October 12, 2024 – Aomori, Japan
From fiery festivals to spectacular mountain scenery, soaring temples to castles surrounded by cherry blossom blooms, Aomori is one of Japan’s most enchanting destinations. Framed by dark peaks clad with dense forestry, the city enjoys a picturesque location on Japan’s main island Honshu.
While there are gorgeous pink tinted parks, tiered castles and towering Buddha statues to explore, the Aomori Prefecture’s capital is perhaps best known for the summer festival of fire that lights it up each year. Lavish illuminated floats fill the streets during Nebuta Matsuri festival, as dancing locals wave flickering lanterns through the night sky – and drummers pound out pulsating rhythms. Nebuta Matsuri has a euphoric and energetic atmosphere which makes it stand out as an unmissable experience compared with some of Japan’s more restrained festivals.
At other times of the year, places like the stunning Hirosaki Castle bloom with rose-pink cherry blossom, as spring’s sunshine clears away winter’s plentiful snowfall. The castle’s moat, glowing with the pale hue of fallen blossom, is a truly mesmerising sight to behold. Don’t worry if you’re too late though, you might be able to catch the pink-flush of the apple blossom – which comes slightly later.
Extraordinary prehistoric Jomon period history is waiting to be unearthed at the living archaeological site, Sannai-Maruyama Ruins. Or, the untouched wilderness of UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakami Sanchi is within reach. This sprawling mass of beech trees covers a third of the Shirakami mountain range, and the dense forestry once blanketed the majority of northern Japan’s land. Visit to scratch the surface of this untamed landscape’s beauty and see sprawling waterfalls cascading down mountainsides, in a beautiful off-bounds landscape, where black bears roam freely.
October 13, 2024 – Hakodate (Hokkaido)
Gaze down over Hakodate, from the heights of its namesake peak – Mount Hakodate – to see the city stretching out spectacularly, with back-to-back twin bays splitting the ocean. Hakodate port was one of the first to open Japan up to the world, and to international trade in 1859 – a fact reflected in the architecture, with its influences from the West and beyond. The port area is a redbrick wash of warehouses turned shopping malls, all observed by the onion domes of the city’s Russian Orthodox church.
Elsewhere, the star-shaped Goryokaku fortress glows with natural colors and a beautiful haze of cherry blossom during the season. Goryokaku Tower, which rises up beside it, offers a sweeping bird’s eye view of the green fortress and mountain backdrop. Buses trundle up the 335-metre incline to the top of Mount Hakodate, but the best way to reach the views is to jump on the ropeway, which swings high above downtown’s buildings, over a carpet of pine trees. Head up to the mountain’s heights as sunset approaches.
With darkness sweeping in, and the lights flickering to life, the panorama is one of Japan’s most spectacular. Soak it all in, and look out to the horizon, dotted with the shimmering lights of ships hauling in harvests of the city’s renowned squid. The plankton-rich waters attract a delicious variety of feasting sea life to Hakodate’s coast, which is then plated up in the city’s numerous, skilled restaurants. For an eye-opening, whirring morning, see the freshest produce being doled out at Hakodate Morning Market – amid a cacophony of noise and activity.