I spent 2 full days in Aomori Prefecture, which is famous for their scallops, apples and garlic. This is the northernmost prefecture of Tohoku and closest to Hakodate of Hokkaido. You can even take a train from Aomori Station to Hakodate.
After close to 3hours on the Hayabusa Shinkansen, I arrived at Shin Aomori. I had to take the JR Ou Line 1 stop to Aomori Station where I checked into JAL City Hotel.
Aomori Bay Bridge
I love bridges and this one was beautiful, especially since it was so empty. Upon reaching Aomori Station, you can’t miss this iconic bridge. The first thing I had to do after leaving my luggage in the room was to take a stroll on the bridge.
Ferries used to be the mean of transport between Aomori and Hakodate, essentially the way to connect Honshu of Japan and Hokkdaido. Since the opening of the Seikan tunnel in 1998, ferries are seldom used and Hakkodamaru Memorial Shipserves as a memorial open to public. Trains used to be transported on this ship to get to Hokkaido.
This store is located in a modern looking building near Aomori station. It sells their local merchandise, including a lot of apple related food products. If you intend to buy some souvenirs back home from Aomori City, this should be the best place. I bought apple curry roux.
I had sushi for dinner at 大黒寿司. This shop is located rather near the station and you won’t miss the signboard walking down the main street. I found this at random while looking for dinner.
Nigiri sushi omakase – ¥3750
Consists of all these and handroll. It looks really filling but I got hungry within 2hours after dinner so the portion is reasonable, really.
They gave me a big Aomori apple to bring back after finding out that I was a tourist! This shop, like most places in this area of Japan is non-English speaking and I am so glad that I have some proficiency in Japanese, enough to get me through. (JLPT level 3, taken 10 years ago.)
I decided to skip breakfast in the hotel the next day. I woke up at 5am just to catch an early Shinkansen to Hachinohe, and then a local train JR Hachinohe Line to Mutsuminato. The problem with these areas is that train services are infrequent and you got to plan your trip properly. A lot of time was kind of wasted from waiting for trains/ buses, hence I had to make my way here first thing in the morning in order to complete everything else intended for the day.
All these just to get to Minato Shokudo. Anyway, no regrets coming here. This little restaurant is popular according to Tabelog and is located really near the station.
The interior was small and homely but I loved it. I could feel it was going to be good already. There was only one person which I assume is the resident chef of this place preparing the food. He asked me why I ended up in Minato Shokudo, upon knowing I’m from Singapore. I told him I was looking for food online and I found this place.
I can imagine that this would be the kind of place to seek refuge in during cold winters, with delicious donburi of the freshest catch and a warm bowl of Hachinohe senbei-jiru.
The menu is pasted all over the wall. From what I read on Tabelog, the Hirame Zuke don (sea bream) is the MUST-TRY.
I ordered the Hirame Zuke Donburi with Hachinohe senbei soup (senbei is a cracker, like the ones they use to feed the deers in Nara!) and the Uni Hotate Donburi.
When we have sushi in Singapore, we get excited seeing the chef put 3-4 pieces of uni into our gunkan sushi. But here, I get a bowl full of it. I don’t want to have Uni in any other way now. Overkill is the way to go.
This uni is so fresh and not a single bit bitter or overly watery. Hotate is the local specialty of Aomori Prefecture and these scallops were sweet and big. This is under S$30. Super worth it in my opinion!
Usually in Singapore, we don’t really think much of Hirame. The bulk of Singaporeans won’t even eat anything other than salmon when it comes to raw fish. Partly due to lack of exposure but on the other hand, the fish we get in Singapore are usually not fresh – with low turnover of other fish, it’s even more un-fresh.
The hirame in Hachinohe is totally different. This is just so good. No other words to describe it than so good. In fact, it’s even better than the Uni Donburi (and I love Uni, get that right)!
I am not sure where the source is from, but since they called this place Minato (Harbour/ Port in Japanese) Shokudo, they probably get the best catch of the day from the fishermen of Hachinohe, a fishing area.
Because this is Hachinohe, I just had to try the senbei-jiru which is not found anywhere else outside of Hachinohe. It is basically soy sauce based soup with the cracker in it.
This needs two pictures because it’s uni. Comes with miso soup.
I enjoyed my meal at Minato Shokudo a lot and I highly recommend this place. It is worth the hassle to come here. I think Hachinohe may actually be the best place for food in Aomori Prefecture!
After the very satisfying breakfast, I took a stroll down the street. There were many shops selling seafood and fish, as well as provision shops similar to the old school heartland provision shops in Singapore which are almost extinct now. I managed to find Raspberry Kitkat for just ¥216 a packet! I grabbed everything I saw (it’s only 3 actually) and I didn’t see this selling anywhere else for my entire trip.
I didn’t have time otherwise I’ll venture into the fishing area which is just nearby. This part of Hachinohe is really near the coastline.
I took the JR Hachinohe line back to Hachinohe station (took about 30mins) and then I hopped onto a ¥100 bus to Hashokku Center. The bus timetable can be found online and it operates hourly. Do plan ahead to make sure you don’t miss the bus! Otherwise, it’s a 20mins walk from the station.
Hasshoku center is like an indoor market having wet and dry sections as well as a selection of restaurants. You can buy Hachinohe local products here. I found a lot of senbei crackers and even prepacked sets to cook senbei jiru.
The wet section consists of mainly seafood. You can find all sorts like scallops, crabs (snow crab, king crab, hairy crab), shellfish and almost everything. Best part? You can buy the fresh seafood and grill them on the spot!
For ¥300/ pax, you can BBQ your market buys on the spot over a nice charcoal grill. Basic utensils like tongs and plates will be provided. It took me a while to realise what this was about but I think this is brilliant.
I’m sure there are many times when you’re overseas, browsing the supermarket and found really good local ingredients but did you ever have the chance to actually cook and enjoy while overseas? Here you can.
Many stalls in the market sells seafood in convenient combos for your convenience if you don’t know what to choose.
In Aomori, you just got to eat scallops. And crab because it’s in season. I regret not getting the king crab/ snow crab!!
It doesn’t take much skill to cook these because the credit goes to the ingredients themselves. These just taste great on its own with natural flavour.
The squid was less fantastic. Just stick to scallops and crabs! I saw another table having HUGE oysters. It was as big as a palm!
After having a rather early brunch at Hasshoku Center, I took the Shinkansen back to Shin-Aomori and then the JR Ou Line to Hirosaki. It was about half an hour away from Shin-Aomori station. This city is famous for apples, evident from the giant apple at the station!
This place is also famous for the Hirosaki Castle, a popular sight during the cherry blossom season (I heard that the pink petals of sakura would fall into the moat surrounding the castle to form a sea of pink!) and the presence of French culture.
The obvious place to interest for Hirosaki was the Apple Park (Ringo Koen). To get there, there are 2 buses. One of them stops directly at the Park while the other stops somewhere in the middle of nowhere, 7 minutes’ walk away from the park. My train arrived at 13:27 and I could only take the middle of nowhere bus as a result. The bus fare is ¥290. It is called the Konan 相馬, boarding at bus berth 6 and you can check the timetable online.
It was rather adventurous to be alighting in the middle of nowhere but there are several of such signs guiding the direction to the park upon alighting so it wasn’t that bad.
Without much difficulty I arrived! Admission is free but to partake in certain activities there may be fees.
There are 65 species of apple trees and about 1300 trees here.
Here comes the less ideal part: Apple season just ended, a week before.
Most of the trees were bare already, only a few rotten apples remained. Apple picking season is from August to November so it’s best to come during this period to experience picking of apples hands on! Freshly plucked apples tastes best.
Even though I did not get to see a park full of apples, I got to enjoy some Aomori apple juice at the visitor center. They have all sorts of apple products for sale here.
Apple soft cream for ¥310. I will not miss every chance to try soft cream flavours from all over Japan. The background is lovely.
This was the only tree with apples left. I suppose this tree was not meant for harvest as it’s placed right outside the visitor center. Still, it makes a good back drop! Anyway the ice cream was not the soft and creamy sort but the flavour was strong with delicious apple.
They sell apples here so you can taste a few types. I do not like apples in general but Japanese apples are different. They are juicier and sweeter!
You can buy the whole carton. They have Ta-Q-bin service and I THINK you can have a carton sent to the airport, which you can collect and check-in to bring home. Singapore is one of the few countries in the world which allows us to bring fruits back from overseas, so we can really make use of this! However, a few days in advanced is required, hence I couldn’t try it.
You could also buy it in a basket, easy to carry (but I warn you, it’s heavy. 3 apples are easily 1kg because these are big and juicy.).
… Or buy them individually.
I took the bus back to Hirosaki Station and from there I took a break in the mall before searching for some Hirosaki Apple Pie. With good apples, this town is also famous for good apple pies. There’s a Hirosaki Apple Pie Guide available online for this purpose! Over 40 shops selling apple pie are featured and review of each is provided too.
The physical copy of the guide can be found at various parts of the city. I’m sure you can find it at the station. It was cold so I did not venture too far. I found Coco Tearoom near the station with the help of the Apple Pie Guide.
This place is a dine-in teahouse and not a takeaway bakery. No complaints because it’s nice to be indoors in a cozy place having afternoon tea while it’s cold outside. The apple pie tea set cost ¥650.
I love how they have unique teacups. I love teacups!
Surprise surprise, the apple pie was served à la mode!
Tea always tastes better served in pretty tea cups.
The apple pie was served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I love the warm + ice cream combination of desserts. From this moment onward, I do not want to have apple pie served in any other way than à la mode.
Irrelevant but I love my fuzzy pink sweater from Topshop.
The apple pie was good! It may not be the best in town because I didn’t get to try any others to compare but I enjoyed my teatime here. I always love teatime. Who knew you could have such experienced in a relatively rural part of Japan? Apple pie is a good enough reason for me to love Hirosaki.
There’s a ramen shop just next door to Coco Tearoom and I settled my dinner conveniently. It says recommended on Tabelog on the door.
The prices are rather low at this shop and like how they serve half sized portions!
They serve other sides too like the typical chashu rice and gyoza.
The ramen is pretty decent, with perfect eggs. Good value I’d say!
Gyoza was good too.
The interior of this ramen place is quite unique. The wall mural looks inspired by Aomori Nebuta Festival.
For my last day in Aomori, I considered hard between having the hotel breakfast or sashimi donburi for breakfast a Furukawa Fish Market in Aomori City (this is called Nokkedon, where you select ingredients of your choice to build your own sashimi rice bowl. More information here). I decided to have the hotel breakfast because I wanted to see what they offered. I had a feeling they would have Aomori specialties a nd I specifically want to try those from the breakfast spread. I may return to Aomori again and I could have Nokkedon in future, but I may not be staying in JAL City Hotel next time!
I love it when it says Aomori ingredients.
Aomori Hotate Curry. I love it when they have local specialties in the hotel breakfast spread.
The tamago was pretty good.
Aomori apple juice. I was expecting this!
This is my first time having scallop curry and even better, with scallop rice. It was really good!! However, I doubt we can find this anywhere else because scallops are often seen as a premium ingredient elsewhere, Singapore included, and no one would use it in curry.
The Aomori scallop curry and apple juice was my favourite. I skipped the international selections because when you’re in Aomori, you should have Aomori food.
After breakfast, I had 3 options for this day:
1 – Head to Towada LaKe and Mt Hakkoda
2 – Take the JR Shirakami Resort sight seeing train from Aomori to Akita, bypassing the beautiful coastlines and scenery of Aomori
3 – Asamushi onsen for onsen and food.
Turns out it was a rainy day and option 3 was the most logical option.
To get there, I took the JR Ou Line to Asamushionsen station.
Right outside the station you can find this building where there’s onsen on the 5th level.
View from the onsen. It was quite nice to have scenery to look at while soaking in the hot water, especially when it’s so cold outside.
About 5 minutes stroll along the main road (it was quite a leisurely stroll because there’s the view of the sea), I found Tsurukameya Shokudo, recommended on Tabelog and some documentary I watched on SQ featuring Doburi of Aomori Prefecture.
The interior looked unique. Upon closer inspection, I realised that these were stickers from batches of tuna delivered to the restaurant! This restaurant’s specialty is their maguro don, served super-sized.
Mini Maguro Don – ¥2000.
This is the Mini size. I wanted to order the small size (¥2500) but they got me wrong. Anyway, this was big enough…
Yes, this was big enough. Never had such a big portion of maguro in my life before, not even at those all you can eat buffets where people spam the sashimi section.
Irrelevant but I love my sweater from GU. It cost only ¥590!! GU is a subsidiary of Uniqlo and is only available in Japan.
The maguro was fresh and delicious.
However, I would recommend this place more for the novelty of having maguro spammed on your donburi rather than for the quality. Just search for images on the web or on Tabelog and you’ll understand. The maguro was good but not out of this world.
The owner kindly gave me Aomori apples when I was leaving! Instead of just 1, he gave me 6. Everything is super-sized here.
My second brunch was at Rokusan Shokudo. This restaurant was interestingly located in a container. It looks really make shift and nobody would expect a restaurant in it, at least not me. I found out about this place on Tabelog.
This place is really homely. It looks like they actually live here.
Got the 4 coloured donburi and grilled sea urchin, just because I’ve never heard of it.
I guess I prefer my sea urchin raw.
Comparing to Minato Shokudo, this one paled in comparison. The awabi was too hard, rubber like. The sea urchin was on the mushy and watery side, and the hotate was less sweet and fresh. The ikura was alright though.
Last shot before leaving Aomori! Aomori means Blue Forest when translated directly. The mascot describes the name very aptly.
As mentioned, there were other activities I could do here, but did not.
Mt Hakkoda and Lake Towada would have been a MUST SEE if only the skies were clear and if it wasn’t that cold. To get there, you can take a JR bus. There are 4 buses scheduled a day. There’s also the famous Oirase Stream and Sukayu Onsen along the way. Read about it here.
The other activity I wanted to try was taking the JR Resort Shirakami Line which is a sightseeing train, from Aomori Station to Akita. This would take 5 hours and basically it’s just sightseeing on a train, but bypassing the beautiful coastline of Aomori and UNESCO site of Shirakami Sanchi. I could carry on from Akita to Morioka on the Komachi Shinkansen to continue the rest of my trip in Iwate Prefecture. I saw the train magazine for this line and what’s special about Resort Shirakami trains is that they have cabins with seats facing the windows, convenient for you to admire the scenery, and they have in train services like food & drinks for sale similar to the Shinkansen. This is the perfect activity if you don’t wish to be out walking but want to go sight seeing. The trains are also more comfortable than usual, like typical Limited Express trains. This can be covered under the JR East Pass.
I guess I’ll return to Aomori someday, perhaps when it’s less cold, and check out Lake Towada area and Shirakami Sanchi. Not forgetting my Hirame and Uni Donburi in Hanchinohe and apple pie in Hirosaki!