Shirakami Sanchi - UNESCO beech forest
It started at the Tokyo Station Shinkansen entrance
After realizing we had to pay for a second (???) Shinkansen ticket, it continued in a Shinkansen to Shin-Aomori Station. Macarons were involved.
After arriving late to Aomori and an uneventful hotel night in which we were given warm alcohol-free beer, our adventure in Aomori began the following Saturday morning with a bowl of fresh sashimi Nokke-Don and hot crab miso soup at the Aomori Gyosai Center.
We then continued forth to rent a car and drive 1.5 hours to Aqua Green Village Anmon in the Shirakami Sanchi UNESCO forest. The first thing we did was eat apple ramen from the adorable Kanemitsuta-zawa restaurant. It was delicious and the shop was super cute, despite the apple-ramen not tasting of promised apples.
Undeterred, we ventured forth to set up camp at the campground around the back (1,000 yen per night for a lovely spot by the river with clean bathrooms and a nice kitchen area), then venture into the virgin beech forest to walk the Bunabayashi Sansaku-do (beech forest walking path). This is where we discover that the walking times advertised on the pamphlets are perhaps for some small children with stubby legs, and 2 healthy adults of reasonable fitness can do the walk in half that time. Nonetheless, it was a lovely, though short, romp through the woods. The beech trees were a nice change in scenery from the usual cypress forests you see elsewhere. We raced to the end, I lost, and a frog got in the way but escaped in time.
At about 4pm, we attempted to walk the Anmon Keikoku (Anmon Valley) path, but were advised it was too late by some cute ojichans at the entrance doling out helmets for valley path walkers. He told us to go play by the Anmon river, which we did. It was very clear, and very cold.
We then played on the slide for a bit,
took an onsen bath, ate some instant noodles in the local "miso curry milk ramen" flavor, which was quite good for a 250 yen instant noodle, and retired to our tents to play card games the rest of the night.
The next day we were graciously given beef curry for breakfast from our local tent neighbor who had come to glamp with his family from Aomori, and then we proceeded to attempt to climb Takakuramori mountain the whole day. The morning was consumed with trying to follow a trail that we realized eventually leads to nowhere and perhaps no one but us has taken all year. That was okay, because upon being forced back down the trail we came just in time for a second apple ramen (no apple flavor) and a maitake mushroom soba, and some apple ice cream (it was delicious). We then drove our car to the other side of Takakuramori to hike the 2nd trail to the top. The top was rather anti-climatic in that the view was entirely covered by trees and was only 829 meters tall, but the enjoyable journey made up for it.
After coming back to camp and cleaning off (trying best as we could to avoid the pre-dinner rush of families with small children into the onsen), we returned to our tent wondering if the family next door would have us over for a barbecue dinner as they had (somewhat drunkenly) mentioned the previous night. It seemed like they had too much of a party the night before, though, and we were happy enough to eat sandwiches in the tent and play cards again.
On Sunday morning, we finally walked the Anmon Gate trail, arriving early in the morning to be able to complete it in time. It felt like a perilous path since at the entrance rental helmets were strongly suggested and we filled out a registration form with our names, address, and phone numbers. Feeling prepared, we walked down a lovely, flat, paved river path. That continued to be a flat, paved river path for most of the trail. We had taken our helmets off by the time we reached the first waterfall, as really no ascent was involved, and there was no apparent danger to our heads. There was a cute rainbow at the waterfall, though.
The second waterfall involved climbing some stairs, which challenged us much more than the lovely riverwalk before it. It also had a rainbow. We were unable to go to the 3rd waterfall since there was a large sign blocking the path saying it was prohibited.
We walked back to the entrance, said hello to the ojichans manning the helmet stand at the entrance, returning our own, had one last meal at Kanemitsuta-zawa of clay-pot udon, bought our souvenirs, and returned back to Shin-Aomori station for the Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo.
The hikes were much easier than I expected, so next time I think I would try to do some of the bigger mountains in the area like Mt. Iwaki. The big worry for me was Shinkansen tickets cost about 34,000 yen each so that was a little pricey, but it was only a 4 hour trip and doesn't involve the kind of hassle or expensive train rides an airport does, so I'm not sure taking a plane would have been much better (also not something we wanted because of Covid). Despite that, it made for a nice 3-day weekend in the north. In all, it was quite a relaxing trip and nice introduction to Aomori.