Hirosaki (弘前; ) is a city in Aomori prefecture, in the northern Tohoku region of the main Japanese island Honshu. In April 2020, Hirosaki had an approximate population of 168,739 people.
Hirosaki was the capital of the Tsugaru clan that once ruled over much of Tohoku's northern parts. Occasionally called "the Kyoto of the North", this hyperbole is backed up mostly by an abundance of temples, a castle's remains, and a famous version of the Nebuta Festival, called the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, but still mostly for Japanese. Its annual cherry blossoms are regarded as some of Japan's most beautiful. There is free wi-fi available from the city at Hirosaki Park and surrounding facilities. Aomori apples are also some of the most famous in the country.
History of the Hirosaki Castle, its castle town, and festivals
In 1603, construction began on Takaoka-castle by the Tsugaru Clan lord, Tamenobu. In 1611, it was completed, but in 1627, it's castle tower burned because of a lightning strike; the next year, the name was changed to Hirosaki-castle. In 1810, the modern castle tower was built. Since 1903, at the site of the castle were planted many cherry trees. And now, the site of the castle has been converted into a public garden. It's called "Hirosaki Park". It's one the famous places for cherry blossoms in Japan.
In 1609, the Takaoka castle town was begun and the town was finished in 1628. More over, the name was changed Hirosaki from Takaoka. Sites of samurai-class houses, factories and temples are kept on reused in other ways. Ishibaki house in the Kamenokomachi district was built 250 years ago, and people lived there got money to dedicate wara products to the castle. Now, it is used as liquor store. Kajimachi district was used as by craftmans who made katana swords and armor.
Hirosaki has warm summers and cool winters with plentiful precipitation year round. It is largely free from the brain crushing heat and humidity that blankets the southern half of Japan in mid-summer, but its winters can get bitterly cold.
Average August temperatures include highs of 28 °C and lows of 19 °C. Average August precipitation is 127 mm.
Average January temperatures include highs of 2 °C with lows of -4°. Average January precipitation is 149.9 mm. 
The closest airport is in Aomori, which has JAL service from Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Sapporo. ANA has flights to Aomori from Osaka and Sapporo.
Hirosaki is on the JR Ōu Main Line (奥羽本線) connecting Aomori, Akita and Fukushima.
From Tokyo Station, take the Tohoku Shinkansen Hayate or Hayabusa train to Shin-Aomori, then change to the Tsugaru Limited Express train. The trip takes 4 hours 15 minutes at a cost of ¥18,260 (adult, unreserved seat for Tsugaru). There is also a daily "Resort" train along this route which continues to Akita. For foreign tourists heading from Tokyo or further, the better deal is to purchase one of the regional JR East Rail Passes or the national Japan Rail Pass.
Local trains from Aomori depart once per hour and take about 35-45 minutes (¥680). There are also additional Rapid trains at the same price during rush hour.
In addition, there is a private rail line by Konan Tetsudo from Owani and Kuroishi, but this line is very local only, and you cannot use any JR Pass on it. It can be used however to reach some more isolared places.
Hirosaki is fairly spread out and you may need to figure out the bus system to get around affordably. Most lines radiate from JR Hirosaki station.
There is a hop-on-hop-off tourist bus that departs every 10 minutes from Hirosaki Station, with stops at numerous other tourist locations around town. The ride costs ¥100 for adults and ¥50 for children 6-11 years old. Full details and a route map can be found on the Hirosaki Tourism and Convention Bureaus website 
There is also the Tsugaru Free Pass which gives you 2 days of unlimited trains and buses in the service area.
One other option are rental bicycles. You can only rent them from 9 AM to 4 PM, however.
For going to more isolated places, a rental car may be the most efficient and convenient.
Tenshukaku, Hirosaki Castle
- Hirosaki Castle (弘前城; Hirosakijō), (The nearest bus stop is ''Shiyakusho-mae'', 15 min from Hirosaki Station.). Apr 1-Nov 23 9AM-5PM. Hirosaki Castle was completed in 1611 and housed several generations of the Tsugaru Clan. The large 49.2-hectare grounds include three concentric moats and earthen fortifications that surround the remains of the inner castle area: five castle gates, three corner keeps and a castle tower. After the original five-storied tower was struck by lightning and burned down, the current three-storied Tenshukaku tower was built to replace it. The castle grounds are now a public park famous nationwide for its cherry blossoms. The castle tower houses a museum featuring samurai-era swords, suits of armor, helmets and other items related to the castle's history. Adults ¥300; children ¥100 (including admission to Tenshukaku Castle Tower Museum). edit
- Fujita Memorial Garden (藤田記念庭園, Fujita Kinen Teien), 8-1 Kamishiroganecho (Next to Hirosakijō, south side), ☎ 017-237-5525, . 9-4:30. One of the most beautiful gardens in the Tohoku Region is here, with a beautiful waterfall, irises blooming in July, and a tranquil koi pond. It also has a tea house and villa of Fujita, a weathy businessman from a century ago. It's about a 5 minute walk after taking the 100-yen Dotemachi Loop Bus to the Shiyakusho-mae (City Hall) Bus Stop. ¥310, or ¥510 combo tkt with Hirosakijō. edit
- Tsugaruhan Neputa Village (津軽藩ねぷた村; Neputa-mura), . 9-5:30. Located at the park's northerneastern corner, this is where the festival's floats and memorabilia are held outside the Neputa festival season (see Do). The Village showcases a particularly large 8x10m specimen, and sheepishly notes that it's now too big to fit under the electric wires that crisscross Japanese streets. There are also several workshops preparing traditional Hirosaki handicrafts and foods, which can be purchased by visitors. Also, you can make traditional Tsugaru crafts like kokeshi and koma as well as listen to the performances of Tsugaru Shamisen. Don't miss their beautiful traditional garden with ducks and koi fish. Includes some souvenir shops. ¥550. edit
- Otemon Square. On the other side of the park, this complex contains Hirosaki's tourist information center and showcases more beautiful Neputa stuff including Japan's largest drum, diameter 4.5m wide and big enough for 50 people to bang on at once. Free. edit
Five-story pagoda, Saishōin
Temples & Shrines
- Zenringai (禅林街), (Take a bus to Yonchuko and get off at Shigemori-cho Chosho-ji (20 min).), . A collection of 33 Zen temples moved or built here to spiritually safeguard Hirosaki Castle. edit
- Chōshōji Temple (長勝寺), (1-23-8 Shigemori), ☎ 017-232-0813, . Apr-Nov 9AM-4PM. Known for the Sanmon Gate (1629) and a hall filled with wooden statues of the 500 Disciples of Buddha. Also has a good hilltop view over Hirosaki. Closed Dec-Mar. ¥300. edit
- Shinteramachi (新寺町), (Take a bus to Sakuragaoka and get off at Hirosaki High School (13 min).). A slightly newer set of temples affiliated with the Nichiren sect. edit
- Saishōin Monastery (最勝院), ☎ 017-234-1123, . 9-4:30. Known for its five-storied pagoda, completed in 1667, which stands 31.2 meters tall and took ten years to build on the order of Tsugaru clan leader Nobuyoshi. edit
- Iwakiyama Shrine (岩木山神社), 27 Terasawa, Hyakuzawa Hirosaki, ☎ 017-283-2135. Sitting at the foot of Mt Iwaki is this nice, expansive shrine with fountains, prominade, unusual statues, and beautiful buildings. Those driving in the warmer months can also go partway up Mt Iwaki on the Tsugaru Iwaki Skyline (¥1830) and then take a lift (¥700 one way, ¥1000 round trip) to Okunoin or the inner shrine, with a commanding view over the entire region. Free. edit
Other Interesting Places
- Hirosaki City Apple Park (りんご公園), 125 Terasawa Shimizutomita (8 min walk from Tokiwazaka Iriguchi bus stop), ☎ 017-236-7439, . 9-5. Features 1000 trees and 60 varieties of apples, with info on cultivation, marketing, nutrition and the history of apple production. It also holds its annual Apple Blossom Festival May 6th-20th (right after the Cherry Blossom Festival). The main events of the festival are playing the Tsugaru Shamisen, a live concert by the Ringo Musume (Apple Girls), the sale of apple pies and so on. People who like apples should go to this festival. Free. edit
- Aomori Bank Memorial Hall, (Near Hirosaki Park on Dotemachi Boulevard). This museum was built in 1904 as the headquarters of the 59th National Bank. It is a Renaissance-style building, designed and built by Horie Sakichi. There is an observation deck at the top. This is a national important cultural property. edit
- Yoshino-cho Park, (Near Hirosaki Chuo Station). The park is in the center of Hirosaki. There is a memorial statue of a dogs for the Yoshitomo Nara’s  exhibition in front of the Brick Brewhouse. In summer, the area is covered by lavender. edit
- Statue of Tamenobu Tsugaru, (In front of the Hirosaki Culture Center). The statue of Tamenobu is opposite Hirosaki Castle Park. Tamenobu attacked many castles of the lord of Nanbu during the Civil War period of the late 16th century. He won these battles and thus obtained Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s approval in 1590 to rule the Tsugaru region. He was the first lord of Tsugaru Domain. free. edit
- Hirosaki Sakura Festival (さくら祭り). Hirosaki is very famous for its Cherry Blossom Festival. In 1715, clansman of Hirosaki planted 25 cherry trees in Hirosaki castle. After 170 years, 1000 cherry blossom trees were planted in the same place. In 1918, the first cherry blossom viewing party was held. In 1919, many stalls started to appear, selling soba, mochi dango, etc. In 1961, the cherry blossom viewing party changed its name to Hirosaki Sakura Festival. Nowadays, there are fifty kinds numbering around 2600 trees.Further, we’d like to recommend seeing it lighted up at night. edit
- Neputa Matsuri (ねぷた祭り). Hirosaki's biggest event is this yearly festival, held in the first week of August (from August 1st to 7th every year) and many people come to see it. It is quite similar to Aomori's Nebuta Matsuri (note slight difference in spelling). The festival is famous for its extravagant and colorful illuminated floats and accompanying dancers, and accommodation in the area is booked tight in season. In contrast with Aomori's huge Nebuta festival. Hirosaki's Neputa is known for being more low-key and accessible. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a visitor's opportunities for interaction with the parade activities and local participants is greater at Hirosaki's festival than at Aomori's. edit
- The Hirosaki Chrysanthemum and Maple Leaf Festival (菊祭). It is held in autumn. This event is one of Hirosaki's top 4 festivals. A lot of chrysanthemums and maple leaves color the Hirosaki Castle botanical garden in Hirosaki Park. There are many chrysanthemum works, for example, dolls, Mt. Iwaki, a five-storied pagoda, and so on. edit
- Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival (雪灯篭祭), ☎ 017-372-1011. Hirosaki is snowy country, so in winter 150 large and small garden lanterns and 300 mini Kamakura are carved in Hirosaki Park. A large snow sculpture and a snow slide are also made. The candles in the garden lanterns and kamakura and Hirosaki Castle are lighted up. It’s very beautiful. edit
- Dake Hot Springs (嶽温泉郷), 7 Yunosawa, Tokiwano, Hirosaki, ☎ 017-283-2329, . Offers indoor and outdoor hot spring baths, as well as Japanese inn accommodations. ¥550~. edit
- Sakura Tunnel (桜のトンネル), Tokiwano, Hirosaki (SW side of Mt Iwaki). During the cherry blossom season, another excellent place is driving through this tree lined road with over 6500 Oyamazakura Cherry Trees and stretching for 20 km. It is almost like a tunnel of sakura. edit
- Shirakami Sanchi (白神山地), 61-1 Kanda, Nishimeya, ☎ 017-285-2810. Visitor Ctr: Apr-Oct 8:30-5, closed 2nd Mon. of month (if holiday, the next day). A UNESCO World Heritage Site for its undisturbed beech forests and waterfalls. Need car, or 1 hr bus ride from Hirosaki Stn. edit
- Aomori Spring Ski Resort (青森スプリング・スキーリゾート), Ajigasawa Kogen, Ajigasawa-machi, ☎ 017-372-1011, . Mon-Thus 8:30-5, Fri-Sun 8:30-8:30. There is some tremendous skiing in northern Japan in winter, and one place to find it is this large ski park. Ski and snowboarding lessons available. ¥5500. edit
The Four Seasons
In Hirosaki, the four seasons are clearly distinguished. There are four big festivals in Hirosaki--one for every season.
・Spring: It is from the end of April in the spring of Hirosaki. The Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Hirosaki Park. It was chosen as one of the loo Most Scenic Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan.
・Summer: Hirosaki is in a basin, so it is dry with little rain. Very hot!!!!! The Hirosaki Neputa Festival starts on August 1st and goes for one week. It's exciting!!
・Auturm: It is cool and easy to pass. Chrysanthenums and hundreds of maple trees color the inside of the park.
・Winter: Winter is cold and long in Hirosaki. The Snow Lantern Festival is held in Hirosaki castle park. It is filled and wrapped in a visionary atomosphere of one of the five major snow festivals. The snow lantern festival is held during early February every year. During the festival, Hirosaki Castle Park is filled with snow lanterns and sculptures which are illuminated during the evenings.
As mentioned, apples are the big thing in the region. But in addition, you can find some local types of sake, plus lacquerware, bunaco woodcrafting, basketry, embroidery, and pottery.
Hirosaki is Japan's leading producer of apples, introduced to the city in 1875 by John Inge, an American teacher working at a local school.
- BunPuku, (Near the Hirosaki Daigaku Ministop Convenience Store.). This ramen shop has many flavors of ramen, and the old woman who serves you is an interesting character. It also sells ice cream. edit
French is famous in Hirosaki. After the Meiji Era, many foreign teachers came to Hirosaki and taught using overseas techniques that advanced to the Japanese with an aim to create an academic city in Hirosaki. For the foreign teacher, many heritage buildings were built and the French food came, too.
- Yamazaki, (Near the Chuo-Hirosaki Station.). This restaurant is known particularly for the local food which represents Hirosaki. In this restaurant, the soup made from apples is famous. edit
As for the ramen of Hirosaki, dried small sardine soup stock is famous. By all means try it if you come to Hirosaki.
- Takahashi, (Near the Naijoshi JR Station.). Their ramen has a strong taste and the smell of dried small sardines. edit
Elsewhere, Anzu is a restaurant where you can see and listen to live performances of Tsugaru Shamisen and eat the local food too. University students' favorite restaurant in Hirosaki is Kureson. In this restaurant, you can soak yourself in deep taste and lingering sound. The student's recommendation is a garlic sautéed chicken.
If you happen to be near the expansive apple orchards, the local apple juice is also a delectable taste that Aomori people take great pride in.
If you're looking for alcoholic drinks, there are many options. Look for a neighborhood called Nishihiro south of Hirosaki University and east of Hirosaki Gakuin University. There are a lot of cheap bars and izakayas there because of the nearby colleges. If you're looking for more expensive drinks, check out a neighborhood called Kajimachi. It's the area around Asahi Bowl. If you can't find it, just look for the giant bowling pin at the end of the shopping district, Dotemachi, near Hirosaki Park. If you're looking for an "American style" bar, try 'Ash', 'Gumbo', or 'Garcom de Bar'.
- Hirosaki Youth Hostel, ☎ 017-233-7066, . Housed in a concrete cube, this is a dull but friendly base for exploring the city. The owner keeps a few cats and dogs in the hostel. There is no curfew. Bed for HI members ¥3,045; breakfast ostensibly extra, but often provided free; free coffee. edit
- Capsule Inn Hirosaki (カプセルイン弘前), ☎ 017-235-0364 (fax: 017-235-0554), . checkin: 4PM; checkout: noon. Found in Kajimachi, in the Asahi Building. Budget lodging that comes with all the amenities of a typical capsule hotel: a sauna, free wi-fi, a comfortable TV room and a small restaurant/bar. Normal capsule ¥3150; upscale capsule ¥4200. edit
- Toyoko Inn Hirosaki Ekimae (東横INN弘前駅前), (Next to station), ☎ 017-231-2045, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Japan's biggest business hotel chain has one here too. Spartan, but clean, quiet, decent and close to Hirosaki station. Includes free breakfast and wi-fi. ¥3900~. edit
- Hotel Hyper Hills Hirosaki (ホテルハイパーヒルズ弘前), 26-1 Kitakawarakecho, ☎ 017-239-6653, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Includes free coffee, comics, PC room, breakfast and bicycle rental. ¥4400~. edit
- Art Hotel Hirosaki City (アートホテル弘前シティ), 1-1-2 Omachi, Hirosaki, ☎ 017-237-0700, . checkin: 14; checkout: 11. Located very close to Hirosaki station with in-house restaurants, shopping and gym. ¥6700~. edit
- Dormy Inn Hirosaki (ドーミーイン弘前), 71-1 Honcho, ☎ 017-237-5489, . checkin: 15; checkout: 11. Business hotel with its own sauna 2 km west of Hirosaki Stn and 12 minutes on foot to Hirosakijo. Includes sauna and outdoor bath (rotenburo). ¥6500~. edit
- Smile Hotel Hirosaki (スマイルホテル弘前), 73-2 Dotemachi (About 1.5km west of Hirosaki Stn), ☎ 017-237-5550, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Another popular business hotel chain, with free bicycle rentals, wi-fi, ladies floor, and optional buffet breakfast. ¥6200. edit
- Super Hotel Hirosaki (スーパーホテル弘前), 148 Dotemachi (1.1km west of Hirosaki Stn), ☎ 017-235-9000, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Includes breakfast and natural hot spring. ¥6900. edit
- Blossom Hotel Hirosaki (ブロッサムホテル弘前), 7-3 Ekimaecho (6 min walk west of Hirosaki Stn), ☎ 017-232-4151, . checkin: 15; checkout: 11. A 3-star hotel that offers larger double rooms (17㎡). Includes free wi-fi, free parking, and has its own restaurant. ¥5200~. edit
- Hotel New Castle (ホテルニューキャッスル), (10 min east of castle grounds), ☎ 017-236-1211. checkin: 15; checkout: 11. Western style 3-star hotel with banquet rooms. Parking available for ¥550/day. A 15 minute walk to Hirosaki Stn. edit
- Hirosaki Toei (弘前東栄ホテル), 166 Dotemachi (1.2km west of Hirosaki Stn), ☎ 017-233-8111, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. A 3-star Japanese business hotel with free breakfast, and own restaurant, plus parking lot (¥540/day). ¥10,000. edit
- Hotel Route-Inn Hirosaki Ekimae (ホテルルートイン 弘前駅前), 5-1 Ekimaecho (Across the street from station), ☎ 017-231-0010, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Literally next to the station. Includes free breakfast. ¥7000~. edit
Drop into the Hirosaki Tourist Information Center at Otemon Square for useful maps and information.
- Aomori - Prefectural capital and bullet train station, with Nebuta Museum, Great Buddha, and other sights.
- Tsugaru Peninsula - Offers lots of natural beauty, as well as the gorgeous Takayama Inari Shrine.
- Hachinohe - Lots of sea coast beauty with the rugged Tanesashi Coast and countless seagulls around Kabushima Shrine.
- Mutsu - The Shimokita Peninsula is one of Japan's most isolated places, and home to Osorezan (Mt. Fear).
- Towada-Hachimantai National Park - One of Japan's best lakes, as well as the volcanic Hachimantai Plateau and gorgeous Oirase Gorge.
- Hakodate - Gateway city to Hokkaido, with great seafood and one of Japan's best mountaintop views.
- Akita - City in the middle of some of Japan's most pristine nature.
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