There’s much more to the main island’s northernmost prefecture than just delicious apples.

For some visitors to Japan, the main tourist hubs of Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo don’t offer enough of a unique, off-the-beaten track experience to really get a sense of what the country has to offer. While side trips to places like Miyajima, Hiroshima, Nikko or Hakone can provide some idea of what life is like outside the big cities, for a real immersive experience, there’s nothing like going on an adventure to a far-flung prefecture that few, if any, of your friends have visited.

If you’re in Tokyo, there’s a surprisingly quick way to go as far up the main island of Honshu as you can, to the northernmost prefecture of the island, Aomori Prefecture. Less than three hours away on a shinkansen – roughly the same amount of time it takes to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto – is a place that’s truly Japanese, filled with delicious local cuisines, breathtaking natural sites, and people who are excited to meet and chat with travellers from overseas.

We decided to pack our bags and head up to the northernmost prefecture to see how much we could pack into a weekend out of the capital. From stunning scenery to friendly locals, we ended up making memories we won’t ever forget, so here are our top 7 reasons why you should visit Aomori Prefecture during a trip to Japan.

1. Bike riding by the Oirase Mountain Stream

With an overall length of about 14 kilometres (8.7 miles), Oirase Stream is an amazingly clear stretch of water surrounded by a beautiful forest of white cedar, Japanese beech and maple trees. It’s a wonderful place to take a stroll in the crisp, fresh mountain air, with a walking path beside the stream that’s incredibly popular with tourists.

▼ The Oirase Keiryu stream is part of Aomori’s Towada-Hachimantai National Park.

What many visitors don’t know, however, is that the five-hour walking trip can be enjoyed in a much shorter time by renting a bicycle from the Ishigedo rest area, the Oirase Stream Museum or the Nenokura Eki JR bus stop along the way. Visitors can choose from regular bicycles (1,000 yen [US$8.83] for four hours) or electric bicycles (1,500 yen for four hours), which can be dropped off at any of the three rental points.

▼ The 25-meter-high Kumoi-no-taki Falls is one of many beautiful scenes you’ll come across by the Oirase Mountain Stream.

Cycling is easy with the electric assistance, and it allows you to cover the whole area at a relaxed pace away from the crowded walking path, leaving you with more opportunities to stop and admire all the beautiful cascading waterfalls along the way.

2. Food made by the locals for the locals

One of the best things about travelling to rural areas in Japan is the chance to live like the locals and experience their generous hospitality. Next to Aomori’s famous Lake Towada you’ll find Towadaya, which serves up delicious set meals from their humble kitchen, using local ingredients like freshly caught trout from the lake. This is one of those secret spots you won’t find in any of the travel guides, and the family who runs the little eatery will make you feel instantly at home with their laid-back, homely atmosphere.

3. A luxury stay at Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel

The Hoshino Resorts hotel chain is well-known for offering high-class accommodation at top getaway spots around the country, and in Aomori their hotel is the only place where guests can stay right next to the Oirase Keiryu stream. It’s a stunning hotel complex, with beautiful public baths and common areas, and an amazing interior that features high ceilings and an enormous central wood fire. The Japanese-style rooms overlooking the river make you feel like you’re sleeping in nature, with all modern conveniences on hand, including an electric leg massager to rest your legs after an afternoon of cycling.

At night, guests can dine on an apple-themed buffet that’s a delight for the senses. Aomori’s prized apples are the star of the show here, with most of the food options featuring the fruit as a key ingredient, and lots of adorable apple decorations are presented beautifully on the tables. From freshly squeezed apple juice to apple-flavoured stews and curries, there’s a huge selection to choose from, and everyone manages to make room for the apple pie and ice cream dessert set, served to order on a delightful little wooden board at the end of the meal.

4. A relaxing soak at Tsuta Onsen

Tsuta Onsen truly is one of Aomori’s hidden gems. Nestled in a mountainside and surrounded by a forest of virgin beech trees, the rustic inn here has over 100 years of history behind it, while the hot spring itself dates back 1,000 years.

Tsuta Onsen is one of the rare spots in Japan where you can bathe directly on top of the water source and enjoy the hot water gently bubbling out from the wooden slats on the ground underneath you.

Guests can pop by for a dip in the onsen and a walk around the nearby trails, or enjoy an overnight stay in one of their beautifully appointed rooms. A night here will have you feeling like you’ve been whisked away to a bygone era, hidden away from the world in your own secret haven.

5. Views from Mt Hakkoda 

The Hakkoda Ropeway is a fun and easy way to ascend to the top of Mt Hakkoda while enjoying the gorgeous mountain scenery.

Mt Hakkoda is a range of dormant volcanoes in central Aomori where alpine plants, swamps, marshes and virgin forests co-exist in perfect harmony. During the fall foliage viewing season, the mountain comes to life with a beautiful patchwork of coloured leaves, which is best enjoyed from above with a trip to one of the peaks via the ropeway.

▼ Even on a rainy day, it’s possible to look out from the top to enjoy expansive views of the region.

Being near the top of the mountain means meal options can be limited, but luckily visitors can enjoy a cheap but delicious lunch made with local ingredients at the nearby Hakkoda Resort Hotel.

Mt Hakkoda can be enjoyed year-round, with cool mountain walks in summer, golden leaves in autumn, alpine plants in spring, and snow-covered trees called snow monsters in winter.

6. Canoe rides on Lake Towada

Whether you’re a seasoned rower or an absolute beginner, a canoeing experience on Lake Towada with friendly guides from Nature Experience Greenhouse is something you should definitely do while in the area.

▼ The view from a canoe on the lake really puts you right in the middle of nature.

As the largest crater lake in Japan’s main island of Honshu, Lake Towada’s beautiful blue colour comes from the fact that it’s an impressive 327 metres (1,073 feet) deep. Located in the caldera of a volcano, the water is clean and clear, allowing you to see a number of fish, especially trout, while out in the canoe and surrounded by the forest of the national park.

The knowledgeable guides know everything there is to know about the local flora and fauna, pointing out things you wouldn’t notice at first glance. Plus, they’ll even help you learn some words in Aomori-ben, their local dialect, making for an incredibly enjoyable and memorable experience.

7. Fishing for scallops at a restaurant

Hotate Goya is a unique restaurant near the station where you can fish for your own scallops and then choose how to have them cooked. The service here is fun and friendly, with a no-frills, local tavern-like atmosphere where you can dine like a local. It’s the perfect way to end a trip to Aomori before hopping on the shinkansen back to Tokyo.

So there you have it, seven reasons why you should visit Aomori Prefecture. If you’re looking to escape the tourists and experience Japan like a true local, the main island’s northernmost prefecture is a great destination for a weekend away from Tokyo. You’ll meet friendly people, explore natural scenery, and create memorable moments that will stay with you long after you’ve returned home. And if you like apples, there’s plenty of them to go around too.

Photos © SoraNews24