Northern Tohoku is a place of rich history, deep cultural tradition, picturesque natural vistas and warm-hearted people—truly a must-visit region and one of Japan’s hidden gems.
Start Day 1 of your adventure in the historic town of Kakunodate, famous for its samurai tradition and breathtaking nature in all four seasons. Day 2 will take you to Shirakami Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of the world’s largest primeval beech forests and the colorful beauty of the sacred Juniko Twelve Lakes. Day 3 will take you to Hirosaki, a charming castle town known for its cherry blossoms and delicious apples. Visit the striking Hirosaki Castle and surrounding Hirosaki Park, site of unique and unforgettable events—the Cherry Blossom Festival in spring, Neputa Festival in summer, and Snow Festival in winter.
On Day 4, venture to Aomori City to learn about the history and culture of the Aomori Nebuta Festival before setting out for northern Tohoku’s centerpiece natural and national treasure—the Lake Towada and Oirase area. You’ll need all of Day 5 to fully explore this magical area, which offers stunning natural beauty that changes with the seasons, scenic views of crystal-clear mountain streams, and forest trails and facilities to refresh and heal your body and soul.
Join us on a 5-day magical tour of northern Tohoku and discover all that this remarkable region has to offer.
Day 1 begins at metropolitan Tokyo Station, at the north exit just in front of the JR EAST Travel Service Center. Don’t forget to pick up your JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), a 5-day ticket offering unlimited travel on trains (including the Shinkansen bullet train) in the covered area. To further enjoy the start of your journey, grab an ekiben-a carefully crafted boxed lunch made especially to be enjoyed onboard a train. There are many shops to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with Ekiben-ya Matsuri, which always has a variety of seasonal lunch boxes to choose from.
The Tohoku Shinkansen Komachi 9 will transport you from Tokyo to Kakunodate Station, your first destination, in about three hours. Upon arrival, store your luggage at the Semboku Tourist Information Center “Kakunodate Ekimae-Gura” located just in front of the station, and get ready for an hour-long stroll around town. Kakunodate—a historical site known as Tohoku’s “Little Kyoto”—is known for its historic architecture, but also picturesque nature scenes ready to greet you at any time of the year. Hundreds of weeping cherry trees in spring. Lush and verdant greenery in summer. brilliant red foliage in autumn. White, snow-veiled landscapes in winter. After a brief walk to see the sights, why not join a tour? The workshop in Japanese traditional craft making called “Kakunodate Oshie-Tsukuri” offered at Kakunodate Ekimae-Gura is sure to delight. Oshie (which literally translates as “pressed pictures”), is a time-honored process of dividing a traditional design into pieces, each padded with cotton and wrapped in Japanese paper or fabric, and nailing together to create a beautiful, three-dimensional ornament. Only here in Kakunodate can you see this art used to craft traditional Japanese hina (girls’ festival) dolls. The workshop begins at 1:30 p.m., and you’ll have a full hour to create your unique souvenir—in the form of cherry blossom and ribbon ornaments.
When your foray into traditional crafts is over, take a 10-minute walk and visit the most distinctive area of Kakunodate—the samurai district. With samurai residences—many dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868) lining the streets for two-kilometers, it is one of the best places to experience Japan’s historic architecture and samurai culture. If you happen to visit in spring, you’re sure to find the juxtaposition of pink cherry blossoms and brown-hued traditional houses breathtaking.
Your final destination on Day 1 will be Akita Station, a major railway terminal in the northern Tohoku region. Just pick up your luggage and enjoy a 45-minute comfort trip by way of the Akita Shinkansen Komachi 27. Finally, choose from a variety of accommodation options near the station, and rest up for Day you’re your magical tour.
Japanese traditional craft making “Kakunodate Oshie-Tsukuri” workshop
Workshop Starting Time:
Maximum 5 people for each workshop
Japanese (simple communication in English is available)
Please arrive before the starting time of the workshop
Cherry blossom and ribbon ornaments (palm-sized)
Tour Price Includes:
Small gift (only during the Tohoku Destination Campaign)
Day 1 Schedule
Tokyo Station → JR-EAST Tohoku Shinkansen Komachi 9 (Ekiben lunch box meal) → Kakunodate Station, Semboku Tourist Information Center “Kakunodate Ekimae-Gura”, walk around the town of Kakunodate (or eat lunch) → Kakunodate Ekimae-Gura (Japanese traditional craft making “Kakunodate Oshie-Tsukuri” workshop) → walk → Kakunodate Samurai District → walk → Kakunodate Ekimae-Gura, Kakunodate Station → JR-EAST Akita Shinkansen Komachi 27 → Akita Station, hotel stay near the station
Before embarking on the second day of your adventure, take a few minutes to look around the modern, spacious train terminal that is Akita Station. From here, various attractive destinations in northern Tohoku are easily accessible—including Aomori Prefecture, the next step on our itinerary. Running on the JR Gono Line from Akita to Aomori station, take the Resort Shirakami train to Juniko Station. This delightful train features colorful, cozy seats offering spectacular views of the Aomori coastline and the mountain landscape of the Shirakami-Sanchi area, as well as a warmly designed interior that matches in perfect harmony with the local flora growing along the tracks (reserved seat tickets must be booked in advance). From here, the Konan Bus will take you to Mori-no-Bussankan Kyororo, a souvenir shop and rest area where you can find refreshment and a number of local specialties.
Shirakami Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a mountainous area home to one of the world’s largest primeval beech forests and the stunning natural beauty of the Juniko Twelve Lakes—the area’s most stunning and sacred must-see spot. There are several hiking trails by which to explore the Juniko area—which, in fact, comprises 33 ponds in total—but the most recommended one starts at Ketoba-no-Ike Pond. Marvel at its pristine waters reflecting the verdant green of the surrounding beech trees. A stone’s throw away, you’ll find one of Juniko’s most stunning lakes, the breathtaking cobalt-blue Ao-Ike Pond. The sight of crystal-clear waters with an amazing visibility of 9 meters, and beech trees that have long lived in harmony with this mystic pond is sure to leave you speechless. A slow walk through the seemingly endless primeval beech tree forest of Shirakami Sanchi will soothe you en route to your next stop: Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond. Here, amidst deep blue waters and the serene sound of natural spring water flowing into the pond, take a deep breath and heal your body and soul. Looking for a refreshing respite? Not far from here Juniko-an, a traditional teahouse set inside a wooden hut where you can savor green tea made from the pond’s pure spring water—truly an unparalleled experience. The final stop on your trek is Ochikuchi-no Ike Pond, a natural gem of emerald green that is especially beautiful in autumn, when the beech leaves blaze with hues of red and orange.
After your hike, treat yourself to luxurious rest at another of the area’s can’t-miss destinations-Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen Hotel. Just 45 minutes by bus from the Kyororo souvenir shop, this beautiful hot spring resort is especially famous for its outdoor baths and panoramic views of the Sea of Japan. Soak into the soothing warm waters, attune your ears to the sound of waves, and let the ocean breeze refresh you as you prepare for Day 3 of your magical tour.
Day 2 Schedule
Akita Station → JR Ou Main Line, transfer at Higashinoshiro Station, JR Gono Line → Juniko Station → Konan Bus → Okujuniko Parking Lot, Mori-no Bussankan Kyororo – souvenir shop (lunch) → walk → Ketoba-no-Ike Pond → Ao-Ike Pond (Blue Pond) → walk → primeval beech forest → walk → Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond → walk → Juniko-an (teahouse) → Ochikuchi-no-Ike Pond → walk → Mori-no Bussankan Kyororo → Konan Bus → stay at Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen Hotel
Start off your perfect morning with a relaxing moment at the seashore open-air bath and breakfast buffet offering a variety of seasonal seafood delicacies and other Japanese-style morning dishes. Fuel yourself and set out for today’s destination—Hirosaki, a charming castle town known for its cherry blossoms and delicious apples, which also serves as a commercial center of the region. A hotel shuttle bus will take you to nearby WeSPa Tsubakiyama Station, from which you’ll take another leisurely 2-hour trip via the Resort Shirakami to reach your destination.
After you arrive at Hirosaki Station, it’s a pleasant 20-minute pleasant stroll to historic city center. On the way, you can’t miss the symbol of the city—the three-story Hirosaki Castle, considered to be one of the most beautiful castles in all of Japan. Built in 1611 by a Japanese samurai of the Tsugaru clan, it is the only one in the Tohoku region that was built during the Edo Period, and it has been preserved in almost all its original beauty to the present day. The castle is surrounded by the spacious Hirosaki Park, which attracts countless locals and travelers throughout the year. Come in spring for the splendid Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, featuring more than 2,600 sakura trees, moats naturally ornamented with floating cherry blossom petals, endless tunnels of pink blooms and striking illumination at night—you’ll no doubt find it one of the most breathtaking cherry blossom spots in the entire country.
Summer season is famous for the dynamic Hirosaki Neputa Festival with its massive Neputa floats, the sound of drums echoing in the air and the spectacle of dancers’ striking motions. Winter season brings the mystical Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival with innumerable snow lanterns, “kamakura” igloos, and exquisite snow sculptures. Don’t forget to visit nearby Hirosaki Apple Park, to stop at the hands-on growing garden, or to join in an apple picking experience during the autumn harvest season. Freshly picked apples—especially those grown here in Japan’s apple-growing heartland—are a singular treat!
Another can’t-miss spot in Hirosaki City is Tsugaru-han Neputa Village, a facility where you can experience the unique culture, food and spirits of the Tsugaru region. Marvel at the majestic Neputa floats on display, buy yourself original Tsugaru craft souvenirs, or even join traditional arts-and-crafts classes to make your own goldfish Neputa painting, apple bell drawing, or try your hand at playing the shamisen, a traditional musical instrument characteristic of the region.
To make your Hirosaki and Tsugaru region experience complete, a final stop on Day 3 might lead you to Tsugaru Shamisen Bar AIYA. Taste a variety of Tsugaru local and seasonal delicacies such as fresh-caught Aomori seafood and locally picked wild vegetables, all while sipping delicious regional sake while listening to a dramatic live Tsugaru-shamisen performance. Open from 6 p.m. to 11p.m, it’s the perfect destination to immerse yourself in an authentic Tsugaru night.
After this, be sure to rest up—your adventure in northern Tohoku is far from over!
Shamisen live show at Bar AIYA
6 p.m. to 11 p.m. (last order at 10:30 p.m.)
Live Shamisen Performance:
Show Time: After 7 p.m., depending on customers’ arrival.
(*Performances last about 30 minutes. You are guaranteed to enjoy at least one show.)
Food Menu (local specialties):
Kayaki Miso (miso-grilled scallops), Dakekimi Tempura (fried Aomori corn), Kuroishi Tofu, Shijimi Ramen (noodles in clam broth), Grilled fish, Tsugaru pickles, total 6 dishes + 1 drink (Japanese sake, beer and other drinks, beverages).
Tour Price Includes:
Live shamisen performance, 6 dishes from the above menu, and 1 drink (tax included).
(*You can order additional dishes or drinks for a separate fee.)
Day 3 Schedule
Hotel pick-up bus → WeSPa Tsubakiyama Station → JR Gono Line - Resort Shirakami 1 → Hirosaki Station → sightseeing around the city of Hirosaki (Hirosaki Castle, Hirosaki Park, Hirosaki Apple Park) → Tsugaru-han Neputa Mura → Shamisen live show at Bar AIYA → stay at a hotel in the city of Hirosaki
Day 4 starts off at Hirosaki Station, a convenient terminal, from which it’ll be a 50-minute trip by the JR Ou Main Line to your next destination—Aomori Station, the central station of Aomori City and a gateway to the northern tip of Honshu. If you choose, spend the morning at the Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE—a fascinating facility that introduces the history, traditions and charms of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. While the festival itself is held in the beginning of August, here you can experience every aspect of this cultural marvel year-round. Admire the massive nebuta floats—the highlight of the festival—on full display. Dance to traditional festival music, try your hand at striking traditional taiko drums, learn about the construction of the floats through the Nebuta Papering Experience, or immersive yourself in the festival spirit in the imagination-stirring Nebuta Tunnel. You’ll also find all sorts of local souvenirs available for purchase, as well as restaurants offering local delicacies.
After lunch, make your way to back Aomori Station and to embark on a trip for the next magical destination in your tour of northern Tohoku-the Lake Towada and Oirase area. Lake Towada is the biggest caldera lake on Honshu, located at the boundary of Aomori and Akita Prefectures. Together with the magical Oirase Valley, it is one of northern Tohoku’s most popular destinations, renowned for its natural beauty throughout all four seasons, primeval forests offering breathtaking sights, crystal-clear streams and waterfalls, and convenient facilities to recharge and heal your body and soul while viewing the splendors of nature reflected in the mirror-like lake waters.
A three-hour ride on the JR Bus Mizuumi-go #12 will take you from Aomori Station East Exit Bus Stop No.11 to Lake Towada’s Yasumiya Area. Yasumiya, located on the south bank of Lake Towada, is the area’s central sightseeing destination, home to a variety of restaurants, gift shops and a tourist information center. Take a brief respite and enjoy a stroll before heading for today’s final destination-your lodgings in the Lake Towada Oirase area. For your stay, choose from two luxurious options. First is the Towada Hotel, a remarkable cedar-built structure with more than eighty years of history built with the time-honored techniques of local carpenters. Here, you can enjoy a pleasant stay in a warm and welcoming environment. The Towada Prince Hotel, on the other hand, offers spectacular views of Lake Towada at any time of the day, as well as the delightful greenery of the hotel’s garden. Enjoy this wonderful natural environment, and don’t forget to treat yourself to a slice of their signature homemade apple pie. Then rest up and prepare for tomorrow-for there is still so much to be discovered.
Day 4 Schedule
Hirosaki Station → JR Ou Main Line → Aomori Station → Nebuta Museum Wa-Rasse → lunch → Aomori Station East Exit 11 → JR Bus Mizuumi-go #12 → Nenokuchi, Lake Towada Yasumiya Area → hotel pick-up bus → stay in the Lake Towada Oirase area - Towada Hotel, Towada Prince Hotel (your choice of hotel)
Your mission for Day 5: explore and experience the stunning beauty of Lake Towada Oirase Area to the fullest. A hotel shuttle bus will take you back to the Yasumiya area. From there, you’ll board a JR bus bound for the Nenokuchi area, which connects Oirase Gorge with Lake Towada-or opt a sightseeing boat for an even more spectacular view of the lake. Then, check your luggage at the Nenokuchi Tourist Information Desk and get ready for a final trip to Oirase Stream, known as one of the most beautiful river valleys in all of Japan.
There are three equally pleasant options to fully enjoy the Oirase area: rent a bicycle, hike both ways, or take a bus in and then walk back. If you’re a cyclist, you’ll find it an ideal way to take in the waterfalls, mountain streams, and forests of Oirase. The bicycle trails run mostly parallel to the gorge, and provide a perfect view of Oirase’s striking natural treasures, painted with a full palette of colors in each of the year’s four seasons. It’s about a two-hour trip to reach the charming Ishigedo Resthouse, and then to return to Nenokuchi with photographs and memories of nature’s beauty that are sure to last a lifetime.
For hikers, an hour’s trek to and back from Choshi Otaki Falls—located upstream —is a singularly satisfying way to experience the Oirase Stream up close. This area is also known as “Waterfall Way” for its numerous waterfalls, and Choshi Otaki Falls—a massive 7 meters high and 20 meters wide—is the mightiest in the area. Close your eyes and let the fresh air and cool mist of the falling waters and heal you before embarking on your journey back.
A bus ride to Makado Rock will give you an opportunity to delve into an even deeper side of the Oirase Gorge. This striking spot, known for its crystal-clear mountain stream and rocky primeval nature all around is sought out by photographers from all over. Let nature’s beauty energize you, then relish a two-and-a-half-hour hike along the banks of the marvelous river valley back to Nenokuchi Bus Stop.
From the Lake Towada Oirase area, it’s about a 2-hour ride on the JR Bus Oirase #26 to Hachinohe Station. From this modern station, designed around the motif of the Aomori black-tailed gull, you’ll board the Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa 42 for a pleasant trip back to Tokyo Station. On the way home, why not close your eyes for a moment and relive the magic of your Tohoku adventure? Until next time!
Day 5 Schedule
Hotel → Hotel pick-up bus → Lake Towada Yasumiya Area → JR Bus Mizuumi-go 3 → Nenokuchi →Oirase Area trip by either bicycle (rental) or walk or take a bus to Makado-iwa Rock and then walk around the Oirase Area → Nenokuchi → JR Bus Oirase-go 26 → Hachinohe Station West Exit → Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa 42 → Tokyo Station