Aomori Japan Guide
So, as our adventure travelling around the world continued, we are now onboard the Holland America (HAL) ship Volendam cruising along the coast of Japan. While our reason for taking this cruise was to cross the Pacific, our first stop was Aomori Cruise Port at the northernmost tip of Honshu Island, Japan’s main island. In fact, this is the same island as Tokyo and Yokohama.
Arriving at Aomori Cruise Port
We woke up to find that we had arrived in Aomori earlier and we headed out on deck to fabulous views of the snow-topped mountains which surround Aomori. Since this isn’t a busy cruise port, it all felt quite relaxed as we walked ashore. Of course, there was the usual security surrounding the ship but the harbour area was very quiet.
We walked into the town centre from the ship since it is not very far at all. Aomori is not a place I knew much about before our cruise visit and I’m not sure we’d have picked it out as somewhere to go. In fact, it was only added to our cruise itinerary at the last minute due to a change of plans. I do think it’s great to discover places that are a bit off the tourist trail through and Aomori is a rather interesting place.
So what is there to see and do in Aomori. I expect most visitor will also arrive as we did at Aomori cruise port. However, Aomori is the gateway to the northern island and so if you’re driving or travelling by train you may well travel through here.
Getting Around in Aomori Cruise Port
Generally, public transport is a bit limited. We originally planned to get a bus to the archaeological museum but missed it and they seem to be more infrequent than we expected. We spoke to some lovely people in the tourist information centre when we asked for directions and who cautioned that we didn’t have time to go by bus. If you’re keen to see the museum either take a cruise excursion or hop in a taxi. They are available in the town centre near the tourist information office. While you’re there, do go inside and chat, they are lovely people and very helpful.
So we decided that rather than risk being stuck out of town for hours waiting for a bus back we’d just have a wander around the town centre and harbour area. It’s a very pretty area and it’s always nice to stretch your legs when you’ve been on board for a day or two.
Parade Float Exhibition Hall (Nebuta Museum)
Concerned that we had missed out on the archaeological museum, the tourist information officer suggested a nearby museum of pageant floats instead. The Parade Float Exhibition Hall showcases the huge floats from the annual Neputa festival. The Neputa Festival takes place each summer and is a particularly popular spectacle.
Huge floats with extravagant decorations, characters and also music proceed through the city along the processional route. At the museum, you can learn more about how these amazing floats are created and also find out about the history of the festival. Above all, you can see the magnificent floats for yourself.
If you don’t have time to explore the entire museum then at least pop into the shop. Entry to the museum shop is free and you can see some examples of the floats as well as browse for Aomori souvenirs.
Parade Float Exhibition Hall: Practical Details
Opening Hours: 9 am to 6 pm
Admission: 620 Yen (£4)
We also spent quite a long time wandering around the waterfront area which is quite pleasant and very quiet. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a cruise port where there were so few people walking around.
As you stroll around Aomori Cruise Port you’ll see many interesting buildings. These unusual triangular structures overlook the waterfront.
You can also walk up on to the large bridge that you can see in some of the above photos. Of course, this is a road bridge but it has wide pavements for pedestrians and anyway, it was very quiet with hardly any traffic. From up on the bridge you can get some great views across Aomori city and the harbour.
Hakkodamaru Memorial Ship
Until 1988 the only way to get from the main island of Honshu to the northern island of Hokkaido was by sea. Then, in 1988 the Seikan Tunnel was opened and fewer people wanted to travel by sea.
Although ferries do still connect the two islands even today, the Hakkodamaru was retired from service and became a museum ship. You can go on board and follow the self-guided tour to find out more about this ship.
Hakkodamaru: Practical Information
April to October: 9 am to 7 pm
November to March: 9 am to 7 pm
Admission: 500 Yen (£3.50)
Furukawa Fish Market
Lots of our fellow cruise passengers headed straight for the fish markets at each port in Japan. Furukawa Fish Market is within easy ready of Aomori cruise port for anyone who wants to taste fresh fish or see it being prepared and sold. The market is open from 7 am to 4 pm and admission is free, although you’ll have to pay for any fish you want to sample of course.
Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site
I really wanted to visit this archaeological site and I’m quite disappointed that it didn’t work out this time. However, that just means I need to go back again so maybe next time. The Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site is a preserved village from the Jomon period so is often referred to as the Jomon archaeological site or village.
The Jomon Period is an early part of Japanese history from around 13000 BCE to 300 BCE. During this time the inhabitants were mainly hunter-gatherers. You can see examples of the pottery which is also called Jomon in the adjacent museum.
Although it is possible to reach the archaeological site by bus, as we discovered it’s not easy. So if you want to visit the village I would recommend taking a cruise ship excursion or hiring a taxi. Alternatively, you could hire a car for the day and see some more of the surrounding area as well.
Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site : Practical Information
June to September: 9 am to 6 pm
October to May: 9 am to 5 pm
Admission: 410Yen (£3)
Aomori Museum of Art
The modern art museum is also located just outside the city and makes an ideal add on if you are visiting the archaeological site. It features both permanent and temporary exhibitions of Japanese modern art including some huge installations which are quite unique.
Aomori Museum of Art : Practical Information
June to September: 9 am to 6 pm
October to May: 9 am to 5 pm
Admission: 510Yen (£4)
A day in Aomori Cruise Port
We visited Aomori on a Sunday so that may account for how quiet it was. Look at the photo above. How often do you go to a cruise destination and find such a quiet environment? Aomori may not be on the mainstream cruise list but it’s a fascinating place with some excellent cultural attractions. We found the local people welcoming and hospitable and we really enjoyed our day here.