Shimokita-hanto Peninsula’s good-fortune spot “Mount Osore”, breathtaking views, and gourmet-grade seafood (Aomori Prefecture)

“Mount Osore” is said to be the entranceway to the afterworld

Bleak rocky terrain formed by volcanic rocks, thick sulfurous odor…Mount Osore (literally “Mount Fear”) is the exact representation of the entranceway to the afterworld, which exists in the Japanese cultural imagination. In Shimokita-hanto Peninsula, legend also says that “If a person dies (his/her soul) goes to Mount Osore”.

In bleak scenery containing stretches of grey rocks, red windmills spin.

Mount Osore, believed in Japan to be a sacred mountain enshrining the gods, is composed by a somma of mountain ranges surrounding a caldera lake, Lake Usoriko. The river flowing out of Lake Usoriko is called “Sanzu-no-kawa” or Sanzu River, which is a name taken from the river described in Buddhist scripture as separating the afterworld from the mortal world. The terrain of volcanic rocks strewn with offerings of windmills is called “Muken-jigoku no Iwaba (rocky stretch in the hell of uninterrupted suffering)”. This is named after the place where the dead who committed large sins during their life are said to be punished with extreme uninterrupted suffering. The spinwheels are offerings that visitors left for the dead, instead of flowers. The area symbolizes an essential concept of buddhism, “Samsara” or reincarnation.

Bridge over the Sanzu-no-kawa River (official name is Shozugawa)

Communing with the dead through the intercession of “Itako”

People form a line for the Itako's Kuchiyose (spirit possession)
People form a line for the Itako’s “Kuchiyose (spirit possession)”

In the “Osorezan Taisai (Mount Osore main festival)” convened annually from July 20-24th, and the “Osorezan Aki Mairi (Mount Osore autumn festival)” held during the three-day weekend in early Octover (October 7-9th in 2017), the Itako’s spirit possession is performed. Itako are shamans who connects us with the voices of the dead and other spiritual beings, serving as a medium between the mortal world and the afterworld. When an Itako invites a spirit of the dead to possess her body and conveys the words of the spirit, the act is called “Kuchiyose (spirit possession)”. Only twice per year, at the time of the annual festivals, about three Itakos convene in Osorezan, and many visitors arrive seeking their ability of spirit possession. Since there is no reservation system available, many arrive early in the morning and form lines. Since the days and times of the Itakos’ stays are not regularly set, the only way to ensure a meeting with the Itako for spirit possession is to call the Osorezan management office (Japanese only)

A lodging facility and therapeutic bath with mysterious therapeutic effects

Acidic hot spring water flows into four public baths (huts with baths)

Mount Osore is a volcano with hot springs rising everywhere. The hot spring water is acidic with a strong sulfur scent, and its mineral content is said to have therapeutic effects for conditions such as neuropathic pain, rheumatism, and gastrointestinal illnesses. In the precincts of the Mount Osore Bodaiji Temple located in Mount Osore, there are four public baths (huts with baths) where visitors can experience this miraculous hot spring, and a temple lodging facility called “Shukubo”. At the Shukubo temple lodging facility, visitors can experience the hot spring in an open-air bath, and also savor vegetarian meals prepared based on Buddhist commandments.

Mount Osore Bodaiji Temple

Address: 3-2 Tanabe Usorisan, Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture

Access: Approximately 35 minutes by bus from Mutsu City , Approximately 40 minutes by car from JR Shimokita Station

Entrance fee : 500 yen


[One-day hot spring visit]

Hot spring entry fee: free

Hours: 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM (Temple is open to the public only between May 1st – October 31st)

* Bathing with a bathing suit is not permitted.

Kisshōkaku, a temple Lodging facility at Mount Osore’s hot springs

Osorezan Onsen Shukubo Kisshokaku

Address: Tanabe Usorisan, Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture

Accommodation fee: 12,000 yen for one night including two meals; 10,000 yen for groups larger than 30.

* Reservation by phone is required at least one week in advance

* Reservation phone number 0175-22-3825 (operators are available in Japanese only)

* During the summer festival (July 20th-24th) and autumn festival (3 consecutive days ending on the second Sunday of October), guests may be assigned to shared rooms.

Enjoy hiking through breathtaking views close to the city

Summer and winter views in Kawauchigawa Canyon

The Shimokita-hanto Peninsula region houses many hiking trails, where hikers can experience abundant nature through the beautiful changes of the four seasons. One such trail can be found in Kawauchigawa Canyon, where there is a maintained 4.4 km (2.7 mi) boardwalk. On the path are many bridges that cross the canyon, such as Ajisai Bridge, Sekirei Bridge, and Asunaro Bridge, allowing hikers to enjoy the contrasting colors and sounds of flowing water and green flora, including views at waterfalls. At the maintained 6 km (3.7 mi) boardwalk following Yagen River, a chestnut estimated to be 800-years-old, a forest with Aomori Hiba cypress and beech trees, and river all make up enchanting scenery.

Oddly shaped rocks on the shores of Hotokegaura

The shore of Hotokegaura is located on the western coastline of Shimokita-hanto Peninsula. There, a terrain with massive, oddly-shaped rocks continues for a distance of 2 km (1.2 mi), creating picturesque views. Each of the rocks have names related to buddhas, with namesakes such as “Nyorai no Kubi (Neck of the Nyorai Buddha)” and “Gohyakurakan (Five Hundred Disciples of the Buddha)”. There is a height gap of more than 100 meters (3.2 feet) from the roadway to Hotokegaura, so cars cannot be parked near the shore. The closest parking lot is 20 minutes away on foot, accessible only by a single path leading to the beach that comprises a steep staircase, where walkway enhancements were performed recently. Sightseeing boats depart from Sai-kō Harbor in Sai-mura Village (or “Sai”), so for anyone who wants to take in a full view of Hotategaura, or for visitors who feel the staircase may be a little bit too tough, sightseeing by boat is highly recommended.

The black jewel of Tsugaru Kaikyo strait “Oma Maguro (Oma Bluefin Tuna)”

Large Oma Maguro, fatty perfection for melt-in-your mouth flavor

Oma-machi (or “Oma”) is a town located at the tip of Shimokita-hanto Peninsula, in other words, at the northern-most tip of Japan’s main island Honshu. It is there that the famous “Oma Maguro”is harvested, known as a tuna brand of the highest grade. The town of Oma-machi faces the Tsugaru Kaikyo strait, where the convergence of three different currents – Kuroshio Current, Tsushima Current, and Kuril Current – create fertile fishing grounds. In the winter, wild bluefin tuna sized between 200-300 kg (440-660 Ibs) are harvested in coastal waters. Caught with a fishing method called “Ipponzuri”, a single fishhook connected to a single fishing line is used, these tunas undergo proper quality and freshness controls after harvest, and are thus referred to as the “black jewel”. Not only tuna, but all seafood harvested in the waters of Tsugaru Kaikyo strait, whether squids, sardines, or urchin, are full of sensational flavor, due to the abundant supply of planktons and seaweed in the Tsugaru Kaikyo strait.

Large scallop harvested in Shimokita-hantō Peninsula

Cradled by Shimokita-hanto Peninsula and Tsugaru-hanto Peninsula is Mutsuwan Bay, another furtile fishing ground. The bay is the site of extensive scallop aquaculture, as well as harvests of sea cucumbers, sea squirts, helmet crabs, and flounders.

If you are a Japan expert who wishes to experience Japan in more depth, traveling to Mount Osore and its surrounding sites would be the perfect plan. This region is packed with wonder, including good-fortune spots, sites with majestic views, and locally harvested gourmet-grade seafood, so we recommend scheduling ample time to explore the Shimokita-hanto Peninsula to your heart’s content.