Showa Daibutsu at Seiryu-ji

After a lot of ifs and buts, we eventually decided to visit the Seiryu-ji Temple. The weather around Aomori had been overcast with regular spells of rains. Seiryu-ji Temple (青龍寺) is located in suburb of Aomori city. It has on its premises some beautiful buildings including a five-story pagoda built exclusively using Aomori Hiba wood.

Along with the temple grounds we were particularly interested in exploring the huge Showa Daibutsu, with height of 21.35 meters, which is Japan’s largest seated bronze statue of Buddha, even larger than one of Nara or Kamakura.

Aomori Station to Seiryu-ji

We took the earliest available local bus from the Bus terminal which is right next to the train station at Aomori. It takes about 50 minutes for the ride. Just before you reach the temple, the bus passes through a beautiful town where the roadside are lines with ginkgo trees which had turned vivid yellow during the fall. Undoubtedly one of the most distinct and beautiful of all deciduous trees – the ginkgo stands out with its unique, fan-shaped leaves turn a stunning yellow color in the fall. We reached the temple by 8.20 am. You can also take the municipal bus bound for Kuwahara, and if you get off at the last stop of this bus line you can walk to the statue in about 10 minutes.

Seiryu-ji Temple

Among all the Japanese temples I have visited, the Seiryu-ji (青龍寺) is the youngest. It was founded as recent as 1982 by Acharya Ryūkou Oda (織田隆弘), who later also helped build the Shōwa Daibutsu statue (昭和大仏) in 1984.

Approaching from the bus-stop, the first structure that came to my notice was the Daishi-do, a vibrant red hall named after Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. This building was under maintenance so we carried on over an equally bright bridge to the Kondo hall.

Just across the bridge one can find the ticket booth on the left. It costs Yen 400 per head for individual visitors. The premises were mostly deserted except for the temple staff, busy in their morning exercises.

Leaving our shoes at the entrance we entered the main Kondo hall. The Kondo hall and other wooden structures at the temple grounds are all built using local cypress wood known as Aomori Hiba.

Hiba ( Hinokiasunaro ) is known as one of the three largest trees in Japan alongside hinoki and sugi. It’s considered the best building material for pagodas and shrines as it naturally resists rot and mold, which is particularly valuable in humid summers in Japan. A compound called hinokitiol that’s found only in Aomori-bred hiba trees also banishes bugs like termites from infecting the wooden structures. In temples, where cleansing and purification are important parts of religious rituals, the natural anti-microbial and germicidal properties of hiba play an important symbolic part as well.

The inside of the Kondo hall was dimly lit with a heavy scent of incense creating a deep sense of peace and tranquility. A golden Buddha sits at the end of the hall surrounded by many artifacts. One the left side of the main hall lay many souvenirs, but the shops hadn’t opened by then. I sat there for a few minutes taking the chance to quiet my mind, banishing all external thoughts that intrude on my peace in that stillness in time.

Towards the back, a narrow corridor runs around the three sides the main hall. Along this corridor, there are a number of paintings of what I assume are Buddhist priests and saints, including one large painting called ‘Descent of Amida and the Heavenly Multitude‘. This hugely popular painting shows Amida Buddha, resting on a lotus blossom and holding his hands in a symbolic gesture known as a mudra, typically surrounded by celestial attendants in a sea of swirling clouds.

After paying our respects, we came out of the Kondo. Close to the Kondo, towards our left lay the Kaizan-do, a smaller wooden hall with a statue of Kobo Daishi in his pilgrim attire in the front.

Seiryu-ji Pagoda

On the opposite, hidden beside the Kondo hall, you can find one the most beautiful pagoda in Aomori. At 39 meters it is the highest wooden pagoda in all of Tohoku. In the delicately designed rock garden, the pagoda stands impressively against the greenery and the blue sky, with a touch of red added by the momiji trees.

We were lucky to be there at the temple grounds when Fall was in full swing. Koyo (紅葉) refers to the phenomenon of changing autumn colors before the leaves fall to the ground. The koyo season in Japan typically begins in mid-September in Aomori, and gradually spreads to the southern prefectures of the Japan.

Momiji 紅葉, or Japanese Maple Tree, is probably one of the most beautiful type of maple trees there is, especially in the fall. Its thin elegant leaves turn such vibrant colors every fall, from bright yellow to deep crimson. The species of maple generally determines the color the leaves will change: red, yellow or brown. Although the word koyo literally means “red leaves, ” it is used to refer to all the colors of autumn leaves. The word oyo refers to yellow leaves, and the word katsuyo refers to brown leaves specifically.

After capturing some pictures of the pagoda, we walked up the gentle, forested slope that approaches the Daibutsu. The road was still wet from the early morning rain but the weather had improved greatly.

On the right I stopped off at a small wayside shrine next to a small pond with a Jizo statue. Jizo statues can be found in most temples of Japan. They are considered protectors of children. During the winter months you might see them dressed in a red woolen cap.

At the top of the slope there are a couple of baby-faced statues on either side, one of them sitting in an exact posture as the huge Buddha, at the entrance to the clearing where the Daibutsu sits in a meditative pose.

Showa Daibutsu

Guarded by towering trees, I suddenly felt a sense of sereneness come over me. Cut off from the rest of the world, the meditative feeling is enhanced by the setting where the only sound is of the birds calling to each other.

A few chairs are provided for visitors, where I put my camera bag and took some rest, quietly watching the statue in its meditative pose. The moment reminded me of my time in front of the huge Buddha in Ravangla.

The Big Buddha in Aomori, better known as Showa Daibutsu was established relatively recent, about 34 years ago. The Buddha itself is made of bronze with ornaments designed on its arms, head, and chest.

At 21.35m, the green colored statue is about 1.5 times taller than the more famous Kamakura Daibutsu (13.35 meters) and Nara Daibutsu (14.98 meters).

Just like the Buddha at Kamakura, it is also possible to actually go inside of the Buddha statue from the back. On the outer corridor of the first floor and the inner part of the Buddha there is a depiction of the Buddhist afterlife including both paradise and hell along with proverbs. On the second floor there is a memorial for those who have died in wars.

After taking a few pictures of the grand Buddha, we walked back to the bus stop. Showa Daibutsu and the temple grounds are a perfect place to spend some time in peace and tranquility. If you are in Aomori, it is a nice day tour to go on to replenish your zen energy.

What to know before you go…

One of the best times to visit Showa Daibutsu is in November before the snow makes the region a little hard to traverse.

You can also visit during the Bon Festival in mid-August, when the Shingon Temples hold light ceremonies to honor the spirits of the ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom commonly referred to as the Feast of Lanterns, commemorates the spirits of dead ancestors. The Seiryu-ji Temple is no different in this respect, holding grand light ceremonies for the entirety of the Bon Festival.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the jewel of Hokkaido in Hakodate.

What is the price of admission tickets?

Adults: ¥400
Child: ¥200

What are the temple visiting hours?

8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. April – October
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. November – March

Do they have an official website?

Aomori Bay

Aomori is mainly known for producing apples. But it was not always so…

The first apple saplings were imported in Japan around the year 1871. In the spring of 1875, the Department of Industry Promotion from the Home Ministry sent three apple saplings to Aomori prefecture. The apples that were grown on the grounds of the Aomori Prefectural Office were the beginnings of Aomori’s apples.

Since then Aomori apples have come a long way. Today most of the shops in the city will inevitably offer numerous kinds of apple-based culinary delights. Today however I am going to talk about one of the most photogenic spots in Aomori – the Aomori Bay.

When I was here a couple of years back, I was floored by the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Since then Aomori enjoys a special place in my heart. What I love the most the about it is that is just perfect for romantic walks by the sea. You can roam around the Sin-machi Dori, enjoy traditional artifacts at the WaRasse Museum or if you are lucky enough, you might also experience a most beautiful sunset like I did.

At the end of the day, you can just go up the ASPAM building, which is the tallest building in Aomori and enjoy the beautiful city at night while sipping on a warm cup of coffee. In this journal I will talk about a day I spent wandering around the beautiful bay and the incredible spots surrounding it.

Aomori Bay at Dawn

I woke up at dawn, packed my camera gear and left for the bay. I was staying at APA Aomori. The APA Hotel is located at a walk-able distance from the Aomori bay. I have stayed at this hotel before and really liked it. Its perfectly placed, equidistant from the Aomori Bay, Wa Rasse Museum and the Aomori Station.

It was still dark as I made my way towards the Bay. I reached the ASPAM building in few minutes. The Aoiumi Park in front of the ASPAM building was desolate and not a soul was around. As I set up my tripod, the morning glow was just beginning to spread over the city,

Far away towards the east, the Sun was starting to rise. As the Sun was just about to show itself, a long mass of cloud moved in from the south-eastern side and blocked the view. With every passing minute it floated more and more towards the sunrise and that was it. Even though I couldn’t capture the sunrise, the scene was still amazing to look at.

I slowly made my way along the central pier, towards the West Lighthouse. I have some amazing memories of the place from a few years back. Unfortunately the entrance to the lighthouse was locked. I am not really sure at what times they open it or its been closed for a while.

By that time the clouds had totally engulfed the sky, shattering all hopes of catching the rising sun.

However, it was not a total loss as as towards the west the sky was painted in a plethora of vivid colors in the sky. Far on the right you can see the yellow colored ship – Hakkoda-Maru. The ship which used to connect Aomori to Hakodate, was the longest Seikan ferry in operation and is now on exhibition as a memorial ferry.

I spent a few minutes near the bay enjoying the peaceful moment, before morning joggers gradually started showing up. Even though it was a cloudy day, the bay still looked incredible.

Aomori Bay in Daytime

After the peaceful morning at the Bay, I went back to the Hotel to catch up on some breakfast. After a light meal, I walked towards the Aomori Station. This time Mani was with me. It was pleasant surprise to see wild apples growing on the trees on the side-walk.

The day was dull but the queue of lovely Gingko trees near the station brought about a feeling of happiness. The broad, fan-shaped ginkgo leaves turn a brilliant yellow and can be stunning to watch during this time of the year.

We were on our way to the Seir-yu ji Temple in the suburbs of Aomori. If you want something closer you can always enjoy the amazing Nebuta Floats at the Aomori WaRasse Museum.

The Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE is a facility that introduces the history and charms of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. At the museum you can experience every aspect of the festival. On display are life-sized floats that participated in the festival in August, and Nebuta Faces that show the individuality of their respective creators

Just beside the WaRasse Museum you can find the Hakkoda Maru. The now retired ship used to ferry passengers between Aomori and Hakodate from 1964 to 1988 and is now a permanently moored floating museum.

If you take a small detour along the shore, you will pass under the lovely Aomori Bay Bridge. With the Sinmachi Dori nearby, you can find some nice restaurants in the most chirpy area of Aomori.

After lunch I would recommend a leisurely walk at Aoiumi Park along the bay. The park is decorated with some Momiji as well as Gingko trees.

Aomori Bay at Sunset

Because of its strategic location of the city, you get some really beautiful sunsets at Aomori. Click here to see my pictures of one of the most beautiful sunsets at Aomori.

For us it was not meant to be. The clouds had gathered up strongly but if you want to see what a glorious sunset looks like at Aomori bay, click the button below to read my story on the most memorable sunset I have ever been witness to.

Aomori Bay at Night

Finally, If you are willing to slug it out through the evening, the ASPAM building is the place to be. It is the perfect place to crown a lovely evening. Admire the unusual pyramid building that houses the Aomori Prefecture Tourist Center, ASPAM. Its platform on the twelfth floor offers a beautiful panoramic view of the Aomori bay and the city. I specially love the way you can capture the iconic Bay Bridge along with Aomori’s skyline.

It was still raining incessantly so we stayed at the coffee shop for a little longer. For photo enthusiasts. using a tripod is allowed inside. I would recommend using a lens skirt to take photos from inside the tower, so the reflections wont damage the photos.

Once the rain relented, we walked down to the Aomori Bay Bridge which looked so beautiful from the top of the ASPAM building. You don’t have to go all the way to where the flyover touches base. The bridge can be accessed from the pier by stairs. Just before you alight onto the main bridge you can see some beautiful designed street lamps. This shot was taken handheld using my Samsung S9+ device. It does surprise me more often that not.

We walked a bit further along the cable-stayed bridge overlooking the bay.
It’s the second longest bridge in Aomori Prefecture after the Hachinohe Ōhashi Bridge.

On the other side the ASPAM building was looking incredible lit up in changing colors.

So, there it is. I was certainly tired from the long day. But I was excited to post the pictures I shot. Even though the day was dull with cloud hanging over at all times, the pictures did come out interestingly well.

Aomori Bay is a nice and relaxing place to hang out. It is a major tourism attraction with many popular sights of historical, cultural, and local festivals. Even though it was my second visit to the city, I still haven’t had enough of it. Thanks for reading. I look forward to your questions or comments. Please leave me a star rating if you liked the post or continue to read the story of my visit to Showa Daibutsu in the suburbs of Aomori.

Nebuta Museum WA RASSE

This is my second visit to Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE. It is a facility that introduces the history and charms of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. Every year the best floats from the Nebuta Festival – which runs between 2-7 of August, are exhibited at the facility for the next 12 months. So, in a way no two visits to the Nebuta House will ever be the same.

I have written an in-depth article on the nuances of the Nebuta festival and how the museum facilitates the unique tradition in the Aomori prefecture. You can more about it here.

For this article I will be focusing more on the beautiful architecture of the unique building.

Architecture style of Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE

Nebuta House (Nebuta-no-ie Warasse) is a museum and center for creative culture in the Northern Japanese city of Aomori inspired by the craftsmanship and spirit of the Nebuta Matsuri. The festival, one of Japan’s largest, is a form of storytelling during which heroes, demons and animals from history and myth come to life as large-scale paper lanterns illuminated from within.

The first ideas of a cultural facility was initiated by Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen, who had previously worked closely with the city of Aomori to address the it’s evolving needs. In 2002, they had helped build the Aomori Lantern Houses and Community Center. The aim of that project was to create a lively, culture oriented space with the intent of revitalizing the city scape.

The partners identified the cultural importance of the Nebuta festival as one of the biggest draws of the prefecture. After selecting a new site for the awarded project – located adjacent to the JR Aomori train station, they proposed a building dedicated to preserving and enriching the festival’s heritage.

Their proposal was received with initial hesitation. The celebration itself was such a large, living part of the city that a museum didn’t seem essential. But after continued insistence from Forsythe and MacAllen, the local government realised that despite the festivals scale, there were hardly any lasting artifacts or methods of educating tourists about the festival.

In 2011, with assistance of the Kajima – Fujimoto – Kurahashi Construction JV, construction was completed on the unique, sculptural building – resting along the waterfront of Aomori City.

On first appearance the museum exterior looks like giant steel ribbons, parted like curtains to welcome visitors. These ribbons of steel enamel-coated in deep red, envelop the structure, creating a shifting pattern of light and shadow that separates exterior, everyday life from the otherworldly realm within. The design is said to have been inspired by the paper lanterns. The architects copied the movements of strips of paper caught in the breeze to generate the twists of each ribbon on the museum’s exterior.

For each steel ribbon, the bottom was set to a unique and specific angle, with thought to how sunlight would permeate the ribbons as it moved throughout the day, while the top part of each ribbon remained parallel to the building. These twists create openings that let in light and lead into a sheltered passageway between the ribbons and the glazed inner facade.

Dring fall the yellow Ginkgo trees look fabulous against the red nebuta museum

In all, the building is encased in 820 steel ribbons, 12 m tall, encircling the glass-and-steel structure inside. The exposed round steel columns are as slender as possible, giving the structure a feeling of physical lightness. The floor to ceiling window mullions are black, galvanized solid steel and fastened to the steel structure of slender columns to contribute structural support to the steel ribbon screen of the façade.

Enough with the boring stuff! Lets now enter the museum.

Exhibits from Nebuta Matsuri 2018

Aomori Nebuta House is a museum that houses and honours heroes and demons that are handcrafted into luminous floats for the Nebuta festival. Each year the five best Nebuta are selected for their creative artistry and craftsmanship and displayed at the Nebuta Wa-Rasse museum.

The interior is black, like a black box theatre. The abstraction of materiality, detail and colouring of the building allow visitors an intimate focus on the exhibits. The ground floor of the complex features a restaurant and a well stocked museum shop selling all sorts of local souvenirs and food. To witness the nebuta floats, take the stairs to the next floor.

Nebuta Tunnel

The tour starts with the Nebuta Tunnel. Along the red corridor lined with photos and images from the Nebuta Matsuri’s 300 year history, you can learn how the techniques and styles used in creating the floats has changed over the years.

Just beyond the Nebuta Tunnel, lanterns in the shape of red goldfish, another symbol of the festival, hang along the corridor where the recorded sounds of taiko drums, flutes, and voices play. These luminous Nebuta appear suspended in the darkness of the corridor, their vibrant colours reflected in the rippled, water-like floor. This is a subtle analogy to the last day of the festival when most of the Nebuta are set out to float on the sea.

One the walls along this corridor. the museum exhibits dioramas, drawings, photographs and artifacts that grant a deeper understanding of the unique culture and its evolution over time.

Aomori Nebuta Exhibit Hall

The Nebuta are creatures of light, and their home was designed as a realm of darkness. As you wind your way beyond the galleries and educational displays, you will find yourself in a dimly lit hall where you will be confronted by the Nebuta themselves.

There are no barriers, you can go as close as you want up to the paper structures with their expressive facial features and delicate detailing. In the darkened main hall of the museum these were five floats from this years festival.

I walked around the floats, taking pictures and admiring the craftsmanship that went into their construction. The floats reminds me of the “Durga Festival” we have back in my home town of Kolkata. Every year the deity is created using mud in numerous life-sized styles only to be submerged in to the Ganges after the festival ends.

A platform lies in one corner of the Hall, used for occasional performances by “Haneto” dancers. I have not been lucky enough be around during one of their dances. I would love to see them demonstrate the unique Nebuta Matsuri dance with taiko drums and flutes.

If you want to check out the nebuta floats from 2016, click here.


Nebuta is a living part of Aomori, and it continues to grow as an art form as individual artists bring their own style and innovations to the tradition. The Nebuta Warasse museum attempts to capture this spirit of the festival and gives visitors a teaser of its lively atmosphere, history and traditions.

The creation of the building dedicated to Nebuta allows people like me to visit Aomori at other times of year and yet experience the skillful craft of the artists that are the backbone of such an immersive festival.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I continue to explore the lovely Aomori waterfront.

How to access Nebuta Warasse Museum

The Nebuta Warasse is about a five minute walk north of JR Aomori Station.

Admission price of tickets

Adults: ¥600

On what days is the museum closed?

31st December-1st January (whole facility is closed)
9th-10th August (The museum is closed for the changing of the floats on display. The shop and restaurant are open for business as usual.)

Warrior dolls of Aomori Nebuta Museum

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is one of the largest Japanese festivals in the Tōhoku region. It is held every year at the beginning of August. Unfortunately I missed it by a whisker. However there is still a ray of hope for people like us if you visit Aomori during a different period of time, you can still enjoy a part of its beauty at the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum.

The Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum in Aomori showcases some of the most spectacular Nebuta Floats from Aomori’s annual Nebuta Matsuri. The museum is a great place to learn about the world-famous festival and everything Nebuta. It walks the visitors through the history of Nebuta and it’s importance to Aomori City.

I took the early morning 6 am Komachi Shinkansen from Akita to Morioka and from there switched to the Hayabusa Shinkansen to Aomori. It took me about 3 hours for the full ride and I reached Aomori at 9.30 am. The museum is located at a short walk from the JR Aomori Station and opens at 8:30 am in the morning.

I bought my ticket at the admission booth for ‎¥600. The ground floor does not contain many exhibits and the space is taken up by a quaint restaurant and a few souvenir shops. Here, one can enjoy views of Mutsu Bay as they feast upon delicious seafood dishes prepared at Restaurant Den.

Up on the first floor I went past a red hallway, the walls adorned with photos and images from the Nebuta Matsuri’s 400 year history.

Beyond the hallways I found myself in a large, dimly lit hall where the colorful, brightly illuminated award-winning parade floats from this year’s festival were on display in all their splendor. These are replaced each year with new winners from that year. I walked around each of the floats admiring the craftsmanship that went into their construction.

A large screen on the wall displayed scenes from the just finished festival. In one of the corners of the hall, smaller components of the floats in wire frames were displayed on stands that visitors could touch and feel.

History of Nebuta Festival in Aomori

Nebuta Floats are generally created based on scenes from Kabuki, Japanese history and mythology or some popular current affairs. The Aomori Nebuta Festival is one of Japan’s most colorful festivals but it has had a rather chequered history. The festival began in the 1600’s during the Edo period and has been banned at various times in yesteryear mainly due to the fire hazard it represented during those times when candles were used to light the paper floats. Nowadays these floats make use of electric bulbs for illumination.

The floats themselves are believed to be the result of an amalgamation of several key elements in the Nara Period (710-794): ancient Tsugaru traditions, dolls, insect-repelling torches, the sending off of ancestral spirits, and the aforementioned Tanabata Matsuri. All of these customs were brought together in the form of lanterns, at a time when the use of paper, bamboo, and candles was becoming increasingly common in society. The lanterns would eventually come to depict human figures – the original Nebuta Matsuri floats.

The word Nebuta finds its roots in the Tanabata Matsuri. The lanterns that appeared during the festival processions were known by this name, and on the actual night of Tanabata itself (July 7), they were floated down rivers or the sea, serving as both a cleansing ritual and a prayer for good health. This custom was called nebuta-nagashi, and can be seen today in the form of Aomori Nebuta maritime displays.

Many contemporary Nebuta floats depict kabuki actors – a custom which most likely began in the Bunka Period (1804-1818), when folk art was at its peak. In the past, the nebuta were quite smaller and were created in every alley. In those times the festival was more of a personal enjoyment. A festive atmosphere filled the entire town, from one corner to the next. Nebuta floats grew even larger as Japan entered the Meiji Period (1868-1912). One particular Nebuta from Hamamachi in 1871 is said to have been about 20 meters tall (the reasons for which are unknown) and carried by a hundred people. During recent years however, both the schedule and course are set and the main purpose is to have a spectacular show, showcasing the floats to festival goers.

The incredible color, intricacy and the sheer size of the floats is mind-blowing. The Nebuta floats reminded my of the similar spirit during the celebration of goddess Durga in my hometown of Kolkata.

While the Nebuta Festival in Aomori is the biggest in the area, there are many other Nebuta festivals around. So when visiting Aomori during festival time, make sure to check out the festivals in the small towns, too. Every town has its own way of building these floats. The floats in Aomori are wide, the ones in Hirosaki they are not so wide, but higher. There are some floats that also have movable parts.

As I moved on towards the exit, there is a wall adorned with many Nebuta faces, all looking down on me with extreme fierceness.

It was time for me to head out towards my next stop at Yamadera Temple. Nebuta Festival is held every year in early August, but for those who can’t make it to the festival itself, Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse offers a glimpse into the experience all year-round. The museum is a fantastic place to see the floats live and up close without having to jostle for a place in the festival streets. On weekends and holidays, there are occasional performances by “Haneto” dancers who demonstrate the unique Nebuta Matsuri dance accompanied by live music played on Taiko drums and flutes. If you are in Aomori, I highly recommend a visit to the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum.

An evening at Hirosaki Castle

After a lovely time at the Tambo Art fields, we set off for one of the most beautiful castles in Tohoku region. Hirosaki Castle (弘前城) is a hirayama-style Japanese castle constructed in 1611. The present tower however was rebuilt in 1810 in the late Edo period (1603-1867) after a fire destroyed the original in 1627. It was the seat of the Tsugaru clan, who ruled over Hirosaki domain in the Mutsu Province, now known as central Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture.

Tambo Art Fields to Hirosaki

From Tamboato Station, we took the local to Onoekoko-Mae Station and from there another train on the Konan Line all the way to Hirosaki Station. It doesn’t take long to cover the distance, but the trains are scheduled at wide intervals and it was almost 5 pm by the time we reached Hirosaki Station. Originally opened in 1894, the present-day facilities at Hirosaki Station were completed in 2004. A bus terminal lies just outside of the train station.

Did you know: Besides rice, the Hirosaki region accounts for nearly a fifth of Japan’s apple production. They’re the best you’ll find in Japan, so enjoy some while you’re there.

Hirosaki is renowned for its agricultural produce. The Hirosaki area has been populated since the Heian Period (794 – 1185). The city has been renamed several times over the course of history. Its current name was adapted in 1808 from its former name, Takaoka. With its humid continental climate, summers in Hirosaki are hot, reaching a daily average of 23°C in August, while winters are mild in comparison.

The castle is open to visitors only from 9 am to 5 pm. But we were short on time on the next day and the castle grounds remains open till late, so we decided to go down anyway.

We love to walk, so from the station we walked down all the way to the Castle. If you are not in the mood for a walk, one can also take the 100-yen Dotemachi Loop Bus and get off at Shiyakusho-mae stop to reach the castle. That is the most convenient way to reach the castle, via the Otemon Gate located near the Hirosaki City Hall.

After a brisk walk, we reached the Sannomaru Otemon Gate in about 20 minutes. From the Sannomaru-Otemon-Gate, it’s another 10-minute walk to the castle across the vast Hirosaki Park.

The park surrounding the castle is open all round the year, but the castle itself is closed during the winter period from October 24th, until the end of March. Light was gradually failing as we walked past the Kitanokuruwa North Gate. Since it was way beyond 5 pm, we weren’t charged any admission fees for viewing the castle.

The Kitanokuruwa North Gate leads to a wide path surrounded by trees on both sides. The Hirosaki Park is home to over 2600 trees with over 50 different types of cherry trees. The Somei Yoshino cherry is the first to bloom every year, followed by the Shidarezakura (Weeping Cherry), then finally the Yaezakura (Double Layer cherry). The cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle are unique as each branch produces more flowering buds due to a special pruning technique.

History of Hirosaki Castle

Hirosaki Castle is a symbol of the city, and has a truly long history. During the late Sengoku period, Ōura Tamenobu was awarded 45,000 koku by Toyotomi Hideyoshi for his role in the Battle of Odawara in 1590. At the Battle of Sekigahara, he fought alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu, who subsequently rewarded him by making him lord of Hirosaki Domain increasing his revenues to 47,000 koku. In 1603, Ōura Tamenobu changed his name to Tsugaru and started work on Hirosaki Castle. He was the first of the Tsugaru feudal lords who established his rule over the Tsugaru area in the early 17th century. He died in 1607 and work on the castle was put on hold until his son Tsugaru Nobuhira restarted it in 1610.

The second lord, Tsugaru Nobuhira, completed the Hirosaki Castle in 1611. However, in 1627, the 5-story tenshu, was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. They tried to rebuild the castle but were prohibited by the then prevailing law that forbid more than one Castle per Province. It was not until 1810, when the present 3-story structure was erected, but at the southeast corner, rather than the original southwest location. The new 3 level keep is actually just the renovated Ninomaru tasumi yagura watchtower

Hirosaki’s Moving Castle

After walking across the vast Hirosaki Park, we finally reached a small red bridge across a moat. 

From the pictures I had looked on the internet, this was the very bridge from where people usually capture the iconic view of Hirosaki Castle, with the diminutive castle perched on the corner of its motte, overlooking the hundreds of cherry blossom trees surrounding it. However, during our visit we couldn’t find the castle where it was supposed to be. As we went up the bridge to the top, I realized that the entire castle had been moved approximately 100 meters to the northeast.

I later found out that because of the deteriorating stone walls, the the 14.4-meter-high, 400-metric-ton structure, was placed on a wheeled sled and moved very slowly over a three-month period in autumn 2015. Work is currently going on to repair the walls and the tower should be returned to its original position in 2021. So if you are visiting before that, get prepared to be shocked like me.

Fun Fact: The tower was also moved in 1897 to restore collapsed stone walls. Those repairs was completed in 1915, almost exactly 100 years ago. I wonder how they did it.

Hirosaki Castle

We were finally in front of the petite castle. A wooden structure lies in front of the castle that provided me with a good viewpoint to capture the antique castle with the beautiful Iwate mountain in the background.

The current donjon of the castle was completed in 1811 by the 9th daimyō, Tsugaru Yasuchika. The structure is comparatively smaller than early Edo-period varieties of donjons, and it was built on a corner of the inner bailey on the site of a yagura, rather than the stone base of the original donjon. The small size was partly due to the restricted finances of the domain towards the end of the Edo period, but its location and design were also intended to alleviate concerns which might be raised by the Tokugawa shogunate should a larger structure be built. 

The Tsugaru clan held the castle until the Meiji Restoration when it was taken over by the government. With the Meiji Restoration and subsequent abolition of the han system, the Tsugaru clan surrendered the castle to the new Meiji government. In 1894, the castle properties were donated by the Tsugaru clan to the government for use as a park, which was then opened to the general public the following year. In 1898, an armory was established in the former Third Bailey by the IJA 8th Division. In 1906, two of the remaining yagura burned down.

In 1937, the remaining eight structures of the castle received protection from the government as “national treasures”. However, in 1944, during the height of World War II, all of the bronze in the castle, including roof tiles and decorations, were stripped away for use in the war.

In 1950, under the new cultural properties protection system, all surviving structures in the castle (with the exception of the East Gate of the 3rd Bailey) were named National Important Cultural Properties. In 1952, the grounds received further protection with their nomination as a National Historic Site. In 1953, after reconstruction, the East Gate of the 3rd Bailey also gained ICP status, giving a total of nine structures within the castle with such protection.

It was late, so we went back the same way passing the now illuminated Kitanokuruwa North Gate.

Hirosaki to Aomori

After a wonderful evening at the Hirosaki Castle grounds, we walked back to the station to catch the train to Aomori Station.

It was almost 9 pm by the time we reached Aomori Station. Luckily for us our Hotel was a just a couple of minutes away from the station. 

The stores had all closed by then and the streets wore a deserted look, so we went back to the hotel.

Hirosaki is one of my favorite castles. Even though the main keep is not very spectacular and there is less stonework compared to Osaka castle or Matsumoto castle, the building is unique. What it lacks in scale and grandeur, it makes up for in authenticity being a real Edo era castle and not a reproduction. The layout of the castle grounds and moats are perfectly preserved making it a unique experience. I sure hope to go down again if I am ever back in Japan during hanami. I had a really great time witnessing one of the more artistic castles and now for a good nights sleep 🙂 Tomorrow we leave for Akita.

Apart from Hirosaki castle, Aomori has many more interesting places to explore like the Wa-Rasse Museum, Aomori Bay and the monumental Showa Daibutsu. You can also go up the Aspam building to witness the beautiful city at night.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the lovely lady of Tazawa lake.

Inakadate Tanbo Art

Today we head down to Inakadate to witness the interesting Tanbo Rice Art fields. Inakadate is one of the older places on Earth where rice cultivation was initiated. In 1993, in order to honor this 2000 year old history, the people of this quaint village started a rice field behind the town hall and created a picture of Mt. Iwaki using the paddy as a canvas. Since then each year, the villagers create a new graphic using colored paddy that attracts visitors from far lands to see this innovative art.

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day in Aomori. I was still under the spell of the magical sunset that swept us off our feet at the Matsu bay. The weather was cool and pleasant and we had a busy scheduled planned for the day. From the window of our Hotel APA, I could see the Aomori Bay Bridge in a distance.

After a light breakfast we walked down to Aomori Station. We took the Tsugaru Limited Express to Hirosaki Station.

The inside of Hirosaki Station was still decorated with Nebuta Floats. The Nebuta festival had just got over in Aomori. Its a very interesting festival. If you want you can check out my article on the history of Nebuta.

Hirosaki is also famous for its apples. If you like the raw fruit, there are many different apple products available at the local stores. Do try some when you are here.

After a bit of a wait, we took the bus to the Inakadate-mura Observation Platform.

The bus dropped us off at the Town Hall stop but it was mostly deserted and we had to hunt about a bit to find the venue. I guess most people don’t use the bus so they didn’t put up any signs nearby.

For 2016 the “Tanbo Art” is created under two themes. One is from NHK TV drama “Sanadamaru” at the first town hall venue and the other from the movie “Shin Godzilla” at the second venue.

Inakadate-mura Observation Platform

The First Tanbo Art
Design: NHK TV drama “Sanadamaru”
Location: Inakadate Town Hall

At the Castle tower, there is a 300 yen admission charge to get up to the observation deck and an additional 200 yen charge if you want to go the to topmost observation deck. The paddy field looks like just another field from below.

A small queue had formed for the elevator to the 4th Floor Observation Deck. On the viewing balcony, thankfully not many people were around and we got the front row experience. The rice paddy art uses various colored rice plants as paint on a rice-field canvas. The massive pictures are elaborately designed using perspective drawing methods to make them look their best when seen from the observation platform. Two huge fields lay before us with scenes for the Japanese drama Sanadamaru starring Masato Sakai. The television series follows the Sanada Maru, a fortification defended by Sanada Nobushige during the Siege of Osaka in 1615.

On the 4th floor one can purchase tickets for the 6th Floor Castle Tower but we were happy with what we saw from the lower deck and decided against it.

History of Inakadate Tanbo Rice Art

For over 2,000 years, people in the small town of Inakadate, Japan have grown rice. Unfortunately, growing rice was all the town was known for until 1993. In a near desperate attempt to generate attention and tourist revenue, the townspeople began working on a public art project.

With the paddy as a canvas, the villagers cultivated and used four different types of heirloom and modern strains of rice to create a giant picture in the field. To allow viewing of the whole picture, a mock castle tower 22 meters high was erected at the village office.

The village where this artistry started, Inakadate-mura, Aomori Prefecture, is celebrating their event’s 22nd anniversary. Initially, they used three different colored varieties of rice to create artwork of Iwaki Mountain with the phrase “Village of Rice Culture: Inakadate” in a rice paddy 54 meters long by 47 meters wide.

In 1993, the first work of art was only a depiction of a mountain, using a few colors. Since then, the town has become much more bold, even incorporating multiple fields to create a dramatic battle scene between a monk and a samurai. Each year the rice is planted and a new image is created. For the most part, the images reflect Japanese culture and traditions. However, in an attempt to draw more tourists to the town, the Mona Lisa was also attempted in 2003.

Every April, the villagers meet and decide what to plant for the year. Prior to planting, farmers sketch out the designs on computers to figure out where and how to plant the rice. In 2007, 700 people helped plant rice. In Inakadate, the fields used are approximately 15,000 square meters. Agreements between landowners have allowed for larger pictures to be created.

Since then, they have increased the canvas size while also attempting more difficult artwork, such as Leonardo da VINCI’s “Mona Lisa” and KATSUSHIKA Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” This year, they have planted rice of five different colored varieties in a huge rice paddy 143 meters long by 104 meters wide. This summer, artwork resembling “Ushiwaka and his subordinate Benkei.” (famous historical figures) is expected to appear.

The main purpose behind the creation was to take advantage of the tradition of manual work in rice cultivation to give people an opportunity to learn more about rice farming and agriculture. For the first nine years, the farmers created a simple picture of Mount Iwaki before going to more complex designs.

By embracing its agricultural past, and adding a little 20th-century technological know-how, Inakadate was able to create massive living art, made out of colored rice stalks. Called Tanbo (Paddy) art, the designs are wondrous. Spanning entire fields, the rice paddy art takes 1,200 people from the community and $35,000 to create. But the end result is an amazing multi-colored design, stretching hundreds of feet and featuring incredible detail.

Following Inakadate’s example, other villages such as Yonezawa in Yamagata prefecture, have started to create their own tanbo art.

To provide the full effect for the designs, the town invested in a small 20 meter observation deck in front of the fields. On the tiny deck, 200,000 visitors per year come to marvel at the artistic fields. Given the success of the project in Inakadate, other rural Japanese towns have followed suit, creating other Tanbo art in a similar fashion, incorporating words and pictures to add flavor to their work.

Once we had our fill of the creative ideas of the Aomori residents, we walked down to the shuttle stop from where free car shuttles are available at 30 minute intervals.

A car was waiting at the stop but it was already filled. Strangely even though the shuttle was filled it didn’t leave until after 15 minutes when it was scheduled to leave. Well, the Japanese certainly are very particular about time. We waited around for the next car to come along. During the rice paddy art event, free car shuttles are available for access between the first venue (Inakadate observation platform) and second venue (Yayoi no Sato observation platform).

Yayoi-no-sato observation Deck

The Second Tanbo Art
Design: Shin Godzilla
Location: Inakadate Roadside Station, Yayoi-no-sat

We reached the second venue – Michi-no-eki Inakadate Yayoi no Sato in exactly 11 minutes. Like I said the Japanese are very particular about time.

Here on a huge field, the size of a football ground was showcased a still from the movie “Shin Godzilla”, the new film of Godzilla series that a world-famous monster “Godzilla” appears on-screen. It has been 12 years since Japanese filmmaker produced last one of the series, and the film was released in July 2016 in Japan.

Furthermore, this year also “Stone Art”, which is the artwork created using different color of stones on the ground, will be held. It got favorable reviews on last year.

As same as last year, its theme will be a Japanese famous actor, Ken Takakura. The artwork can be seen from the Yayoi-no-sato observation deck at the second Tanbo Art field. A work of the Stone Art of Yujiro Ishihara, a Japanese actor, will be created in this year.

We spent some time up at the tower taking photographs of the endless paddy fields.

Going back to Hirosaki Station was much simpler. The Tamboāto Station is just a minutes walk away from the second venue. We walked down to the Tamboāto Station and waited for the next train to Hirosaki.

Tamboāto Station

Tamboāto Station (田んぼアート駅 ) is on the Konan Railway Konan Line in Inakadate, links Hirosaki and Kuroishi along a 16.8 km route. The station opened on 27 July 2013, funded entirely by the village of Inakadate to help raise tourist awareness in the area.

Trains are slated at regular intervals and we didn’t have to wait long for one to come along.

We had a wonderful time in Inakadate and now we were off to Hirosaki Castle, one of the few authentic castles still preserved from the Edo period.
The art has gained media attention from domestic and international media because of its uniqueness. Every year, over 100,000 visitors from Japan and abroad come to see the fields, including the Emperor and Empress of Japan in September, 2014.

Recommended viewing period

Mid-July to Mid-August. Open 9:00 – 17:00 (Last Admission 16:30 )

A magical sunset in Aomori

There are days and there are Days. Today was one such day of days or more realistically, evening. We were treated to one of the most memorable sunsets of our lives at Aomori Bay.

It was 4.30 pm by the time we arrived back to Aomori Station from our somewhat educational trip to the ruins of Sannai-Maruyama.

We walked back to the APA Hotel where we were staying for the duration of our trip in Aomori. We got refreshed and then ventured out for a walk along Aomori Bay.

Aomori City

Aomori is the northernmost prefecture of the Honshu, the main island of Japan. Surrounded by the Tsugaru Peninsula in the west, the Shimokita Peninsula in the northeast, and the Natsudomari Peninsula in the east, Aomori Port provides a tranquility similar to the beautiful Osaka Bay. Aomori City is among Japan’s most pleasant towns in the summer. We were just coming form Yamagata and let me tell you, it was hot there. The cool sea breeze blows in from the bay, and the city’s inhabitants are treated to clear blue skies during the days, and striking sunsets in the evenings.

History of Aomori

Aomori first became a port in 1624, when the second Tsugaru lord, Tsugaru Nobuhira, bestowed the name “Aomori” on the small fishing village of Utō. Soon, it was developed as a commercial port. The Tōhoku rail line was opened in 1892, followed by the local Ōu rail line 3 years later and it brought rapid developments to the city. During the Second World War in July 1945, Aomori was heavily bombed during air raids, destroying most of the city. As a result of this destruction, one can find mostly modern buildings around the city. 

Aomori Sightseeing Products Mansion

From the Hotel, we walked down to the Aomori Prefecture Sightseeing Products Mansion. The ASPAM building (Aomori Prefecture Sightseeing Products Mansion) is the most recognizable landmark of Aomori. The triangular building fashioned into an “A” of “Aomori” houses many shops and restaurants selling Aomori’s signature agricultural products and specialty goods. The instantly recognizable, 76m-tall A-shaped tower also houses a tourist information desk, gift shops, and an observation deck which offers spectacular views of the bay.

We walked around the ground floor where many shops were selling traditional art crafts as well as sweets made from apple. Mani purchased an Apple pie box for later. If you’ve ever wanted apple jam, baked apple, apple pastries, apple ice-cream, or indeed anything apple-flavored you can think of, then chances are the ASPAM building is where you’ll find it. Aomori Prefecture is known for its production of apples, so be sure to sample some when you are in the city. I promise you will never forget that taste. Towards the upper floors, the facility has a panorama movie theater, observation deck and restaurants with great view and local cuisine.

The 13th floor observatory has a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Aomori city, Mt. Hakkōda, and Mutsu Bay. However it was almost closing time and we wanted to take a lazy stroll along the bay.

Blue Ocean Park (Aoi Umi Kōen)

From the ASPAM building, we walked towards the bay through the Blue Ocean Park. This park is considered the best location for gazing at the sea. It has many benches overlooking the bay, so visitors can sit and enjoy the vast ocean while the sea breeze gently blows by.

West Lighthouse at Aomori Bay

We slowly made our way along the central pier. The promenade breakwater was developed and opened to the public in April 2004. This breakwater is 310 meter in length and people can enjoy a relaxing walk by the water.

After a short walk we reached the West Lighthouse. The West Lighthouse is unlike any lighthouse I have seen before. The round, white, broadly conical tower with a lantern has a sharply peaked roof that continues the conical profile of the structure.

Surface of the breakwater is made of wood and natural stones. The benches and observation decks are provided at the central parts of the breakwater. This unusual lighthouse is a landmark in Aomori harbor. There is some confusion over its name. Its Japanese name translates to “breakwater west lighthouse,” however the National Geospatial-Intelligence lists it as “north breakwater, north head.” 

Magical Sunset at Aomori Bay

We were sitting at one of the benches near the lighthouse when the magic started to happen. The sky was in its moods and the sky started changing colors every minute. Far in the horizon, I could make out the silhouette of the container cranes at the port. Nearly 3 million tons of cargo are loaded/unloaded at the Aomori Port every year.

I zoomed in to get a close shot of the sinking sun behind Mt. Maruyakata. Earlier passengers and cargo used to be moved on the Seikan railway ferry. Operation of the Seikan ferry ceased in 1988 when the worlds longest Seikan tunnel with 53.85 km was completed and trains were able to run 1000 meter below the sea bed between Aomori and Hakodate.

Far away in the horizon the sun said a final goodbye to the city as it went down behind Mt. Maruyakata. In a very opposite behavior, the light actually became better after the sun set. The conical shaped lighthouse looked amazing in the orange sky.

It was 7 pm and we bid our final goodbye to the white lighthouse as we head back to the hotel.

Within minutes however the light started to fade away as the Orange sky turned into a many shades of purple. The tripod was a great help in taking the next few shots. 

Walking back, the ASPAM building looked even more beautiful with the lights on, in front of the Bay bridge. As we walked towards the city, we could better see the hanging Bay Bridge. The construction on the impressive bridge in the Port of Aomori was started in 1985 and all lanes were opened for traffic in 1994. The bridge is part of the traffic system essential for goods transportation in Aomori Prefecture and at the same time its impressive design makes it a beauty spot of the city.

I have seen the bridge many times during the day. It is majestic by day and picturesque in the night with its illuminated wires. At night, the lit-up bridge creates a magical atmosphere, which makes it popular among lovers. Click here if you want to see the night shots of the Aomori Bay bridge.

We sat on a bench along the breakwater, mesmerized by the happenings of the last hour or so. With not a soul around us, I could hear the soft relaxing waves and feel the natural tranquility of the surrounding bay.

It was almost 8 pm by the time we reluctantly picked ourselves up from the amazing scene that lay in front of us. We walked down to Shinmachi Street, right beside the ASPAM building, a pedestrian street full of department stores and sushi restaurants. We bought us some packed dinner that we could have back at the hotel. 

This is the city’s main shopping artery and its a different kind of experience wandering at night in these streets. After a short stroll we walked back to the hotel.

It was a good choice to reserve our rooms at Hotel APA, since its walkable distance from the JR station, Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum and also the Aomori bay. The rooms and service are of high standards. If you are visiting Aomori, Hotel APA is a reasonably good place to stay.

For me, an evening stroll on the breakwater promenade was quite a romantic experience. Not only does it gives you an overview of the city, but it also involves a pleasant stroll along the stunning waterfront.  The city has a cool climate year round and enjoys clear transitions between the four seasons. I have spent many evenings in Kobe Harbor admiring the stunning Harborland, but this was magical.

Striking sunsets like these are a regular thing along the enchanting Aomori skyline. Maybe it’s the location with the city hemmed in on three sides by mountains, including, most prominently, the Hakkōda Mountains. I look forward to coming down during fall in the future to see more of its beauty.

I hope you like my post. Thanks for reading. Please do leave me a comment if you liked it or follow my story as I head to Inakadate to witness the amazing Tanbo Rice Art of Aomori.

Ruins of Sannai-Maruyama

Today I visit the ruins of Sannai Maruyama in Aomori. Discovered in 1992, the Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site is the largest and one of the most complete and best-preserved Jōmon Period (13000-300 BC) village in Japan. 

Morioka to Aomori

I and my wife, Mani were on a short tour of Tohoku region. We were thoroughly refreshed from our previous day at Jōdogahama beach in Iwate. The day was bright and sunny as we checked out of our hotel and walked down to Morioka Station to catch the train to Aomori. As we entered the JR Station, we were quite pleased to see it was still decorated, in lieu of the just-passed Tanabata celebrations.

Tanabata originated from a romantic legend about two lovers that are only able to meet each other once a year. This festival is held across Japan on July 7 or August 7 depending on the region. It’s said that your wishes will come true if you write them down on strips of paper called the tanzaku and hang them on bamboo branches. We left a tanzaku wish note praying for a happy future at one of the booths.

The Shinkansen takes only an hour for the journey from Morioka to Aomori, however, Mani didn’t posses a JR Pass and in order to save some money, we used the limited express train. It was a long 3-hour journey but felt rather shortened by the animated chats about the places we were yet to explore around these parts. 

We reached Shin Aomori at 11 am. The Nebuta festival had just got over in Aomori, the previous day and the station was still adorned with many Nebuta floats all over the place. The Nebuta festival is one of the most popular festivals in Aomori and if you miss it you can always drop down to the Nebuta Museum to witness the amazing floats from the last held festival.

It was almost mid-day and the sun was burning bright, and although Aomori was cooler than Iwate, the strong Sun made it a tad uncomfortable. We left our luggage at one of the station lockers and waited for the bus for Sannai Maruyama site.

The sightseeing bus called Shuttle de Route Bus Nebutan-go arrived in a few minutes. The bus route keeps running in a loop all day, and to reach the Sannai-Maruyama site one has to get down at the Sannai-Maruyama-Iseki-mae bus stop. The ride cost us 310 Yen each.

Jōmon Jiyukan

As we entered the giant hall in Jōmon Jiyukan, the volunteers at the reception helped us out with the information about the heritage site. They provided us with a guided map of the area. Beside the reception, one can also find replicas of dresses from the Jamon period. Visitors are free to try on these Jōmon period clothing. I tried out a fisherman’s dress and I presume, I would have fit right in, into this traditional society 🙂

Once we had gathered all the information, we decided to first take our lunch and then proceed to investigate the huge site. The Gosennen-no Hoshi restaurant inside the campus serves delicious meals using prominent Jōmon ingredients. One can find a variety of set menus made of fish, vegetables and nuts that people during the Jōmon period used to consume.

I am generally a bit circumspect to try new food, but I decided to give it a try anyway. I ordered the “Shiokatsukune Udon.” The dish basically comprised of soft “Chicken meatballs” with bonitos (fish) and kelp soup. I did end up enjoying it and as I write this journal I can feel myself salivating just thinking about it. After the fulfilling meal at the Gosennen-no Hoshi restaurant, we slowly walked down to the Sanmaru Museum.

Sanmaru Museum

The Sanmaru museum exhibits objects excavated from the excavation site and lists many facts about the people who lived during the Jōmon Period. The Jōmon period encompasses a large expanse of time, constituting Japan’s Neolithic period and the museum exhibits approximately 1,700 artifacts excavated from the Sannai-Maruyama site. 

A dimly lit path led us towards a life-sized figure of a young boy with his Inu (dog), pointing us towards the glass encased cases of historical findings from the Jōmon period.

Jōmon no Kokoro

The first section of the Sanmaru Museum is called the Jōmon no Kokoro (heart of the Jōmon Period). This area displays various excavated items including a large number of pottery, stone artifacts, personal ornaments, clay figures, earthenware, wooden utensils, bone tools and small knitted baskets called “Jōmon pochette” from the Jōmon period.

Shown below is one of the stone tools from the site. This grinding stone was particularly used as a food processing tool. Nuts, such as chestnuts, walnuts, and Japanese horse chestnuts were an important source of food for the people at the time. These were used to crush these hard nuts. 

Below you can see some stone spearheads used by the hunters during that period. These hunting tools are characterized by a carefully formed leaf shape and evenly beveled edges that required great skill and patience to create. These tools were created by a process called knapping, where one stone is used to strike another to create a desired shape. If you are a student of history, you will notice that these stone tools, which were somewhat roughly created in the Paleolithic era, were by the Jōmon period meticulously chipped and smoothly polished. 

We moved forward to a large board-shaped clay figurine on display. The Sannai Maruyama village site turned up a huge number of human shaped figurines. From middle to late Jōmon periods, the Jōmon people made large numbers of human figures from clay. However these Jōmon figurines do not look like real people. They have distorted forms with large faces, small arms and hands. Some of the figurines look like humans wearing goggles. This is not new for many cultures who have depicted humans in exaggerated shapes like the Egyptians, but it does make one think if the Jōmon actually had some kind of extra-terrestrial contact.

The pottery vessels crafted in ancient Japan during the Jōmon period are generally accepted to be the oldest pottery in Japan and also among the oldest in the world. The word Jômon literally means “straw-rope pattern,” and it typically describes the style of pottery of the earliest Japanese period. The Jōmon period was named after this style of pottery.

All Jōmon pots were made by hand, without the aid of a wheel. As in all other Neolithic cultures, generally women created these early potteries. Clay was mixed with a variety of adhesive materials, including mica, lead, fibers, and crushed shells. After the vessel was formed, tools were employed to smooth both the outer and interior surfaces. When completely dry, these were baked in an outdoor bonfire.

Pottery found at this site is called Ento (cylindrical) style pottery. A typical Ento style pottery is characterized by an elongated bucket shape with a wide opening and is decorated with cord marks.

Below you can see different sized needles created from bones. In those times, animal bones were used to create harpoon heads, fish hooks, needles and even hairpins. Their varying length, thickness and the eye indicate that the Jōmon people developed them for specialized purposes. Most of the bone needles shown here are made of mammal ribs.

The image below is a cross-section of a mound. Many ritual associated implements were found from these mounds, suggesting the significance of these mounds as a ground for ceremonial activities

Most artifacts used in daily life such as pottery were made at the site using locally available materials. Ornaments include pendants and earrings made of clay, stone, and animal bones.  However certain items came from far away. Jade was favored by the Jōmon people and especially valued in north Honshu where Sannai Maruyama is located. In addition to complete artifacts such as large beads, raw stones have also been discovered here. 

If you want a guided explanation while looking at the exhibits, a volunteer from the Sannai-Maruyama volunteers will gladly guide you round the exhibits.

The Jōmon people of Sannai Maruyama

As we moved further, we were in the Jōmon-jin no Kurashi wo Himotoku (Lifestyle of the Jōmon Period people) section. Here life-sized figurines are used to reproduce the Jōmon daily life, based on excavated objects. The people in the early Jōmon period frequently traveled from one place to the next while engaged in camping and nomadic life. The Jōmon people primarily belonged to a hunter-gatherer culture. 

Over time the sedentary settlements appeared and certain communities engaged in cultivating plants. They gradually moved to a semi-sedentary lifestyle and descended from a mixture of the ancient hunter-gatherer Jōmon and the Yayoi rice agriculturalists. Their features can also be seen in the Ainu and Ryukyuan people. In fact, the Ainu have often been considered to be descendants resulting from a mix of the cultures of the Jōmon people and the Okhotsk. I have written a detailed report on the history of Ainu people.

Below you can see a typical Jōmon family gathering. The historical Ainu culture originated in a merger of the Okhotsk culture with the Satsumon, one of the ancient archaeological cultures that are considered to have derived from the Jōmon period cultures of the Japanese Archipelago. The origin myths of Japanese civilization extend back to periods now regarded as part of the Jōmon period, though they show little or no relation to what we know archaeologically of Jōmon culture, one of the reasons why the Japanese deny Ainu as the aborigines.

After about an hour of adoring the prehistoric artifacts, we moved on towards the excavation site. The Jiyu tunnel led us into the the largest ruins of a traditional village, dating from 4,000 to 5,500 years ago. Stepping into this region is like taking a step back in time.

A brief history of Jōmon People of Sannai-Maruyama

The Jōmon period experienced a large-scale climate change since it extended for a long period of 10,000 years. The Sannai-Maruyama Ruins are the largest ruins of a Jōmon-period (about 10,500-300 BC) village in Japan, and are estimated to date from 4,000 to 5,500 years ago. The Japanese archipelago is extremely elongated from north to south and its topography varies considerably; therefore, regional differences in the climate and vegetation were large during the Jōmon period as is today. As a result, the cultural style of the Jomon period is not uniform both historically and regionally and it came to take many different forms.

There have been previous excavations around the Sannai-Maruyama site between 1953 to 1967. These excavations involved teams from Keio University and the Board of Education of Aomori City. In 1976 and 1987, the Board of Education of Aomori Prefecture and Aomori City also conducted further excavations on the southern part of the site.

However, the major breakthrough for the site came in 1992 while excavating during a pre-construction phase for a baseball stadium. This excavation uncovered how large Sannai Maruyama was as well as a large amount of artifacts. 

After the excavation and study of the site, the village was reburied with earth and a number of reconstructed pit dwellings, long houses and a large tower were built on top. Visitors can enter the reconstructions, some of which are quite large, as well as see a few of the original excavation sites around the grounds.

A large number of pot shards and stone implements, clay figurines, jade beads, etc. were disposed together with the soil and formed a mound for over 1000 years. You can see its cross-section here. X-ray analysis shows that the jade excavated at ‘Sannai-Maruyama Site’ in Aomori Prefecture is from Itoigawa and therefore, it is assumed that the Jōmon people also traded among themselves over the wide area.

These findings demonstrate a change in the structure of the community, architecture, and organizational behaviors of these people. Because of the extensive information and importance, this site was designated as a Special National Historical Site of Japan in 2000.

Sannai Maruyama

Sannai Maruyama was first settled around 3900 BCE. At that time it was inhabited by hunters and gatherers only. Over this period of time, the site changed from a seasonal camp, to the home of a more mobile society, and finally to a settled village. Evidence of this sedentary lifestyle can be found in the the changes in their storage facilities.

Pit Dwellings

The earliest pit dwellings at Sannai Maruyama were during the Early Jōmon period, built between 5900 and 5400 years ago. At that time, Sannai was comparatively small and simple, a collection of pit dwellings. The first settlers on the site lived in pit houses. These dwellings typically were about 10 feet in diameter. The floor was dug below the ground level. A hearth was located in its center. At least 550 pit-dwellings have been discovered so far and 15 have been reconstructed. Some of the pit houses seen at Sannai Maruyama were simple thatched-roof semi-subterranean houses, like this reconstruction. To make this bark-thatched pit dwelling, a pit was excavated into the ground and bark or wood branches were assembled over the top forming a cone-like structure.

Over time the thatched pit dwelling was replaced with a sturdier structure as shown below. Like the thatched huts, the floor of a pit dwelling was dug into the ground. Supporting posts were placed at the corners and the walls and roof were built and roofed with thatch. The average size of these pit dwelling is between three and four meters in diameter.

Store Houses

Initially they used to store food in underground pits, which allowed them to hide it when they left the site since the occupants were not yet living a sedentary lifestyle.  With time, the storage features changed from these underground pits to elevated granaries around 2900 BC. These buildings were built higher than the ground level and were specifically used as storage facilities.

Long House

As the community became sedentary, long houses began showing up around this time. Long houses were large, oval-shaped structures. The longest one found at the site was 32 meters (105 feet) long. Scholars believe long houses were used for meeting places, workshops, or living space. Pit houses were still being inhabited for individual dwelling  at the same time that long houses started to come up on the landscape.

Till now eleven long houses have been excavated at Sannai Maruyama. They were large, oval-shaped semi-subterranean pit dwellings. The reconstruction  shown below is the longest, measuring 32 meters in length. This huge structure displays a coordinated labor force that would have required cooperation of several people to make. This displays the gradual shift from an individual to a social community in this time period.


With a stable living style, also, there appeared one of Sannai Maruyama’s most famous structures, the large six-pillared building, was built around 2,600 BC.  This structure consisted of six large pillars that are believed to have held up platforms. Each one of these pillars was around 1 meter in diameter and was placed exactly 14 ft apart.  This large post like platform was certainly used as a watchtower. 

Burial Pits

Burials at Sannai Maruyama took three forms: jar burials, pit burials, and stone circle burials. Large jars have been discovered near the pit dwelling clusters. These are assumed to be burials, although human bones have not been preserved within them, on the basis of similar burials found in later Jōmon sites such as Yoshinogari. Jar burials have been dated to the Middle Jōmon period, from 5400-4300 years ago. The second form of burial was of adults aligned in rows along the sides of long roadways extending from the center of the settlement towards the outside. Finally as shown below, stone circle arrangements have also been found at Sannai Maruyama, which included adult burials. 

The settlement of Sannai Maruyama ended around 2300 BC.

By now we were extremely dehydrated. The harsh sun had taken its toll and we dragged ourselves to the safety of the Jōmon Jiyukan.

The vending machine at that moment was “gold” for us, as we gulped on the chilled sugary drinks.

The Sannai Maruyama site was designated as a special historical site by the Japanese government in November 2000. Today the public can visit this site and explore its many reconstructions. The site also features a Theater, a workshop and a gift shop. If you are in love with history do not miss this site. Even though at present, most of the excavated items have been reburied for preservation, the excavation sites and artifacts on display will giving you a feel of life in those ancient times.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as we go for a stroll along the lovely Aomori Bay to witness a most alluring sunset.

Open Hours:

9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Closed days:

December 30 – January 1
The center is also closed on the fourth Monday of each month. If that day is a holiday, the center will be closed the next day

Admission Fees:

410 Yen

Are baggage lockers available at the site?

Lockers are available for free. You need a 100 yen coin to lock them, but it will be returned when you retrieve your belongings.

Are all objects exhibited in the museum excavated in the Sannai-Maruyama site?

Yes. Sanmaru Museum exhibits approximately 1,700 artifacts excavated from this very this site.

Are there any restaurants at the site?

Yes, you can find a fine restaurant on the premises named Gosennen-no Hoshi, which offers specialty food prepared with Jōmon period recipes and also a kiosk called Hokusaikan.

Do you sell any books about the site?

Yes, many informative books are available at the museum shop as well as the kiosk.