Early May is a wonderful season to travel through Tohoku. Taking advantage of the Golden Week holidays, all the stars seemed to align for a memorable trip; enjoying a Sakura festival in beautiful weather, exploring deep mountains and visiting various hot-spots in the region.
After planning a multi-day trip through four of Tohoku’s six prefectures, we planned to spend a day enjoying the Sakura festival at Hirosaki Castle and the next day hiking along the beautiful Oirase gorge, near Lake Towada. However, we also faced a daunting challenge: how can we get from Hirosaki City to Towada City?
City denizens are not often used to it, as in some mountainous areas, buses are not common. However, holding fast to our belief that there are buses going everywhere (we are in Japan, after all!) we started our search for the traveler’s graal. Scouring the depths of the internet, we finally discovered the existence of a « shuttle bus » leaving Hirosaki station at the beginning of the afternoon and reaching our Ryokan in Towada in time for dinner. A quick phone call later and the trip is booked!
Let the funny surprises begin…
Upon arrival at Hirosaki, we picked up tickets for the trip and then went off to enjoy the festival. Once the time of departure approached, we returned to the station and here comes the first surprise.
There is no bus.
There was but a regular minivan, with « Tourism Taxi » written on the side, and us the only passengers! After much perplexing and double-checking we confirmed that this was it; this was our ride into the deep mountains to Lake Towada. The trip was planned to last about four hours.
However, after about one and a half hours of riding, the driver suddenly pulled up at a rest station in the middle of nowhere! A quick explanation later, we learned that we had stopped at a traditional craft village for a short time. The second surprise – we got to discover beautiful Japanese traditional products as well as some interesting craft techniques and unexpected things!
On the side of things unexpected, there was an exhibition of movie posters. OK, so this is not so traditional (?) but it gave us an idea of the different movies that have been filmed around this area. Of course, there are also a few stores selling Japanese souvenirs and some local traditional products.
However, the most interesting feature was the workshop where traditional weaving was taking place! A group of ladies were creating and selling handmade handbags and other products made using old traditional local methods. Watching strings of various colors alternating to form beautiful patterns to make the desirable final product was just a pleasure to the eyes and a great experience. Moreover, the overwhelming kindness of these people lead us to listen to their explanations and understand the basics of this time-consuming activity, especially well-suited for the long winter nights of the North.
Time went too quickly and we did not get the chance to look into the wooden doll museum, but we could take a look at a display of traditional farming tools as well as dip our feet into the warm public foot-onsen/spa before embarking on our journey, back in the small minivan!
Before leaving the area, our very nice driver explained in English where the next stop will be. We will reach a bridge and he will drop us off on one side and pick us up on the other. This sounds like a weird activity, doesn’t it? Putting our doubts aside, we started traveling anew, going further into the snowy mountains surrounded by deep forests. After an hour or so of travel, the bus pulled up again.
Getting off we suddenly discovered the bridge. This is no ordinary bridge but an impressive pathway between two sides of a deep gorge. If you are subject to vertigo, you should not cross here! The amazing vista took our breath away with the long drop from the bridge to a beautiful river with pure blue color. The valley is surrounded by impressive mountains crowned by the remaining snow in the middle of the spring. Despite the absence of leaves on the trees, the view is spectacular.
We finished traversing the bridge, feeling the chilling wind that reminds us that maybe, we should have taken more warm clothes for this little adventure. Once safely on the other side, we could get back in our vehicle again and travel to our final destination.
About forty-five minutes later, we reached our accommodation near Lake Towada. The day would not be complete without going to the edge of the lake to admire the setting sun. What a beautiful place to end this very surprising journey from Akita to Aomori!
“Shuttle-bus” (Adventure Taxi!) Homepage (Japanese): http://www.tsugarunavi.jp/shuttlebus/
They run two different services; one during Spring-Summer-Autumn (April ~ November) and one during Winter (February only). The courses listed on the website are slightly different to our adventure above! So I would recommend calling the number below and consulting about a course that works for you.
Towadaso Ryokan Homepage (Japanese): http://www.towadaso.co.jp/
A lovely Ryokan conveniently placed close to the Lake Towada sight seeing area.