08 May 2019 in In immersion
After a harsh winter, spring is celebrated in style in Aomori Prefecture – with the melting snow unveiling a whole world to discover.
Aomori is the most northern of all Honshu’s Prefectures. Jutting out on the tip of Japan’s main island, it lies between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean with the Ōu mountains running down the middle. Winters here can be long, with some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan.
When spring finally makes itself felt, it’s often late April. Only then do the trees begin blossoming and flowers start opening.
After such a long wait, it’s no surprise that locals embrace hanami (flower-viewing) as a major celebration, a chance to reconnect with the world so long hidden under deep snow.
In the east of the Prefecture, Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya provides guests with an authentic Aomori spring party. This is a chance to experience local culture and traditions, sample the region’s famed seafood, and partake in the general euphoria associated with the coming of spring.
You’ll also be able to explore one of Japan’s most rugged and beautiful regions, a landscape of dramatically cliffed coastlines, shimmering streams and stunning snowy peaks. And all this is just 3 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen.
Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya is a modern hot springs resort in the classic ryokan style. Most guest rooms feature tatami mats, shoji sliding doors and a TOTO washlet. The main lounge is centred on a traditional irori-style hearth. And the indoor baths are sculpted from sweet-smelling Aomori Hinoki cypress wood, with the outdoor onsen set in the middle of a large pond overlooking a waterfall and thickets of pine trees.
All of this is enclosed within an extensive 180-acre (72-hectare) park, complete with a large lake and dotted with historical landmarks such as the former residence of Eiichi Shibusawa, who spearheaded Japan’s economic rise in the late 19th century. Or the thatched-roof Nanbu Magariya, an old farmhouse that now houses a restaurant.
There’s even a ranch that organizes horseback outings for guests.
In April and May, the resort’s park is the site of the Tange Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of spring colours feted as only the locals know how. “Tange” means “to the full” in Aomori dialect.
During the 2-month festival, the park is decked out with local crafts and special events are held to mark spring’s arrival. How about riding through the park in a horse-drawn carriage painstakingly hand-decorated with the flecked patterns of local Tsugaru lacquer? Dining on sweet crab and caviar at a seasonal banquet?
Or snuggling up under a kotatsu heated table and taking in the magnificent blooms of cherry and apple trees, magnolias and daffodils in the park.
Many paths are decorated using objects and techniques inspired by the region’s world-famous Nebuta Festival. The centerpiece of this summertime festival is a parade of illuminated floats – and the iridescent elegance of this artform is given a springtime makeover at Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya.
Sake and crab
During the festival, you can also experience Hanami no Jikan, a banquet held in Aomori to mark the end of the winter. The centrepiece of the menu? Togekuri crab, a particularly succulent variety that comes into season just as local flowers begin to bloom (hence its nickname “hanami crab”).
It’s best served accompanied by caviar, or boiled in salt water and wrapped in omelet. Pair it with one of the Prefecture’s famed sake for a spring meal to remember.
Outside the resort, the melting snow offers possibilities aplenty for sightseeing.
Among the top springtime destinations is the snow corridor at Mt. Hakkoda, where the white walls along the road can reach up to 10 metres. Look out for “frost trees”, local conifers whose ice-coated branches glisten in the sun.
For spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, take a trip on the Hakkoda Ropeway. On a clear day, you’ll see as far as the Shimokita peninsula to the north and the Tsugaru peninsula to the west.
Head further south into the Towada Hachimantai National Park to view the gushing Jogakura mountain stream. And to enjoy simple walks through marshlands or long hikes with sweeping vistas of volcanoes and Lake Towada.
In Aomori, spring is a time to explore and to celebrate. And to delight in the optimism, the expectations and the opportunities of a brand new season.