Honshū’s most northerly city, AOMORI (青森), sits at the bottom of Mutsu Bay, sheltered by the two claws of the Tsugaru and Shimokita peninsulas. It’s a small and rather characterless city, though it comes to life during the Nebuta Matsuri (Aug 2–7), one of Japan’s biggest and rowdiest festivals, which features giant illuminated floats and energetic dancing. It takes less than a day to cover Aomori’s main sights, of which the most appealing is a park displaying nebuta floats.

Southwest of Aomori, the small town of Hirosaki has a number of interesting historical sights clustered around its once magnificent castle that can be covered on a day-trip. You could also explore the Shimokita Hantō, the axe-head peninsula peering over Aomori from the east, which is dominated by the sacred Osore-zan, an eerie wasteland where souls hover between life and death.

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