The city of Aomori (青森市) in Japan has the unusual claim to fame of being the world’s snowiest city, with snowfall beating John’s, Canada, and even Chamonix, France.
If you visit this unique city in northern Japan, you’ll find that beneath the snowdrifts is a friendly city that is rich in history and culture.
In this short guide, I’m sharing the essentials of Aomori, Japan, the world’s snowiest city, and why it’s well worth a visit.
Where Is Aomori?
Aomori is the capital of Aomori Prefecture in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan.
It was founded as a seaport in 1624. It is one of the core cities of Japan due to its large population of approximately 300,000.
Aomori spreads out over 824.61 square kilometers of the Aomori Plain and faces Aomori Bay which is part of Mutsu Bay.
The Komagome River and the Arakawa River flow through the city and the Hakkōda and Higashidake Mountains are to its south.
Is Aomori close to Tokyo?
No. Aomori is more than 381 miles (613 km) from the capital.
Despite the relative remoteness, Aori still manages to draw more than 3 million visitors annually to its sights and festivals.
Below we share how you can get to Aomori from Tokyo.
So, just how much snow does Aomori get?
Massive snowfall is Aomori’s #1 claim to fame. Winters in the city bring an average of 26 feet of snow each year! Snow falls on the city continuously between November and April.
This is the heaviest snowfall in the cities of Japan, which is already the world’s snowiest country. Aomori even beats cities that are further north like Sapporo and Wakkanai.
The level of snow Aomori receives is relatively consistent, however, an unusually mild winter in 2020 led to the lowest snowfall for a decade.
Why is Aomori City so snowy?
Meteorologists believe that the abundance of snow is due to Aomori’s unique location.
Its position between the mountains and the Bay makes it a hub for several colliding winds which bring warmer, moist air to the region.
The air accelerates the development of thick clouds that rapidly cool and condense into precipitation over the city. With super-low temperatures, the precipitation falls as snow.
Living in the world’s snowiest city
Life in Aomori’s snowy season has to be experienced because conditions are just so extreme. However, the resilient folk of this city manage to keep life going on beneath the snow.
The presence of feet upon feet of snow presents numerous challenges for the transportation system.
Driving is not for the fainthearted as the snow is piled high on both sides of the road.
The city uses powerful snow plows that cut corridors deep into the snow and spray beautiful showers of snow that build up on either side of the road.
The city is soon overwhelmed by the monotony of plowing and shoveling snow.
When things get bad, public transport can shut down and cars may have to be abandoned. To beat the blizzards, some of the sidewalks in Aomori are heated to keep them snow free.
Tsugaru, the Aomori dialect that even the Japanese struggle with
No one in Japan understands the Tsugaru dialect spoken in Aomori.
Over the centuries it has become completely divergent from regular Japanese.
Tsugaru dialect is a big part of the local culture, with poets, festivals, and competitions celebrating the local lingo!
Why Aomori is worth visiting
This northern mainland city is well worth a visit.
It has an impressive location with access to the Towada-Hachimantai National Park.
Here are the events and highlights you can enjoy throughout the year.
Local crafts and specialties of Aomori
The city and wider region have some unique crafts that make very special souvenirs:
- Tsugaru lacquerware is a specialty of the region. The distinctive lacquer is created by polishing many layers of lacquer to create tableware that is renowned for its elegance and robustness.
- Tsugaru Painted Kites feature dramatic characters like warriors and other historical figures. The kite frames are made from hiba wood and have been made in the region since the Edo period.
Famous foods of Aomori
Here are some of the must-taste foods of this intriguing region:
- The Aomori apple. The cool crisp climate of Aomori prefecture is grown almost all year round and constitutes over 60% of the country’s apple production. This is the best place in Japan to eat apple pie along with numerous other apple puddings and cider.
- Aomori black garlic. Black garlic is an aged and fermented garlic that has an almost treacle-like sweetness.
- Kaiyaki Miso: This amazing seafood dish consists of a scallop omelet served in a half-shell.
- Ōma Maguro: The local tuna of Aomori is some of the best in the world. You can enjoy this fish in burgers, curries and sauces.
Key sites and attractions of Aomori
Aomori offers wonderful sightseeing throughout the year, with a great calendar of festivals as the seasons change.
Must-visit sites and events include:
- Hirosaki Castle, the seat of the Tsugaru clan, was built in 1611. It has expansive gardens (Hirosaki Park) which blossom beautifully in late spring.
- The rice paddies of Inakadate Village are decorated with remarkable artworks that people come from all over Japan to see. In the spring, volunteers plant hundreds of shoots to get the perfect image from the foliage of different rice varieties.
- Aomori also has its share of rejuvenating onsen (hot springs). You can find them easily in the city and in the countryside ryokan.
- You can also see spectacular bioluminescence in Aomori Bay. The organism that creates this phenomenon is Emplectonema kandai, a ribbon worm species.
What is Aomori Japan known for?
Despite all the heavy snow, Sapporo gets attention for its epic winter festival.
However, the people of Aomori can go toe-to-toe with their famous Aomori Nebuta and Hirosaki Neputa festivals that attract millions to the region in the summer months.
Here is some footage of Aomori’s most famous lantern festivals:
Getting to Aomori
You can get to Aomori from Tokyo by air, train, or bus:
- By air: There are several daily flights between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Aomori Airport. The flight lasts 3.5 hours.
- By train: The Hayabusa train on the JR Tohoku Shinkansen line travels from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori. This is a 3.5-hour journey. The city center is a 5-minute train ride away on a local train.
- By bus: Aomori is 4 hours away from Tokyo by bus. Take an overnight highway bus to complete the journey.
This interesting city is a must-visit for people who want to be immersed in the snow and culture of Japan. It has so much going for it and you’ll find that a short trip simply is not long enough to experience everything.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Aomori, check out my accommodation recommendations in the article, “5 Best Hotels in Aomori City”.
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