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10 Things to Do in Aomori in Winter - Japan’s Deep Snow Country!

10 Things to Do in Aomori in Winter - Japan’s Deep Snow Country!

Date published: 11 January 2021
Last updated: 17 February 2021

Mainland Japan’s most northern point of Aomori is notorious for powerful winters and thick, luscious snow. While this may be unappealing to some, winter in Aomori brims with beauty and fun! From thrilling snow adventures to stunning illuminations, and of course, warming your freezing body in picturesque onsen hot springs, Aomori comes alive in winter!

Here we’ll introduce 10 of the best things to do in Aomori in winter to make the most of the season!

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival - A Breathtaking World of Light!
  2. 2. Mount Hakkoda - Enjoy Some of Aomori’s Best Skiing!
  3. 3. Oirase Gorge - Witness Surreal Frozen Waterfalls!
  4. 4. Lake Towada - It’s Not Winter in Japan Without Illuminations!
  5. 5. The Hachinohe Enburi Festival - Witness One of Aomori’s Biggest Traditional Folk Dances!
  6. 6. Sukayu Onsen - Warm Your Frozen Body in Idyllic Hot Springs!
  7. 7. Asadokoro Kaigan - Majestic Migrating White Swans
  8. 8. The Tsugaru Railway - Warm Yourself on the Stove Train!
  9. 9. Juniko Snow Hike - Adventure Through a Deep Wintery Forest!
  10. 10. The Hakkoda Snow Tunnel - Walk Between Giant Snow Walls!

1. Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival - A Breathtaking World of Light!

1. Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival - A Breathtaking World of Light!
The festival will commence on 10 February 2021 and will run until 14 February

A 30-minute bus ride and walk from JR Hirosaki Station will bring you to Hirosaki Castle, one of the city’s most famed attractions.

Every February, the castle grounds are adored by lanterns made from snow to celebrate the ‘Hirosaki Castle Yuki-doro Festival.’

This otherworldly event is one of north Tohoku’s ‘5 Michinoku Snow Festivals,’ and boasts a stunning light-up display of the castle tower surrounded by over 150 snow lanterns.

Adorable ‘mini snow huts’ filled with small lights are also a sight to behold!

Dotting the castle’s Yonnomaru area are elegant snow sculptures of historical buildings along with breathtaking projection mapping of Hirosaki’s seasonal beauty.

The west quarter is covered by 300 miniature kamakura snow huts filled with lanterns bathing the scenery in a warm, mystical glow.

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
Visitors are asked to provide names and contact details and disinfect hands before entering. Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.

  • Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival
    弘前城雪燈籠まつり
    • Address 1 Shimo-Shiroganecho, Hirosaki City, Aomori, 036-8356, Japan
    • Phone number: 0172-37-5501 (Hirosaki Municipal Tourist Center)

2. Mount Hakkoda - Enjoy Some of Aomori’s Best Skiing!

2. Mount Hakkoda - Enjoy Some of Aomori’s Best Skiing!
Skiers with keen eyes can spot Hokkaido in the distance!

Mount Hakkoda is the name given to a collection of 10 northern peaks and 6 southern peaks in south-central Aomori, with the main peak boasting a height of 1,595 meters.

With fresh greenery in the spring, vivid fall colors in autumn, and surreal frozen trees in the winter, these stunning mountains exemplify the beauty of each season. Of course, one of its biggest winter draws is the lush powder snow, attracting passionate skiers from across the globe.

To get to the Mount Hakkoda ski grounds, take the JR bus heading to “Aomori-Hakkoda Ropeway-Sukayu Onsen” from Aomori Station. After roughly 80 minutes, get off at Hakkoda Ski-jo and take the Hakkoda Ropeway to the summit of Tamoyachi-dake, where there are 5 ski courses to choose from. The longest spans 5,000 meters and allows skiers to weave their way between hundreds of frozen trees!

Locals often refer to these frozen trees as ‘snow monsters!’

Skiers visiting during January and February can witness the remarkable phenomenon of the juhyo frozen trees up close. These pine trees, completely encased in snow and ice, are an extremely rare occurrence, so don’t miss the chance to see some while in Japan!

The skiing period in Hakkoda is from late November to mid-May. Summer skiing is also available in some areas during August.

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
All facilities and shop space is regularly disinfected and cleaned. Disinfectant spray is provided. Space is sanitized after each customer. Stores and facilities are regularly ventilated. Coin trays and partition boards are in use. Staff wear masks, wash hands, disinfect, gargle, and check temperatures. Store capacity is limited and seat spacing has been rearranged. Limited entrance, reservation system in place. Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.

  • Hakkoda Ropeway
    八甲田ロープウェー
    • Address Kansuizawa 1-12, Arakawa, Aomori Shi, Aomori Ken, 030-0111, Japan
    • Phone number: 017-738-0343 (Hakkoda Ropeway)

3. Oirase Gorge - Witness Surreal Frozen Waterfalls!

3. Oirase Gorge - Witness Surreal Frozen Waterfalls!
Visitors need to join a tour to see the frozen waterfalls and icicles lit up at night.

Oirase Gorge, fed by the volcanic caldera of Lake Towada, runs 14-kilometers through the deep Aomori winter wilderness. Renowned for its lush, untouched beauty and pristine water, sightseers can easily visit in winter via car on national highways 103 and 102. A special limited bus service is also available for those not comfortable driving in the snow.

A frozen waterfall rising out of the darkness.

While hikes during spring and autumn are unequivocally stunning, winter is when Oirase’s beauty truly peaks! Once the cold of mid-winter arrives, the waterfalls dotting the area freeze, creating surreal frozen waterfalls adorned by icicles. Their motionless yet dynamic energy simply can’t be conveyed with photos!

After checking them out during the daytime, head back at night on a ‘light-up tour’ to see the waterfalls illuminated in a mystifying display.

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.

  • Oirase Stream
    • Address Okuse, Towada-shi, Aomori, 034-0301
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Hachinohe Station (Hachinohe Line / Tohoku Shinkansen / Hokkaido Shinkansen / Aoimori Tetsudo)
      90 minutes by bus
    • Phone Number 0176-75-2425

4. Lake Towada - It’s Not Winter in Japan Without Illuminations!

4. Lake Towada - It’s Not Winter in Japan Without Illuminations!
The footpath is lit up in a dazzling exhibition of color.

Surrounded by nature, the famed Towada Shrine hosts one of Aomori’s biggest events: The Winter Tale of Light. This much-anticipated festival transforms a 1 kilometer stretch around the shrine, which includes the remarkable Otome no Zo Statue, into a colorful world of winter magic!

Visitors can join the fun by catching the ‘Hikari no Fuyu Monogatari Higaeri bus’ (reservations necessary) from Towada City’s Chuo Ward or the Orise Keiryu Museum. You can also take the ‘Lake Towada Winter Shuttle Bus’ (no reservations necessary), which connects Shichinohe-Towada Station to Lake Towada Station.

Towada Shrine is also illuminated!

With projected object art conjuring images of deer and snakes, the event beckons visitors to enter its surrealist domain of local Towada legends. The walkways are bathed in alternations of red, blue, purple, and so on, making simple strolls a heart-racing experience.

The venue also sells trinkets and original goods, such as masks and cups, making the perfect souvenirs. Tickets purchased on the day are 1,600 yen, however, if you book in advance online, you can snatch them up for just 1,200 yen!

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
All facilities and shop space is regularly disinfected and cleaned. Disinfectant spray is provided. Store and facilities are regularly ventilated. Coin trays are in use. Staff wear masks, wash hands, disinfect, gargle, and check temperatures. Store capacity is limited and seat spacing has been rearranged. Limited entrance, reservation system in place. Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.

  • Lake Towada Winter Story Festival
    カミのすむ山 十和田湖 光の冬物語 2020-2021 in 国立公園十和田湖 十和田神社 by FeStA LuCe
    • Address 486 Towadako Hanyasumiya, Oirase, Towada City, Aomori, 034-0301
    • TEL: 0176-75-1531 (Lake Towada Winter Tale of Light Festival Executive Committee)
      Hours: 5:00pm - 9:00pm (Last entry 8:30pm)
      Tickets:
      ・On the day: 1,600 yen
      ・Advance: 1,200 yen ※
      *Children younger than elementary school age are free
      Website: https://store.towada.travel/products/lake-towada-winter-story
      Period: 18 November 2020 (Wednesday) - 31 January 2021 (Sunday)

5. The Hachinohe Enburi Festival - Witness One of Aomori’s Biggest Traditional Folk Dances!

5. The Hachinohe Enburi Festival - Witness One of Aomori’s Biggest Traditional Folk Dances!
The Enburi Dance has two variations - the Naga-enburi and the Dosai-enburi. Photo: Visit Hachinohe

Intended as a prayer for a bountiful harvest, the Hachinohe Enburi is one of Aomori’s most prominent folk festivals. Believed to possess over 800 years of history, it’s most well-known for its intense dancing.

Donning a bag-like hat meant to resemble a horse’s head, the dancers, known as tayu, wave their heads frantically while pretending to throw seeds or plant crops.

Accommodated by musicians and singers, 20 - 30 participants form an Enburi-so group, of which 30 groups take over the entire Hachinohe city!

Local children perform adorably in the shukufukugei dance. Photo: Visit Hachinohe

On 17 February, the performers form a line and parade throughout the city in the giant issei-zuri event, where all the groups gather and dance down the main street. Afterward, synchronized issei-zuri dances are carried out, which are considered the highlight of the festival. Local children also join the fun with their adorable shukufukugei folk dance.

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
All facilities and shop space is regularly disinfected and cleaned. Disinfectant spray is provided. Facilities are regularly ventilated. Coin trays are in use. Staff wear masks, wash hands, disinfect, gargle, and check temperatures. Store capacity is limited and seat spacing has been rearranged. Entrance is limited, reservation system in place. Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.

  • The Hachinohe Enburi Festival
    八戸えんぶり2021
    • Address 1-1-1, Uchimaru, Hachinohe, Aomori, 031-0075, Japan
    • TEL: 0178-70-1110(Hachinohe Enburi Preservation Group/VISIT Hachinohe)
      Period: 17 February 2021 (Wednesday) - 20 February 2021 (Saturday)

6. Sukayu Onsen - Warm Your Frozen Body in Idyllic Hot Springs!

6. Sukayu Onsen - Warm Your Frozen Body in Idyllic Hot Springs!
Sukayu Onsen is the first onsen in Japan to be crowned a ‘National Hot Spring Health Resort.’

900 meters up Hakkoda’s highest peak of ‘Odake’ is the Sukayu Onsen lodge. While remote, you can get here in an hour and 15 minutes via JR bus from Aomori Station or Shin-Aomori Station.

Despite a dedicated fanbase from across the nation, Sukayu Onsen remains one of Japan’s lesser-known gems. Boasting an astonishing snowfall of up to 5 meters, the entire region is buried in white over winter.

Due to the water’s high pH, sulfur, and sodium levels, the onsen is believed to be effective against lower back pain and skin ailments.

The lodge’s biggest attraction is the Hiba Sennin-buro, which was constructed from the wood of the local hiba (Thujopsis) tree.

This gigantic bathroom is over 264 square meters big and presents bathers with four unique baths each from a different water source.

Surprisingly, this bath is actually mixed gender, however, there is a certain time set aside for women only. Special bathing garments made from extra thick material are also sold at the onsen’s shop.

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
All facilities and shop space is regularly disinfected and cleaned. Disinfectant spray is provided. Space is disinfected after each customer. Facilities are regularly ventilated. Coin trays are in use. Staff wear masks, wash hands, disinfect, gargle, and check temperatures. Store capacity is limited and seat spacing has been rearranged. Limited entrance, reservation system is in place. Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks. Room service is limited. Check-in is automated, face-to-face service is restricted.

  • Sukayu Onsen
    酸ヶ湯温泉
    • Address Minami-Arakawayama Kokuyuurin Sanyuzawa 50, Arakawa, Aomori City, Aomori, 030-0111, Japan
    • Phone Number 017-738-6400
    • Hours:
      ・Check-in: 3:00pm, Check-out: 10:00am
      ・Day-spa: 7:00am - 5:30pm (autumn foliage peak season: 9:00am - 3:00pm
      *Times may change without notice if busy
      Cost:
      ・1 night, 2 meals: From 10,950 yen (price of 1 adult sharing a double room)
      ・Day-spa only: 1000 yen

7. Asadokoro Kaigan - Majestic Migrating White Swans

7. Asadokoro Kaigan -  Majestic Migrating White Swans
There are plenty of ducks too!

Asadokoro Kaigan, a 10-minute drive from Kominato Station in the town of Hiranai, is a famed white swan migration ground.

Every year, from mid-November until mid-March, between 200-300 of these birds travel 3,000 kilometers from Siberia. The entire area has been designated an ‘Extraordinary Natural Monument of Japan.’

The swans taking off into the sunrise is a particularly stunning sight!

To get the most out of this remarkable region, we recommend visiting early in the morning. As the morning sun emerges from the sealine, the entire ocean is dyed a splendid orange, illuminating the swans frolicking on the surface in an otherworldly display. Photographers, don’t miss the moment these birds fly off into the dazzling morning sun!

  • Asadokoro Kaigan
    浅所海岸
    • Address Raidenkisi, Fukudate, Higashitsugaru-gun, Hiranai, Aomori, 039-3311, Japan
    • TEL: 017-755-2118 (Hiranai Aquatic Commerce and Sightseeing Bureau)
      Open: Free

8. The Tsugaru Railway - Warm Yourself on the Stove Train!

8. The Tsugaru Railway - Warm Yourself on the Stove Train!
The conductor adds coal to the fire.

In the Tsugaru region of western Aomori runs a 20.7-kilometer railway line operated by Tsugaru Railways. As this area freezes over between December and March, the trains are warmed by an antique cast iron potbelly stove.

These stoves were used in Japan from the Meiji to Showa eras (roughly 1868-1970), and burn coal as fuel, creating an intense warmth rivaling the power of modern heaters.

In Japanese, these heaters are known as daruma stoves due to their resemblance to the round daruma doll.

In addition to the rustic stove, these retro trains all boast wooden seats, window frames, and floors. But that’s not all! Dried squid roasted above the stove is sold on the train, which has a nourishing, satisfying bite!

Once you’ve had your fill and warmed up, sit down and lose yourself in the train’s hypnotic sway and absorb the incredible views of Aomori in winter.

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
All facilities are regularly disinfected and cleaned. Disinfectant spray is provided. Facilities are regularly ventilated. Staff wear masks, wash hands, disinfect, gargle, and check temperatures. Limited entrance, reservation system is in place. Customers looking or feeling unwell will be asked to leave. Customers are required to wear masks.

  • Aomori Tsugaru Railway "Stove Train"
    津軽鉄道・ストーブ列車
    • Address 39, Omachi, Goshogawara, Aomori, 037-0063, Japan
    • TEL: 0173-34-2148(Tsugaru Railway Company)
      Operating period: 1 December - 31 March
      Fare: In addition to the regular fare, a ticket on the Stove Train is an extra 500 yen

9. Juniko Snow Hike - Adventure Through a Deep Wintery Forest!

9. Juniko Snow Hike - Adventure Through a Deep Wintery Forest!
The cold is intense, so don’t forget extra thick socks and heat packs!

Shirakami-Sanchi is a 13-hectare mountainous region running from south-west Aomori into north-west Akita. Buried in up to 4 meters of snow for half a year, the cold here is worthy of northern Japan!

Within this region lies Juniko, a collection of 33 lakes and marshes on a plateau 150-200 meters above sea level.

Most notable is Aoike Pond, which boasts crystal clear waters during the warmer months, and Wakitsubo Pond, surrounded by a forest of lush Japanese beech trees.

Hiking through and visiting each of these gems has become a popular activity - even in winter!

Specialized snowshoes allow hikers to walk without getting stuck.

Once winter hits the area, the leaves of the beech trees fall and the snow takes over. The sun radiates against the fallen snow, creating a sparkling, silvery world.

Within this weather, visitors from across Japan don snowshoes and join the Awone Shirakami Juniko hotel’s famous snow hike. A local guide will take you through this fascinating scenery, pointing out the trails of animals including serow goats and Japanese hares.

While hikers can rent snowshoes, ski poles, and rubber boots for free, don’t forget to bring your own warm clothes, waterproof shoes, gloves, beanie, and whatever else you need to stay warm! (Event participants can be picked up and dropped off at Juniko Station on the Gono Line.)

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
All facilities and shop space is regularly disinfected and cleaned. Disinfectant spray is provided. Staff wear masks, wash hands, disinfect, gargle, and check temperatures. Entrance is limited, reservation system in place. Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.

  • Juniko Snow Hike
    十二湖スノーハイク(アオーネ白神十二湖)
    • Address Shinohamamatsu 14, Matsukami, Nishi-Tsugaru-gun, Fukaura Machi, Aomori, 038-2206, Japan
    • TEL: 0173-77-3311(Awone Shirakami Juniko)
      Period: 1 December 2020 - 30 March 2021
      *excluding 30 December 2020 - 30 January 2021
      Length: Approximately 3 hours (including pickups and drop-offs)
      Cost: 4,000 yen (requires at least 2 participants)
      Must be reserved at least 3 days in advance.
      If just 1 participant, the cost increases to 8,000 yen.

10. The Hakkoda Snow Tunnel - Walk Between Giant Snow Walls!

10. The Hakkoda Snow Tunnel - Walk Between Giant Snow Walls!
Through snow tunnels and onsen hot springs, the Hakkoda Walk is around 8 kilometers long.

Even if you missed the prime seasonal period, there is still plenty of snow sightseeing to do in Aomori in winter, as late as April!

Due to the massive snowfall, National Highway 103 connecting Aomori Town with Lake Towada, known as the ‘Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line,’ is closed for an 8-kilometer stretch from late November to the end of March (may change depending upon the weather).

Once the weather warms from April, in preparation for the road’s reopening, the huge mound of accumulated snow is plowed, creating a ‘snow wall’ reaching up to 10 meters on both sides of the road!

The snow is plowed before the road reopens.

Right before the highway reopens, a walking event through the freshly plowed road known as the ‘Hakkoda Snow Tunnel and Onsen Hakkoda Walk’ is held. Walking on the highway encased between the intimidating white walls is a surreal and breathtaking experience!

To enjoy this marvel at its peak, we definitely recommend joining this event. If you can’t, driving through the tunnel just after the road has opened is also worthwhile!

*Whether the 2021 Hakkoda Snow Tunnel and Onsen Hakkoda Walk will be held is still under consideration.

The following COVID-19 measures are in place:
Customers looking or feeling unwell will be refused entry. Customers are required to wear masks.

  • Hakkoda Snow Tunnel
    雪の回廊
    • Address Sawaguchi Kokudo 103, Arakawa, Aomori City, Aomori, 030-0111, Japan
    • TEL: 017-723-7211(Aomori Sightseeing Convention Organisation)

Despite the brutal conditions, Aomori in winter is beautiful! If you can brave the cold, breathtaking illuminations, dynamic festivals, dream-like scenery, and warm onsen are all awaiting your visit! Get your snowshoes on and start exploring!


Text by: Shoepress

* The information in this article is as of January 2021. Please check the official website for the latest information.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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