Aomori's main event is its Nebuta Matsuri Festival,held August 2 to 7. People come to see illuminated floats of gigantic samurai figures paraded through the streets at night. Aomori's festival is one of Japan's largest, and is said to celebrate the euphoria of post-battle victory, and is thus encouraged to be noisier and livelier than you may have been exposed to in other Japanese festivals. Dancers, called heneto, run alongside the floats, dancing crazily, and you're encouraged to join in. Throughout the year you can enjoy delicious seafood from Aomori Bay, including Oma no Maguro (tuna of Oma), as well as delicious fruits and vegetables (particularly garlic). And come every summer, the town cuts loose to throw the decidedly wild Nebuta Matsuri festival, a frenzied, utterly unaccountable period when normal gets thrown to the wind.
It would be hard to walk out of this Japanese restaurant hungry: The danna-shu course (¥3,150), for example, includes abalone and sea-urchin soup, seaweed and fish, a mixed hot pot, and fried eggplant. On sunny days you should come for lunch. Both the great-value teishoku set menus and splendid bay views from the 10th floor of the lofty ASPAM building are all yours.
You're in a major seafood city, and if you want some of the best of what is available in these cold waters, this is the place to get it. Excellent service and bright surroundings, not to mention sea urchin, salmon roe, scallops, squid, tuna, and ark shell (a variety of clam) await your whetted appetite.
What was once an early-20th-century warehouse is now a modern sushi restaurant. The fish here is fresh, and the price is right, with a price list clearly hung in the wall. The casual atmosphere makes it popular among business travelers. The fish served varies according to the season and availability, but tuna almost always appears.
Crowded with locals, Mitsu-ishi has a convivial atmosphere and dishes that appeal to everyone. Sashimi moriawase (assorted sashimi; ¥1,200–¥2,500) is an excellent choice for two or three people. Grilled scallops and grilled chicken with herbs are also tasty and popular. The mitsu-ishi gozen (¥2,000) and hime kaiseki (¥3,000) set menus include sashimi, tempura, grilled fish, vegetables, rice, soup, and fruit. There's an abundant sake list, too. If you're in the mood for drinks and some finger food, take a seat at the bar, where the chef sometimes hands out complimentary snacks over the counter. Look for the mood-lit white building with boxy dark roof.
Nebuta Village Museum
If you can't visit during the Nebuta Festival, head to this museum in the southeast part of town where glowing papier-mâché sculptures painted with the fierce countenances of warriors used in Aomori's festival are displayed. From JR Aomori Station, take the bus bound for Moya Hills (25 minutes; ¥450) and get off at Nebuta no Sato Iriguchi stop.
Fish, shellfish, preserved seaweed, and fish eggs—in short, all manner of marine organisms—are hawked by hundreds of vendors in this seafood market. It's one block east of JR Aomori Station, in the basement level of a modern building with distinctive crimson pillars.
A variety of Tsugaru lacquerware and handicrafts made in Aomori and Tohoku are available at reasonable prices here. If you are into folk art, it is fun just to poke around even if you don't buy anything. It's on Shinmachi Dori, a short walk from the station.
Sannai Maruyama Iseki
Want to know what it was like to live in this area 5,500 years ago? This, one of the country's largest archaeological sites, features a reconstruction of a Jomon settlement that lasted for roughly 1,500 years, from 3500 BC to 2000 BC. After an extensive excavation, it was opened to the public and has attracted crowds of children on school outings, people wanting to trace their roots, and, of course, archaeology buffs. Its interactive approach encourages visitors to try crafts making and cuisine.
Aomori Kenritsu Bijutsukan
This contemporary arts museum houses a collection of works by Munakata Shiko (1903–75), Nara Yoshitomo (1959–) and Terayama Shuji (1935–83). Another highlight is three of Marc Chagall's backdrops created for the ballet Aleko (the fourth belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Unlike many museums in which gift shops are near the entrance and packed with people, the gift shop here sits quietly in a corner upstairs, seemingly asking visitors to enjoy art first before shopping. Outside, a statue of Aomori-ken (ken sounds like both prefecture and dog) waits in front of his food dish.