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Aomori & Sukayu Onsen (Aomori Prefecture) | Tohoku Series

Aomori City of Aomori Prefecture was the third stop on my 5-day Tohoku trip. It started in Morioka (Iwate), with a stop in Kakunodate (Akita), and I based myself in Aomori City for 2 days to explore Sukayu Onsen area as well. Being in Aomori City, there's 2 themes that stand out which you'll find all over the city: Apples and Nebuta lanterns. 

 

(Upper Left: Aomori Station celebrating 130 year anniversary)

Getting to Aomori City 

Taking the Shinkansen (JR East Tohoku, Hayabusa), the train will stop at Shin-Aomori station. You can transfer to the JR OU Line and take one stop to Aomori to explore the city. The JR East rail pass will allow you to ride the Shinkansen and JR train lines unlimited times for 5-days so definitely look into it if you are planning to take trains a lot. 

 

(Above: At Aomori Station East Exit is the Tourist Information center. They have a super cool coin locker with Nebuta lantern designs all over it! )

Hirota Shrine 廣田神社

Just a 15min walk from Aomori Station is a very unique shrine, dedicated to ward off diseases. Currently they are selling a set of beautiful Owl themed Omamori (Amulet) and Ema (Wooden Plaque to write wishes on), as well as Goshuin (Shrine Seal). Since Aomori is famous for Apples, you can also find an apple Goshuin. 

What helped me find this place though was their beautiful Hanachozu (Water basin filled with flowers). They even have cute little clear pots of Apples, too! 



 

(Top right: Amabie, this is a legendary creature with a bird's head and mermaid tail. It protects people from diseases and illness, which is why during the past 2 years you can see Amabie everywhere!)


(Another fun thing to do at Hirota Shrine is to draw your fortune. They have these Scallop and Apple shaped containers which have fortune paper in it. If you like to collect items from Shrines, these are perfect!)

Nebuta Museum WA RASSE 

Each year in early August, the Nebuta festival takes place in Aomori. It's one of the 3 great festivals of Tohoku region and features these giant floats that measure up to 9x7x5 meters. Weighing 4 tons, it can take up to 30men to carry each float down the street during the festival. You'll see about 15 large floats each year which take up to a year to make and they are designed and made by Nebuta masters (not very many of them remain). 

During the festival, dancers, drummers and flute players accompany these floats and the participants cheer "rassera rassera" which means "irrashai" (welcome) in the local dialect to welcome guests.





(2021 Gold Award went to the first and only female Nebuta Master, Kitamura Asako. This is her design of the Chinese Goddess of lightning and god of thunder. )




If you are looking for souvenir snacks to bring back home to friends and family, this museum has an amazing gift shop at the end of the exhibition. There's all assorts of cakes, mochis, crackers and so on. If you're not into food, there's also local crafts for example Kogin-zashi embroidery style goods. 




A Factory
Right across from museum Wa Rasse is this warehouse mall that features a lot of premium local products. Again you'll see a lot of apple products such as apple wine, apple cider, apple tea, apple pies and more. There's also a lot of handmade crafts again, and I picked a lavender bath bomb since my accommodation in Aomori city doesn't have onsens. 




Dinner recommendation: Izakaya Uotami 

This spot is right by the station and what I love about it is that it has private rooms and touch screen menus in English, so it's great for groups, families, or anyone who just want a bit of privacy. Though I don't mind eating and traveling alone, sometimes it's nice to have a room all to myself while I unwind from the day and go through all the photos I've taken. 

Another thing is because they're an Izakaya, they offer a wide rage of foods in their menu so you'll definitely find something for each person. They also have Nomihodai which is an all you can drink option.

 


Sukayu Onsen

If you take a 1hr ride on the JR Bus Tohoku Mizu-umi line, you'll find yourself at Sukayu Onsen. It is famous for it's 1000-person-bath (public mix bath) as well as several natural sights around it. 

There aren't very many busses running each day so definitely plan your schedule in advance. I took the bus from Aomori Station at 7:45am which took me to Sukayu Onsen at 8:50am, and I returned from Sukayu Onsen on the 11:58am bus which arrives back in Aomori at 1:19pm. 3hrs time is more than enough to explore.

The bus schedule has since changed so please check here for the latest times:  https://www.jrbustohoku.co.jp/route/detail.php?r=167&rc=23

If you have the JR-East 5-day pass for Tohoku, then you can ride this bus for free. Just show them your pass when you get on and off.

Sukayu Onsen - Jigoku Numa

After getting off the bus at Sukayu Onsen, I took a short walk to see Jigoku Numa. This is a pond that is on average 90C because of the volcanic activities in this area. You can see the water steaming in the distance. Literally translated Jigoku means "Hell" and Numa means pond or swamp. 

 

Sukayu Onsen - Manjuu Fukashi 

This is just across from Jigokunuma. Directly translated Manjuu means buns and Fukashi means to steam. The hot spring waters run beneath the benches here so when you sit here it warms up your bum, hence Manjuu Fukashi! How cute is the name?! There's also a tiny fall on the right hand side of the stream, and lots of beautiful maple tress around.

 

Sukayu Onsen - Yakushi Shrine

As you walk back towards the Sukayu Onsen thousand person bathhouse, there's an abandoned shrine. I love this spot because a single maple tree is so bright, creating an amazing contrast with the Tori gate. 


Sukayu Onsen - The thousand person bathhouse 

I arrived back here with more than an hour to enjoy this spot, and I will give an honest review of how it felt to be in a mixed bath! 




If you aren't staying overnight here, you can still use the public bath. The entry is ¥1,000 which comes with a large bath towel and a small face towel (yours to keep). First thing to do is put your shoes in the free lockers provided on the right side and put on their indoor slipper. Walk straight towards the back and you'll see a mini Nebuta lantern plus a display of their onsen yukata and drums. To the immediate right of that is the entrance to the mixed bath.


Below is the entrance to the mixed bath. On the photo on the left are some paid lockers ¥100 per use to store your valuables. After you enter there are open cabinets to store your clothes and towel. If you are shy about entering, you can purchase a cover for ¥1,100. However the women's side entrance to the bath actually has a long walkway blocked off by walls so you don't get seen until you are fully immersed into the bath. The bath water is a milky color so you can't see anyone's body parts that's inside the bath. 



Below is an image of the public bath taken from online. In the back of this photo are the entrances from the changing room. On the left you see a set of stair cases and a long walkway all covered by wooden panels, that's the women's entrance side. The mens enter from the right side which is completely opened. You aren't allowed to wear anything inside the bath, so no bathing suits, no towels in the bath. 

When I was there it was mostly middle age to elderly people. Everyone was respectful, mostly kept to themselves. No one really looked around, and when people stood up, they will cover their private parts with the small towel, so it's not like there are people running around butt naked. Even if a guy is sitting on the edge with only his legs in the water, they will also cover their private parts with a towel. The men also tend to stick on their side. There isn't really a line per se but there's kind of this invisible divide and people don't cross sides to the opposite gender. 

It wasn't crowded at all ,definitely not 1,000 people. I'd say it was similar to the photo below but people were more spread out. Mens side probably had about 10-15 people and womens side had about 5-10 people. 

How I felt: I personally didn't mind at all and wasn't nervous, and I didn't really feel weird either. My perspective is that having body parts is a completely normal thing and part of being human. When I'm old and wrinkly and just want a nice bath, I wouldn't want other people staring at me all disgusted with my body, so the least I can do is also treat everyone with respect. I was really happy with how respectful and orderly everyone was, I actually went in for a second dip after I had lunch! 


Sukayu Onsen - Lunch time 

I wasn't overly hungry, but I did have a delicious snack at the bath house! If you go to the back of the gift shop there is an oden shop as well as a restaurant. They serve all kinds of yummy noodles, tempura, and for me I choose the grilled scallops, onsen egg and a beer before going back in for a second dip. I was really warm from the first round of bath time so I choose the window spot. 

 

Next up on the Aomori portion of the 5-day Tohoku trip, I will be heading west to the Tsugaru Region of Aomori, specifically Hirosaki and Owani Onsen area. We will be diving deep into the history and culture of Tsugaru region which includes a Neputa lantern making experience. 


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