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯) is over 100 years old and is know for its “Sen-nin-buro” or “1,000-person bath”, a large mixed gender public bath. They also have smaller single sex baths. The onsen is
huge, hot, milky white and very sulphuric. Do not wear any jewelry since it will tarnish in seconds. I found it a great experience, although the children found it a bit hot. The inn is very old and charming. We had a very nice tatami room, and the kids loved the old creaky wooden hallways. The dinner and breakfast offered traditional Japanese meals that included both meat and fish and disappeared in seconds. A very relaxing stay after two very active days.
- Day three we took the free Sukayu Onsen bus to Aomori Station, which takes about 45-60 mins. Make a reservation the night before since it does get booked.
- From Aomori Station, we caught a bus to the Aomori Art Museum. The Aomori Museum of Art (closed for repairs form September 2015-Apri 2016) which is a beautiful contemporary building with a fun display of local and international artists the kids and I enjoyed. Plan about 45-60 mins in the museum. After the museum, you can walk 15 mins down the road to the historical Japanese site of the Jomon period.
- The Sannai-Maruyama Special Historical Site features the remains of a large, long-term settlement that from the Early to
the Middle Jomon period (from approximately 5,500 to 4,000 years ago). Excavation that started in 1992, and pit-dwellings, large pit-dwellings, burial pits for adults, burial jars for children, mounds, the remains of large and regular-sized pillar-supported building, storage pits, clay mining pits, and remains of roads have been found. These findings have revealed how people lived in this settlement, as well as the natural environment at that time. There is a great park to walk around and also a multi-lingual museum exhibit that is very well executed. Highly recommend spending 1-2 hours at the site. There is also a cafe for lunch or afternoon snack. The local bus runs hourly between Aomori station and Sannai-Maruyama bus stop ( 三内丸山遺跡の所), and the ride is 30-40 mins. Here is the bus schedule in Japanese.
- After Sannai-Maruyama we returned to Aomori station to visit the Neputa Museum
which is right next to the station. The Neputa Festival is held every August in Aomori City is a top 10 ranked Japanese festival celebrated by carrying huge illuminated paper floats through the city. The museum shows the history of the festival and also the winning floats of the annual
competition. The floats are magnificent in their size, color and stories. A must visit!
- We still had a few hours before catching our 6 pm train to Tokyo, so we visited the Aomori A-Factory, which is a huge souvenir and local food center. Great place
to pick up some treats for home, and right next to the station. Our last stop was to the Fresh Market for some fresh fish and crab to take home with us. The Fresh Market is located underground right outside Aomori Station since the winter is so
cold. There are probably about 100 stalls selling every type of seafood possible.
- To catch the Shinkansen you have to take the train, not from Aomori station but the Shin-Aomori Station one stop away. Plan to allow for 30 mins to safely make your train.
If you have 1-2 extra hours, you can take a cab to a local apple orchard. Check at the information center near the station for a recommended apple orchard open the day and time you are visiting. We took a 20 min cab for the kids to pick apples for 30 mins. Was a big deal for my city children.
After three hours sleeping on the Shinkansen, we were back in warm Tokyo. A very busy trip but the cool fresh air, incredible nature and fun activities are still fresh in our memories even a year later. I plan to visit with all the kids and hubby the spring of 2016 to see the cherry blossoms. If you are looking for a unique 3-day trip, Aomori is a great option.
Aomori 3-Day Trip – Off the Path, Northern Nature & Culture
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