Towada-Hachimantai National Park is Japan’s mountainous winter wonderland. The park is made of two regions that feature: numerous hot springs, towering volcanos, snowy ski resorts, diverse wildlife, and endless opportunities for backcountry skiing adventures.
Towada-Hachimantai National Park is separated into two regions. Both are equally enjoyable, and contain unique features.
We’ll break it down for you below.
The Towada-Hakkoda Area is the northern section of the park. It surrounds Lake Towada, a caldera lake formed by volcanic activity that started 200,000 years ago.
The lake is flanked by beautiful greenery in the summer, and snowy landscapes in the winter. The government of Japan has recognized the lake as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ and a ‘National Monument’.
There are several walking/hiking trails around the lake, scenic boat landings, and camp sites for those looking to spend nights in the park.
The Hakkoda Mountains are this section of the park’s largest mountain range, and they are one of the snowiest places on earth. The region is full of ski resorts for those wanting a traditional skiing experience.
But, for those looking backcountry skiing, the Hakkoda Mountains are a dream. The season typically runs from December through May thanks to deep snowpack.
We recommend hiring the Mt. Hakkoda Guide Club if you’re looking for an introduction to the region. They are a prestigious guide company with a history of more than 25 years, based near the Hakkoda Ropeway terminal, which is the starting point of the tour.
There are several tour routes in Hakkoda, but if you join the company’s tours, they will take you not only to those routes but also to other attractive routes known only to local guides.
The Towada-Hakkoda Area is also home to natural hot springs (onsen). Tsuta Onsen and Sukayu Onsen are both excellent places to unwind after a long day.
Sukayu Onsen is a historic hot spring location in Japan. The spring has been accessible for over 300 years. The facility is a timber building, the oldest in Hakkoda area. The hot spring was the first to be appointed as the People’s Recreation Hot Spring in 1954.
The most famous “Sennin Buro”, the bath of a thousand bathers, is a massive co-ed bathroom area with the size of 248㎡ (2669 sq. feet). The guest rooms in the ryokan facility are styled in traditional Japanese with a veranda and tokonoma (an alcove where art or flowers are displayed).
The extended-stay facility houses simple rooms in Japanese style as well.
The inn restaurant “Onimenan”, guests can enjoy the local cuisine sukayu soba and ginger miso bamboo oden (Japanese style stewed vegetables and dumplings).
The Hachimantai area of the park is filled with hot springs, copious amounts of snow, and beautiful landscapes surrounding Mt. Hachimantai, Mt. Akita-Komagatake, and Mt. Iwate.
The area itself is a powder skier’s dream. The newest way to ascend the mountain is through the Hachimantai Cat Tour service offered by Lodge Clubman.
The Hachimantai Cat Tour is a project started by a group of local guides who pooled their wisdom. In addition to the cat business, the project also includes environmental maintenance and safety management during the snow-free season.
Another feature of the project is that it is revitalizing winter sports in Hachimantai with the cooperation of government agencies and local companies.
Approach to near the park by CAT from 960m above sea level to around 1440m above sea level. After that, hike up for 40-60 minutes into the park of Chausudake (elevation 1578m) .
This is a CAT and hiking tour that will take you to the open burns of Chausudake and other mountains.
The Lodge Clubman has been operating in its current state for over 26 years. They are the experts when it comes to backcountry skiing in the Hachimantai region.
The Hachimantai Region of the park is home to its own fabulous hot springs, and guests have to look no further than Matsukawa Onsen Kyounso. The springs, similar to Sukayu Onsen, have been enjoyed for over 300 years.
Kyounso is a modern, comfortable ryokan with spacious Japanese style rooms, and there is one large Western style room with beds.
Guests cannot control the heat in their rooms so if the room gets too hot overnight they should open a window or use a fan to circulate the air.
There are both indoor and outdoor baths with the outdoor bath being particularly scenic in winter.
The hot spring here is somewhat gentle and pleasant to the touch and does not hurt your eyes.
The clouded white hot water, which looks as if it has been infused with greenish blue water, is all free-flowing from the source. Although the water has a strong sulfur content, it is mildly acidic and therefore gentle to the skin.
In the open-air bath, you can feel the atmosphere of a secluded hot spring and enjoy the scenery of nearby, which is rich in nature and changes its expression from season to season, from fresh greenery in spring to autumn leaves in autumn.
In a mountain village where silence envelops you, you can spend your time in a calm room while listening to the murmuring of a mountain stream.
The cuisine served in the room is a Japanese set meal rich in local cuisine, using seasonal ingredients produced locally.
In addition to rare ingredients such as horohorodori chicken and ito fish (Guinea fowl and Sakhalin Taimen), they also offer a beef hot pot with Iwate Shorthorn beef.
Aomori is the capital city of the Aomori Prefecture.
It has a bustling population of over 250,000 people, and is filled with entertainment, food, and sightseeing opportunities. It’s just a short train ride from the entrances of Towada-Hachimantai National Park.
Check out some of our favorites below:
The Aomori Gyosai Center is a famous seafood market for “Nokkedon.” Visitors can purchase tickets at the information desk, choose ingredients from about 30 shops in the hall, and have them placed on a bowl of rice.
For 1,500 yen (~€11, ~$13 USD) you can buy a set of ten tickets which is enough for a large bowl of seafood on rice.
After buying the tickets, go to a counter next to the entrance where for one ticket you can pick up a bowl of rice and you then have nine tickets to use at market stalls in the center.
Most plates of seafood can be exchanged for one ticket, with some, such as large prawns or double servings of salmon or tuna exchangeable for two tickets.
Besides sashimi, there is also miso soup, pickles, prepared dishes and meat as well. It is fun to walk freely around the market choosing the ingredients to top you own bowl of rice.
It is approximately a five minute walk from JR Aomori station.
The WA-RASSE Nebuta Museum is a fantastic museum space celebrating the history and culture of this traditional Aomori Festival.
The Nebuta Matsuri was originally a festival started as an event to shed sleepiness from the summer heat, but developed over time into a parade with huge floats that traverse the streets.
Most of the artists have been making floats their whole lives and are experts at creating them – knowing how large they can be so they can still make their way around the streets while avoiding power lines and other obstacles.
After a brief introduction area, the main area contains a number of floats which you can go right up to – far closer than you could if you were to view the matsuri.
The Nebuta Matsuri is all about inclusion – it’s not an exclusive affair like some others around the country, and spectators are encouraged to become participants – you can rent the clothes on the day, learn the simple dance and join the group on their path around the town.
The museum is no exception to this, where multiple times a day the rhythmic beat is played and the staff encourage crowd participation to sing and dance or even try the drums.
The museum also has displays showing how the floats are constructed and painted, with half finished elements such as hands, legs, and heads on display.
The people of Aomori are intensely proud of the matsuri and it’s traditions and want to share it with as many people as possible, and the museum is a physical representation of the organization and effort that goes into hosting the event every year.
In the area around Aomori station there has been a coffee tradition for decades, but in recent years, with the explosion of third wave coffee, a lot of new places have sprung up to cater to a new younger audience.
COFFEEMAN good is connected to the chic Nickel Bar restaurant next door, so after lunch you can go into the coffee shop to enjoy a cup of single origin before you continue on your travels.
The barista, Yudai Hashimoto, makes a great espresso or flat white, as well as his own creations – particularly popular is the Tsugaru Miso Caramel macchiato.
He lived in Kanagawa Prefecture where he trained as a barista, and moved back to Aomori with his wife five years ago and started managing COFFEEMAN good .
He is not the owner, but loves working here because he is given complete freedom to create drinks and basically do whatever he likes.
The single origin beans roasted upstairs on the third floor.
Secretary General of the Daikokumori Management Cooperative on visiting Towada-Hachimantai National Park:
“Skiing as a winter activity is attracting a lot of attention from foreigners, and Japan’s powder “JAPOW” is highly regarded. Hachimantai is no exception to this trend, and it is gradually gaining attention, and in the past few years, this trend is about to accelerate. It is truly gratifying to have so many people come to Hachimantai. However, when I look at the current situation in the advanced inbound regions, I can’t shake the impression that although the number of visitors is certainly increasing and they seem to be full of vitality, it is not only a positive aspect. On the other hand, we have to understand that the measures taken by outside capital to attract inbound tourists do not necessarily bring happiness to the local residents.
Gradually, the local guides discussed and sometimes clashed with each other. However, if attracting inbound tourists is an unavoidable choice in a rural area with a declining population, shouldn’t local guides share their wisdom and create something good before outside companies and foreigners take the lead? If we don’t make a move now, will it be irreversible? Is now the breaking point? Tipping point? Dead line? As such, in December 2019, nine local guides invested in and established a cooperative corporation as an organization to maintain and manage Daikokumori (the former Hachimantai Ski Resort) and carry out cat projects. That is the Daikokumori Management Cooperative.
The Daikokumori Management Cooperative is an organization that includes not only the cat business (HACHIMANTAI CAT TOURS), but also environmental maintenance and safety management during the snow-free season. It is made possible through the understanding and cooperation of many people, including the Forestry Agency, Hachimantai City and other government agencies, and local businesses. We cannot do anything without the understanding and cooperation of the local community. The world is now at a turning point, and we cannot afford to be indifferent to what is going on around us. The only thing we can do is to prioritize the order in which we can solve the problems and solve them in an orderly fashion, in a way that is appropriate for our size. In order to proceed with the project, we need to make sure that the people involved understand the project, and this takes time. And with such a complex project, it is hard to know what is the right answer and difficult to explain. Perhaps there is a better way.
All we can do is to listen to many opinions, repeat discussions, identify problems, think about the future, and do what we can do now.
I believe that the Daikokumori Management Cooperative’s projects, including the cat operation project, will not only revitalize winter sports in Hachimantai, but will also show us how to solve the problems facing the region.
What we should be aiming for is optimization, not maximization. Rapid change makes people more anxious.
Hachimantai’s capacity is too small to deal with the world. It is small compared to Hakuba and Niseko. The number of visitors is increasing, and that’s good…is that good enough?
Hachimantai has its own way of doing things, doesn’t it?
Since we’re going to great lengths, don’t we all want to ski in a good mood, locals and visitors, Japanese and foreigners alike? Wouldn’t you like your guests to leave satisfied?
If you open the faucet to the fullest when the receiving side is not yet ready, you will not be able to handle it. It cannot be a sustainable business if the local people feel negative about it. Please respect the will of the local people. We are not in a hurry.
This is how we operate our business.
If you come from far away and join our guided tour, you may find that local skiers are skiing before you. We cannot say that you will always be able to ski the first track. However, in order to maintain this area, we have the understanding and cooperation of many local people who live in this area. Please understand.
However, our guides know this area better than anyone else.
Our guides know the area better than anyone else, and will be able to take you to the best places of the day.
And we are sure that you will enjoy the nature and snow of this wonderful Hachimantai area to the fullest.
We are sincerely looking forward to seeing you in Hachimantai!”
Image Credit: Don Kennedy