Located in the Northern tip of Honshu Island, Aomori is a favorite of Japanese tourists during Cherry Blossom season and during the Nebuta Festival. It is also known for its orchards and Shimasen performers.
I visited Aomori solely for the purpose of watching the Nebuta Festival, the largest paper float festival in Japan!
I thought I was headed to a remote area in the country where maybe for the first time this trip it would be hard for me to find things. After all, Aomori is not really on the tourist route expect during Cherry Blossom season and Nebuta.
The plan was to arrive around lunchtime, grab some lunch, head over to my Airbnb lodging (my first time using this service), and then return to town for the Nebuta Festival.
As soon as I exited the train station in Aomori, my plans changed. After finding a locker to leave my belongings and the tourist office nearby, I was pulled into a nearby square where food stalls were being set up, musicians were playing and the smell of apples permeated the atmosphere, mixed with the salty bay air.
I rapidly realized that there was more to Aomori than just the Nebuta Festival.
How to get to Aomori?
As I mentioned in the last post, Aomori is easily accessible by plane or by train. Airfares are fairly inexpensive and I would recommend ANA as a carrier (the best airline in my opinion). From Kyoto the trip is about 1.5 hrs and it cost around U$100 one way.
The train to Aomori is covered in the Japan Rail Pass. The journey takes 5 hrs from Tokyo and there is a train switch, but it’s pretty straight forward. The only catch is that you MUST reserve the train ticket in advance. That is unusual for the Rail Pass, so make sure to stop by a major station a couple days before and reserve your ticket at the JR office.
What to do in Aomori?
- Take a walk along the pier and browse through the Farmer’s Market if visiting in the summer.
- Visit Hirosaki Castle. Specially beautiful during Cherry Blossom season.
- Visit one of the fish markets and enjoy a meal there.
- Can’t make it to the Nebuta Festival? Don’t worry, Aomori has floats on display year-round at the Nebuta Warasse Museum.
- Try one of the apple products from the region- Aomori is known for orchards.
- Enjoy a Shimasen performance. These string instruments are traditional in the area.
- If you have more than a day, venture into nature. Aomori has camping and hiking on offer just minutes from town.
Where to eat in Aomori?
The city has a network of restaurants and pubs, but true to my preferences of eating local and off the beaten path, I asked about the local fish market. I found out there were actually two, but I never made it to the second one. I, by accident, found a restaurant at the Auga Fish Market that was tucked away and decided to give it a try. I can’t believe that I almost missed it.
Ringobako was such a great place with incredible food. In addition it had a live entertainment show for free. It is located at the basement of the building.
The second place I would recommend is the ASPAM Building. It is the triangle shaped building located across from the pier and near to where the floats are stored before the parade, you can’t miss it.
The ASPAM building is like a shopping mall, a great place to grab a snack and to shop for souvenirs. It also has a children’s museum – small, but centered around technology – and cultural events (Shimasen performances).
I couldn’t resist the apple pastries and a slice of pineapple on a stick (common street snack).
The last place is A-Factory, located right next to the train station and I can only describe it as the “Eataly” of Aomori. Trendy, local, artisanal products that are mouth watering, but on the more expensive side.
There are small restaurants and even a brewery under the same roof that make this the “cool” place to people watch and share a meal.
Where to stay in Aomori?
There are a few hotels in Aomori, but during Nebuta, the prices soar and the hotels book solid months in advance. Besides Cherry Blossom season, the first week of August is the busiest week for Aomori due to the festival which brings in thousands of Japanese visitors every year.
Two other options are to book Airbnb, which is what I did, or search for hotels in cities nearby. The only issue with the latter is that trains stop operating early in the evening out of Aomori, so you would miss some of the festival.
Here is the link to the Airbnb host that I used: Toucan Room. I really enjoyed my stay there. The host gave me a lift to the train station the next day so I could catch an early flight.
For more information, check out the visitor guide to the prefecture of Aomori.
Updated April 2019.