Birthday weekend in 青森 Day 2: Aomori 青森 /  Hirosaki 弘前

May 2, 2018

Happiness is falling asleep to the scent of fresh tatami and the rushing of Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流) outside your window...




I woke up early the next morning as I had a moss walk scheduled with a private guide at 0800. After breakfast, I got my camera gear ready as well my magnifying glass.




My fabulous young guide Nobu-san led me on a voyage around the stream as we explored several of the 300 moss species native to this area. One of the most unusual and photogenic is the Apple Moss (“egg moss” in Japanese). In spring, the moss has bright green round spores. We also investigated snake moss and lantern moss, getting up close and personal with each type.








After our moss walk, I had a little time to repack my bags and to head down to the beautiful Mori no Shinwa lounge, where I was eager to try one of the hotel’s signature desserts, a crystal apple limited to 10 a day. It was without a doubt the most beautiful desserts I’ve ever eaten: wafer-thin slices of dried Aomori apple are anchored in Calvados ice cream atop a buttery shortbread cookie, the crystal apple is topped with a chocolate “stem” and mint leaf, while the gorgeous plating incorporates bits of diced fruit and silver leaf. Enjoying this dessert while overlooking the thundering stream and towering trees was a magical treat.





Afterwards, it was time to board the bus to Aomori. I was surprised to see as we headed north there was still about 2 feet of all snow on the ground. The sunlight filtering through the beech trees was magical. 




 We arrived at Aomori Station about noon, and I put my massive amount of baggage in a coin locker before heading for my main attraction: the Nebuta museum. As mentioned in my previous post, last year I discovered Aomori's famous Nebuta festival and was eager to see the beautiful floats up close. In January, I attended ふるさと祭り in Tokyo, where I was able to see a performance of Haneto dancing (and many of my 男子新体操 friends had come down from Aomori to participate in 青森ナイト on January 21, including Aomori University MRG Team alumni BLUE TOKYO)






The museum was definitely one of the highlights of my trip… There are numerous interactive displays in English and Japanese that let you design your own float, feel the paper that is used, and learn the steps to the dance and even try out the instruments! The museum gift shop also had a very nice assortment of festival goods, local craft, and foods.











I took a brief walk outside to see the Aomori Bay Bridge up close, and then headed back for the train station for the train ride to Hirosaki. I checked into my hotel around 3:30 PM, but was so worn out from the nonstop activity from today and the day before that I didn’t make it out of the hotel room before 4:30.



As I made the brief five-minute walk to the castle grounds, clouds of luminescent cherry blossoms greeted me. My first stop was to the beautiful Hirosaki Starbucks. 



I then crossed the street to start snapping photos of the beautiful sunset light on the cherry blossoms over the moat. As I made my way towards the center and the castle, a stunning sunset happened behind Mt. Iwaki to the stirring sounds of live Tsugaru Jamisen and the weeping cherries were softly blowing in the breeze… It was one of the most memorable sunsets I’ve ever experienced.


















Once the sun went down, the real party begin. Groups of boisterous college students, fueled by generous amounts of alcohol, were making impassioned speeches and declarations and egging each other on under the trees. The weeping cherries were illuminated by spotlights, as was the castle. The trees were at full bloom, and the reflection on the mirror-like water was absolutely stunning.










So ended my first magical night at Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival...







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