Japanese Prefectures – Aomori 青森

Aomori – Nature, history and festivals

Today it’s time for another entry in our column “Japanese Prefectures”. Last time we told you more about Hokkaido, today the Aomori prefecture will be our chosen prefecture. Aomori is mostly a traditionally industrialised prefecture known for its forestry, farming and fishing. It is even Japan largest producer of apples! Besides this it is of course also known for its culture and nature. Aomori has a magnificent giant Buddha, amazing festivals and a lot of history.

Mount Iwaki in Aomori

The lovely view from Mount Iwaki – often known as Aomori’s Mount Fuji.

Geography

The Aomori prefecture is the most northern prefecture of Honshu or the main island of Japan. It is bordered by the prefectures of Akita and Iwate in the south, the Sea of Japan in the west, Hokkaido and the Tsugaru Strait in the north and the Pacific Ocean in the east. Aomori has three peninsulas in the Tsugaru Strait. First of all is the axe-shaped Shimokita Peninsula in the east which northwestern tip is the northernmost part of Honshu. The second peninsula is the Tsugaru Peninsula in the west, which is one of the poorest and remotest areas of Japan. In between these two peninsulas lies the smaller Natsudomari Peninsula. The capital is Aomori City and other popular cities are Hirosaki City and Hachinohe City. The prefecture has a relatively cool climate with an average temperature of 10 degrees Celsius. Due to the Ou Mountains that go through the prefecture from the north to the south, a difference in climate between the west and the east part of Aomori is noticeable. The east has a lot less sun during the summer months and stays relatively cool while the west has its fair share of monsoons and hard winters.

The map of Aomori.

The map of Aomori.

Aomori used to be the northern part of the Mutsu prefecture. This prefecture was run by the Hirosaki clan. They decided to create a seaport on the northern coastline and because it was surrounded by beautiful green woods, it was called Aomori, which literally means green forests. After the beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the prefecture Aomori was created and Aomori City was established. During the following years it quickly grew and swallowed surrounding cities making it the biggest city in the prefecture. At this moment, the prefecture has a population of about 1,373,164. The Aomori Prefecture is one of the prefectures that were affected by the tsunami in March 2011, where it hit the east coast.

Hirosaki Castle- the old seat of the Hirosaki Clan.

Hirosaki Castle- the old seat of the Hirosaki Clan.

Must-see locations

Aomori has so many places that must be visited and things to do that it is impossible to mention all of them in this article. That is why we decided to pick the most important for you.

The first of these places is its capital, Aomori City. As we have mentioned before, this city was first a seaport that throughout the 19th and 20th century grew out to be the biggest city of the prefecture. Before the tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido was built, this city was the only point where you could take a ferry to Hokkaido. Even though it lost a big part of its tourist crowd after the tunnel was built, it still has its fair share of must-see places and events. Aomori City has quite some fish markets spread out through the city. Here you can find the freshest and tastiest fish in the entire prefecture. It is also the home of the Aomori Museum of Art which has a great variety of modern and older art. But most people come to this city to see the Nebuta Matsuri during the summer, a festival where people march through the streets carrying 24 giant floats. These floats often depict gods, historical figures and popular characters from modern tv shows. We will definitely tell you more about this festival in our article about “Japanese holidays and festivals in July”.

A typical float during the Nebuta Matsuri.

A typical float during the Nebuta Matsuri.

The following place is a World Heritage Site in the Aomori Prefecture. Shirakami Sanchi or the Shirakami Mountains is an extensive mountain range in the west of the prefecture. In the center of these mountains is the last virgin beech forest of Japan, making it a World Heritage Site. It is home to a lot of popular hiking destinations ranging from the Anmon Falls, which are a set of three beautiful waterfalls, to the Juniko or twelve lakes, which are a collection of small lakes connected by hiking trails. The center of the mountain range, the World Heritage Site, is seldom visited by tourists but if you want to visit it, a permit is required. This is done to maintain the beautiful forest and to protect it from too much people walking underneath its magnificent trees.

One of the astonishing waterfalls in Shirakami Sanchi.

One of the astonishing waterfalls in Shirakami Sanchi.

As mentioned before, the Aomori Prefecture also has a historical value. Close to its capital, you can find the Sannai Maruyama Historical Site, which is an archeological site aging from the Jōmon Period (14.000 – 300 BCE). During the survey of the site an old Jōmon village was discovered underneath the ground. Entire longhouses, storage pits and above storage houses were excavated and this site has been important for finding out how this indigenous Japanese people first became sedentary. Besides these architectural findings, a lot of objects were found here as well. Things such as pots, burial jars, woven baskets etc. were found and are being displayed for the visitors. If you want to take a look at how the Jōmon people lived thousands of years ago, here’s the place to be.

A nice view over the Sannai Maruyama Historical Site.

A nice view over the Sannai Maruyama Historical Site.

The last must-see in the Aomori Prefecture is the Showa Daibutsu, the largest bronze seated Buddha in Japan. This statue is located in the Seiryuji Temple in Aomori City and was built in 1984. Measuring roughly 21,35 meters in height it is even taller than the Daibutsu in Nara. The modern Seiryuji Temple is also worth visiting. It has a beautiful five-story pagoda and is home to a lot of smaller Buddhist statues. The entire temple complex with the Showa Daibutsu as a must-see artifact, is most definitely the place to add in your travel schedule.

The beautiful Showa Daibutsu.

The beautiful Showa Daibutsu.

How to get there?

Getting to Aomori is quite easy. You can get there by plane, train, bus or car. Since Aomori City has its own airport you can fly there form almost any other Japanese airport. If you want, you can also take the Shinkansen from Tokyo and be in Aomori in only four hours. By bus it will take a lot longer of course, in eleven hours you can be in Aomori. Once you arrive in Aomori, you can rent a car to get everywhere or use public transportation. Thanks to its extensive road network, any place in Aomori is easy to reach.

Excessive road network.

Excessive road network.

This was our short intro to Aomori. We hope that we have showed you the different reasons to visit this lovely place. If you want to know more about traveling to Aomori, leave a comment, send us a mail or please visit this site.

We will be back with another Japanese prefecture in March when we will tell you more about Iwate.

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