The Tohoku region in the very north of Honshu (Japan’s main island) plays home to the most beautiful, natural landscapes that I had no idea even existed in Japan!
I had the amazing opportunity to work with the Japan Tourism Board over the course of 5 days during the month of September (Autumn) to explore these less-touristy locations, specifically Aomori Prefecture and Akita Prefecture, which often gets overlooked.
Tohoku is a place that has a much slower lifestyle compared to the busy cities of Japan, boasting incredible landscapes such as massive crater lakes, nature parks with flowing waterfalls, mouthwatering foodstuffs, a rich cultural history, fun-fuelled activities and an all-round friendly atmosphere.
In this Tohoku Travel Guide, I have outlined my complete 5 Day Tohoku Itinerary with a list of all the locations I visited, my experience in these places, where I stayed and some other useful information to help you plan your own trip to Aomori and Akita!
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Arrival Aomori Airport
Upon arriving at Aomori Airport at around 9:00 am, we rented a car at the airport and we were swiftly on your way.
When renting a car from Aomori Airport, there is English speaking staff that will be able to assist and answer any questions you may have about the road rules in Japan.
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Our first location in Aomori Prefecture was the Oirase Gorge, approximately 2 hours drive from Aomori Airport.
Oirase Gorge is said to be one of the most beautiful valleys in northern Japan boasting a running stream that is fed from the nearby Lake Towada and a number of pristine waterfalls!
I don’t know about you, but when I pictured Japan in my mind I never expected to see waterfalls so Oirase Gorge is a very special place well worthy of visiting.
We spent around 2 to 3 hours hiking upstream through Oirase Gorge along a well-maintained 9km walking track, stopping off at several waterfalls and crystalline rock pools to marvel at their natural beauty.
After a relatively long but easy hike in Oirase Gorge, we headed on to our next stop, Lake Towada.
Lake Towada is said to be the clearest lake in all of Japan and my god is it impressive! This huge crater lake features two peninsular’s that extend out almost a third of the way across and the vibrant blue water contrasts beautifully next to the lush green trees that surround it.
There are a few options of viewing Lake Towada and they are onboard a sightseeing boat, on foot from the shores of the lake or by driving up the hilly roads to one of many viewing platforms for extensive panoramic views.
Sightseeing boats on Lake Towada operate every hour from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, between April – October and the price is around 1,400 Yen per person.
After a wonderful afternoon spent at Lake Towada, we drove to the city of Hirosaki which is approximately 1.5 hours west of the lake.
On Day 2 of our Tohoku itinerary, we kicked things off at the Tsugaru Museum to watch a traditional cultural performance known as Tsugaru Shamisen and after that, we wandered through the arts and crafts workshops watching the local artists carving out Japanese spin-tops on a wooden lathe.
The Tsugaru Museum is a great activity and experience to add to your list of things to do in the Tohoku region!
The next location on our Tohoku itinerary was Shirakami-Sanchi which is listed as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site since 1993.
Shirakami-Sanchi straddles the border between Aomori and Akita Prefectures and is home to the beautiful Anmon Gorge.
We spent the afternoon hiking through Anmon Gorge along forest trails, discovering spectacular waterfalls and wildlife along the way. It’s an easy to moderate hike that takes around 2 to 3 hours.
Hiking through Anmon Gorge was definitely the highlight of my day and it’s not to be missed on your Tohoku itinerary!
From Anmon Gorge, we headed back to Hirosaki for the night which is approximately a 45-minute drive from the gorge.
The following morning we left early to visit the famous Juniko Lakes in Akita Prefecture which is absolutely stunning and can easily be reached by an easy walking trail that leads through the forest.
My favorite lake, and the most popular at Juniko, is Aoike which translates to ‘Blue Pond’ and it lives up to its name with its vibrant, turquoise color and the Autumn foliage floating on top of the water added to the beauty of this location.
We spent around 1 to 2 hours walking around the lakes and I also flew my DJI Mavic Drone to capture some images of Juniko from an aerial perspective.
That afternoon, we traveled further south to an epic landmark known as Godzilla Rock which is located along the coastline in Oga, Akita Prefecture.
Godzilla Rock resembles the face of Godzilla and is best visited at sunset when the sun is bright orange and it seems as if Godzilla has a fireball in its mouth.
The rocks are quite sharp and uneven along this section of coastline so mind your step when making your way from the carpark to Godzilla Rock.
After watching an incredible sunset at Godzilla Rock we headed to Akita City for the night which is approximately a 1-hour drive south of Oga.
On Day 4 of our Tohoku itinerary, we headed inland again from Akita City to Lake Tazawa which is most famous for being the deepest lake in Japan with a depth of 423 meters.
Lake Tazawa is quite similar to Lake Towada that we visited earlier on in the week, offering sightseeing boat tours and beautiful views from every angle.
A few popular attractions dotted around the edges of Lake Tazawa is the Red Torii Gate of Goza no Ishi Shrine and the golden statue of a legendary local girl, Tatsuko.
There is also a tar-sealed road that leads right around the circumference of Lake Tazawa, boasting a very peaceful drive with several viewpoints overlooking this spectacular crater lake.
The most popular accommodations near Lake Tazawa to stay are traditional Ryokan Onsens. The most famous ones are Tsurunoyu Onsen and Kuroyu Onsen.
Unfortunately, these accommodations aren’t available to be booked online but you can contact them directly via telephone or email. All it takes is a quick Google search for these details.
On the last day of our Tohoku itinerary, we made our way from Kuroyu Onsen to the Tamagawa Hotspring in Akita.
Tamagawa Hotspring, also referred to as Tamagawa Onsen, was once a sulfur mine which has since turned into a popular tourist attraction.
Not only is Tamagawa a popular attraction, but the hot springs and surrounding areas are said to cure illnesses such as cancer. During our visit, we saw hundreds of Japenese people laying around on mats close to the sulfuric fumes that filled the air. It was definitely a unique experience and something you don’t see every day.
The landscape surrounding the hot springs is spectacular and there is an easy walking trail that takes you right through the center of it all.
Last but not least on our 5 days in Tohoku itinerary, we made our way back to Akita to visit one of the most iconic landmarks in the city, Kubota Castle.
With a rich history and architectural beauty, a visit to Kubota Castle is not to be missed on your Tohoku itinerary.
From the Kubota Castle to Akita Aiport, it’s approximately a 30-minute drive to drop off the rental car and then onwards to your next destination in Japan.
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FINAL THOUGHTS ON MY TOHOKU TRIP
I honestly didn’t know much about the Tohoku region before arriving, though, after five eventful days exploring the region, it by far exceeded my expectations!
With many fun activities to do and attractions to see, Tohoku is well-worth adding to your Japan itinerary even if it is just for a few days. I guarantee you won’t regret it!
If you have any questions at all about this Tohoku itinerary, please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can!
Enjoy your travels!
MAP OF TOHOKU
MY CAMERA GEAR
• DSLR Mirrorless Camera: Sony A7ii
• Drone Camera: DJI Mavic Pro 2
• GoPro: GoPro Hero 7 Black
• Everyday Lens: Sony F2.8 24/70mm
• Camera Bag: Lowepro Protactic 31L
• Selfie Stick: Sandmarc Metal Edition 1.2m
• Tripod: Joby Flexible GorillaPod
• GoPro Dome: Underwater GoPro Dome
• Power Bank: Anker Powerbank
• External Hardrive: WD Elements 4TB
WHAT TO PACK FOR JAPAN?
• Waterproof Phone Case: Universal Waterproof Case
• Reusable Water Bottle: Hydro Flask Water Bottle
• Rain Jacket: North Face Rain Jacket
• Day Bag: Nomatic 20L Day Bag
• Power Adapter: Universal Power Adapter
• Packing Cubes: 4 Set Packing Cubes
• Microfibre Towel: Quick Dry Travel Towel
• Travel Insurance: World Nomads Travel Insurance
• Money Belt: Hidden Money Belt