The first of our two Japan cruises was called a Cherry Blossom Cruise and we had signed onto the cruise with the expectation that we would see lots of Japan's beautiful cherry blossoms. However we had yet to see any cherry blossoms! We had heard that the cherry blossoms had come and gone weeks before in the areas around Tokyo. Our stop at Aomori was our northernmost stop, the stop most likely to still have cherry blossoms, so it was now or never. Luckily it was now and we were finally able to see some of the beautiful cherry blossoms that are symbolic of Japan.
As with many cruise stops in Japan, especially the smaller cities, we were met by a band playing music and live performances. The snow covered mountains easily viewed from port added to the view.
Soon after leaving the ship we met our tour guide. The first stop was a short walk from the dock to the Nebuta Museum. This museum is dedicated to showing some of the larger than life size floats which are built for the yearly Aomori Nebuta festival. The festival takes place every year in early August. The reasons for the festival seem unclear, the origin being lost in history. According to Wikipedia the most likely reason is that it evolved from earlier Shinto ceremonies. What is clear though is that this yearly Nebuta festival attracts more tourists than any other Nebuta festival. Looking at some of the floats I'm not surprised. It would be even better to see them lit up and being part of a long procession.
This was the first stop on our tour and we arrived just before it opened. That actually turned out to be very fortunate. By the time we left the museum was very crowded, probably mostly from excursions offered by the cruise company. Thanks to our private tour we had a much less crowded experience.
After the museum we walked to the nearby train station to take an hour plus train ride to see Hirosaki Castle. It was here that we saw our first live cherry blossoms! The cherry blossoms in the botanical garden surrounding Hirosaki Castle seemed very popular for couples taking wedding photographs. But then, maybe the fact that we were there on a Sunday made it more likely we'd see that. That was probably also the reason that both the train and the castle were very busy.
The Hirosaki Castle itself was also very beautiful, especially with some of the snow capped mountains which were even closer than in Aomori. Click the picture below to see the entire Aomori & Hirosaki photo album.
Too soon our trip to Hirosaki castle was over and it was time for the long train ride back to Aomori. Although our tour guide offered to escort us for the train ride back followed by the walk back to the ship, we told him we'd be okay (which we were) on our own. Our tour guide actually had to be in Akita the next day to conduct a tour for a cruise ship. Hirosaki was already 1/3 of the way to Akita by train. Escorting us to the ship would have been close to a three hour round trip for him, a big waste of time. It just happened that our ship was also heading to Akita the next day as well. I guess good karma was our reward for saving the tour guide so much time. The next day on our Akita stop we were lucky enough to have the same tour guide!