Sometimes, you travel visit a place based on a lot of promotion and other people raving about it, but may find it not to be as woundrous as you had expected. Maybe that's exactly the problem: Having too many expectations of a place.
Then, on the other hand, you might come across a place by accident and simply can't understand why nobody has ever written about it. For us, such was the case with Hirosaki, a small castle town a little bit south of Aomori, on the northern tip of Honshu.
I honestly had never even heard the name of the town, it hadn't even come up when I looked up places we could visit in Tohoku, Honshu's north west. After a mild disappointment with Morioka, Tono and also Aomori (which seems to be reinventing itself as a shopping mecca for the elderly), we were looking for a place to fill our last day in the area.
Looking at the map with attractions in the area at Aomori station, Hirosaki popped out. By all means, it's not Kyoto. It doesn't have dazzling lights or age old buildings (actually, most in Japan are reconstructed). It's a small town that can be explored easily within a day, and maybe that is what made it so charming.
We arrived around noon and quickly realised that this was not the kind of town where you can eat around the clock, and that most decent restaurants would be closed once we had done the first round of sightseeing. So we popped into the first major restaurants
After travelling in Japan for more than 8 years, I can rightfully say that this was the best meal I've had in the country, and that for unter 1,500 Yen! The tempura was oh so light, the sashimi perfectly fresh with a heavenly texture, and let's not even mention the scallop dish which is a signature dish in the region. Ever since, I'm measuring all Japanese meals by this one - and that means a lot, since I've never had a bad meal in the country at all.
After lunch, we walked another kilometer towards the castle area. Hirosaki castle is tiny, with essentially just one room over three floors, which houses an exhibition about the castle. There's a combination ticket for the castle, the botanical garden (which is part of the castle garden) as well as the privat Fujita Memorial Garden, located half a mile away, which offers great views into the surrounding countryside.. In total, it cost us around 500 yen, well under $5, to see all three.
Will these places blow your mind? Absolutely not, especially not if you have seen the larger castles and famous gardens in Japan. But Hirosaki felt absolutely peaceful, and we were probably the only foreign tourists there - there were even barely any Japanese tourist, it was mostly locals enjoying the gardens and castle grounds (which are much bigger than the castle itself).
|Not the real Hirosaki castle, but it felt a bit like that ;)|
|Fujita Memorial garden was quite impressiv, and more surprisingly, empty!|
When was the last time you had a great time somewhere you never even heard about before turned into a great travel memory?