Oirase Gorge Ice Fall Tour, Aomori
See a new side of Aomori with this range of night- and day tours in the Oirase Gorge region. This spectacular remote region is a Tohoku autumn highlight, but the cold winter brings the additional promise of frozen waterfalls and icicles to admire. This Japanese National Treasure is superb for taking photos at any time of year, but the night illuminations are even extra special. The comfort of a warm bus ride and tour guide explaining the area and individual illuminations outside makes for a special winter treat.
Hachimantai Backcountry Ski Tour, Iwate
Hachimantai is a mountainous region in north-west Iwate, bordering Akita and Aomori. The slopes here promise unrivalled opportunities for both skiers and snowboarders alike to enjoy powder snow. The area promises a diverse topography and panoramic views – don’t miss the juhyo snow monsters (frosted trees) as you fly by. For a change of pace, jump in a Snowcat and try cat skiing to take your backcountry adventure to the next level, before relaxing in a local hot spring resort.
Tour a Sake Brewery: Otokoyama in Kesennuma
It’s not hard to come across good Japanese sake when you get to Japan – it is stocked just about everywhere. However, I recommend taking the opportunity to explore the incredible history and culture that goes into its production.
Otokoyama Honten, founded in 1912, is a traditional sakegura (sake brewery) in the port town of Kesennuma, on Miyagi prefecture’s east coast. It’s famous for numerous brands, not least the acclaimed, international contest winner, ‘Sotenden’. Although the wider business was hugely impacted by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the main sake brewery itself emerged unscathed—even recommencing their brewing the very next day! Join a sake tour here not just to learn about the sake fermentation process itself, but witness the brewer’s passion in person and community’s resolve for recovery as it continues to fight to bounce back.
Become a Mountain Monk in Dewa Sanzan, Yamagata
If you ever came across cult-fave ‘Monkey’ on late-night British TV a few decades ago, you might fondly recall Tripitaka et al on their pilgrimage west. This could be the closest you get to recreating that vibe. Dive into Dewa Sanzan in rural Yamagata and dress up in traditional shiroshouzoku robes – the same worn by the local Yamabushi mountain monks, before embarking on your own sacred pilgrimage.
Dewa Sanzan refers to the mountainous region encompassing three sacred mountains of Mt Haguro, Mt Gassan and Mt Yudono. It provides the backdrop to a traditional pilgrimage journey taking in multiple sightseeing spots along the way, including the 3-star Michelin ranked cedar tree-lined path and a five storied pagoda. For the ultimate experience, stay in shukubo temple lodgings and try the local ‘Shojin Ryori’ – a monk diet that uses seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants. It’s just one reason why local Tsuruoka City has been designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy since 2014.