If I’m honest, my first visit to Hirosaki disappointed me. The tenshu of the city’s famous castle had been moved, such that it was impossible to take the most famous photograph of it, i.e. framed by the most beautiful of the many vermillion bridges in the sprawling complex.
This was especially disappointing since, as luck would have it, I was in the Tohoku region right as cherry blossoms were right at their peak. The unique “petal moat” was completely full!
The bad news? It will be at least another year (I’m writing this in 2024) before the castle tower is moved back to its original location. The good news? Things to do in Hirosaki (and, especially, just outside the city) far exceed the images you see on postcards, as I discovered on my latest trip there.
How to Get to Hirosaki
Regardless of what shape your Hirosaki itinerary ends up taking, you’ll need to get there. Since many travelers come on day trips—more on that in a second—I’ll presume to start with that you’re coming from somewhere nearby, probably Aomori. Thankfully, getting to Hirosaki from Aomori is easy: Frequent services along the JR Ou Line connect Hirosaki Station with both Aomori Station and the Shin-Aomori Shinkansen hub.
If you do happen to be coming from Tokyo or somewhere farther away (whether to stay a few nights—or, however unlikely this is, just for the day), this is also pretty easy. The local transport company Konan Bus runs services directly from Aomori Airport to Hirosaki; these stop at both Hirosaki Station and at Hirosaki Bus Center, which is about halfway between the train station and Hirosaki Castle.
Top Things to Do in and Around Hirosaki
Visit Hirosaki Castle
It should go without saying that if you come to Hirosaki, you have to visit Hirosaki Castle, the only one of Japan’s 12 “original” castles in the Tohoku region. Do be advised, whether you visit in late April for the sakura or amid the scarlet momiji of autumn, that the tower won’t be moved back to its picturesque original location until at least 2025; your pictures will look different than ones taken here used to.
(But don’t forget the rest of Hirosaki)
The area around the castle is easy to miss, but impossible to forget. In particular, I love the 20th-century Taisho Tea Room just across the street; you can enjoy beef curry made with locally-grown apples while you admire its heritage architecture. Next door to here is Fujita Memorial Garden; I also recommend making the 10-minute walk to Saisho-in temple, if you have the time.
Enjoy having Takayama Inari Shrine all to yourself
If you don’t remind renting a car, doing so really opens up the Tsugaru sub-region to you. Among my favorite places to visit is Takayama Inari Shrine. Comprised of vermillion torii not unlike Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, this spot is usually almost completely empty, on account from its remote location on the sea—and, importantly, the fact that it is not served directly by public transportation.
Attend the Tachineputa Matsuri
On the other hand, you can go via train to Goshogawara, which I also consider a worthy addition to your Hirosaki trip. While the Tachineputa festival only takes place for a few days in early August, you can see its massive, colorful floats year-round, at the exhibition hall in the center of town. I highly recommend this, even if you’ve never had a particular interest in Japanese matsuri.
Savor local nature
Mt. Iwaki towers over Hirosaki—on a clear day, you can see it from almost anywhere in the region—but it’s only the beginning of local nature. If you have a car, you can make the drive to nearby Kuroishi, the hub of Aomori’s famous apple industry; come in late October to see them ripe on the trees—and to pick them. Another worthwhile stop is Lake Towada, which is at its most beautiful amid the autumn leaves, but is gorgeous year-round.
Should You Stay Overnight in Hirosaki?
For many travelers, the topic how many days in Hirosaki to spend doesn’t come up, since they tend to come on a day trip, usually just to visit Hirosaki Castle from Aomori. However, having recently completed my first overnight trip to Hirosaki—I stayed three nights—I can personally say that it’s worth spending a few day here, if you have room in your Japan itinerary.
As far as where to stay, the properties that are most convenient to the places in my Hirosaki travel blog are, unfortunately, not the most amazing in Japan. On the more expensive end, Art Hotel Hirosaki City is ostensibly a 4-star property, though it’s seen better days. The more economical Super Hotel Hirosaki is closer to the castle and offers free breakfast, but also features much smaller rooms.
Other FAQ About Visiting Hirosaki
Is Hirosaki worth a visit?
Hirosaki is absolutely worth visiting—and not just because of its famous castle. The city is filled with history and culture, to say nothing of the charm of the Tsugaru sub-region that surrounds it; Hirosaki is the perfect base for exploring them.
Is Aomori worth visiting in winter?
Aomori is, by some measures, the snowiest city in the world. As a result, Aomori prefecture is the best place in Japan to visit if you want to see the country covered in snow. I’d actually say it’s a better choice than Hokkaido, in spite of the latter being more famous for winter travel. Aomori offers more traditional Japanese architecture and culture, which only enhances the scene you’ll be able to capture.
What food is Hirosaki known for?
Hirosaki is known for a special version of Japanese beef curry, made with the addition of a local ingredient: Apples grown in nearby Kuroishi. The curry isn’t extremely sweet—many of the sugars in the apples break down during cooking—but they do add a certain je ne sais quoi, which is especially welcome if you eat the dish during the frigid winter months.
The Bottom Line
I hope you feel inspired by all the things to do in Hirosaki I’ve listed, whether or not they include visiting Hirosaki Castle at the peak of spring’s cherry blossoms. Within the city-proper, a bevy of historical attractions beckon, as does Mt. Iwaki looming in the distance. If you rent a car (or can patiently navigate local public transport), plenty of other options exist just outside the city, from matsuri in summer, to mysterious shrines in winter, to autumn colors and apples you can pick in autumn. Need personalized help putting your trip to Hirosaki together? Commission a custom Japan itinerary today!