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Views Matsuri Days (2): Nebuta Matsuri
Aomori Beyond the Nebuta Matsuri: Nature, Water, and Local Flavors

The Nebuta may be the most famous tourist draw in Aomori, but the prefecture has lots more to offer. Visitors can enjoy the unique flavors of the local food year round, or relax away from the big city at Lake Towada or on the upper reaches of the Oirase River.

●“Home of Nebuta” – Wa Rasse

●“Home of Nebuta” – Wa Rasse

● ASPAM: the Prefectural Center for Local Products and Tourism

●Aji No Sapporo – Ōnishi

● Furukawa Ichiba (Aomori Gyosai Center)

● Rokubē

Wa Rasse – Artworks of Light

A few minutes’ walk from JR Aomori Station, the gateway to the prefecture, stands an impressive red and black building. That’s Wa Rasse, Aomori’s official “Home of Nebuta.” Every year, after the Aomori Nebuta Festival comes to an end, the famous parade floats are dismantled, never to be seen again. At Wa Rasse, several award-winning floats are spared this fate and live on for another year, lit up in a large, darkened gallery. Here, visitors can see these remarkable creations up close and learn more about these massive works of art and the festival behind them.

A little further along the shoreline is a large triangular building that looks like a slice taken out of a pyramid. This is ASPAM: the Prefectural Center for Local Products and Tourism. ASPAM provides tourist information and sells a selection of local agricultural and craft products. There are sweeping views over the city from the observation lounge on the 13th floor. Beginning with the Golden Week holidays in May each year, ASPAM also plays host to an important part of the Nebuta festival preparations in the “Nebuta Danchi,” a temporary village of tents and marquees around ASPAM where the nebuta floats are built and stored during the festival.

After taking in some of the information at ASPAM, it’s time to refuel. Like most places in Japan, Aomori has a proud tradition of local specialties. These three restaurants, popular with locals and visitors alike, provide a chance to try a taste of Aomori.

Miso Curry Milk Ramen

First up is the “soul food” of Aomori City: Miso Curry Milk Ramen at “Aji No Sapporo – Ōnishi,” located (despite its Hokkaidō name) in downtown Aomori. The novel flavor combination was developed by owner Ōnishi Fumio in the early seventies in cooperation with the previous owner, Satō Kiyoshi. The predominant style of ramen in Aomori at the time was shōyu [soy sauce] ramen built on a niboshi [dried sardine] broth base. There wasn’t much demand for the comparatively oily, hearty flavors of Hokkaidō-style ramen at the time. Word-of-mouth made the new style of noodles a hit, especially among students, who appreciated the generous portions. Eventually, some local high school students came up with the idea of combining the three items on the menu, (miso ramen, curry ramen and milk ramen) into a single bowl, and the miso curry milk ramen was born. Ōnishi recalls: “I went to a ramen shop in Hokkaidō once and asked for miso curry milk ramen. They looked at me like they didn’t know what I was talking about. That’s when I realized that this really is an Aomori original.”

Freshness in a Bowl – Nokke Don

The Furukawa Ichiba market is a must-visit destination for anyone with an interest in Aomori’s culinary culture. Since December 2009, the Aomori Gyosai Center has been offering the Nokke Don: a DIY rice bowl, topped with ingredients of your choosing. A wide variety of seafood is on offer in individual portions. The Furukawa Ichiba is popular not only for the freshness of the food, but for the opportunity to chat with the locals in the market. Better still, most toppings cost just ¥100. Korean-style beef barbecue is on offer as well. 

The Flavors of an Aomori Home – Kaiyaki-Miso

One more famous example of Aomori cooking is kaiyaki-miso, a simple dish made from Aomori’s famous scallops. The meat of the scallop is cut up and marinated in miso, then topped with lightly beaten eggs and cooked in the shell. The perfect accompaniment to the excellent local sake, in the past its nutritional value made it a staple of the dinner table in as well. Aomori favorite Rokubē is a great place to taste the traditional flavor of kaiyaki-miso. Owner Matsumori Toshimitsu explains: “Cooking the meat in the shell enhances the flavor of the dish. You have to choose a broad, deep shell so that the delicious juices don’t spill out.” Rokubē is close enough to the course of the Nebuta parade that the boisterous music of the hayashi can be heard from the underground premises.

  • [2012.09.13]
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  • Festival of Light: Experiencing the Nebuta MatsuriA young American returns to Aomori to take part in the 2012 Nebuta Matsuri. A report on the spirit and history behind Tōhoku’s most thrilling summer party.
  • “Nebuta Baka” Festival Fever in AomoriEvery year, the city of Aomori is swept up in a frenzy of excitement as gargantuan illuminated festival floats parade through the streets of the city. The high spirits of summer are as much a part of the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri as the festival’s iconic giant lanterns. Get a taste of the mania that sweeps Aomori each August: “Nebuta Baka.”

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