When looking at a map of Japan, Aomori's coastal region of Fukaura, and the mountainous region of Shirakami Sanchi appears to be one of Japan's most remote regions. Accessible by just one major road, Route 101, the local population of 8,800 lives surrounded by one of Asia's largest beechwood forests to the east, Mount Shirakami, and to the west, the glistening waters of the Sea of Japan. In 1993 the region received Japan's first UNESCO World Heritage status for being home to the last remaining beech forest.
You may be surprised when visiting the Twelve Lakes (Juniko), tucked away in the forests of Shirakami Sanchi, when discovering this relatively isolated region nonetheless proves popular for hikers, and tourists, such is its reputation for outstanding beauty.
The centerpiece of the Twelves lakes is undeniably the strikingly blue pond known as “Aoike", a pond accessed by a short hike through the forest, where you'll chance upon couples, transfixed by the deep, enchanting sapphire surface. It almost looks almost unnatural; as though created for couples to romantically stand beside.
Nearby the trail is the Kyororo souvenir shop, where you can sample Aomori's local foods, including every manner of apple related sweet and snack known to man (Aomori's number one export is apples). You can also grab Fukaura's speciality food, “the snow carrot" which are characterised for their sweet, fruity taste. (Aomori is home to highest levels of snowfall on the planet, hence the name “Snow carrot").
A short journey away from the Aoike and a few minutes wander through a forest, you'll find yourself standing before the “Japan Canyon". It's not quite the Grand Canyon - in fact, there's a sense the name is a somewhat witty and ironic label, given that the canyon itself is rather small in scale. It's worth a visit along the walking trail that connects Juniko's lakes and ponds, to see the colourful walls of brown and grey rocks, with sprinklings of foliage.
There's no better way to appreciate the forests of Shirakami Sanchi than by trekking in search of Anmon's three waterfalls, in the sort of surrounding that you'd expect to find in an Indiana Jones movie.
From Aqua Green Village Anmon, situated in the heart of the forest, experienced guides will take you waist deep through refreshing rivers, foraging for Beech tree nuts, regularly enjoyed by the local bears, whilst ascending the cliffs surrounding the three great waterfalls.
Whilst not a difficult route, it's a little bit of a challenge, wadding though the waters and at times, climbing around 50m drops, all the while wearing Jikatabi shoes; split shoes where your toes are divided, and which quickly fill with water seconds after stepping into the river.
With every corner the guides will loudly clap their hands to warn any local bears of your presence, and there's an undeniable adrenaline rush at the thought of a Black bear lurking around every cliff edge or meander in the river (don't worry the guides carry bear spray in case of a confrontation). Though bear sightings are rare, early into your journey you'll be alerted to their presence, when passing a sign that has been noticeably gnawed on by one of the creatures, curious at the odour of the signs lacquered paint.
There are three waterfalls, 26m, 37m and 42m in height respectively, with the route culminating in the tallest. After 90 minutes adventurously battling through gushing waters, and jumping over rocks, you'll find yourself rewarded by the tallest of the three waterfalls, with a mist of cool water cleansing your skin of any traces of sweat.
The real star of the show however is are the Beech trees which have stood for over 8,000 years, since the last ice age receded, and the perfect climate emerged in which the forest could thrive. As Japan's last virgin beech forest, the region was awarded as one of the country's first ever UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993.
Overlooking the sea alongside route 101, you'll find Takumiya restaurant, one of seven local res-taurants specialising in the region's delicacy of Tuna Steak.
For the reasonable price of 1500 yen, customers can enjoy grilling tuna and dipping it in the three sauces; Soy sauce, spicy miso, and the restaurant's original sauce. Three bowls of rice, each ex-quisitely topped with different flavours such as wasabi and radish, and fish flakes, allow you to mix the tuna with even more flavours,
The region takes great pride in its tuna and its preparation; turn the menu over and you can find a full explanation of the origins of the Fatty tuna, where it's sourced from, as well the numerous health benefits that accompany it.
The town of Goshogawara would look like any other rural Japanese town, if it were not for the anomaly of the huge structure in the town centre; a structure that looks not too dissimilar from NASA's rocket assembly building in terms of size and scale.
Housed within it lies one of the most impressive festival centre pieces in all of Japan - or rather three impressive festival centre pieces. 23 meters and lit up like a fireworks display, awe struck visitors enter to find themselves in the presence of the Tachineputa floats.
Aomori is famous for its Neputa floats, depicting famous characters from traditional folklore, from terrifying looking Samurai to lions and dragons. The Neputa was a symbol of power and wealth for farmers, landowners and merchants. After a series of fires the tradition was lost in the mid 20th century, however in 1993 thanks to the rediscovery of designs for the Tachineputa, the annual festival is now once again a prominent part of Goshogawara's culture.
Along route 101's coastline between Shirakami Sanchi and the town of Goshogawara lies Japan's most famous dog; Wasao. The huge and lovable Akita dog, with the fluffiest fur you'll ever see, has been the subject of movies and tv shows since his rise to fame in 2008.
Wasao was abandoned as a puppy, but was rescued and raised by a woman in the town of Ajigasawa who runs a shop specialising in grilled squid. In 2008 a Japanese travel blogger came across Wasao and his story and after going viral online, the dog quickly became famous around the country, eventually receiving the status of “Special ambassador for World Heritage related activities" by the National Federation of UNESCO associations in Japan. Today, Wasao spends most of his days riding in his owner's trucks or at the grilled squid stand, where a staggering amount of memorabilia can be found, from candy and calendars to packets of instant ramen.
Rental car is the best way to access the region, as public transportation is limited. Route 101 runs the length of the coastline and Route 28 allows travellers to reach Anmon Falls. During the summer Route 28 connects these two regions, however due to snowfall it re-mains closed from November to mid May.
The JR Gone Line allows access by train along the coastline between Akita and Hirosaki, and is a fantastic way to see the area. The line has a reputation for its spectacular coastal scenery.
The Konan Bus company runs the route between Hirosaki and Anmon falls, three times per day from mid June to early November.