The name Japan brings images of cherry blossoms, ancient and intricate temples, samurai warriors, and Tokyo to mind for most travelers. While those certainly are elements of Japan, they are not the only things that make Japan such an amazing place to visit. Everything from peaceful coastal fishing villages to beautiful temples set into mountain hillsides await away from the hustle and bustle of southern Japan. Let me introduce you to northern Japan!

Hundreds of miles from the bustling mega-city, the northern half of Japan’s main island (Honshu) is referred to as the Tohoku region.  This northern area is home to vast expanses of mountains, wild hot springs, colorful fishing communities and luxurious winter resorts. Amongst it all, there is a wealth of history, culture and hospitality as the people of Japan are, if nothing else, welcoming and respectful people.

Hundreds of miles from the mega-city Tokyo lies the Aomori Prefecture - home to vast expanses of mountains, wild hot springs and luxurious winter resorts.

image by Kirill Skorobogatov via flickr

Most international flights bring you directly into Tokyo. Once you’ve had your fill of the big city and want some unique experiences, jump on an overnight bus to Aomori City or Hachinohe. Both these cities are a great home base if you want to explore Aomori Prefecture further. While not quite as prevalent as in the south, Tohoku still has a great public transportation web of trains and buses so you’ll still be able to see quite a bit without having to rent a car; although for ultimate freedom in this area, a car is probably best and can be rented for about $40 USD a day.

Once here, it’s all about deciding what you want to see!

Hundreds of miles from the mega-city Tokyo lies the Aomori Prefecture - home to vast expanses of mountains, wild hot springs and luxurious winter resorts.

The Mountains

If you want to see mountains, rivers and waterfalls, you can’t beat Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada. Towadako is the largest caldera lake on Honshu and can be viewed from observation towers around the rim or by sightseeing boat at the surface. Surrounded by deciduous forests and the Hakkoda Mountains, Towadako is a popular camping area. The Oirase Stream flows down from Lake Towada, through Oirase Gorge. This gorge is spectacular and a must for anymore who loves hiking and waterfalls. There are at least a dozen waterfalls of various sizes and beautiful rapids along most of the river. It is said that Oirase Gorge is one of, if not THE most beautiful river gorge in all of Japan. Accessible in all seasons and located between Hachinohe, Aomori, Hirosaki, and Akita, this is a must-stop location.

Also located in the Hakkoda Mountains, outside of Aomori, is the popular, open year-round Hakkoda Ropeway. This lift takes visitors from the parking lot to the summit of Mount Tamoyachi. From here, depending on the season, you can hike, camp or ski. The ropeway is very popular in autumn as a way to view the slopes of the mountains in all their colorful splendor.

Hundreds of miles from the mega-city Tokyo lies the Aomori Prefecture - home to vast expanses of mountains, wild hot springs and luxurious winter resorts.

The other mountainous area here in Tohoku is located in the “axe,” the Shimokita Peninsula, which has one major mountain point called Osorezan. Sacred to the Japanese Buddhists, it is believed to be the place where spirits of the dead gather to pass over. The grey barren grounds, with sulfuric steam vents, resemble descriptions of Buddhist hell and make for a memorable visit. On the grounds there are also a few onsen huts that visitors can use. Note: modesty is checked at the door as, per tradition, onsen bathing is done in the nude, regardless of sex or age. Some have separate bathing facilities for men and women, so ask if unsure.

Hundreds of miles from the mega-city Tokyo lies the Aomori Prefecture - home to vast expanses of mountains, wild hot springs and luxurious winter resorts.

On the Coast

As an island, Japan has a ton of coastline and seafood is a staple of their diet and culture; so it only makes sense when visiting to spend time delving into the seaside sights. Hachinohe is one of the larger Pacific port cities in the region, and there’s a wonderful daily fish market that is a must to visit, as you can’t get anything fresher unless buying directly from the boat. Stocked with everything from crab and tuna to eels and seaweed, it’s super fun to shop early on and grab something for a seaside picnic or grill.

Hundreds of miles from the mega-city Tokyo lies the Aomori Prefecture - home to vast expanses of mountains, wild hot springs and luxurious winter resorts.

Tanesashi Seaside Park is the perfect place for a day by the sea. As a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty with a huge natural lawn, there is plenty of room to spread a blanket for a picnic and enjoy some of the local flavors and delicacies you may have picked up earlier. There is a well-manicured walking path along the shore that runs for miles. Along the path you can visit Ashigezaki Observatory and Samekado lighthouse or Kabushima Shrine island. Kabushima Shrine island is home to hundreds of nesting black-tailed gulls. The island suffered a huge loss in 2015 when the shrine burnt to the ground. There are preparations underway to rebuild it though.

One of only two places in Japan to see wild horses, Cape Shiriya is on the northeastern tip of Japan. A visit here can be full of wildlife along the rugged northern coast. There is also a lighthouse and a noodle shop in the park. Visit the horses and comb the beaches for sea glass and the prized glass Japanese fishing floats that sometimes wash ashore.

Hundreds of miles from the mega-city Tokyo lies the Aomori Prefecture - home to vast expanses of mountains, wild hot springs and luxurious winter resorts.

While there are hundreds of things to do and see in Aomori Prefecture – some seasonal, some year round – these are a few of the top spots for those wanting to get back to nature while on the road. Happy travels!


This is a guest post by Alyce Bender.

me-hakkoda-autumnAlyce grew up in rural Florida, USA and had a camera at a very young age. Years later, she has now coupled her shutterbug with the travelbug and loves exploring the world, capturing the unique variety of Earth’s skin. She currently lives in Japan with her husband and two dogs, enjoying the culture, traditions and varied landscapes from ocean to mountains. Find her on Instagram @abenderphoto or on Facebook (Light Bender Photography).