Visiting Two of Aomori’s Most Aesthetic Art Museums

After an action-filled day visiting sakura parks, shrines, and real life anime movie locations, we decided to spend our final day in Aomori seeing two of the most aesthetic museums in the prefecture: Aomori Museum of Art and Towada Art Center. What drew me to these museums were their life-sized open air exhibits that fuses Japanese and Western art together in creative ways. Though places like Tokyo and Naoshima have many notable museums, I have never seen anything quite like the works here, which is another huge reason I wanted to visit Aomori. Please continue reading for my full review of these museums, and see for yourself what you think! If the weather is rainy during your trip like it was for us, visiting places like this is an ideal way to spend time.

Aomori Museum of Art

The Aomori Museum of Art is one of the craziest modern art museums I have ever visited in Japan, and that’s really saying a lot! What struck me the most was how random some of the permanent galleries here were. First we walked from the entrance to a room full of tribal paintings to a room full of Ultraman sketches by Tohl Narita himself. Next we walked through a hallway with pictures of ears on the wall into a room filled with stars. Finally the path lead to an outdoor area with a gigantic sculpted dog standing over a bowl filled with flowers. This dog is known as the “A to Z Memorial Dog”, which is considered to be a symbol of Aomori Prefecture. It was created by a Japanese artist named Yoshitomo Nara who projects the loneliness of his childhood into his fiberglass sculptures, creating a new wave of aesthetics. His artistic vision and personal experience growing up is much like my own, which is why I wanted to see his works in person so much.

Here is a handy excerpt from Public Delivery explaining the symbolism of his dog sculptures:

Yoshimoto Nara’s dogs evoke a myriad of emotions in the audience, including joy, anxiety, fear, insecurity, hope, playfulness, and confidence. His figures seem to exist in only a dream-like state where reality becomes what you make of it. His mixture of vulnerability, rebellion and hopefulness within his artworks connects intimately with people worldwide.

Throughout his career, he has incited a deep sense of childhood memory and the allure of youth while concurrently leaving a relentless reminder of the fundamental issues and problems of adulthood. This figure symbolizes a defiant spirit associated with youthful hopefulness and belief that we have what it takes to change the world.

Yoshitomo Nara’s shining dog sculptures – What you should know

In addition to dogs, there are also other sculptures of his in the museum including faces of people and a house with three children reading a book inside. The scene is a bit creepy at first, but after viewing the scene from multiple angles you’ll see that it is more cartoonish than it is scary. His works are much better seen in person than online, so I would encourage those who are interested to please come to Aomori to see them!

Address: Chikano-185 Yasuta, Aomori, 038-0021
Entrance Fee: 510 yen (may be extra for special exhibits)

Towada Art Center

Towada Art Center is an interactive art museum geared for both children and adults with a number of hands-on exhibits. I was really impressed with the variety of high-quality art that was placed outdoors including Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin that you can climb into, a horse made out of sculpted flowers, a giant ghost, and a big puffy car next to a puffy house. All of these things were life-sized and very eye-catching. Plus they were scattered around the museum and not just in front of it so there was really a lot to check out. Hilariously, we spent all of our time photographing the free outdoor exhibits and only went into the gift shop because we were satisfied with everything we had seen. I ordered an apple dessert at the cafe that was a replica of one of the sculptures outdoors because I thought it was unique. It tasted as exquisite as it looked because the “apples” were actually blueberries with red chocolate melted over them. Touché because that is art in itself.

Address: 10-9 Nishi2bancho, Towada, Aomori 034-0082
Entrance Fee: 800-1800 yen depending on what exhibits you want to see (outdoor exhibitions are free)

Eating Curry at unbreakable

While looking for cafes between the two museums, one name really caught my eye: unbreakable in Towada City. What exactly is it about this cafe that makes it unbreakable? Perhaps it’s the zestiness of the green curry or the size of the garlic shrimp? Whatever it was, it was definitely good. Of all of the cafes around, this one had the best assortment of rice dishes and latte flavors. I tried a vanilla one and it really hit the spot—I was caffeinated and ready to appreciate more art! This was yet another random find that really made my day. I hope these cafes can continue to stay in business because they truly make amazing food and drinks.

Address: Osaka-72-1 Osaka, Towada, Aomori 034-0041 (Note that this is in Aomori and not in Osaka)

Final Thoughts

While it was quite the long haul to and from Tokyo, Aomori was definitely worth the visit! Although it rained a bit during our trip, the scenery and cherry blossoms were lovely, the food and art museums were extremely diverse, and the city and shops had a lot of charm. The best time to visit this prefecture is probably during sakura season (like we did) and in the summer for the Nebuta Festival, but I imagine with all of the pretty trees Autumn would be a great time to visit too! If you can get a rental car, I would definitely recommend it as the parks and museums here are quite spread out and hard to reach with public transportation. Three days was enough to complete everything on our itinerary and we left Aomori feeling extremely satisfied.

This will be my last article for a while as I am heading to Hawaii next week, but when I return to Japan I plan on visiting the 2 prefectures that I haven’t been to yet: Akita & Iwate. Please look forward to reading more articles from me this summer, and I might decide to write a Hawaii series too!

Exploring Mt. Daisen and the Ghost Town of Yonago

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The ceiling of Enryuin features hundreds of painted yokai by Shigeru Mizuki.

After riding camels in Tottori and swimming in the timeless ocean of Iwami, I set my sights on climbing Mt. Daisen which is about an hour away from Tottori Station.  Daisen-Oki National Park is quite expansive and has beaches, mountains, and the remnants of a volcano that is said to be inhibited by the gods.  There is also a lot of interesting wildlife you can see here such as salamanders and beautiful flora.  I even ran into a herd of cows on my way to the top.  Although I didn’t make it all the way up due to fog and visibility issues, I had the chance to explore some temples buried deep in the forest and bathe in a natural hotspring.  Though it’s quite remote from the major cities of Japan, Daisen is the perfect place for a hiking retreat or those who want to explore places outside of Fuji.  You could spend anywhere from a day to a week hiking around all of the trails here.

Exploring Mt. Daisen

The main trail to Misen Peak takes about 3 hours to climb, making the total climb around 4-6 hours.  I came here on a humid day in August, and unfortunately thick fog covered a lot of the trail so I only climbed for about 1.5 hours.  However, in that time I was able to make it to all of the temples and attractions that this trail is famous for.  I first stopped at the Daisen Farm Home of Milk to gaze at the cows living their peaceful farm life and try some of the famous ice cream here.  It was amazing as expected.  Next, I ventured to the two famous temples here: Daisenji and Enryuin.  Due to the fog I got lost on the way to Enryuin and accidentally walked through someone’s backyard in the forest, but they were thankfully kind enough to point me in the right direction.  I arrived in yokai heaven:

Daisenji is classic Buddhist temple that can only be viewed from the outside, where as Enryuin has an immaculate interior design and is designed for meditation.  Both are worth checking out to see the history and connection between them.  It is said that although yokai are monsters, they are viewed as gods here because they have the power to scare people and drive out their impure desires for the greater good.  At Enryuin, you can lay on your back and meditate by looking at the artwork of yokai painted on the ceiling.  They were drawn by Shigeru Mizuki, who is also the author of the manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro.  The monk here was very nice and welcomed me with kindness.

After having my fill of yokai watching (punny), I decided to seek out some food.  Hinokami Goen Yuin is a really handy place because it has hotsprings, guesthouses, food, and campground access.  I bought a soba set there and also bathed in the hotspring for an hour.  It started raining on the mountain so I came at the ideal time.  It was relaxing to watch the rain fall off the plains of the mountain while I relaxed at a sheltered outdoor hotspring.  This is peak mountain life (/end pun).

For a full list of attractions you can see in Daisen, please see their official website.  Usually the weather here is quite pleasant, but unfortunately I came during a rainy time.  If I come back I definitely want to explore the beaches and more of the volcanoes.

The Ghost Town of Yonago

 

Once the rain cleared, I decided to head to the ghost town of Yonago to see what it had to offer.  Since I prayed at Enryuin and survived the storm, I figured I could get through this.  Yonago is only an hour away from Daisen and is said to have a spiritual influence.  It is also the hometown of previously mentioned manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, so you can find his yokai artwork all over the place by walking around the streets from the station.  Did I see any ghosts here?  Many.  Take a look for yourself:

The design of this town is extremely aesthetic which is why it initially attracted my attention.  Everything from the streetlamps to the outdoor gardens to even the vehicles have some kind of strong yokai influence.  Though these are anime versions he created of the scarier yokai depicted in old Japanese folklore, they have an artistic sense that attract a number of visitors to the town.  I have never watched or read GeGeGe no Kitaro, but I can see why it’s so popular in Japan.  It’s a good way to get younger audiences interested in studying the myths behind these strange creatures.  Now I want to study more too!

I should also note that there is some amazing aesthetic food here including eyeball mochi, yokai oden, and all sorts of spooky sake:

This town is somewhat touristy, but visiting a yokai town is something that not many people can say they’ve done.  I had a lot of fun doing photography here and can gladly say that it was worth my time.  During this trip I learned that ghosts can definitely be your friends.

Access

From Tottori Station, I road the San-In Line to Yonago Station.  This took about one hour and cost 1600 yen.

Daisen has three main points of access.  I came here from a bus from Yonago Station.  Please see the Daisen Guide for more information.  Getting here should only take 40 mins – 1 hour, just be sure to watch the time tables.  You can also take a taxi.