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Aomori City is the capital of the Aomori prefecture, and by far one of Japan’s most underrated cities. Chock full of picturesque historic temples, museums, and close to incredible nature like Mt. Hakkoda, Aomori offers an off-the-beaten path take on Japan. Even though Aomori City has a population of over a quarter of a million, it still has that small-town sleepiness you’d be hard pressed to find in Tokyo or Kyoto. In the spring and summer, Aomori bursts to life with cherry blossom festivals and the Nebuta Festival every August.
While you’re stopped here on an Asia cruise, don’t miss thought-provoking modern art exhibits at the Aomori Museum of Art, or a bird’s-eye view of the city from the observation deck of the ASPAM pyramid. Apple orchard tours and harborside strolls, local fish markets and dramatic ropeway rides to the top of Mt. Hakkoda are just a few of the offerings in Aomori for the adventurous outdoorist.
See the largest seated bronze Buddha, called the Showa Daibutsu, at the Seiryu-ji Temple, which was built in 1982. Stand in awe of this mile-high statue and enjoy a peaceful tour of the five-story pagoda there. The temple is open year round.
If your Aomori cruise doesn’t overlap with the summertime Nebuta Matsuri Festival in August, you can still catch a sense of the magic when you check out the Nebuta Museum, which houses the colorful, competition-winning parade floats and shares the history and significance of the festival with visitors.
Art lovers should make a beeline for the Museum of Art in Aomori, which highlights contemporary paintings and sculptures from modern artists like Marc Chagall. Experimental and sometimes controversial, the Museum of Art is a must-do activity on an afternoon in Aomori.
More than just a tourist information desk, the ASPAM is a landmark building in the city of Aomori. Shaped like a pyramid, the ASPAM honors the city’s achievements and exports while providing visitors with a convenient place to find souvenirs, snacks, and great views. Head to the observation deck, where you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the city from nearly 250 feet off the ground.
As one of Aomori’s biggest exports, the apple industry is a critical (and delicious) part of the local economy here. An orchard tour is a must for all ages, like to the Aomori Ringo-no-Sato farm surrounded by the Hakkoda Mountains. The best time to tour an orchard or go apple picking is from August to the middle of November.
Mt. Hakkoda and its dramatic, volcanic landscape are known as one of biggest attractions in the entire Aomori prefecture. Take a tram ride up the mountainside to the top of Tamoyachidake, which offers a stunning 360-degree view of the region. If you decide to hike instead, it’ll take about an hour. Mt. Hakkoda offers some of the best onsen, or hot springs, in the region.
Built way back in 1611, the hirayama-style Hirosaki Castle isn’t just a stunning castle in Aomori, but also a major springtime to-do for locals. Each year, the cherry blossoms color the castle grounds and attract millions of visitors. The beauty and tranquility of the grounds is just one reasons you must see Hirosaki Castle while you’re stopped on an Aomori cruise. Stretch your sea legs walking the grounds, or pack a picnic.
Life’s simple pleasures, including its culinary ones, are celebrated in Aomori. Freshness of the produce and seafood of the region are so important to residents of this part of Japan. Apples are the city’s biggest export, and a variety of apples grow in Aomori, like the yellow Orin and the Fuji apple. Because this part of the Tōhoku prefecture is close to the Pacific Ocean, any regionally sourced seafood bowls are must-try dishes. Aomori also produces local sake that is highly regarded throughout Japan.
Over 300,000 people call Aomori home today, and the city has been an important trade hub and exporter of food goods like local apples and sake. Unfortunately, long winters make other crop growth difficult for the area. For many years, travelers often passed through Aomori on the way to Hokkaido. People have lived in this part of Japan for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until 1624 that Aomori earned its name. Each summer, the Nebuta Matsuri Festival is a celebration of Aomori’s past and Japanese myths that shaped the culture of the city. Colorful floats, dances and performances, and costumes fill the streets for several days.
Your Aomori cruise ship will dock at Shin-Chuo wharf. The port amenities include free wifi and an information desk where you can get a map of the city to help you navigate the area during your Aomori cruise..
The central location of the Aomori port makes it fairly easy to access multiple modes of transportation. You can hail a taxi from the cruise port or walk to the bus station from the dock, which is about a five-minute trek. The city’s train station is a 20-minute walk from where your cruise ship will dock.
The Aomori A-FACTORY is a popular farmers market chock-full of locally sourced ingredients, produce, vegetables, and artisanal goods. It’s located a short walk from the Aomori station. Auga Department Store & Fish Market is also a distinctly Aomori spot, where you can buy the area’s famously fresh fish and dried goods like seaweed and dried fish. Pick up snacks while you’re seeing the sights across town.
Use the yen when you’re traveling through Japan. Tipping isn’t a common part of the culture here, so it’s not usually necessary to tip your taxi driver or server. In fact, in Japan tipping may even be considered rude to some. While you’re on cruises to Aomori, note that carrying cash is important in Japan and can help make your trip easier in getting from point A to point B. Japan is still considered a cash-centric society in some aspects, and carrying cash is a sign of respect for their traditions.