Aomori Weekend- Oirase Gorge

I feel the weekend made the whole trip worth it.  Don’t get me wrong, the professional satisfaction is great, yeah, yeah, yeah, but it was really nice to see a different part of Japan while I stayed up North for my Monday clinic/post-op follow-ups.

On Saturday, SMS and I headed out to Oirase Gorge.  It’s a 5 mile trail along Oirase stream between Yakeyama and Lake Towada.  Lake Towada is a huge caldera lake in the Aomori prefecture and Oirase stream is its only drainage stream/river.  The gorge is heavily wooded and very pretty.  I suspect that the most spectacular time to see it is in the Fall with the colorful foliage, but it was really nice for a Summer outing too.
Walking Map

My hiking companion- this cute guy is on every trail post sign!
We parked at the Yakeyama bus stop, where there was a small market and a pizza/salad place across the street.  I believe the name is Stone Oven Restaurant, which fits.  It’s in North Village and also has a small gear store on the second floor.  We ate lunch and it was awesome!  There was a pizza and salad buffet.  The Neopolitan pizzas were small and tasty but where I really loaded up was at the salad bar.  There were so many yummy, fresh veggies.  Some were straight from their garden.  My favorites were the fresh peas and the sesame-seed glazed kabocha squash.  Delicious!

After fortifying ourselves, we hiked up the trail to the Oirase Stream Tourist Center.  We “spoke” with the Japanese version of Silent Bob.  Although we asked for directions in (admittedly poor Japanese), he didn’t really talk back.  He pointed at a schematic map but that’s all we had to go off of.  While SMS and I might not be the best Japanese speakers, we can usually figure out what people are saying.  Unfortunately in this situation, to paraphrase Allison Krauss, “You say it best when you say nothing at all” was not the case here.  SMS and I promptly hiked a mile down a different trail until we came across a sign in English that taunted us with its “You are here” dot for where we were was not where we wanted to be.

So, we back-tracked to the tourist center and hiked up towards the lake.  It was a nice level trail that was mostly along the river.  The road follows the river and the path sometimes let out onto the side of the road for a little ways.  I would call it the shoulder, but the road was really narrow and shared among cars, buses, bikers and hikers along certain parts.
Kumoi Waterfall

The main draw is the waterfalls.  They were really beautiful and everything was just so green and lush. In retrospect, most of the highlights are between Soube and the lake so starting at Yakeyama isn’t mandatory but we were happy.

Choshi Ootaki Waterfall
Due to our inadvertent detour, we were a little behind schedule to catch the last bus so we ran for about 1/3 of the trail.  It actually made for beautiful trail running and I would highly recommend it as a running route, but maybe without a big backpack.  Due to our time constraints, we had planned on a hike one-way, bus back and it was actually a great way to do it.  On the JR bus back (Y630 between Lake Towada and Yakeyama), there was a Japanese/English audio recording that pointed out all the main waterfalls.  The driver even had certain set stopping points along the way.
Lake Towada
We headed back to Misawa and went to Kaminarido (aka Thunder Ramen) for dinner.  I had a delicious BBQ pork black ramen bowl.  The BBQ pork does not taste like BBQ sauce, but is a thicker slice of pork.  The black ramen is a sesame seed broth with burnt garlic oil/paste.  It is not the most subtle broth in the world but it is absolutely delicious and perfect after a day of hiking.

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