Bense Swamp located in Kizukuri Tateoka, Tsugaru City, Aomori Pref. is one of the largest swamps in Tsugaru Qausi-National Park. In the area around this swamp are numerous large and small lakes and pond. Surrounded by Hirataki Pond, Otaki Pond and Bense Pond, this swamp at an altitude of 20 m above sea level has an area of 20 ha, where the community of Nikko-kisuge (Hemerocallis middendorffii var. esculenta) forms a bright orange carpet in June, and the purple community of sword-leaved iris shudders in the breeze in July. The swamp was formed because dead plant layers such as peat moss have heaped up due to the severe climatic conditions. It is unusual that this kind of marshy plant community is formed near the beach. In Honshu and the northeastern part of Hokkaido, it can be seen nowhere other than in the wetland area around Mt. Byobuyama including this swamp. Bense Swamp is a scenic spot where visitors can enjoy bright-colored cute flowers.
Lake Jusan is a brackish lake on the Sea of Japan in Goshogawara City in Aomori Prefecture. It is also called Jusan-gata. With a circumference of 30 km, an area of 2,060 ha and a depth of 3 m, it is the 3rd largest lake in the prefecture. It is known for a collecting ground for common clams (Corbiculidae).
The excavation research carried out in the 1990s revealed that Tosaminato, a legendary port city, which existed from the late 12th to the 15th centuries, was located on the sand bar between this lake and the Sea of Japan. As the home ground of the Abe and Ando clans, the powerful warrior families in the Tsugaru region, the city was prosperous as a port city, where international trade was actively carried on. It declined in the late 15th century with the ruin of the Ando clan.
A lot of historic sites, which prove the prosperity enjoyed by the Ando clan, remain in the area around Lake Jusan. Those include Sannobo Hie Shrine with the double Torii gate in Kyoto-style and the thirteen attached temples and Fukushima Castle ruins, where the Ando clan had resided.
The stone monument inscribed with the words meaning “This is the northernmost point of Honshu” stands on the extensive beach of Omazaki Cape at the tip of Shimokita Peninsula in Aomori Prefecture. The streets of Hakodate City, about 18 meters away across the Tsugaru Straits, can be viewed on a fine day. The magnificent ocean view from Omazaki Cape will make you realize you are standing at the end of the farthest land. The sun setting in the land of Hokkaido is a superb view.
The town of Oma is famous all over the country as the base port of Ipponzuri (fishing one by one with one pole) of tuna. The monument of huge tuna is erected at the cape and it is a popular photogenic subject. The area around the cape is arranged into a park, which is alive with tourists during summer.
The Yagen Mountain Stream is the 4 km clear stream in an upstream part of the Ohata River, which flows into the Tsugatu Straights. It is at the northern foot of Mt. Asahina and a part of Shimokita Peninsula Quasi-National Park, which includes famous Mount Osore.
It is famous for its beautiful scenery comparable to the scenic beauty of more famous sightseeing spots in the prefecture such as Lake Towada and Oirase Gorge. From tender green in early summer to beautiful autumn colors, visitors can enjoy seasonal changes in scenery.
You can also enjoy forest bathing while walking along the 4 km path beside the stream. It takes about 1 hour from Yagen Hot Springs to Okuyagen Hot Springs. The stream is known as a good fishing spot for sweetfish and Japanese local trout such as Yamame and Iwana.
Near the stream is National Yagen Camping Site, where a lot of people enjoy camping in summer. About 2 km up the stream from the camping site is “Kappanoyu (Kappa’s Hot Spring),” an open-air bath with the legend of Kappa, and Mutsu City Okuyagen Shukei Park, where there is another open-air bath “Meoto-Kappanoyu.”
The hot spring area is called “Yagen” because the shape of the hot spring vent looked like Yagen, a tool used in the making of traditional herbal medicine.
From the end of April through the early May every year, Hirosaki Cherry Festival is held in Hirosaki Park in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture. It is counted as one of the four big festivals in Hirosaki City; the others are the Snow Lantern Festival in February, The Neputa Festival in August and Autumn Leaf Festival in October.
Hirosaki Park is the ruins site of Hirosaki Castle, where the Tsugaru clan had resided during the Edo period (1603-1868). The only existing donjon in the Tohoku region remains in the park. The castle ruins site was arranged into Hirosaki Park and open to the public in 1895. It is now one of Japan’s representative cherry blossom viewing places.
The cherry trees were first planted in Hirosaki Park in 1715, when 25 stocks of Kasumi-zakura (Prunus leveilleana) were sent for from Kyoto. Later in the Meiji period (1868-1912), additional cherry trees were planted several times. Today as many as 2,600 cherry trees in about 50 sub-species including Somei Yoshino cherry come into bloom in spring.
The cherry trees that stand at the edge of the water moat extend their branches over the water, reflecting their beautiful images on the surface. When the park is lit up at night, the donjon shows its elegant figure in the midst of the cherry blossoms, which creates a fantastic scene.
These dolls appeared in 1810, when Tsugaru Yasuchika, the 9th lord of the Hirosaki domain, invited a potter Takaya Kinzo from the Chikuzen region of Kyushu. A kiln was then prepared for him at Shitakawara, where he produced daily necessities. As it snowed heavily in winter, potters could not make pottery during this time. Then Kinzo created earthenware dolls when he had no work to do, hence the beginning of the earthenware dolls in Shitakawara.
In the making of this doll, red earth and sand are mixed together to form clay, which is put into a plaster to shape the doll. It is then fired at high temperature for several hours, and then painted to create the finished design. Shitakawara dolls features three colors of yellow, purple and red, which are applied on the pure white base color. The pigeon whistles and the dolls of zodiac figurines, warriors and Manekineko (Lucky Cats) are famous. All are made in the traditional hand-making techniques that have been handed down for a long time.
Katsuhiko Akimoto is a master lacquerer in Tsugaru Lacquer Ware. A traditional craftsman certificated by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. He has also been awarded a lot of major prizes in Japan’s Traditional Craft Competition held every year. At the present, he serves as a director of the Tsugaru Lacquer Ware Association. Born in Hirosaki City, Aomori Pref. in 1942, Katsuhiko Akimoto was apprenticed to Kunitaro Watanabe at the age of 15, and 6 years later in 1963 he set up his own workshop. In 1976, he took up a position as the factory director of Imaizumi Lacquer Craft located in Tsugaru Lacquer Ware Coop and engaged himself in training young craftsmen. In 1982 he withdrew from the company and started making his own products at home. His main products are the speckled trays in kara-nuri technique, as well as other products in nanako-nuri, monsha-nuri, and nishiki-nuri. It takes several months to finish one product through a process of lacquering and burnishing repeated dozens of times. This craft is so time-consuming that it is given an alias name of “Baka-nuri,” which means only a foolish fellow can do it so carefully. The making of this ware dates back to 1677, when a lacquerer, Genbei Ikeda, started making a lacquer ware under the fosterage of the Tsugaru clan. Since then the craft has been handed down for over 300 years.
Ojima Neputa Festival is held in Ojima-cho, Ota City, Gunma Prefecture. The Neputa festival, which is typical to the Tsugaru region, is held in this town because the village of Ojima was an outland territory of the Tsugaru domain in the 17th century. In 1985, a group of people interested in this historical link visited Ojima-cho and the Neputa troupe joined Ojima Festival from the next year onward.
Since then the enthusiasm for Neputa grew among the citizens and they went as far as to build their own Neputa lantern and change the name of the festival to Ojima Neputa Festival.
The festival is held on August 14th and 15th every year. The parade of the 8 m tall Ogi Neputa (Fan-shaped Neputa) lantern and the float carrying the Joppari drums is valiant itself. Colorful pictures of warriors lit up against the dark sky look fantastically beautiful. The highlight of the festival is the joint performance of the Joppari drums and Ohayashi music at the end of the festival, which is very impressive and worth seeing.