Inakadate in Aomori Prefecture is famous for its stunning and intricate rice paddy art. What began in 1993 with purple and yellow rice plants forming a picture of Mt. Iwaki has since grown into an annual event that draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors from around Japan and even internationally.
There are two observation venues: Inakadate and Yayoi no Sato. There is a free shuttle bus running from Tanbo Art Station that visits both venues.
The main purpose of the project was to show the tradition of manual work in the fields and in rice cultivation. This gave people a way to learn more about the dying art of rice farming and agriculture as society is fast-shifting toward a more urban lifestyle. Traditional rice farmers took advantage of the growing interest in rice art to make Inakadate a booming tourist center. In 2014, even the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited the site.
At the beginning of June every year, guests can get their feet wet in the rice fields and learn how to plant the variants of rice to create that year’s picture. Then, later in the year at the end of September, it’s time to harvest that beautiful rice. If you decide to try your hand at planting or harvesting the rice, you’ll get a free lunch of onigiri and pork miso soup. Prior registration is required for either event and manual-labor clothing is expected.
Get off at Tanbo Art Station on the Konan Line and take an 11-minute shuttle ride.
Hirosaki Castle, completed in 1611 by the Tsugaru clan, is located in Aomori Prefecture and is a particularly worthwhile excursion destination, especially during the cherry blossom season. Originally the tower was a 5-story building, but after a lightning strike it burned down to its foundation walls. A law at the time said that the tower could not be rebuilt in its original form, so that the tower was rebuilt as a three-story tower, as can still be seen today. The tower of Hirosaki is the only castle tower in the Tohoku region, which was rebuilt in the Edo period and it is considered a symbol of the city of Hirosaki. The first cherry trees in Hirosaki Park were planted about 300 years ago. Here visitors also have the opportunity to marvel at the scenery from a boat or to admire the evening illuminations.
Hirosaki is one of Aomori's rural gems and considered a top Tohoku destination. While the spring sees flocks of visitors descend on Hirosaki Castle to capture the mesmerising cherry blossom views along the castle moat, by the summer the region comes alive with the sound of the drum and cries of "Yaayado!" in the city's traditional neputa festival – with a parade of giant floats lighting up the evening sky. [photo id='178106'] But Hirosaki is less commonly known for its agricultural prowess and is actually one of the largest apple producers in Japan. On the surface this might not mean much to foreign visitors, but it is actually the area's best kept secret and helps Hirosaki's doors remain open to welcome visitors throughout the year. 'Hirosaki Satoyama' is local collective of farmers who have come together to build a program of agricultural experiences and homestay opportunities – both for Japanese and foreign guests. It probably provides one of the best opportunities to stay with locals and experience the Japanese rural way of life first-hand. Whilst 'real Japan' has arguably become a buzzword in Japan tourism marketing, travelling to Honshu's norther-most prefecture of Aomori and staying with a local farmer is as surely real as it gets. As well as picking Aomori apples, visitors can get involved in a wide range of activities from potato digging, harvesting the local Dake-Kimi sweetcorn, strawberry/cherry picking and peach/blueberry gathering – it really depends on the season but a good choice is often available. Spring focuses on fruit thinning and flower picking, summer can involve grass cutting and bagging fruits still on the trees, autumn is more harvesting focused while winter is predominantly pruning. [photo id='178083'] This program effectively provides 'minpaku' (aka private lodging) experiences – connecting those who want to experience rural life with those local farmers who are looking to get a little extra help and are willing to open their homes to new visitors from far away. The Hirosaki Satoyama farmers accepting visits are a delightful group of people – with many keen to open their doors to foreign visitors (for now the official website remains in Japanese, but English language enquiries are welcome and you can expect a prompt response when contacting them). [photo id='178082'] Rates are incredibly reasonable and include 3 home-cooked meals provided by your host, using local ingredients most likely including the fruits of your own labour too. Throw in the cultural exchange opportunity of getting to know a local farmer family plus stay in their authentic home, and it would be really hard to justify not choosing such Hirosaki homestay on your next visit to Aomori! Hirosaki Satoyama is the brainchild of Mikako Murakami, who manages the organisation in tandem with running operations at local farm shop, Anekko, alongside her husband Iwao Murakami. The Murakamis are well-known in Hirosaki, being one of the leading producers of Aomori-brand apples in the region. This expertise is what flowed into the Anekko concept – a roadside market and restaurant directly connected to the farmland that sells its fruit and vegetables, and sources the dishes served up in the restaurant. They are also the driving force behind the Hirosaki Satoyama movement, which has expanded to 10 different local farmer families – all of who will offer a warm welcome to those venturing to beautiful Aomori prefecture in the north of Japan.