Kuroishi: A relaxing retreat with a view not far from Misawa
Stripes Japan | .
published: November 08, 2017
A two-hour drive west from Misawa AB gets you to Kuroishi, an attractive city that is home to impressive streets filled in traditional wooden arcades, an abundance of pristine hot springs and a local craft art museum.
During a TDY to Misawa, I was able to visit and explore some of the things that make the city a great destination for tourists.
Inn of Lamps
Soak in a pristine forest
I began my trip to Kuroishi by visiting Aoni Onsen hot spring.
After seeing a small handmade sign along Lake Nijinoko on Route 102 indicating the direction to the hot spring, I got on a narrow, winding road that took me on four miles of bumpy, sometimes unpaved roads before I reached the hot spring.
Although mobile phones and GPS systems didn’t work, signboards were installed every quarter mile to help get me to my destination.
Just as the nickname “Inn of Lamps” indicates, the hot spring relies solely on light produced from its lamps. Situated deep in the valley, the only sounds to be heard were that of streams, waterfall and chirping birds, which created a surreal, quiet and serene bathing experience.
After paying the 520 yen ($4.50) admission, I began touring the hot spring resort made up of wooden lodges, shacks and five baths located in and outside of the buildings.
As it was still morning and there were only a couple of other bathers, I was able to take my time and enjoyed hopping baths from confined indoor wooden bathes to large open-air rock bathes with views of waterfalls and river streams.
A few hours of daytime bathing in the pristine forest left me feeling refreshed and energized. I departed the spa, hoping to come back one day during the winter to check out fantastic night view with the lamps and snow.
Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen
Location: 1-7 takinoue Aonisawa Okiura Kuroishi
Admission: 520 yen
Japanese dolls on display
Tsugaru Kokeshi-kan Museum
Having returned to the main road along the Lake Nijinoko, I then visited a local wooden doll museum as I made my way to central Kuroishi City.
Housed in a merchant house built about 200 years ago, Tsugaru Kokeshi-kan Museum displayed countless Kokeshi dolls, charming wooden folk craft dolls widely produced in Tohoku (northeastern) region of Japan. The dolls have a simple form of body and head, and are often used as a souvenir at hot spring resorts throughout the region.
The exhibit told the interesting history of folk dolls, how to make one by hand, and the 11 variations of form, pattern and style depending on the district.
With reservation, you can participate in a class to paint and decorate a doll yourself.
Location: 72-1 Tomiyama, Fukuro, Kuroishi
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: 320 yen ($2.50)
History lines the street
About a 15-minute drive from the doll museum was the center of Kuroishi City.
Because the city was originally developed as a castle town, there are many old traditional buildings still standing. Especially the Nakamachi Komise district, which is known for its impressive old wooden arcades.
The wooden arcades were built off the roofs of buildings to shelter pedestrians from snow in the winter and strong sunshine during summer. The street was nominated as one of the 100 most attractive streets in Japan, and has been preserved as Important Cultural Property of Japan.
I began my street walk by picking up some tourist information at “Matsu-no-yu” community center. The community center building was used as a public bath house, and it offers tourists a glimpse of the bath culture of Japan. The building was very unique as a 350-year-old pine tree standing next to the building protruded from the roof.
I found two traditional sake breweries, Nakamura Kamekichi Shuzo and Narumi Jozoten, along the street. I entered the shop building to check out the interior made up of vaulted ceilings and tatami rooms built on a raised-floor. With excellent rice and clean water, Aomori Prefecture accommodates numerous excellent sake breweries. Among them, however, these two breweries are considered two of the best for their full-bodied, rich flavors.
The sound of a Tsugaru-shamisen (local banjo-like string instrument) caught my attention on the street, and lured me to the Tsugaru Kuroishi Komise Eki, a shop featuring local sweets and wooden products. The shop offers a complementary live Tsugaru-shamisen performance in the city that started “Tsugaru Jongara” folk music. I was able to enjoy the afternoon performance, but they do perform twice every day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The passionate performance and magnificent technique reminded me of flamenco music played by a skilled Spanish guitarist.
Tasty tsuyu yakisoba in a traditional storage house
I ended my stroll in the traditional district by dropping by a Japanese restaurant for a late lunch.
Japanese restaurant Kurayoshi, housed in traditional building built nearly 200 years ago, is a popular eatery offering a variety of local dishes, such as soba noodles, sushi and tempura.
I ordered tsuyu yakisoba (fried noodles with broth) for 800 yen ($7).
This noodle dish was created by Kuraishi residents and is known as popular local dish.
The dish featured thick and chewy noodles along with shrimp and mushroom tempura in soy-sauce based broth. The then perfect the dish by putting some Worcestershire sauce on top.
A staffer recommended sampling the noodles with broth before mixing in the Worcestershire sauce so I could enjoy the changing taste of the broth.
I was impressed with the taste of broth as it gradually got thicker and more bitter which made the flavor of shrimp and mushroom tempura stand out. The chewy texture of thick noodles went along well with the broth, as well.
Jyogakura Bridge and Suirennuma Pond
Platform with a panoramic vista
Driving along mountain roads back to Misawa AB was very invigorating, as the roads gave me a majestic view of Mount Hakkoda and everything around it.
My eyes were transfixed on the magnificent view of Mount Hakkoda capped in snow, bright green valley and gigantic Jyogakura Bridge. The 837-foot long and 400-foot high bridge is the nation’s longest arch bridge and a must-see attraction.
Suirennuma Pond is another great spot to see Mount Hakkoda. I parked the car and enjoyed the panoramic vista of the mountain, crystal clear water and golden marsh on a pier. With birds chirping and lovable white skunk cabbage flowers alongside, I felt as if I had strayed into paradise.
Location: 13 Yokomachi, Kuroishi City, Aomori Prefecture
Hours: Thu – Tue, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Location: Kuroishi City, Aomori Prefecture
Attractions: Nakamachi Komise Street, Aoni Onsen Spa, Tsugaru Kokeshi Museum, Jogakura Bridge, Suirennuma Pond
Tel: 0172-52-2111 (Kuroishi City Hall)