December in Aomori means lots of light displays and Christmas events. You can find everything from giant Christmas trees to gospel choirs to Santa Claus himself. Many of the events in Aomori are small and ongoing, but there are a few special events and festivals happening as well. And if pretty lights and men with white beards aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other events happening around the ken as well.
Ride the Tsugaru Stove Train (津軽鉄道ストーブ列車)
What: A winter party train from the 1940’s with coal fired stoves inside.
Why: Grill some squid over a potbellied stove and down some sake as you watch winter landscapes pass you by. If you go during busy season, you’re likely to encounter lots of tourists looking for fun.
When: December 1st to March 31st (train schedule: http://tsutetsu.com/station/20120401.html)
Where: Most people board at the Goshogawara station, 〒037-0063 Goshogawara-shi, Aomori aza Omachi 39
Cost: regular train price plus 300 yen
Webpage: Official(Japanese): http://tsutetsu.com/service/event.html
Previous write-up: http://intotheringoffire.blogspot.com/2012/01/tsugaru-tesudo-its-party-train-from-40s.html
Hirosaki Electical Fantasy (弘前エレクトリカルファンタジー)
What: The town of Hirosaki and several businesses deck the town with Christmas lights and decorations. There will also be a Christmas flea market the first 3 Sundays.
Why: Lots of pretty lights, also there is also a catholic church in Hirosaki which I assume will be decorated as well.
When: Lights: Nov 30th – Feb 28th
Where: There will be lights all over town, but there should be a big concentration around Otemon Square and the surrounding areas.
Webpage: info(Japanese): http://www.aptinet.jp/Detail_display_00001764.html
Hakodate Christmas Fantasy (はこだてクリスマスフャンタジー)
Although Hakodate lies just outside Aomori it is only a short train or ferry ride from Aomori City and will have some beautiful Christmas Decorations.
What: A massive Christmas tree from Halifax, Canada (Hakodate’s sister city) with a nightly lighting ceremony, more Christmas lights around the city, a steamtrain that runs twice daily to a national park, and a delicious soup bar.
Why: Hakodate is a fun city to visit, and this is a good excuse to explore the city and watch a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
When: The tree will be up Dec 1st thru the 25th with a nightly lighting ceremony at 6:00 with Fireworks on Dec 1st and 23rd thru 25th.
Where: Hakodate near the Kanemori Warehouse area
Websites: Official (Japanese): http://www.hakodatexmas.com/
Write up from a previous year: http://www.bfh.jp/en/theme/theme_searchdetail/80000822/
Japanese Confections and Origami class for Foreigners (外国人のためのひろさき楽習)
What: Learn the Japanese art of folding paper (origami) and making sweets (wagashi).
Why: You like folding paper and/or eating sweets?
When: December 2nd from 1 to 4pm but space is limited
Where: Hirosaki Culture Center
Cost: Free, but bring a bandana, apron, and a towel
Webpage: Official(Japanese): http://www.hi-it.net/~chuko/event_jouhou.htm
Winter Nebuta in Hirakawa (平川ねぷたまつり“冬の陣”)
What: Hirosaki style nebuta floats on display and traditional dancing and singing. Probably fair food as well.
Why: Do you wish it was summer again with Neuta parades filling the streets? Here’s a chance to catch some Hirosaki style floats. But don’t expect this to be as large and crazy as summer Nebuta festivals.
When: Dec 8th and 9th from 6pm to 8pm
Where: Along the 282 from the Hirakawa city office to Hirakawa station.
Official (japanese): http://www.city.hirakawa.lg.jp/docs/2011101200013/
Flier page 1: http://www.city.hirakawa.lg.jp/docs/2011101200013/files/H24tirashi-omote.pdf
Flier page 2: http://www.city.hirakawa.lg.jp/docs/2011101200013/files/H24tirashi-ura.pdf
Hirosaki Shamisen Concert (The津軽三味線)
What: A concert featuring 300 Shamisen players, along with dancing, singing, etc.
Why: The shamisen is a traditional Japanese instrument which the Tsugaru area is well known for, and seeing 300 played in unison sounds pretty impressive.
When: Saturday Dec 8th, matinee at 2, evening performance at 5:30
Where: Hirosaki civic center coliseum 〒036-8356 Hirosaki-shi, Aomori 1-6, ooaza-Shimoshiroganecho
Cost: 1,500 yen to 2,000 yen
Webstie: Official (Japanese): http://www.hcci.or.jp/txt/samisen/index.html
Tonami Winter Fantasy (となみウインター・フャンタジー)
What: A Christmas Celebration at the road station Tonami. At the opening ceremony there will be fireworks, Santa, gospel music, a mochi pounding contest, Japanese mascots, games, and more! Throughout the season there will be a giant Christmas tree and lots of luminary candles.
Why: Christmas! Fireworks! Cold weather!
When: The Opening Festival is Saturday Dec 8th from 11:am till 7:00pm The illuminations and candles are from Dec 8th until Dec 25th
Where: Tonami Tourist Village 4-298-652 Yachigashira, Misawa, Aomori
Official (Japanese): http://shibareru.misawasi.com/sb.cgi?cid=0
Hirosaki Ugly Christmas Sweater Party
What: A holiday party with apple cider, a white elephant gift exchange, and ‘Christmas Story’ playing on a big screen.
Why: Bad sweaters, cheesy presents, and friendly faces.
When: Saturday December 15th Party starts around 5, gift exchange at 7
Where: Robbin’s Nest, a bar that’s a block from Hirosaki station
Cost: 500 yen cover
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day
A lot of couples go on romantic dates for Christmas, so if you go out the restaurants will probably be crowded and have special meals. Also eating Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to be a popular Christmas tradition here, so put in your orders early if you want to have Christmas dinner Japanese style.
As always, if you know of a cool event, festival, or celebration happening around the ken please let me know. And Happy Holidays everyone!