Hirosaki (弘前) is a city in the northern Tohoku region of the main Japanese island Honshu.
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 and a famous version of the Neputa Festival.
Hirosaki is on the JR Ōu Main Line (奥羽本線) connecting Aomori, Akita and Fukushima. Local trains from Aomori take about 45 minutes (¥630).
Hirosaki is fairly spread out and you will need to figure out the bus system to get around affordably. Most lines radiate from JR Hirosaki station.
- Hirosaki Castle (弘前城 Hirosaki-jō). Only a few parts of the castle (built in 1627) remains, but the central donjon still looks pretty, especially in cherry blossom season. The grounds have been turned into a large park, including 5000 cherry trees. Admission to the museum in the donjon, featuring the usual array of swords and helmets, costs ¥200. Nearest bus stop Shiyakusho-mae (15 min from station).
- Neputa Village (ねぷた村 Neputa-mura). 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, which can be purchased by visitors. Admission ¥500.
- 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 admission.
- Zenringai (禅林街) is a collection of 33 Zen temples moved or built here to spiritually safeguard Hirosaki Castle. To get there, take a bus to Yonchuko and get off at Shigemori-cho Chosho-ji (20 min).
- Chōshō-ji Temple (長勝寺). Known for the Sanmon Gate (1629) and a hall filled with wooden statues of the 500 Disciples of Buddha. Admission ¥300, open daily 8 AM to 5 PM (but closed December through March).
- Shinteramachi (新寺町) is a slightly newer set of temples affiliated with the Nichiren sect. To get there, take a bus to Sakuragaoka and get off at Hirosaki High School (13 min).
- Saishō-in Monastery (最勝院). Known for its five-storied pagoda, completed in 1667, which stands 31.2 meters tall and took ten years to built on the order of Tsugaru clan leader Nobuyoshi.
- Hirosaki's biggest event is the yearly Neputa Matsuri (ねぷた祭り), held in the first week of August and quite similar to Aomori's Nebuta Matsuri (note slight difference in spelling). The festival is famous for its extravagant and colouful illuminated floats and accompanying dancers, and accommodation in the area is booked tight in season.
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.
- Hirosaki Youth Hostel. Tel. 0172-33-7066, . Housed in a concrete cube, this is a dull but friendly base for exploring the city. A bed for the night costs ¥3045 for HI members.
Drop into the Hirosaki Tourist Information Center at Otemon Square (under See) for useful maps and information.