Monday, August 10, 2009

Inakadate village, Hirosaki and Aomori railway stations

As I wrote in the previous post, after visiting Saishoin temple in Hirosaki city on 18th July, hubby and I went to a village named Inakadate, which is located about ten kilometers away from Hirosaki city. We went by our car and it took us about ten minutes to reach the village. We went to the village to see the dazzling display of rice field artwork.

Inakadate rice field artwork
Inakadate village is located in Minamitsugaru district of Aomori prefecture. The tradition of rice field artwork (tanbo art in Japanese) began in 1993. Now the village has a well earned reputation for its rice field artistry and every year more than 15,000 visitors travel to see the creations. Huge displays of rice field artwork are created by farmers using four differently colored rice plant varieties and arranging the plants in precise and strategic manner in the paddy fields. Rice field art was started as a local revitalization project in 1993. In the first nine years, the farmers grew a simple design of Mount Iwaki every year. But their ideas grew more complicated, and in 2005, enormous rice field artwork was created. A year later, the careful planning went hi-tech and organizers used computers to precisely plot the planting of differently colored rice varieties.

Each year in late May, hundreds of volunteers and villagers plant four different varieties of rice in a pair of paddy fields adjacent to the village office. The farmers create the artwork by planting local green-leafed Tsugaru roman rice variety along with greenish-white leafed rice, and purple and yellow-leafed kodaimai rice to create the colored patterns. The artwork cover 15,000 square meters of rice fields. The artwork can be enjoyed until the harvesting in September. Each year a different design is on show. This year, enormous stunning pictures of a Japanese Sengoku-period warrior and Napoleon, both on horseback, are created. The designs were not visible from ground level, and we had to climb the mock castle tower of the village office to get a glimpse of the work. The artwork was amazing and fantastic!
Inakadate rice field artwork of 2009

Japanese Sengoku warrior on horseback

Close up of Sengoku warrior

Napoleon on horseback

Close up of Napoleon

Different varieties of rice plant are grown alongside each other to create the artwork

Castle tower of village office

Hirosaki railway station and surrounding area
After enjoying the fabulous view of Inakadate rice field artwork, we returned back to Hirosaki city and checked into a hotel named ‘Toyoko Inn’ where we stayed that night. The hotel was just next to the Hirosaki railway station. It was almost five in the evening, and hubby was rather tired due to driving long distance (almost 250 km) and also due to visiting many sightseeing spots in the rain. After check-in, we had a cup of coffee at the hotel and then took rest for two hours. At about 7 pm, we went out to have dinner. It was raining very heavily and so we decided to have dinner at an Indian restaurant named Kantipur located in the same building as the hotel. We ordered a snack named samosa along with palak paneer curry, seafood curry, naan, and saffron rice. We were very tired and hungry, so the food tasted extremely delicious. After dinner we went back to our room and retired for the day.
Hubby having a cup of coffee at the hotel

Our dinner

Hubby having dinner

Next morning, after having breakfast, we checked out of the hotel. Hubby parked our car at a car park near Hirosaki railway station area. We then carried our baggage up to the railway station, which was only a five minute walk from the car park. However, it was raining rather heavily and we both got wet by the time we reached the station. Hirosaki railway station area is a beautiful place and we enjoyed viewing it before entering the station. Just in front of the station, there was a monument statue named ‘ringo-no-kaze’ depicting a man and a woman in standing pose and the woman holding a bunch of apples. The statue is representative of the fact that Hirosaki is a leading producer of apples in Japan with an annual yield of about 160,000 tons. There are about 3.12 million apple trees within the city limits itself. There was also a big statue of an apple on the top of a post box just outside the station.
Hubby carrying our baggage to Hirosaki railway station

Statue named ringo-no-kaze in front of Hirosaki railway station

Statue of an apple on top of a post box at Hirosaki station

At Hirosaki railway station, hubby and I purchased tickets from an automated ticketing machine counter for travel to Aomori city. On entering Hirosaki station, we found that it was beautiful inside the station also. There was a huge statue of an apple, a replica of Hirosaki Castle, and a replica of Former City Library. In addition, there was a sample Neputa festival float at the station. We enjoyed viewing them and took several photos for the sake of remembrance.
A huge statue of an apple inside Hirosaki station

Replicas of Former City Library and Hirosaki Castle

Sample Neputa festival float at Hirosaki station

Aomori railway station and surrounding area
It took us about an hour to reach Aomori railway station. We had a break of about 1.5 hours at the station. Then we changed the train and travelled further. During the break, we came out of the railway station just to see the station front and the surrounding area. We had an early lunch at a restaurant in the station building itself. Our lunch set consisted of tempura, sushi, chawanmsuhi, and udon noodles.
Aomori railway station

Our lunch

Hubby having lunch

We had a superb view of the outside while enjoying our lunch. We could clearly see the Aomori Bay Bridge and a Seikan memorial ferry ship named Hakkodamaru. The Aomori Bay Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge which is 1.2 km long and crosses the station. Hakkodamaru is moored at Aomori sea-port, which is only about five minutes walk from the railway station. Hakkodamaru is a memorial ship and is one of the famous attractions of Aomori city. It is a former Japanese national railways Seikan ferry which operated between Hokkaido and Honshu until March 1988. The ship and the bridge made a perfect sight.
Aomori Bay Bridge

Hakkodamaru memorial ship

After lunch, we moved around a bit inside the railway station. There was a display of mini ‘Nebuta Festival’ float which was very colorful and looked very cute. Nebuta Festival is a summer festival that takes place in Aomori city every year from August 2 to August 7. The festival is counted among the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region. Nebuta refers to the float of a brave warrior-figure which is carried through the city, while dancers wearing a set costume called haneto, dance around chanting ‘rassera’. The dancers wear a special kind of hat called Nebuta hanagasa flower hat. Next to the Nebuta float, there were displays of two hanagasa hats and a stand-in life size cardboard cutout of a haneto dancer. Travelers were encouraged to wear the hats and get a feel of the upcoming Nebuta festival. I wore the hat, and also posed and put my face through the hole in the cutout and took a photo of me being a haneto dancer. It was really fun!
Me wearing Nebuta hanagasa flower hat

I am a Haneto dancer!

By this time, the weather had cleared up. However, it was time to go to the platform. From Aomori, we went to Hakodate city in Hokkaido prefecture by train in an undersea tunnel called ‘Seikan tunnel’. In the next few posts I will write about our experience of travelling in the undersea tunnel as well as sightseeing in Hakodate city.
Aomori Bay Bridge as seen from a platform at Aomori railway station

Aomori Bay Bridge: fifteen storied triangular building called Aspam is seen in the background on the right

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