After a freezing and almost completely sleepless night courtesy of Towadako Hostel we headed out to the lake side for sunrise. Our first stop after parking up was Towadako shrine, which is accessed by a short hike through the forest (beware of bears!). The shrine was really beautiful, nothing but trees surrounding the shrine buildings.
After we’d explored the shrine we went down to the lakeside. Towada lake is a caldera lake which means most of the sides of the lake are steep cliffs. On the southern shore is a beach area nestled between the peninsular’s that stick out into the lake. From here you can see the small tree covered islands that sit in the lake. The sun coming on to the opposite site of the caldera was stunning, the leaves lit up like fire! There is also a small sacred island on the lake with small shrines on which is beautiful when back lit.
There are a number of view points around the lakeside up on the mountains and so we drove into neighbouring Akita prefecture to get a higher vantage point of the lake. It was a pretty windy day and you could see the way the wind was moving the water!
Next stop was the number one reason for visiting Aomoro prefecture, Oirase Gorge. The gorge holds Oirase stream which feeds Towada lake. The stream is famous all year round but especially in autumn when the leaves have turned. The stream has a number of waterfalls and has a hiking trails and road which follow it for a number of kilometres.
We spent a couple of hours getting in and out of the car to explore different areas of the gorge, making sure we stopped off at each waterfall. They were stunning! The falls at the end of the stream, nearest to the lake, were almost empty of tourists. Once you get up near the visitors centre the road becomes blocked by tour buses and entire hoards of tourists.
I really do recommend going to Oirase gorge, the stream and waterfalls are stunning. Make sure you get there early to avoid the millions (exaggeration maybe) of tourists that arrive on the buses.
We were headed back to Aomori city that evening to meet my penpal for dinner and return the rental car. There was one place I wanted to stop on the way, Hakkoda ropeway, but we had enough time to stop if we stumbled across anything that looked interesting, the perk of having a car! Our first stop was at a higher part of the stream that eventually feeds into Towada lake, which had some impressive falls of its own.
The bonus for these falls were that there were no other tourists here! There was a lovely bridge stretched across the river and places for picnics with benches made out of enormous rocks.
It was pretty much a straight shot back to Aomori city, on beautiful mountain roads lined with orange and red leaves. Japan has great provisions for tourist spots along the road, as a rule if you see a random lay-by there is probably something to see. We pulled into one of these random lay-bys and found ourselves in hell… or at least that is what the sign said. We were at Jigokunuma, a sulphur pond with a mist of fumes coming out of it! The water was a peculiar light blue and at the shallow edges of the pool you can see the yellow sulphur deposits. Also it stank!
After the smelly pit stop we made it to Hakkoda ropeway within a collection of 16 mountains in northern Aomori prefecture. During the winter the mountain is used for snow sports whilst during autumn the trees are ablaze. The landscape around Hakkoda is quite unusual, and once you reach the top of the ropeway you can go on a short hike to some marshlands. It was pretty windy and cold up there, but the view across the Hakkoda mountains and into Aomori city bay were astounding.
After our mountain adventure we drove straight back to Aomori city, dropped our bags off at the hotel and drove back to Times Car Rental at Shin-Aomori station. We caught a train back to Aomori station to get some culture whilst in Aomori. We visited the popular Aomori Nebuta Matsuri which houses the enormous and extravagant floats from the yearly festival. The museum is large but doesn’t contain too much and so won’t take a very long time to experience. However it is certainly worth it as the floats are stunningly beautiful! You get a chance to see how they are made, and at certain times of the day even help to make one yourself.
After this we had quick showers, no way we were going to use them at Towadako Hostel, and went out to meet my lovely penpal. We had all you can eat at Gyukaku and had an amazing time! We only had two days in Aomori and filled them as much as we could. I definitely want to visit Aomori prefecture again, everyone was so kind there and everything was so beautiful!