Garden Culture Blooming in a Farming Village
If you walk through Hirakawa’s Onoe area, you can spot many gardens colored by vibrant flowers and trees. In the Onoe area, there are around 30 companies that specialize in landscape gardening! The reason there are so many of these businesses is because of Seito Moriyoshi, the 24th generation head of the Seito family who built Seibien, hired farmers to help construct his garden to help them while many were suffering from a poor harvest.
1 Your heart will skip a beat
Retro and Modern
Seibien is a 12,000㎡ landscape garden made by local elite Seito Moriyoshi in the Oishi Bugaku-ryu style. He began the project in 1902 and worked for nine years to complete it. In one corner sits the Seibikan, a building overlooking the garden that was completed in 1909. The first floor was built in a Japanese style while the second floor was made in a western renaissance style. The roof is painted emerald green, and the walls are plastered white. The western-style windows and Japanese paper sliding doors and partitions create a mysterious harmony giving the building a unique beauty. It is said that the building was used as a reference for the Studio Ghibli film The Secret World of Arrietty.
The town's pride in its gardens comes from the plan to save the farmers
When Seibien was built, the livelihoods of many farmers were in danger due to crop failure. To help save the farmers, the landowner paid them daily wages to help with the garden's landscaping. After acquiring experience and skills, farmers also began making gardens in their own homes, and the culture of gardening spread throughout the region. Many farmers started working as landscape gardeners and their businesses began to thrive.
- Opening Hours: Mid-April - September: 9:00-17:00
- October to mid-November: 9:00-16:30
- Mid-November - mid-April: 10:00-15:00
- Closed: December 29th- January 3rd
- Tel. 0172-57-2020
- Entrance Fee: Adult – 500 yen (Beginning April 2020)
- 1 Ishimori, Saruka, Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture
10-minute walk from Tsugaru Onoe Station on the Konan Railway Konan Line
A building made just for viewing the garden
With an emerald-green roof, Seibien is a cute building designed like people wearing bowler hats with Japanese hakama during the Meiji period, when western culture was first spreading throughout Japan. The architect of the building designed it with that image in mind. The best place to view the garden is the building's second floor. From here, Mt. Bonju can be seen behind the garden and is ‘borrowed’ to form its backdrop. (You can only visit the 2nd floor on a guided plan for a fee. *Reservation required)
Relax with green tea and Japanese sweets
After appreciating the garden, take a break at the rest area. You can order a matcha tea set with Seito no Niwako, an original Japanese sweet using Tsugaru-region apples and red bean paste.
About Tsugaru’s Oishi Bugaku-ryu
Oishi Bugaku-ryu, or simply, Bugaku-ryu, is a unique style of landscape gardening local to the Tsugaru area. It uses boldly-placed rugged rocks, stone-filled ponds and waterfalls, stone lanterns, and rocks placed on miniature hills where conifers are planted. These gardens also often use Mt Iwaki as a 'borrowed backdrop.' Beginning in the Edo period and remaining popular through the Meiji and Taisho periods, Oishi Bugaku-ryu is still used today in landscape gardens, from those designated as National Places of Scenic Beauty to personal gardens at private homes.
The farmhouse gardens are also Bugaku-ryu
In the farmhouses of the Hirakawa Onoe area, you can find plenty of gardens carefully crafted by hand. The Oishi Bugaku-ryu style has been passed down since the Edo period in the Tsugaru region, and it is widely used in farmhouse gardens in the area.
Walk around and see the farm storehouses and gardens
In the Kanaya area of Hirakawa, about 80 storehouses built from the Meiji period until partway through the Showa period remain today. The storehouses are for storing farmers' harvests, so typically, they hold rice and apples. The thickness of the doors and windows and the plaster reliefs embedded in the walls are particularly interesting. The plasterer made these reliefs to pray for longevity (crane, turtle) and ward against disaster (water, waves) using a plastering tool called a kote, which is why the reliefs are known as kote-e.
- Kanaya, Hirakawa
- Contact: NPO Onoe Kura Hozon Riatsuyo Sokushin-kai
- 40-minute walk from Tsugaru Onoe Station on the Konan Railway Konan Line.
2 Hirakawa Gourmet
Open just twice a month! Try the bread at Kura Café
There are over 300 farming storehouses in the Hirakawa and Onoe regions. To pass on this cultural heritage to the next generation, an agricultural nonprofit in Hirakawa has been holding various green tourism events and walking tours of the town. As one part of these efforts, they began to make bread to sell by mail-order in 2013. One year later, they remodeled one of the storehouses (kura) and opened Kura Café. (Kura Café is only open on the 4th Friday and Saturday of each month)
- Kura Café
- Opening hours: 11:00-16:00
- Opening Days: 4th Friday and Saturday of the month
- Tel. 0172-88-5039
- 88-1 Nakamatsumoto, Kanaya, Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture
- 40-minute walk from Tsugaru Onoe Station on the Konan Railway Konan Line
In the center of rice country, bread at Kura Café
Kura Café's bread is additive-free and good for you. It is made using Shirakami Kodama Yeast and a blend of Hirakawa-produced Tsugaru Roman rice-flour and Japanese Haru yo Koi wheat-flour. The bread's appeal lies in its chewiness, which is a characteristic of the rice flour used to make it. The store also sells freshly-baked that are simply the best.
Momosawa Kashiho’s Japanese and western sweets are both popular!
Momosawa Kashiho was established in 1912. This shop is well-loved by the locals due to the sweet flavor of their treats, which are made using hand-selected fresh ingredients. They sell various wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets, such as manju and high-quality namagashi, but they offer a wide variety of sweets, including western deserts such as cakes and baked sweets.
- Momosawa Kashiho
- Opening Hours: 9:00-19:00
Closed: 1st Wednesday of the month
- Tel. 0172-44-2015
- 16-1 Kitayanagida, Motomachi, Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture
5-minute walk from Hiraka Station on the Konan Railway Konan line
Exquisite! Wasamo-dora Dorayaki
Wasamo-dora is a type of dorayaki, a Japanese treat of two pancakes that sandwich a delicious filling. Wasamo-dora means "give me one too" in the Tsugaru dialect, and it is branded with a large 'mo' character（も） meaning “too”. It is filled with plenty of home-made tsubu-an, or coarse sweet red bean paste. The tsubu-an is perfectly moist, with soft beans and a mildly sweet flavor. There are two flavors available: red-bean margarine or red-bean mochi (187 yen each). You can order as many as you like!
Daiju Shokudo, a Tsugaru restaurant with over 100 years of history
This shop has been selling soba and udon noodles for over 120 years and is currently run by the 4th generation chef. Their ramen uses the current head chef's original flavoring; The soup uses the marrow from pork bones and is simmered for 6-7 hours. We recommend ordering the half-ramen half-yakisoba A set, which comes with an onigiri rice ball on the side (780 yen) (pictured). Simple is best! Daijyu Shokudo is overflowing with charm.
- Daiju Shokudo
- Opening Hours: 11:00-17:00 (Closes when they sell out)
Closed: Mondays (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday)
- Tel. 0172-57-2022
- 19-1 Skaematu, Onoe, Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture
10-minute walk from Tsugaru Onoe Station on the Konan Railway Konan Line
3 The Yomiya at Saruka Shrine
The festival at the shrine representing Tsugaru
Saruka Shrine is a representative shrine of the Tsugaru region, with an area of 16,000 tsubo, or about 50,000 m². Since the Edo period, a god of farming, fishing, and travel and a god that protects eyesight has been revered here. The shrine is also home to Tsugaru's largest yomiya. A large number of stalls line up on the shrine road at dusk, and many people, both young and old, gather as soon as the lights are lit.
- Saruka Shrine
- Tel. 0172-57-2016
- 175 Ishibayashi, Saruka, Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture
15-minute walk from Tsugaru Onoe Station
Time to chow down at the festival stall
At the yomiya at Saruka Shrine, over 80 stalls line the streets, and the variety of food available will leave you wondering what to eat! You'll find hearty foods such as takoyaki, fried chicken, and Kuroishi yakisoba, as well as delectable sweets like crepes! This Tsugaru yomiya will delight children and adults alike.
* The Jugoya Taisai (moon-viewing festival) is the largest annual festival in Tsugaru and is held every year from August 14th to the 16th of the Lunar Calendar. Many stalls are lined up during the yomiya held on the first night. There are also events such as a performance of the Tsugaru Kagura dance which is dedicated to the gods, a Prefectural Intangible Cultural Object. There is also the Prefectural Lion Dance Festival.
The romantic bridge over Kagamigaike (Mirror Pond)
There are two large ponds in the shrine grounds: Kagamigaike and Miharashigaike. At the shrine's yomiya, traditional Japanese lanterns are set up along the bridge, turning it into a place of fantasy and romance. The foot of the bridge is also a popular place to watch the moon.
So many koi, so much love?! Koi-koi Shrine
The red torii gate located in Saruka Park next to Miharashigaike pond is known as Koi-koi Shrine. Koi fish are thought to be lucky due to a legend stating that if a koi climbs a waterfall, it will become a dragon. The word for love in Japanese is also koi. The koi will gather together near the shrine's red torii gate if you stand there.
A place of respite in the center of town
Long ago, Nanahashira Shrine was home to a small forest of countless tall keyaki trees. However, many of the trees were cut down and used to build ships during the Russo-Japanese War, and only four trees remain today. These giant trees are estimated to be over 300 years old, and the shrine has become both a symbol of the region and a place to relax.
- Nanahashira Shrine
- 26 Sakaematsu, Onoe, Hirakawa / 10-minute walk from Tsugaru Onoe Station on the Konan Railway Konan Line
Shigabo Forest Park and the scenery of a mountain village
Standing at the 350m-high peak of Shigabo Forest Park, you can gaze out over Mt. Iwaki and the sprawling Tsugaru plains before it. This is a popular spot for taking photographs as it offers a panoramic view of Tsugaru that is movingly beautiful (picture on the right). (The road is closed during winter and is open from early April to mid-November.) The left and center photographs show the fields and rice paddies that make up the mountain village scenery of Hirakawa.
- Shigabo Forest Park
- 47-1 Kasezawa, Hirofune, Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture / 20 minutes by car from Hiraka Station on the Konan Railway Konan Line