My shop is open for 7 days a week, so I do not have any fixed holidays at all apart from about 4 days summer and 1 week new year holidays. My shop is like an extension of my hobby, so that is why I still enjoy my work and I am happy to be here every day.
When I take holidays, I normally visit craftsmen I am interested in and I am planning to visit Shimane prefecture this year where is famous for a large shrine called Izumo Taisha and the mountain where they used to take out silver from. My shop is, therefore, going to be closed from 21st to 24th of August this year and I will write the article about that trip. I am so excited to visit there especially because I am going to take an overnight train called Sunrise Izumo from Tokyo to get there and I am going to stay at nice onsen ryokan.
Anyway this article is about traveling to the north of Japan, where I visited last summer. Main purpose of this trip was to visit an Oke (wooden pail) craftsman in Akita prefecture and I continued my trip to Aomori prefecture where is the northern part of mainland Japan.
1. Visit to Noshiro city of Akita prefecture
Many tourists visiting Japan tend to go to the west of Japan after visiting Tokyo such as Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. These cities are certainly very interesting to visit and I also like that side of Japan. When they visit north, most of them take a flight to Hokkaido, where is an island located in the north of the mainland Japan. I hadn’t really visited north of Japan until the last year and I really liked that part of Japan too. Although they say Japan is such a small country, Japanese mainland is divided by the high rise mountain in the middle and the rural areas are divided into even small regions by the relatively high mountains, so we have noticeable cultural differences across different parts of Japan. The local cultures can be very different even though the cities or villages are right next to each other due to the reasons above. So those people from Akita and Aomori speak differently and they retain very unique cultures.
These are sushi wrapped with persimmon leaves and I like to eat them when I travel on Shinkansen.
Akita is famous for high quality rice, so as you get closer to Akita prefecture, you will see the rice fields.
Noshiro city where the Oke craftsman is located is in the northern part of Akita. It takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes by Shinkansen to get to Akita station from Ueno station in Tokyo (many trains to go to the northern part of Japan leaves from Ueno station by the way). You, then, need to change the trains at Akita station to Noshiro city, which takes about another 1 hour.
This is the local train to Noshiro and that line is called Gono line （五能線）, which runs through the coast line of northern part of Japan to Aomori from Akita. There is a world natural heritage site called Shirakami mountain area along the way and the most of the train journey is by the coast line, so it is also famous for very scenic view from the windows.
After enduring 5 hours train ride from Tokyo, this little local train station greets you. Hi, Noshiro! Noshiro is not that touristy area, so there are no tourist attractions nearby, but my purpose of coming to this city was to visit the Oke craftsman.
Handcrafted wooden pails are called Oke in Japanese and they have historically been made in this area.
Oke is generally made with Japanese cedar (cedar from Akita is particularly famous) it is cut into small pieces with the particular angles. Me checking the angles of the wood pieces.
They are then glued together and shaved to the pail shape using these hand made tools.
He is the craftsman (Mr. Shimizu) explaining to me in details how the wooden pails have been made.
If you are interested in his works, you can visit this online store.
2. Shirakami mountain area
I got on the Gono line on the following day to continue my journey and my next destination was the world natural heritage site called Shirakami mountain area (白神山地）.
The whole area is covered with the deep forest and only limited area is open to the tourists. There is a bus service from the nearest station to the trekking site. There are several trekking routes to choose from and I chose the shortest one of about 1 hour trekking route.
This is the famous blue pond, which has very mythical atmosphere.
I was drenched with my own sweat after the trekking, but the cold stream from the mountain saved me from being completely parched.
I, then, went to an onsen hotel for the night.
The hotel I stayed on that day is called Furofushi onsen .
3. Hirosaki and Aomori cities
Hirosaki city in Aomori prefecture is famous for its beautiful original wooden castle, although it is relatively small and if you are expecting something big, you may likely to be disappointed, but it is still beautiful.
Many people visit there for viewing cherry blossoms in April.
There are many old buildings in the city, so it would be nice to visit these areas by a bike which can be rent at the station. You can easily ride around the city visiting the famous buildings by the bike within a day.
On the last day of my trip, I took a train to Aomori city.
The local trains look almost the same wherever you are in Japan, but the atmosphere is different possibly because of the local people sitting around you are different.
Aomori city is a good sized city with the port and they are famous for providing fresh fish. You can also rend a bike by the station, so you can easily ride around the city and I had fun visiting museums and relaxing at the port etc and my trip was coming to the end.
4. Gran class Shinkansen
JR now provides first class service for limited seats with a little extra cost and that service is called Gran class.
There are several variations to the seats of Shinkansen and these are non-reserved, reserved, Green seats and Gran class. The prices vary depending on the types of the seats and the cheapest one is the non-reserved seats. Green seats are like business class of an airplane and they provide more relaxing and spacial seating areas. Gran class is the latest version of the most luxurious seats and that service is still limited to several areas, so if you are interested, please check which lines are available for the seats and you need to book them in advance.
Only 15 seats are available on each shinkansen. The seating areas are very spacious and the bento and drinks are all included (as for the drink, you can order as much as you like!!).
Traveling within Japan with Shinkansen can be very expensive, but if you are visiting Japan as a tourist, you can purchase the Japan Rail Pass, so you will be able to travel for significantly reasonable price, so you are strongly recommended to get one for you. But please note that you need to purchase that prior to your visit to Japan, so please visit the Japan Rail Pass homepage for the detail information.