Aomori in two days

Discovering some of Aomori prefecture (青森県 aomoriken) by car is probably the best option if you only have around two days and would like to see as much as possible. Not only did we manage to visit the probably most remote onsen in all of Japan but also Hirosaki city with its beautiful castle and old samurai and merchant houses and two magical shrines at the foot of Mt. Iwaki in the Tsugaru plain. The scenic landscape around Hirosaki is characterized by apple orchards, dreamy farm houses, fields and not much more, with little shrines and bridges being splashes of color in a grayscale winter scenery.
As so often during our last trip to Japan I wanted to stop and take pictures of so many eye-catching sights but the tiny time frame we had set sadly didn’t allow too many stopovers.

Pine is considered a lucky charm because evergreen and is used around New Year in kodamatsu (門松 pine gate) decorations

Aomori prefecture is Japan’s largest apple producer and the ruby apples and iconic cardboard boxes are found all over the country. While the apple orchards were mostly covered in snow, some of the gardens of the houses in the city or villages had apple trees which were still carrying fruits. Apples from Aomori are incredibly sweet and crunchy and probably the only apples that can take it up with Swiss apples. It’s obvious that apples are used in every imaginable way and while I was familiar with apple candy, tarts and chips I’ve never shared a hot bath with floating apples.
I almost couldn’t keep myself from taking a bite of one of the fragrant apples floating in the water but there were too many other hotel guests who were enjoying the first bath of the New Year and I didn’t wanted to come across stranger as I probably already did with my desirous stare.

Located in Hirosaki city, Tsugaru-han Neputa Village(津軽藩ねぷた村) is an assemblage of traditional buildings with different shops and farmers selling local groceries and specialties and a major tourist spot. It is further home to some representative lanterns of the Neputa festival which is also held here. Unlike the Nebuta house (Wa Rasse) of Aomori city, it was open that day but we decided to spend our money in the nearby senbei (煎餅 rice cracker) shop instead, because we would be back to see the lanterns in the actual festival one day.

Lanterns of the Neputa village in Hirosaki city

While senbei are commonly known as “rice crackers”, northern Japan has its own version of senbei made out of wheat instead of rice which is called Nanbu senbei (南部せんべい). Nanbu refers to the name of the samurai clan, originating in the area, formerly Mutsu province (陸奥国) and their saucer-like shape comes from the way their baked, that is to say in heavy iron molds over gas fire. The overflowing baked dough is cut off and sold as mimi (耳 ear), a popular snack and topping for soups. The shop was filled with the scent of baked goods and we could see the bakers handling the heavy irons and thin dough.

Frozen lotus pond in the countryside of Aomori

Aomori prefecture is vast and mysterious and the perfect place to go if you want to experience Japan from a more unknown angle. Hot springs are found all over the area and one of the most beautiful onsen I’ve been to, the Lamp no yado – Aoni onsen is located in this most northern prefecture of Honshū. I imagine Aomori to be the place to escape to from the heat in the big cities during the summer months. People are kind, the food hearty and nature unspoiled. If you’re looking for skyscrapers and entertainment though, Aomori probably isn’t the best choice. Once you get used to the heaps of snow it is actually a lot of fun also during winter and there’s plenty of restaurants with good food to try.

手焼き南部せんべい are hand-baked wheat senbei

Two days weren’t enough to taste all the flavours of Aomori but luckily I got a few snacks which we munched on our way to Akita prefecture. The apple chips were addicting and the best apple chips I’ve ever had. While I get tired of typical rice senbei pretty fast, I couldn’t get enough of the delicious Nanbu senbei we got at the shop in Hirosaki city. They are slightly sweet in taste and come in different varieties such as with peanuts, sesame, almonds or pistache. Go pay their website a visit if you want, the shop is called Oyama Senbei (小山せんべい little mountain senbei).
Although this is the last entry about Aomori, I’m sure there’s more to come about this region of Japan because I’m definitely going back.

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