The year 2011 marks Hirosaki Castle’s 400th anniversary. The city is fully in the celebration mood, and you will be welcome with open arms.
The castle town is different from any other towns you have ever visited. Historic houses and temples, century-old Western-style buildings, fashionable little stores, nice restaurants, and pretty apple orchards coexist to form the city ? with great Mount Iwaki as its backdrop. Here is a simple guide of the city.
Hirosaki Castle and the Park
The castle area surrounded by moats now serves as a public park. A few buildings including the dungeon, gates and bridges from the samurai era remain. The park holds lawn areas, the central castle area, a botanical garden, a shrine, a historical museum, and a civic center. You are charged to enter the garden and the castle area, just 300 yen to enter either area. It costs 500 yen for both areas, plus Fujita Memorial Garden, right outside of Hirosaki Park.
The park is the most beautiful in spring, when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. At the end of April, Hirosaki Park is the most crowded place in Japan, gathering over 250,000 tourists. Once you experience hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, you won’t be satisfied by hanami at other parks. The volume of blossoms each tree bears is surprisingly large, and it makes you feel as if you were walking under pink clouds.
Spring is not the only season worth visiting Hirosaki Park. Their spacious botanical garden is wonderful to visit in spring, summer, and fall. It is a habitat of 1,500 different species of plants. It takes a good one hour walk to see all what they have to offer. Wisterias and irises in mid-May, roses and dove trees in mid-June are my favorites. Dove trees, called “handkerchief trees” in Japanese, look like white dove’s wings or white handkerchiefs hanging from a tree ? very unique!
In the end of October through the beginning of November, as cherry tree leaves turn to reddish orange and Japanese maple leaves to bright red, they have Chrysanthemum Festival. Nicely arranged colorful flowers decorate the park. Some are technically grown as big as a head of cabbage.
In mid-February, snow lanterns are made along the alleys of the park. It’s best to visit there in the evening, when the lanterns are dimly lit. Snow sculptures and slay hill are also situated.
Fujita Memorial Garden
In the southwest of Hirosaki Park, next to the city hall, lies Fujita Memorkal Garden. In 1919, the garden was created by Kenichi Fujita, an entrepreneur and then head of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Japan. He brought gardeners all the way from Tokyo, making the traditional Japanese garden the best in the region. The grand view of Mt. Iwaki completes the garden. An old Western-style building is open as a cafe. Drink a cup of their quality coffee after taking for a walk. The admission to the garden is 300 yen.
Dotemachi District, along Route 3, southeast of Hirosaki Park, is the center of the city. Nice cafe, international restaurants, a market, and old Western style buildings can be found here. Walking around is the best way to enjoy the old and modern mix atmosphere in this district. There is an information center, which is helpful to visitors. They have cafe and stores selling souvenirs.
Climbing Mt. Iwaki
The tallest mountain in Aomori Prefecture is Mt. Iwaki, 1,625 meters above the sea level. It stands in the west of Hirosaki City. Its beautiful cone-shape is compared with Mt. Fuji. It looks calm, but it erupted a few times from the 17th century through the 19th century. Pretty alpine plants can be spotted here and there.
You can drive up to the eighth stage of the mountain, by entering a gate and paying 1,750 yen. The gate is open from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. Be prepared for 69 hairpin curves. At the end of the road, park your car, and you can take a lift that takes you to the ninth stage of the mountain. The lift ride costs 800 yen for both ways. It takes only around 40 minutes to get to the peak from there. But the trail is rocky and the temperature is low. It’s highly recommended that you should wear hiking shoes and jacket, and that bring enough drink. If you are an adventurer and want to climb Mt. Iwaki from its foot, take the course called “Hyakuzawa Route,” which starts from Iwaki Shrine. It takes about 4 hours and 20 minutes to the peak. A little pond, water wall, and natural fountain are found along the route. The hiking requires a lot of stamina since the trail is very rocky and steep. Take “Dake Onsen Route” when you go down, if you want to save time and relax in the onsen at the destination. (But you have to take a taxi to go back to the shrine.) To descent Dake Onsen Route, it takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Food in Hirosaki
Hirosaki City is the biggest apple-producing district in the prefecture, and even in Japan. The city encourages confectionaries create their apple pies. Currently, 45 shops sell different apple pies. Click on “Apple Pie Guide Map” at http://www.hirosaki.co.jp/ask/pamphlet.html (Japanese) to see the variety of pies they offer. How about French for lunch? Hirosaki has quality French restaurants. In Dotemachi District between Hirosaki Park and Nakasan Department Store, there are around ten French restaurants. They are all in the blocks south of Route 3. The most famous is Restaurant Yamazaki (JP0172-38-5515) between Aomori Bank and Asahi Bowl. Making reservation in well advance is advised.
The district called Dake at the foot of Mt. Iwaki produces the sweetest corns. Its weather in summer ? hot in the daytime and cool at night ? makes the crop so sweet. Once you eat Dakekimi, other kinds become to seem tasteless. In the end of August, they are sold at grocery stores in Misawa at somewhere between 200 yen and 150 yen per ear, about 50 percent more expensive than other kinds. At stalls in the district, however, an ear of Dakekimi is sold at around 100 yen. It’s a must-buy if you find the deal.
How to Get to Hirosaki City
Head to Aomori City via Michinoku Toll Road. Take Aomori Expressway and exit at -uroishi/ Hirosaki. Take Route 102, which leads you to the center of Hirosaki City. To go to Mt. Iwaki, take Route 3 to further west. Beware that the city is hard to navigate for strangers, because streets are narrow and winding, functioning as fortress of the castle. Obtain a map of the town before departure.
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