30 August 2011

Inakadate Rice Art: Mum always said not to play with your food but..

Around 10km northwest of Hirosaki, the clever people of Inakadate have managed to create a concoction consisting of Japan's strongest attributes: rice growing, and painstaking perfection. With a population of around 8400, Inakadate, a seemingly little town like many others in Aomori (packed full of rice, apples and old people), has managed to stand out from the crowd with its incredible rice art, or tanbo art (田んぼアート).

2010 design
Started in 1993, to pull in visitors to its aging town, the villagers of Inakadate pioneered rice art, using varieties of grain to create images within the rice paddies. This year's image used seven different coloured varieties. These days a computer is used to map out the images, taking into account perspective from the 22 metre high viewing platform, and thousands of stakes used to plot them (over 8000 stakes were used for the 2010 田んぼ!). 
The 2003 portrait of Mona Lisa fell victim to the perspective issue, viewed from the castle-look-alike town hall, she let everyone know her good news.. looking somewhat pregnant. Check out the difference between the two perspectives from 2007`s art, from directly above and from the viewing platform.

This year's creation is of the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, takentorimongatari (竹取物語), one of Japan's oldest tales. Check out the story at its Wikipedia page here (especially if you enjoy a sci-fi tale or two). I haven't included a picture as not to spoil the surprise, but is worth the visit for the few minutes of awe you get shuffling orderly around the viewing platform. There are a few little food stalls in the town hall carpark and a friendly obachan who gave me ¥100 off my melon. There's even a little foot onsen, ashiyuu (足湯), adjacent to the paddy opposite the town hall to help soak in the ricey atmosphere.

The Skinny: Get your (visual) fill of rice without the calories.

Price: Free! (There is a donation box with a couple of smiley obachans at the entrance for those feeling generous)
Where: The paddies are right opposite the Inakadate Town Office, plenty of 田んぼアート signs once you get there. Click here for a link from Jusco in Tsugaru City!
Dates: This year's season runs from May 30th until October 1st
Times: Open from 9am to 5pm (last admissions at 4.30pm)

24 August 2011

Mt. Iwaki Day Trip

The natural beauty of Mt. Iwaki can be enjoyed in many ways – some more relaxing than others! One of these foolproof relaxing methods is a trip to one of the many onsen in the area.
Iwaki-sou onsen is a choice you can’t go wrong with. Situated in the picturesque hotel of the same name, the onsen boasts both outdoor and indoor baths. The outdoor baths are especially idyllic – there’s nothing quite like listening to leaves rustle and birds warble while you let the worries of daily life soak away.
If you can stave off the urge for a post-onsen nap, there is a beautiful Shinto shrine just down the road. While all of Mt. Iwaki is technically sacred ground, Iwaki-yama Shrine is the site of worship. Most of the main buildings date to about 1694. The shrine itself stretches back up the side of the mountain, deeper into the forest. It makes a great walk! And if you’re lucky, you will run into the friendly obaasan selling apple ice cream, yum!

The Skinny: A relaxing day trip - quiet soak in a refined onsen, followed by a stroll through the grounds of a tranquil shrine.
Price: Iwaki-sou onsen is 500¥, plus 100¥ for optional towel rental. Admission to Iwaki-yama Shrine is free.
Directions: Click here for a road map, starting from Jusco in Kashiwa!

23 August 2011

森の中の果樹園 (Mori no Naka no Kajuen)

One thing that the Tsugaru region is famous for is agriculture, and what better way to experience this than by going fruit picking?  At the inexpensive price of 1000 yen per person, you can pick as much fruit from the trees/vines as you can eat (no time limit)!  Also, you can pick fruit to take home at a price that is much better than what you find in supermarkets.  While it's hard to beat fruit straight off the vine, the beauty of the orchard makes the experience even better.  Different times of the year, different fruits, so check out the website!

The Skinny: Great Orchard
Time: 9:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. from the end of April to the end of October
Price: 1000 yen per person (all you can eat)
Location: click here for a map to Mori no Naka No Kajuen (From Jusco in Kashiwa)

11 August 2011

Hotel Apple Land Onsen

When in Aomori, one thing you must do during your time here is bathe in a hot spring filled with the prefecture's most famous produce: apples. One of the many onsens that provide such baths is Minamida Onsen, situated in the Disneyland-esque Hotel Apple Land near Hirosaki. The onsen is split into two, with separate entrances for both. This is fine for hotel guests, but for day visitors it's a little inconvenient.
The indoor bath has an extremely strong smell upon entering, but is well designed with various waterfalls and cosy pools arranged beneath a high ceiling with skylights. However the main attraction is, of course, the apple-filled rotenburo. Although a little on the small side, the fragrant apples and the bamboo shelter make for a relaxing dip in a very Aomori onsen.

The Skinny: one of many must-see apple-filled onsens in Aomori!
Price: 350 yen