The city of Aomori is home to one of Japan’s most popular and lively summer festivals, the Nebuta Festival. While the festival is a big part of the city’s rich culture, there’s more to Aomori than this annual event.
Just across from Aomori station, the bayside area, in particular, holds several spots worth visiting, and they’re all within close distance of each other along the water.
1. Miso Curry Milk Ramen
Foodies know Aomori best for its miso curry milk ramen. The pleasures of miso ramen topped with butter may be well known to anyone who has visited nearby Hokkaido, but adding curry powder and milk to the miso base gives the soup its own delectable Aomori flavor.
Some attribute its origin to the ingenuity of schoolkids experimenting with different noodle toppings thirty-plus years ago. Others cite the influence of Kiyoshi Satoh, a Sapporo ramen chef who moved to Aomori and ran a shop there in the late 1960s. Whatever the case, miso curry milk ramen is an excellent way to power up before sightseeing in Aomori.
2. The Nebuta Museum
The Nebuta Museum Wa-Rasse offers a chance to get up close and personal with the parade floats and admire every aspect of their design. It takes its “Wa Rasse” name from the Japanese word for laughter, warai and the festival’s boisterous dancing chant of rassera.
The museum features four large stationary floats from previous festival years in its Nebuta Hall, the “Faces of Nebuta” exhibition and a hands-on spot for feeling the texture of the floats.
On the way in, you’ll pass through a tunnel with exhibits on the festival’s history and displays showing a float’s inner frame and typical design process. The museum also has hands-on experiences and live performances. Visitors are invited to participate in the festival’s signature Haneto dancing and taiko drumming.
3. The ASPM Building
The Aomori Prefecture Tourism Information Center (ASPM) is housed in a triangular tower with a 360-degree observation deck on the thirteenth floor. The view encompasses the bay, the three surrounding peninsulas and the city, including landmarks such as the Aomori Bay Bridge and the Hakkoda-Maru ship. On the second floor, you’ll find Japan’s largest 360-degree 3D theater, which holds screenings dedicated to the Nebuta Festival and the four seasons in Aomori.
From late spring to the summer festival week in early August, you can also see the real Nebuta floats being worked on in Nebuta Rasseland, a row of tents behind the ASPM building. Head over there immediately after the street parade, and you might be able to see the floats being loaded back into the tents while they’re still illuminated.
The shape of the center is meant to symbolize the “A” in Aomori. Even if you don’t go inside, the striking architecture along the waterfront is an excellent view.
4. Chill out at A-Factory
Across from the Nebuta Museum is A-Factory, an indoor market with several restaurants and cafes and a warehouse of souvenir sweets. Aomori is Japan’s largest apple cultivator, so you’ll find plenty of locally sourced apple products here, including juice and cider, which you can see being made through the windows of A-Factory’s on-site cidery. The second floor has a restaurant that serves Italian-style French galettes said to go well with Aomori cider.
Outside A-Factory are the sands of Aomori Ekimae Beach or “A-Beach.” This artificial beach opened in the summer of 2021 and is a scenic and fun spot to get your feet wet. The big “Aomori” sign and the Bay Bridge as a backdrop also make for a great picture.
5. The Hakkoda-Maru
The Hakkoda-Maru Memorial Ship is one of the ferries that was used to connect Honshu with Hokkaido via the port of Aomori. It’s docked near a set of train tracks, and there’s a reason for that: railway cars used to enter the ship. You can still see a few of them parked on one of the lower decks.
The Hakkoda-Maru operated until 1988 when the undersea Seikan Tunnel opened. While touring the ship on your own, you can see port scenes from the 1950s recreated in the dioramas of Seikan World. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the ship’s engine room, pilot house and captain’s room. Weather permitting, the top navigation deck offers a nice open-air panorama of the harbor.