Bikes and blooms at Mount Iwaki
If you’re heading to Japan in spring you’ll want to leave with a beautiful photograph of sakura (cherry blossom) to wow your friends. At the southern foot of active volcano Mount Iwaki, 15 kilometres from Hirosaki City, you’ll find the world’s longest blossom-lined road, where 6,500 cherry trees stretch for 20 kilometres. Planting started in 1985 and this has now become one of Aomori’s sightseeing spots. Hirosaki Park is another of the region's best cherry blossom gardens with over 2500 trees, some of which are illuminated with lights at night. Another must-do while you’re here is the Iwakiyama Shrine, dating back more than a thousand years. It’s about two kilometres from the cherry blossom trees in Hyakuzawa. If you’re having relationship issues, call in here – the shrine is believed to bring good luck to marriages, along with economic fortune and improved business prospects.
Kayak glassy Lake Towada
It wouldn’t be summer without being on – or in – the water. You can do both at 200,000-year-old Lake Towada. Formed during repeated volcano eruptions, it has a circumference of about 46 kilometres and is the largest caldera lake on Honshu. Drift on its deep blue depths in a kayak at dawn as the mist rises off the waters that begin to glow gold under the morning sun. As it warms up, jump in to cool off. You can also take a hike around the lake and find a spot for forest bathing, where you’ll be serenaded by incredible birdsong. Another nearby aqua attraction is Oirase Mountain Stream. Hire a bike and follow this 14-kilometre-long waterway, which flows gently over mossy stones. Trees arch over its length and bridges cross its cascade to create a tranquil, natural scene.
Revel in the colours of Shirakami Sanchi
Autumn in Aomori rivals spring as one of the most picturesque times to visit. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Shirakami Sanchi is Japan’s largest virgin beech forest, and at this time of year it is bursting with golden beech and maple leaves. The forest is home to valleys, lakes, waterfalls and rare animal species, including the black woodpecker, golden eagle and Japanese serow (a goat-antelope). Make your first stop a hike to Anmon Falls. It takes an hour to reach the first of the three falls, and three hours to do the round trip to all three. For more serious hikers, paths lead to the mountain summits of Shirakami-dake and Tengu-dake. And don’t miss Juniko (the name means 12 lakes), where there are actually 33 ponds and lakes, including Aoike where the water is the colour of blue ink.
Go hardcore at Hakkoda
Let’s be honest – you can’t go to Japan during winter and not head for the mountains. And if you’ve been searching for the winter wonderland of your dreams, you can’t go past Hakkoda. This powder playground is one for advanced skiers and boarders, with its incredible backcountry terrain. There’s very little in the way of chairlifts here; most of the upwards action is via a ropeway. But hire yourself a guide and the rewards are exceptional: deep powder (up to 12 metres falls here each year) and eight mountains to explore off-piste. The runs follow the landscape, providing a thrilling experience thanks to frozen trees – known as juhyo or snow monsters – spread across the slopes. An added bonus? It’s rarely congested, especially during the week.
Find out about all the region’s natural attractions at the Aomori Tourism website.