Welcome to Aomori – Honshu’s most northernly province.
Evening fans! Hope all is well in your part of the world. We’re currently chilling out in our hotel room after a busy day of train-catching and castle-spotting. We caught a shinkansen from Sendai to Aomori City this morning, passing vast tracts of open farmland on the 2 hour journey up here. These were by far the largest farms we have seen in Japan, with acres and acres of green vegetable crops, orchards and rice paddies visible on both sides of the train tracks. The mountains of central Aomori and the Kayano plateau were just visible in the distance too as we sped past at over 250km/hr. We didn’t actually get to see as much of the passing scenery as we would have liked as the shinkansen line was underground for about 180kms – we travelled in darkness for almost an hour as the bullet train sped through tunnels built under the Kayano Plateau of northern Japan. A little disconcerting to think of all that mountain on top of you….best NOT to think about it really and just enjoy the smooth ride!
Aomori is the most northernly prefecture in Honshu, Japan’s central island. This large, but sparsely populated, province is primarily farmland, with rice and Aomori apples being the major products. Famous around Japan, these apples are big and juicy – a great snack for 2 hungry travellers, as you can see below.
Aomori City is a small city (population just 300,000) best known for its apples and the annual festival (held in early August), where giant illuminated floats parade down the street in honour of local nature spirits and deities. Aomori City is also the port from which ferries and trains for Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island, depart. (That’s not a typo people: there is a train that goes UNDER THE SEA all the way from Aomori City to the town of Hakodate in Hokkaido. How cool is that?)
After our shinkansen trip, we had a quick look around Aomori City and checked out the local museum and newly refurbished pier area, including the seemingly over-engineered Bay Bridge which only crosses a small 2km wide bay but looks EPIC! Everything was so quiet – we were virtually the only people in town. The town itself is small and rather provincial, shall we say. No English spoken around here folks, we can assure you of that.
We had basically seen what Aomori had to offer by 1:00pm, so after a quick tori-katsubento box (translation = packed lunch of salad, rice, pickles and chicken schnitzel, Japanese style), we decided to head off to Hirosaki for the afternoon. Just 45kms south of Aomori, Hirosaki is nestled in a valley at the base of the Kayano Plateau and boasts one of Japan’s most photographed castle ruins. The actual castle itself (Hirosaki-jo), built in 1611, was home to the Tsugaru clan for almost 200 years before burning down in 1810. All that’s left today is the moat, the perimeter wall, the four guard towers and the gardens. The gardens are apparently best seen in spring, when the 500 cherry trees planted there are in bloom. Given it’s late June, however, rather than castle ruins framed by pink blossoms, we saw castle ruins surrounded by green leafy trees. Still very pretty though.
The train ride home was rather uneventful, though we did get to see Mount Iwaki (Iwaki-san) quite clearly from the train. This active volcano (last eruption 1863), is 1625m high and has a crater that’s over 2km wide. It also has that classical pyramid shape associated with volcanos. It was a pretty cool sight.
Another awesome day in Japan! More to come on the morrow…