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Venturing North: Aomori

Off the beaten tracks, in search of new horizons, good food, a dog and much more.

by Nanban

Located on top of the Honshū island, just facing the appendix of Hokkaido, lies a city not so much on the trails of tourism: this town is Aomori, the capital of the homonymous Prefecture.

Small as it could be - compared to many other cities of Japan - Aomori is the perfect destination for those in search of a quiet, friendly, different and off the beaten track city.

The last stop of the Shinkansen bullet train before heading to Hokkaido, it is unexpectedly rich of activities, both in the nearby countryside, where to hike in summer and spring and then to ski in winter, and around town.

A few highlights, just to begin with its exploration.

The Aomori Museum of Art, where a delightfully dressed staff in minä perhonen uniforms will introduce you to a large collection of modern and contemporary art, which boasts among its peculiarities a huge Chagall cycle as well as one of the largest collections of Yoshimoto Nara, the world-renowned artist originally from the nearby city of Hirosaki, with a couple of giant sculptures that will seal the deal:

The most famous is rightly called Aomori-ken (Aomori Dog)
It is a colossal dog sculpture, 8.5 meters high and 6.7 meters wide, placed in an open space on the west side of the museum. The Aomori-ken, which looms over onlookers like a Great Buddha, whose expression changes with the seasons, is fondly regarded as the museum's symbol.

Another large-scale sculpture by Nara is a 6-meter-tall bronze statue named Miss Forest, located inside the Hakkakudo, an octagonal brick building also conceived by the artist. Seated in the solemn building as an immanent presence, pre-existing with respect to the museum that surrounds her, Miss Forest invites visitors to an intimate communion, the same one she shares with the elements that slightly change her profile from season to season.

Staying outdoors, the backcountry offers endless routes starting from the mountainous agricultural district of Okiagetai and going further towards the mountains of Shirakami, which surround the largest virgin beech forest in the world, declared a World Heritage Site.

Between one restaurant and another, where you can taste the best fish in Japan, given the port tradition of Aomori, which was born as a fishing village, finally a trip cannot be missed to observe at the Seiryuji (Blue-Green Dragon) Temple another remarkable example of giant Buddha, the Showa Daibutsu, which from a height of 21.35 m, which makes it the largest bronze seated Buddha statue in Japan, watches over the city with its benevolent gaze.

A small city full of surprises, a springboard for other explorations in an area of Japan that is still little explored, outside the box.