©Hirosaki City ©JNTO
HIROSAKI CASTLE PARK (SAKURA VIEWING PERIOD: LATE APRIL ~ EARLY MAY)
One of the best spots in Japan for cherry blossom viewing, Hirosaki Castle and its surrounding park are most stunning in spring, when the 2,600 cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. The cherry blossom carpet, formed when fallen petals pile up on the ground and carpet it in pink, is definitely a sight not to be missed! Other highlights of the annual sakura festival include the view of Mt. Iwaki, the sakura tunnel, night illuminations and boat-rowing on the moat under the trees.
15-min bus ride from JR Hirosaki Station
Oirase Keiryu / Lake Towada (Autumn leaves: mid ~ late October)
Enjoy lush green colors of summer and magnificent autumn foliage along the picturesque 14km Oirase Mountain Stream! Starting from Nenokuchi at Lake Towada and running down to Yakeyama, you can enjoy nature up close as you hike on the easy-to-walk scenic path parallel to the stream, with dozens of waterfalls and virgin forests easily accessible by foot. From late October to early November, you can enjoy vibrant shades of orange, red and yellow, making it a very popular viewing spot for autumn leaves. While the dynamic views and ambience of Oirase Keiryu are best enjoyed hiking, buses run parallel to the walking path, so you can bring along young children and the elderly to enjoy the captivating sights as well.
Take bus from Hachinohe, Aomori or Shin-Aomori Stations. The buses can be ridden for free with JR East Pass (Tohoku Area).
©Yasufumi Nishi ©JNTO
Nebuta Festival (Summer) (02-07 August annually)
Held every year from August 2~7, the Aomori Nebuta Festival is one of the three largest festivals in Tohoku. The main attraction is the colorful and vibrant large floats, which are made from bamboo and paper, illustrated with historical and mythical figures and creatures. The floats are illuminated from the inside and paraded around the city, and are visited by over 3 million people each year. Enjoy the procession of large floats accompanied with the beats of the taiko drums and energetic dancers!
Nokke-don (DIY seafood rice bowl)
Blessed with an excellent geographic location, surround by the sea on three sides, the Mutsu Bay provides Aomori with an abundant supply of fresh seafood all year round. It should be no surprise that one of the local specialties is ‘nokke don, a rice bowl for which you can choose your own toppings from the wide selection of seafood to create your own seafood rice bowl! Though Aomori is famed for scallops, squid and Oma tuna, there is also a large variety of other seafood available.
A large breed of dog from the Akita region, Akita Inu are powerful dogs originally used for guarding noblemen and royals in feudal Japan. They are alert, faithful, protective and can be very affectionate! If you are lucky, you can see them around Akita Prefecture. The famous Hachiko (of which a statue Shibuya stands) was an Akita Inu!
Kakunodate Samurai Residences
(Sakura viewing period: late April ~ early May)
(Autumn leaves: late October ~ mid-November)
Kakunodate is an old samurai residence district. Against the backdrop of old samurai residences, the sakura here are the dramatic dark pink shidare-zakura (weeping cherry blossoms), with branches that fall downward. Try riding through the district on rickshaw! The sakura are equally impressive at night, when they are illuminated. A 10-min walk from the samurai residences is the Hinokinai River, which is lined with the common light pink someiyoshino cherry blossoms and yellow daffodils.
From late October to mid-November, the vibrant autumn hues make this street of old samurai residences even more stunning. Some houses are open for public viewing, so be transported to the past and take a peek at how the samurai used to live!
15-min walk from JR Kakunodate Station
Left: ©Akita Prefecture; Right: ©Akita Prefecture
Kanto Festival (3-6 August annually)
One of the three great festivals of the Tohoku region, the Kanto Festival is held every year from August 3-6 in Akita City. The highlight is in the evenings, when you can marvel at the energetic and highly skilled performers balance large kanto (bamboo pole lanterns) with all parts of their bodies (forehead, hip, palms, shoulders etc). The kanto can have up to 46 paper lanterns attached, weigh up to 50kg and be up to 12m long! It is truly an impressive display.
Kitakami Tenshochi Park (Sakura viewing period: mid-April ~ early May)
With over 10,000 sakura trees of 150 varieties spread over the 293ha park, you can enjoy sakura in various ways, including a horse-wagon ride under the trees, a boat ride across the river, walking through sakura tunnels, enjoying the sakura festival and food.
5min boat ride (only during festival duration) or 15min walk from JR Kitakami Station.
©Geibi Kanko Center
A spectacular gorge, you can slowly take in the beautiful scenery of tall cliffs, waterfalls and rock formations on a smooth 90-minute boat ride navigated by a boatman with a pole, who will serenade you with a local folk song on the journey back. About half-way through the ride, you can get off the boat for a short walk. On the opposite side of the river there is a cliff face with a small hole. You can purchase 'luck stones' and try to throw them into the hole; they say good luck befalls those who can get the stones into the hole!
5min walk from JR Geibikei Station
Zao Snow Monsters (Winter)
Zao ski resort is known for its excellent snow conditions. It is also famed for its "snow monsters", which are formed when heavy snowfall and freezing winds freeze the numerous trees covered in layers snow, making them look like snow monsters! Illuminations are held on certain days, so you can enjoy the view of the snow monsters at night as well!
©Carissa Loh (East Japan Railway Company)
With a literal meaning of "mountain temple", Yamadera is a scenic temple in the mountains near Yamagata City. The top can be reached in approximately 1,000 steps spread over several steep stone staircases. Reach the top and be rewarded with stunning views of the valley below!
5min walk from JR Yamadera Station
One of the major festivals in Tohoku, the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is known for its flower hat dance, which is held for three nights in summer, in which thousands of dancers parade down the city's main street. Everyone is welcome to join in the dance!
Funaoka Joshi Park / Hitome Senbonzakura (Sakura viewing period: early ~ mid-April)
Take a retro slope car at Funaoka Joshi Park to enjoy a ride through a tunnel of cherry blossoms and take in the panoramic view from the top. After the park, walk over to the Shirakawa Riverside and enjoy an 8-km stretch of sakura trees lining the Shirakawa Riverside, the Hitome Senbonzakura – a thousand cherry blossoms in one glance.
15-min walk from JR Funaoka Station
Naruko Gorge (Autumn leaves: late October ~ early November)v
One of Japan's most stunning gorges, the 2km long Naruko Gorge is often voted by locals as the region's best place for viewing the autumn colors. Wait along the viewing deck to catch the view of the train coming out of the tunnel in the middle of the cliffs, surrounded by autumn leaves!
Bus from Naruko Onsen Station, or walk 30-min from Naruko Onsen Station.
©View Travel Service
Zao Fox Village
About an hour's drive from Sendai, the Zao Fox Village has over 100 foxes of 6 species roaming freely around 18,000 square feet of natural habitat. Observe them up close, feed them, but do remember to take caution as the foxes are NOT tamed! The best time to see them is in winter (December ~ February), as they grow thick furs to keep warm, making them appear fluffier and cuter during this season!
Famed as one of Japan's "Three Great Views", Matsushima is a group of 260 pine tree-covered islets. You can take a cruise to explore the bay, or take a leisurely walk to some of the islands to slowly take in the sights. Also in the area is Zuiganji, one of the most prominent Zen temples in Tohoku.
10min walk from JR Matsushikakaigan Station
Tanabata Festival (6-8 August annually)
Tanabata is a Japanese festival celebrating the meeting of Orihime (Weaver Girl) and Hikoboshi (Cowherd), who according to legend are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet once a year on Tanabata. The Sendai Tanabata Festival is one of Japan's largest and most famous tanabata celebrations. Held every year on August 6~8, it is also one of the three great festivals of the Tohoku region. Millinos of visitors come to see the giant, exquisite, hand-made fukinagashi (streamer) decorations. A gorgeous, visual delight!
Hanamiyama Park (Sakura viewing period: early ~ late April)
Hanamiyama literally means "Flower-viewing Mountain". During April, you can enjoy the sight of cherry blossoms (pale pink), plum blossoms (dark pink) and forsythia (yellow) all together, with the snow-capped Azuma Mountains in the background. The park has over 10 varieties of cherry blossom, which bloom at different times.
15-min bus ride (only during festival duration) from JR Fukushima Station
Miharu Takizakura (Sakura viewing period: mid ~ late April)
Often considered to be the most beautiful sakura tree in Japan, the Miharu Takizakura is an ancient sakura tree over 1,000 years old. It stands at 12m, with branches spread 20m wide. As is it of the weeping variety, its branches hang downward, spreading in all directions, making the flowers look like a waterfall of sakura, hence the name Takizakura (literally "Waterfall Sakura").
20-min bus ride (only during festival duration) from JR Miharu Station
SNOW MONKEYS (WINTER)
At the Jigokudani Monkey Park, you can see wild monkeys (Japanese macaques) bathing in natural hot springs, enjoying the experience just as humans would. Nowhere else in the world can you see this! The park is located in the monkey's natural habitat in Yamanouchi, and is most beautiful in winter with the snowy background.
The striking beauty of Hakuba's impressive mountains are a sight to behold! Although Hakuba is mostly known for being a premier winter destination blessed with pristine snow conditions perfect for winter sports, in summer you can enjoy spectacular views by hiking and climbing up the mountains. Do not miss Happo Pond, which turns into a giant mirror reflecting the mountain range and skies on clear days!
©Akio Kobori (East Japan Railway Company)
©Matsumoto City ©JNTO
With its stone foundation and surrounding moat, against the backdrop of mountains and beautiful blue skies on a clear day, Matsumoto Castle is truly a sight to behold. Built over 500 years ago, it is the oldest castle of its architectural style (donjon-style) in Japan. You can enter the castle, explore the 6 levels and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Matsumoto City from the top floor.
15min walk from JR Matsumoto Station
Kamikochi (Spring, Autumn)
The pristine highland area of Kamikochi is beautiful all year round, but some say spring is the best season to visit, as the fresh green leaves start to sprout but the mountains are still snow-capped. With a stunning view of the Japanese Alps in the background, hiking in springtime offers cool temperatures and picture-perfect views of blue skies, bright green trees and white snow-capped capped mountains. Autumn is also beautiful, when the bright yellow and orange leaves contrast against the beautiful blue Azusa River.
90min bus/train ride from JR Matsumoto Station
©Matsumoto City ©JNTO
Takato Castle (Sakura viewing period: mid-April)
Takato Castle Ruins Park (Takato Joshi Koen) is known as one of the 「Top Three Famous Sakura Viewing Spots in Japan 」(the other two being Hirosaki Castle Park in Aomori, Tohoku and Yoshinoyama in Nara, Kansai). What makes this place special is its unique variety of of sakura - the Takato Kohigan Zakura, which can only be found here. It has a light reddish pink color and dense blossoms which make it very photogenic. While you're here, also try some Takato Soba - a special type of soba served with a side of grilled miso paste and tsuyu.
25-minute bus ride from JR Inashi Station. (The JR East Pass Nagano, Niigata Area covers up to JR Tatsuno Station. JR Inashi Station is not covered by the JR East Pass Nagano, Niigata Area, but you can buy a ticket for 320 JPY (~SGD 4) to cover the ride from JR Tatsuno Station to JR Inashi Station.)
Takada Castle (Sakura viewing period: mid-April)
Famed as one of the 「Top Three Spots in Japan to View Sakura at Night」, the view of Takada Castle's 4,000 sakura trees attract over 1 million people each sakura season. During the festival period (early-late April), illuminations are on from sunset until 9pm, and until 10pm during the peak viewing period (mid-April). The best part - entrance is free and the park is open 24hr! During the festival there are a variety of food stalls for you to enjoy.
15 min walk from Takada Station on the Echigo TOKImeki Railway (JR East Pass Nagano, Niigata Area covers Echigo TOKImeki Railway line between Naoetsu ‒ Arai, including Takada Station)
Yahiko Maple Valley (Autumn leaves viewing period: late October ~ mid- November)
Turning a fiery red in autumn, the numerous maple trees create a stunning scene along with the streams and bright vermillion Kantsuki Bridge. You can also enjoy a different view in the evening, during the night illuminations
Nagaoka Fireworks Festival (2-3 August annually)
Be enthralled by the large-scale, spectacular fireworks display lighting up the night sky over the Shinano River! Held annually on August 2~3, you can see float parades and folk dance processions, in addition to the main attraction - the fireworks.
Gala Yuzawa (Winter)
Only 75min by shinkansen from Tokyo, GALA Yuzawa is the only ski resort in the world that is directly connected to a shinkansen station. After getting off the shinkansen, the ski lift is only a few steps away. You can come empty handed and enjoy fun in the snow! After taking the gondola up, you can get breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and town below. The resort offers a variety of snow activities, be it skiing, snowboarding or even kanjiki tours - traditional Japanese snowshoe trekking. JR East Pass holders can enjoy special discounts at GALA Yuzawa!
JR EAST PASS
Choose any 5 days within a 14 day period. You don’t need to rush through each city/region, you can enjoy the sightseeing spots one day, and take a break in the city or at an onsen for a few days, and only use the pass for days where you will be taking long trips / travelling further.
Huge savings on train fares
Just a round trip bullet train ride from Tokyo to Sendai (90min) alone or a round-trip of Narita Airport to Nagano alone can more than cover the cost of the pass.
Unlimited rides on all JR East trains within the designated area, including bullet train, limited express train, local trains, Joyful trains, etc. The pass can be used in Izu and Nikko on certain non-JR trains as well.
Free rides on Joyful Trains
A new type of travel where the train ride itself is like a mini trip. As you head towards your destination, enjoy these uniquely themed trains! No additional cost to ride these!
Free bus rides
Some JR buses can be ridden for free / no additional cost (eg to Oirase Keiryu, Kusatsu Onsen)
「Click here for the list of bus routes covered.」
Free seat reservations
For Shinkansen bullet trains, limited express trains, Joyful Trains, which can be made online up to one month before your train ride at
1,000 JPY discount
If purchasing overseas (before going to Japan)
Two types of passes
・JR East Pass (Tohoku Area) – 19,000JPY
Recommended for travellers travelling between Tokyo and Aomori, Yamagata, Iwate, Sendai, Akita, Fukushima.
・JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata Area) – 17,000JPY
Recommended for travellers travelling between Tokyo, Nagano, Niigata, Karuizawa and Gala Yuzawa snow resort.
HOW TO PURCHASE
Before leaving for Japan, purchase an Exchange Order (e-ticket) at H.I.S. Manila.
Different passes are valid for different areas. Please verify your desired destinations and the valid area (Tohoku or Nagano/Niigata) before purchase
After you arrive in Japan, take your Exchange Order (e-ticket) to an exchange location. Your passport is required. You will receive your JR EAST PASS (Tohoku or Nagano/Niigata) after confirmation of eligibility.
Your actual personal passport is required for the pass exchange. Passport copies cannot be accepted.
Select any five days within 14 days of issuance, including that day, when you want to use the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku or Nagano/Niigata). You do not have to designate your five days of use when purchasing.
No person may hold more than one JR EAST PASS (Tohoku or Nagano/Niigata) of the same type at one time. From the date of issuance of this pass for 14 days, new pass exchanges and purchases in Japan are not permitted. For example, if you do a pass exchange or purchase a pass in Japan on August 1, you cannot do another pass exchange or purchase a new pass in Japan during the validity period of August 1 to 14.
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