Hirosaki, Kuroishi, Owani Onsen (Aomori Prefecture) | Tohoku Series

The last stop on my 5-day Tohoku trip is Hirosaki area on the west side of Aomori Prefecture. This region is called "Tsugaru" and is famous for not only their Neputa lanterns but also for Tsugaru style shamisen music and Kogin-zashi embroidery. 

In this blog post I will cover many locations, so here's a summary list of locations mentioned: 

  • Tsugaru-Han Neputa Village
  • Hirosaki Park (Chrysanthemum and Autumn Foliage Festival)
  • Hirosaki Park branch Starbucks 
  • Fujita Memorial Garden + Taisho Roman Tea Room
  • Kuroishi City, Neputa lantern making at Irodori 
  • Hoshino Resort Kai Tsugaru: Apple Afternoon Tea, Shamisen performance and mini lesson, Apple Onsen, Kogin-Zashi embroidery 

Arriving at Hirosaki Station

I pretty much immediately fell in love when I arrived at Hirosaki station. This city is just bursting with culture and is so welcoming! You can see elements of the Tsugaru region everywhere around the station, from statues, to walls and even vending machines! Just wandering in and around the station was a lot of fun. They also have a grand piano at the station and tons of super talented people are always playing there. 


(Upper right: There is a post-box with an apple on top at Hirosaki station, however this photo was taken in front of Hirosaki City Hall)


Tsugaru-Han Neputa Village

Before we dive in, a quick distinction between Aomori City and Hirosaki City's festivals: 

Aomori City's festival is called Nebuta Festival spelled with a b. Their floats are large 3D rectangular floats. 

Hirosaki's festival is called Neputa Festival spelled with a p. Their floats are large fan shaped floats with drawings on them. The fans spin at the base to showcase the artwork 360 during the parade. Smaller lanterns come in 3D shapes like the goldfish one shown below. 


This museum is not only a treat to the eyes, it is also full of experiences! There is free demonstration of music such as shamisen and drum playing experience. For an extra fee you can also make your own lantern or other crafts from the region. The gift shop is just behind a beautiful Japanese garden and it has lots of local crafts which make perfect souvenirs for friends and family back home. 

(Upper right: The t-shirt depicts Tsugaru Dialect. The region's dialect is so unique that even the average Japanese person can't understand what they are saying!)

Hirosaki Park + Chrysanthemum and Autumn Foliage Festival 

Starting on November 1st, the autumn foliage at Hirosaki Park is at peak colors and they are really as if its on fire. The colors are so highly saturated it's incredible and I've never seen anything quite like it. On top of that the Chrysanthemum festival is free and it has such a gorgeous display in the river, on the lawn, on statue like structures, just everywhere! I've seen a few Chrysanthemum displays in Tokyo and I just have to say they aren't quite as pretty as the one here in Hirosaki. 

(Photo above: Japanese kindness just warms my heart so much!)

Starbucks - Hirosaki Park Store

Right on the south side of Hirosaki Park is an award winning Starbucks store. It was built back in 1917 as the official residence of the Army Commander. This western-Japanese mix styled house conveys the essence of Taisho Romance in its bar and conference room area. You can also see elements of the Tsugaru region with its patterned chairs. 

Taisho Roman Tea Room 

Just down the road from Starbucks, right inside the entrance of Fujita Memorial garden is this tea room. It is another iconic architectural/historical spot for Hirosaki. It was built in 1921 for business man Kenichi Fujita. Taisho stands for the years between 1912-1926 where the Taisho emperor ruled. Roman is short for 19th century European "romanticism". As a whole it's a trend of thought and cultural events that represented a liberation and a new era. 

The gorgeous sun room in the back features large panel windows that look out into the garden full of autumn foliage. Here you can do an apple pie tea set or apple pie tasting set of 6 different type of pies. 

Fujita Memorial Garden

This is a Japanese style garden that features yellow, orange, and red maples as well as a Giant Gingko tree. It's a popular spot for newlyweds to take wedding photos, but also a perfect autumn foliage spot! It wasn't crowded like Hirosaki park so you could really enjoy the colors in peace and quiet. During the autumn festival period, entry to this park is free! 


Kuroishi City - Lantern making at Irodori 

Hop on the Konan Line, Kuroishi City is 30mins from Hirosaki at the very last stop. This train line was so scenic, running through the country side full of apple farms and the background covered in majestic mountain ranges. You really get into the country side by riding this train and I love it! 

Because this train is operated independently and not a part of JR East, I couldn't use my pass here. The one way fair is ¥470. 

From Kuroishi Station, Irodori is a short 10mins walk. All of the fans and lanterns displayed in the workshop already blew me away before I even started making one. The colors, patterns, and light just really captured the soul of Tsugaru region so well. For lantern making you can choose 1, 2, and 3 layer. Because I didn't have a lot of time, I made only a 1 layer lantern. It's super easy and fun! 



The frame of the lantern is pre-made for you and the paper is pre-painted as well so all you need to do is:
  • Pick pieces of paper with colors and patterns that you love
  • Glue the paper into the frame

Hoshino Resort Kai Tsugaru 

So I really splurged on this one. Hoshino resorts cost about ¥45,000/night to stay at but honestly it is absolutely worth it. I decided to splurge because of all of the amazing experiences it offers, on top of that I was celebrating one year living in Japan! Walking into the lobby I was already so impressed. The hotel has a lot of design elements that represent the region, from Neputa lanterns to Kogin-zashi embroidery patterns. 

There are free shuttle busses running multiple times a day from JR Owani Onsen station to Hoshino Resorts. Please check their website for the schedule. 



Apple Afternoon Tea 

This afternoon tea is limited to one set per day up to 4 people, so you bet I called 2 weeks in advance to make a reservation. Their customer service hotline is in English so not to worry! This tea set is an assortment of different types of apples as well as pastries and apple tea from the region. It was really interesting to try apples with sweet, more sour, and different textures in a row. 


The meal experience

The meals are served at given times and you can book in advance on their website. I choose 7:30pm so I can watch the Shamisen performance at 9pm right after. The dining area is on the 2nd floor with a semi-private room layout. I love it because I was traveling alone and it gave me some privacy. 

Dinner is a 9-course endeavor serving:

  • Appetizer: Tuna and sea urchin with black garlic paste (Aomori is known for garlic)
  • Soup: egg, sea urchin, shrimp and mushrooms
  • Assorted delicacies (7 items): sushi, rice cracker, baked sweet potato, chestnut and spinach, seasonal vegetables etc. 
  • Sashimi: Tuna, scallop, red sea bream
  • Pickled dish: mozuku seaweed 
  • Fried dish: Fried foie gras and radish tempura, assorted vegetable tempura
  • Steamed dish: baked mushroom and scallop
  • Earthen pot steamed rice 
  • Dessert: unbaked cheese cake with apple and assorted berry sauce 

Breakfast was just as grand, with 7 dishes. You can see the food on the photo below on the left. I would be in heaven if I could eat breakfast like this every day! The scallops boiled like that is a delicacy that fishermen in the area eat. They add egg on top of the scollops as it boils and the flame comes to an end. 

Shamisen performance and trial play 

At 9pm each day, their resident Shamisen master, national champion, Kohei Shibuya performs with one of his students. He is originallly from Kuroishi and plays Tsugaru style shamisen. This style shamisen is a heavier instrument and played while held at a 45degree angle. The performance lasts about half an hour, but afterwards you can go up and the champion himself will teach you how to play a simple tune from "Sakura". 

Apple Onsen 

Another absolute highlight from this trip was dipping in an apple-filled onsen! Although this resort only has one public bath per gender, the bath is so gorgeous with all of the apples! it's just a really modern-sleek design but still keeping the traditional elements.  

Kogin-zashi Embroidery

On the ground floor in the back is this little library area. There's also sets of Kogin-Zashi embroidery boxes for you to try. There are photo guided steps on how to make this super easy pattern on a bookmark. I honestly had so much fun making this! It was very calm and relaxing to do this after breakfast in the terrace area. Tis activity is free, available 24/7 and there are 8 colors of thread to choose from! 


Owani Onsen Station 

I really didn't want to leave, but Hoshino Resorts was such a perfect way to end this 5-day Tohoku tour. At Owani Onsen, you can take one last dip at their year-round foot bath for free. This onsen area has been opened for 200 years already! 

Also if you are taking the Shinkansen, there are a few express trains (covered by the JR East pass) that take you directly to Shin-Aomori Station. I took the one around 10:30am. 

No comments:

Post a Comment