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Stroll through Oirase Gorge’s fresh green foliage this spring.
Stroll through Oirase Gorge’s fresh green foliage this spring. Image: Yasuyuki Watanabe/iStock
travel

Explore Aomori Prefecture in spring

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By Elizabeth Sok

To ease over-tourism at some of Japan’s most famous sites, especially in Tokyo and Kyoto, and explore parts of the country less traveled by tourists, why not head north to Aomori prefecture this spring?

Here are some quick facts about the northern prefecture:

  • Average spring temperature: 8-18℃, depending on time and place
  • Biggest city: Aomori City (pop. ~285,000)
  • Famous souvenirs: anything with apple from ciders to pies
  • Neighboring prefectures: Hokkaido, Iwate and Akita

Located at the northern tip of Honshu island, Aomori has a climate that makes for four distinct seasons. While cherry blossoms certainly steal the show in spring, and rightfully so, there are plenty of seasonal blooms, cuisine and fresh foliage throughout the prefecture that mark the coming of warmer weather.

Blooms

As chilly winter temperatures rise to springtime double-digits, the plant life of Aomori begins to emerge from their slumber. Blooming flora bring splashes of color to trees and fields throughout the prefecture starting at the end of April. 

Sakura in Hirosaki Park

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Bask in the blooms of over 2,600 cherry trees at Hirosaki Park. Image: KUNIYUKI SUZUKI/iStock

While cherry blossoms are usually associated with late March to early April in much of Japan, Aomori’s sakura begin to flower in mid-April and fully bloom at the end of the month. Located in Hirosaki City on the prefecture’s western side, Hirosaki Park is the most popular spot for hanami (flower viewing) and for good reason.

With over 2,600 cherry blossom trees including about 50 varieties, you’ll quickly see why the site has developed its storied reputation. Lying in the shadow of Hirosaki Castle, weeping cherry trees, yaezakura (double-layered cherry trees) and more are spread across the grounds.

The annual cherry blossom festival lasts from April 23 to May 5 which gives the park an extra festive atmosphere through the Golden Week holidays. Come back after sunset for an illuminated sakura-scape reflected in the castle moat.

Flowering apple trees

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Enjoy the flowers before autumn’s apple picking season. Image: 穂積祐/Pixta

If you happen to be in Hirosaki City for the cherry blossoms, try to stick around for the apple blossoms that follow soon after. Aomori produces nearly 60% of the country’s apples and the prefecture attracts thousands in mid-summer and fall for apple picking. But, as the sakura season winds down at the start of May, apple trees begin their own blooming cycle.

Held on the weekend of Golden Week every year, the Hirosaki Apple Blossom Festival honors the trees’ celebrated fruits and flowers. Hosted by Hirosaki City Apple Park, visitors can expect a picturesque day of apple-related crafts and cuisine set against a backdrop of five-petaled white and pink apple blossoms and Aomori’s tallest mountain, Mount Iwaki.

Nanohana Flower Festival

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A field of bright yellow nanohana flowers awaits in the town of Yokohama, Aomori Prefecture. Image: yankane/iStock

There are more spring blooms and botanical festivals to enjoy in Aomori. Head north to the Shimokita Peninsula to find the town of Yokohama straddling the coastline of Mutsu Bay. While it shares the name of the famous Kanagawa metropolis, Aomori’s Yokohama is home to vast nanohana (rapeseed blossoms) fields that brings thousands of tourists to the town of 5,000 residents.

The Nanohana Festival is held annually on the third weekend of May and spotlights the largest rapeseed blossom plantation in the country. Measuring about 150 hectares, these expansive fields come alive with bright yellow flowers as far as the eye can see.

In between admiring the sea of blooms, be sure to check out the food stalls erected on site and test your sense of direction in the nanohana maze featuring four-feet high walls. For a completely different perspective on the scene, take to the skies in a helicopter ride.

Cuisine

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Aomori Prefecture's food culture relies heavily on the geography’s bounty of the sea. The Auga and Furukawa fish markets are the largest. Image: winhorse/iStock

Aomori Prefecture is abundant in nature and the region’s food culture relies heavily on the geography’s bounty. Aomori is wrapped around Mutsu Bay and surrounded by three bodies of water, including the Sea of Japan to the west, Tsugaru Strait in the north and the Pacific Ocean on its east coast.

Seafood

As cherry blossoms come into season, Aomori’s food culture joins in on the celebration. Togekuri-gani (helmet crab) and gasa-ebi (mantis shrimp) come into season during the spring and have been part of hanami cuisine since at least the early 20th century.

Nicknamed sakura crab, helmet crabs are small crustaceans from Mutsu Bay that have sweet and delicate flesh packed full of flavor. Also from Mutsu Bay, gasa-ebi is considered a delicacy of the Tsugaru region in the springtime along with togekuri-gani. Ranging from 15 to 20 centimeters in length, mantis shrimp are sweet and juicy. Best enjoyed in spring during mating season, they may also be served accompanied by their roe.

Furukawa Fish Market

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Keep your eyes peeled for “のっけ丼” for retailers offering fresh catches to top your custom made rice bowl. Image: bluesky85/iStock

With fresh springtime catches coming into Aomori’s ports, it is the perfect time to head to Furukawa Fish Market. Located in Aomori City, it’s one of the two biggest fish markets in town in addition to Auga Fish Market. You’ll be able to find the helmet crab and mantis shrimp mentioned above, as well as other seasonal catches. Keep an eye out for spring seafood like sea urchin, golden eye rockfish and masu salmon.

A trip to Furukawa Fish Market wouldn’t be complete without nokke-don, a customizable rice bowl topped with the seafood of your choice. Buy a booklet of tickets and visit any stall featuring “のっけ丼” in Japanese (visible in the photo above). Choose anything that looks tasty in exchange for some tickets. When you’re done, it's time to feast on your very own one-of-a-kind seafood rice bowl!

Hiking through fresh greenery

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Immerse yourself in the fresh green buds of Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Image: ikeda_a/Pixta

To bask in Aomori’s natural treasures, take a day trip to Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Laying across Aomori, Iwate and Akita prefectures, this park has plenty of hiking trails for exploring the flora and fauna of northern Japan.

Head to Towada Shrine near Lake Towada which has an origin story rooted in a fearsome blue dragon, a fitting stop for this 2024 Year of the Dragon. Elsewhere, along the 14-kilometer Oirase Stream, you can take in the rushing waters alongside the fresh green moss and new leaves overhead. While the autumn leaves attract many shutterbugs to Tsutanuma Pond for its fiery red foliage, early spring is a great time to enjoy the first green buds on the beech trees that surround the water.

When you’re ready to explore more, start your research on these additional springtime gems:

  • Shirakami Sanchi, one of Japan’s first World Natural Heritage Sites
  • Sansai (mountain vegetables) like kogomi (fiddlehead fern) and chishima zasa (young bamboo shoots) are harvested in spring
  • Auga Fish Market, Aomori City’s other seafood titan

With so much to offer to tourists and residents this spring, we hope this short overview of Aomori prefecture will be a good jumping off spot.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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