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Shimokita Peninsula

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Kappa-no-yu hot springs, Yagen Valley

The Shimokita Peninsula (下北半島 Shimokita-hantō) is the remote northeastern cape of the Japanese island of Honshu, stretching out towards Hokkaido.

Cities[edit]

  • Mutsu — the urban center for the area, with lively festivals in summer, particularly Tanabu Matsuri and Oominato Nebuta with floats. Largest shopping center the Maeda multi-storied downtown department store. Has a McDonalds, Gusto, Kappa Zushi, and decent independent restaurant scene. Check out the local family-run coffeeshop chain including "Cafe De Ketty" and "Discovery Cafe" for espresso beverages and light bistro food.
  • Oma — port for Hokkaido famous for Maguro (raw tuna)
  • Ohata — fishing village on the way to Yagen Valley
  • Sai — mountain village that has rock formations called "Hotokegaura", said to resemble Buddha.

Other destinations[edit]

  • Mount Osore — listed as one of the three main Rei Jou, 霊場, or sacred places, along with Mount Hiei and Mount Koya. Mount Osore is locally understood as a place where spirits of the dead assemble. It is said that you can communicate with the dead through dwindling numbers of blind spirit mediums called Itako. *Itako now are only present during the Summer and Fall festivals at Mount Osore*. With the 500 yen price of admission you can also use one of the four on-site hot spring huts without charge, so bring a towel and leave your modesty at home. You can enjoy wandering through the bleak hell sulfuric geography and relax in front of the beautiful Beach of Paradise (Goku raku hama).
  • Yagen Valley — scenic and almost uninhabited

Understand[edit]

Map of the Shimokita Peninsula

Shaped like an axe pointing west, the peninsula has a thin "axe handle" connecting the mountainous "axe blade" to mainland. The coasts maintain a thin scattering of population but the interior is as remote a region as you can find in Japan. The largest population center is the drab town of Mutsu.

Get in[edit]

No matter how you look at it, Shimokita is a long way from anywhere.

By air[edit]

The closest airports are in Misawa and Aomori; from there you'll have to take a train or bus. Misawa has direct service to Tokyo and Osaka; Aomori also has direct service to Nagoya and Fukuoka.

By ferry[edit]

Tsugaru Kaikyo Ferry [1] offers a service from Hakodate on Hokkaido to Oma at the northwestern tip of the peninsula. There are between two and four services per day, depending on the season. Drivers and bikers are encouraged to make reservations in advance, especially in high season. The current fare for one foot passenger is ¥2200 one-way. Note that there are no buses or a taxi rank direct from Oma ferry port; either reserve a taxi in advance, or ask the taxi drivers which are waiting for passengers who have reserved. Otherwise, there are bus stops in the town along a route leading up to Capr Oma (Oma-zaki). Buses are infrequent.

Shimokita Kisen [2] offers service from Wakinosawa to Kanita, crossing Mutsu Bay.

By train[edit]

The JR Ominato Line from Noheji (on the Aoimori Railway) travels up the axe handle to Mutsu. Direct Shimokita rapid service trains are available from Aomori and Hachinohe (the former being the northern terminus of the Tohoku Shinkansen line from Tokyo). The Ominato Line can also be reached by taking the Aoimori Railway from Hachinohe to Noheji.

By bus[edit]

Direct buses run from Tokyo to Mutsu, taking over 10 hours in the process.

Get around[edit]

Most tourists in the area either bring or rent cars. Getting around without your own set of wheels is not easy, especially off-season.

There is a Toyota Rental Car next to the train station, separated from it by a building. Make phone reservations for a rental with Toyota Rental's international English line and pick it up at the rental office. Be prepared for little English at the local site itself.

Intermittent buses do connect the main towns. If you travel by bus, be sure to pick up an Aomori Card (available to passport-showing foreigners only) in either Aomori or Mutsu's tourist office for 50% discounts on travel.

There is a convenient bus from the Shimokita train station to Mount Osore.

The other (often faster) option is hitchhiking. Be prepared for long waits, though, as many roads on the peninsula are very lightly trafficked, even in high season.

On the west side of the peninsula, ferries run between Wakinosawa, Sai and several points in between.

Talk[edit]

Shimokitans have their own dialect of Japanese, known as Shimokita-ben (下北弁), which keeps linguists and other visitors scratching their heads at times. Some typical Shimokitan words and phrases include:

English Standard Japanese Shimokita dialect
I watashi wai, wara
my place's, mine watashi no tokoro no waihono, wahono
please -shite kudasai -samai
..., isn't it? -ne -nishi
A little sukoshi wansuka

Standard Japanese is, however, widely spoken.

See & Do[edit]

  • Yagen Valley is one of the most beautiful mountain valleys in all Japan, featuring free hot springs and campgrounds.
  • Mount Osore is a special "sacred ground" that is said to be filled with ghosts. The site of a Soto Zen Buddhist temple compound with a pilgrim's lodging serving vegetarian food. Site also has a restaurant with local favorites that are supposed to taste especially good in the sulfur-heavy air. You can also take a dip in the hot spring huts on site (included in your price of admission.)
  • It is possible to visit Cape Oma, the northernmost point of Honshu, without your own transport if you arrive on the 11:10 ferry into Oma and can get a taxi to Oma-zaki (the cape), then continue south to Mutsu. A bus which goes from Oma to Mutsu calls at the Cape at 11:58, but does not stop for photos etc. breaks. The Cape itself features several touristy photo opportunities, lots of small shops selling gifts, many pricey sashimi tuna and squid dishes, plus good views of Hokkaido.
  • Cape Shiriyazaki is the most northeastern point of Honshu. It features beautiful sea cliffs and "wild horses" you can get close enough to touch. Good photograph opportunity. In the winter the gate to the cape is locked and you must walk and the horses are kept in a pasture more sheltered from the harsh winter wind, it is still accessible but not right on the water. During the summer you can drive out onto the cape and see the horses and the lighthouse as well as walk on rather dirty and garbage-strewn beaches.

Eat & Drink[edit]

The local speciality is squid, particular squid ink ramen noodles.

Contact[edit]

Mutsu's tourism office is very helpful to the few foreigners who make it to this neck of the woods, although English ability and material is limited.

This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!




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