After living in Aomori Prefecture for 24 years, my Japanese wife often jokes that I know Aomori better than the locals. I must confess that recently I was more than pleasantly surprised to find a “hidden stash” of beauty, skill, warmth & taste I did not know existed practically in my backyard: in 南部町 Nanbu!
Located just west of Hachinohe and north of Sannohe, Nanbu Town is less than an hour drive from base. Recently the three towns of Fukuchi, Nagawa and Nanbu incorporated into this one town and has a history that dates back to 1189 A.D. Surrounded by Mt. Nakui and the Mabechi River (Aomori Prefecture’s longest river,) the fertile foothills provide a wide variety of rich tasting fruits, innovation and culture.
IT DOESN'T GET ANY FRESHER THAN THIS!
One of the most enjoyable aspects of coming to Nanbu is the year-round availability of fresh fruits that you are welcome to pick right off the vine, tree or plant! Starting with the sweetest strawberries you ever tasted in winter/spring and finishing the year in late autumn with the juiciest crispy apples (Aomori is the #1 producer of apples in all of Japan,) you will also find cherries, plums, blueberries, peaches, pears and grapes in between.
The town is set up to help you get to the farm of the fruit of your choice. All you have to do is go to The Nagawa Agricultural Tourist Information Center (open from 8:30 to 5:00.) The staff will call and ask a local farmer to come and guide you to their farm where you will be able to harvest and eat to your heart's content. Children are especially welcome! Reservations are no longer needed. 0178-76-3020.
AN ARTIST COLONY AND UNIQUE GIFT/ ART BAZAAR
Nestled in the middle of...well, nowhere, I was introduced to a most fascinating place indeed. Surrounded by Mother Nature, the Nakui ceramic kilns and pottery center is like no place you have ever seen. It was partially like going back in time with old buildings and antiques everywhere. You could tell that generation after generation of artistic knowledge had been passed down as I poked around each building filled with ceramics, pottery and paintings.
Visitors are welcome to observe and/or take classes. Beginners as well as the experienced looking to learn new techniques are welcome. If you are looking to buy a one of a kind gift or are a collector this is a must do on your list of places to go. Be sure to check out the “wood house” and have a cup of coffee in the sun room or terrace surrounded by Japanese gardens/ponds. See pictures here. 0178-76-2249
CAMPING AND RECREATION? You bet!
With all this talk about nature you had to think the town had to make some special places for us kids (at heart) who love being outdoors. The Nagawa Cherry Village is just that spot (the red road signs point you to “NAGAWA CHERRY RIN MURA”.) At the top of this hill are 2 restaurants with a lodge and natural hot springs. Your kids will want to check out climbing the 100 foot high Dragon Tower.
At the bottom you have a camp ground with tent sites and rentable “tree houses” that fit up to 4 people. Warm shower houses and toilets abound. No reservation required. In between, you have a myriad of walking, hiking and biking trails, tennis courts too. Some cabins are available as well. To rent these you will need to have a Japanese person call in advance at the near-by Nagawa Agricultural Tourist Information Center. 0178-76-3020.
DRY FLOWER CENTER
If you are into arts & crafts, you will want to often visit The Dry Flower Center. Open year round, this unique shop has not only ready-made goods including framed flower-art paintings but everything conceivable for those who prefer to do it yourself. The friendly staff is always on hand and will assist you in making tapestries, flower baskets, wreaths, flower hearts, key chains, book marks, greeting cards, straps, etc. Families are welcome. 0178-75-1841.
HOKOJI TEMPLE AREA/ Mt. Nakui
For those who really like old traditional Japanese temples, the over 700 year old Hokoji Temple site deserves time to be explored. Built between 1249 and 1256 AD, the site that was constructed on the side of Mt. Nakui means one must climb up from the main temple to see all the shrines and end up at the magnificent 3 stories pagoda in the back.
While passing through the scenic “1000 pine trees” road, be sure to look for the “Grandfather Cedar,” a 1100 year old tree that towers over 100 feet with a circumference of 25 feet, on the right side of the road just before you get to the temple. There is a small fee charged to enter the temple area.
There is a hiking trail from the back of the temple that will take you to the top of Mt. Nakui. For those who would like to get to the 360° view from the top without a long hike, take the road behind the temple and drive up to the 5th station (park where the toilets are) and from there it is only a 30 min walk which is great for families with grade school kids and older!
WATER PARK WITH SLIDE
For those who like swimming and water fun, the “Bade-Park” is the place you want to go. Facilities include indoor & outdoor pools, a huge water slide, natural hot spring baths, restaurants, free rest areas, weight and running room and hotel. Overnight guests get to use all the facilities for free, but an all day pass is only 1000 yen/adult and 500 yen for kids and students. Be sure you check out the large scale “rice field art” in the paddies right on front of the water slide! 0178-84-2850
To get to Nanbu, get on the Michinoku Expressway at the Misawa IC or Shimoda/Momoishi IC and get off at the Hachinohe Kita IC and turn right at the light. Go 2.7 km. and turn off to the left following the green signs to Hachinohe EPWY. Turn right at light then count 8 lights (you will pass the Fish market, go over RR track and a bridge,) turn right (there is the GAIA pachinko parlor cattycorner.) You are now on Rt.104.
Go 9.7 km to the 13th light (you will go over a river, then a sharp corner, eventually go under the bullet train tracks and pass by KEKU home-made spaghetti restaurant.) There is a sign that says: “Tomabechi” above this light. I am going to call the 13th light POINT “A.” All directions will now start from POINT “A.”
The places in order of closeness to POINT A are: Dry Flower, Nakui Ceramics, Cherry Village, Tourist Information Center and Hokoji/Mt. Nakui. There is a route to take you to each of these in this order.
But if you are only planning to go to The Tourist Info Center to pick fruit, take the following route: From Point “A” continue straight to the “T” intersection and turn left. You will now be on Rt. 4. Go to the 5th light and turn left (look for the sign “Suwanotaira’ on the concrete wall right as you turn.) Go under the RR tracks and over the bridge. Soon you will come to a strange 4 way intersection. Turn slightly right, heading for the red CHERRY RINMURA sign. Go 1.6 km and turn right onto Rt. 227 toward the Hokoji sign. Go 1.8 km and turn left. The Center is the log house on the left.
To: Dry Flower Center. From “A”: go straight 4.5 km and turn left toward Rt.33. Go over the RR tracks and take the larger road on the right. Go 0.5 km and turn left (Rt.33) then go 0.3 km and turn left just before the wavy roof building. Let us call this turn “POINT B.” Take the first right, the Center is the pink house behind this building.
To: Nakui Ceramic. From POINT “B” go straight, go over the bridge and turn right at the “T.” Go 0.7 km and turn right at the “Y” Rt.134. Take this windy road 1.1km and turn left at the light. Go 0.4km and turn right at the orange sign. Go 0.4km and call this intersection “POINT C.” Turn right at POINT C and turn right the first dirt road after the red torii gate. The road will dead end at the “wood house” with the sign COCOSA KOJA.
To: Nagawa Cherry Village. From POINT “C,” instead of turning right to N.Ceramics, go straight 2.6 km. It will be on your right.
To: The Tourist Info Center. From Nagawa Cherry Village 0.9km up the same road.
To: HOKOJI/Mt. Nakui Go 0.1 km past The Tourist Info Center and turn left at stop sign, follow road to Rt.227 going up. 0.5 km turn left. Turn left when you get to the temple, you can pull into the parking lot on the left and walk up. To Mt. Nakui turn right just past the parking lot Rt.227. Go 1.8 km and park in front of the toilets. Walk up the paved road and soon you will see the hiking trail on the left. (Not recommended if the trail is wet.)
There are so many other “secrets” to explore In Nanbu. The more you come, the more you should poke around some of the other side streets to find treasures new and old!
PS: Strawberry picking is available from January to the end of June. At the time of publication, there is still time to taste the sweetest strawberries you will ever experience. Sakashita Rose Farm is the place to go. From Point C go straight 1.1 km and turn left at the large intersection. After 0.8 km turn right. 0.3 km turn right at the sign with the strawberry. A small way down turn right again on a dirt road at the sign with the rose and go between the hot houses to the strawberry flag. 0178-76-2898
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