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A winter trip to Aomori: Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival

In February 2019 a teamed up with a long time friend over a long weekend (3 days and 2 nights), which are very common in Japan, to visit the prefecture Aomori. Aomori is the northern most prefecture of Japan on the main island and is famous for getting the most snow in winter. The main objectives were the Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival and the Lake Towada with the neighbouring mountain Hakkoda.

Warm water sprinklers on a 7-11 convenience store parking lot to hopelessly try to keep the ice at bay

In fact, the worlds snowiest city is located in Aomori. To get around the prefecture we rented a car for the three days we spent there.

The Tsugaru stove train platform

We drove to the city of Tsugaru (つがる市) first to ride a stove train. Basically a normal train where food (usually fish) is sold on the train and the carriages have small stoves where you can roast it on.

Walking around Kanagi (金木町)

We got of in the little village of Kanagi (金木町) to walk around before taking the train back. The village itself is ‘famous’ for being author Dazai Osamu’s birth place.

Library available on the train

We took the normal train back. You can tell by the selection of books available to read on the train that it’s one of the more calm and relaxed parts of Japan.

Aomori’s country side landscape in winter: snow!

Before heading to Hirosaki we decided to seek out a shrine close to the sea known for its many Torii gates. Especially we were looking for great pictures contrasting the white snow with the bright red gates.

Takayama Inari Shrine in Feburary

After driving for 45mins we arrived at Takayama Inari Shrine and climbed its many stairs. That actually turned out to be more difficult than anticipated due to thick ice covering each single stair. The sea is very close so the humid air condenses and freezes immediately.

Takayama Inari Shrine from the top of its hill

The shrine itself was really beautiful indeed, especially its setting. You have to climb up quite a few stairs up an embankment where you’ll find a shrine. However, that’s not Takayama Inari shrine yet. From there you go down on the other side and arrive at the shrine. It feels like a small basin between the sea and the embankment. I highly recommend to visit if you find yourself in Aomori!

Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival entrance

After we arrived in Aomori and checked into our hotel, we headed out right away to Hirosaki Castle to see the Snow Lantern Festival. It was obviously really cold and thick snow flakes continued falling throughout the night, but that set the right atmosphere.

Ongoing snowfall at Hirosaki Castle

After walking through the gate, you walk through many bends, cross a few ditches before finally arriving at the castle itself.

A Hirosaki Castle outpost

As neither of us had been to Hirosaki before, we didn’t really know what the actual castle was. Therefore, after seeing yet another outpost, which were impressive by themselves, we were convinced that we had finally arrived at the main castle itself.

The main building of Hirosaki Castle

To get a better view of the main building, a wooden elevated platform was erected right next to it. However, due to all the compressed snow on it, it was incredibly slippery to walk up the incline and many people fell (without hurting themselves) so people laughed constantly in the background. Great, easy going spirits despite the freezing temperature!

Snow lanterns along the shore of the ditch in front of Hirosaki castle

The actual Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival was a bit further down the hill from the castle’s main building.

Snow Lantern exhibition

It was constructed carefully and beautifully laid out, making you forget the cold for a bit.

Lanterns made by local pupils

Lots of the snow lanterns were painted by local school children and you could see lots of themes from all over Japan on them, such as Mt Fuji, Aomori’s apples and so on.

Look back to the castle

The paths within the castle vicinity were all lined with snow domes containing little lights for a calm atmosphere.

Snow Sakura on the outer castle ditch

Upon leaving the castle we recognised the trees along the ditch as the famous Sakura cherry blossom trees in Hirosaki. To highlight them they were lit up with an ever so slight pink hue – a great scene.

If you have any questions concerning visiting Aomori in winter, driving there or the Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival, drop a line below, I’ll try my best to answer any questions.

You can find more info on the festival here.