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Aomori, Japan: A ghostly Gothic travel guide! Haunted Mount Osore, Misawa art museums, Terayama Shuji memorial.

japan top drag queen rupual's drag race

Feeling so nostalgic for Japan… I miss the era when we could party all night, and share absinthe freely! At this rate, I’m not sure when I can safely return.

Thankfully, I have a crew of Pirates — and we can live vicariously through their travel adventures in Japan and beyond.

japanese traditional red lantern festival display

Today, we’re letting our favorite spooky lady, Yukiro Dravarious, steer the ship… with a guide to traveling in Aomori, Japan! Read on for bizarre and Buddhist art, and a visit to Mount Osore, a hell-like volcano haunted by Gothic spirits.

drag queens japan tokyo closet ball cross-dress

Before I turn over the wheel, I wanted to share some of Yukiro’s recent drag photos and projects (as Die Schwarze Frau). She and her Haus of Schwarz did a live, socially-distanced performance for Tokyo Closet Ball. Watch it here; our dead diva comes alive near the end.

For more fabulosity, check out Yukiro’s Witch Review series on YouTube — it breaks down the best horror B-movies, without spoilers!

tokyo japanese drag queen shows performances

And you’re invited to Yukiro’s online Halloween party on October 10, 8pm Japan time! Tune into the event here — Casket of Horrors. All members of her drag Haus will perform live, followed by a battle to the death between 10 spooky video contestants. 

If this Evil Queen’s genius makes you bow down in awe, show your support by buying Yukiro a glass of red wine here.

(Above photos by: Akane Kiyohara from Beauty Blenda, by Haus of Gaishoku.)

aomori mount osore haunted graves japan

Now gather round children, and let’s listen to Yukiro’s Aomori travel story…

In July, my boyfriend and I escaped the Tokyo heatwave by taking a local trip to Aomori. It was our first time visiting the northernmost region of Japanʼs main island Honshu (本州), right below Hokkaido. We researched where to go and what to see – as well as the government’s safety recommendations, as our priority was to minimize the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19.

towada art center japan modern sculptures

Our shinkansen route: We took the bullet train to Hachinohe (八戸) from Tokyo Station. Then, we took a local train to Misawa (三沢) where we booked our hotel. The trip took about 4 hours and cost about 18000 yen one way. We travelled just before the Japanese summer vacation so we avoided crowds, and got a very reasonable deal on our hotel, Hoshino Resort Aomoriya (less than 5000 yen per person a night!)

paper sculptures japan lanterns

Pro tip: Pack a mask and hand sanitizer, and avoid crowded trains and rush hours. Our trains were more or less empty, and we saw almost no humans during this trip. Just what we desired!

Misawa is a rejuvenating spot, and we were delighted by the brisk air, surrounding nature, and no humans as far as the eye could see. Between Misawa station and the hotel, there was a 10-15 min walking path through small waterfalls and meadows.

hoshino aomoriya hotel misawa review

Our hotel, Hoshino Aomoriya, was one of the best I’ve been to in Japan. We had an airy room and relaxation area. It bordered a Japanese park filled with art, birds, pony rides, jogging routes, and a pond with lotus flowers and auspicious carp fish.

The hotel also had two natural onsen (hot springs) free of charge for hotel guests, with both inside and outside options. The outdoor onsen was especially spirited as it was surrounded by trees, a pond, and trailing pink flowers.

misawa nebuta festival japan lit lantern art

The hotel displayed art from Okamoto Taro (岡本太郎); I loved his kappa-like spirit depiction. I was impressed by the collection of nebuta, or gigantic paper figures in the form of dragons, gods or Shoguns. Some were 9 meters in length, and spat out smoke and lights. Aomori has a yearly Nebuta festival (ねぶた祭) every summer, but it was cancelled due to the virus. In the future, I hope I can see this procession of musicians, dancers, and locals carrying the giant white floats.

I carried my mosquito repellent and sun lotion and hand sanitizer in my bag, as well as sunglasses and a mask of course. I was expecting mosquitoes but to my delight I wasnʼt bitten once in Aomori! In Tokyo I get bitten 1-3 times a day if I donʼt wear full cover up or spray myself heavily with repellent.

terayama shuji museum shuuji misawa filmmaker

We chose to stay in Misawa because it was close to the memorial museum of Terayama Shuji (寺山修司). He’s an avant-garde poet, dramatist, writer, and film director — one of the most influential Japanese artists. Iʼm a big fan of his provocative movies and was eager to learn more about this extraordinary man.

Getting to the Terayama Shuuji museum: We took a 20 minute taxi ride from Misawa station, since there are only connecting buses on weekends and during vacations. All museums (and most stores) are also closed on Mondays in the Misawa area, and you more or less need a car to efficiently get around Aomori.

obscure weird japan museums

Needless to say the Terayama Shuji museum was very much worth the costly taxi ride (4000 yen one way). Every guest has to get their temperatures checked, and wear plastic gloves provided by the museum, as well as pay a small admission fee of 400 yen.

avantgarde art bizarre japanese museum

Terayama Shuji’s museum was as kooky and wicked as one would expect. The first room was a traditional exhibition space about his career, along with books, merchandise and collaboration pieces.

The second was very impressive since it was designed like a treasure hunt! There were 12 desks, and you had to use a flashlight, open drawers and find secret hidden panels. Each bench contained keywords to help solve the riddles. Inside the desk drawers were more facts, poems and interesting curiosa regarding Terayama; some even projected movie clips. The other parts of the room contained a library, and a ceiling constellation of his bizarre characters being lit up one after another. We bought some goods and left, without seeing another single visitor, and were very pleased.

shiko munakata woodblock art museum prints

We then took the local train to Aomori city, and from the station, we rode a bus to Heiwa Park (the Park of Peace – 平和公園) , which is said to be haunted! Unfortunately we did not encounter any ghastly beings, as it was empty as everywhere.

Then, we paid 400 yen to visit the memorial museum of Shikō Munakata (棟方 志功), a woodblock printmaker who reached international fame. Munakata was known for his eccentric personality and obsession with Vincent van Gogh; at a young age he claimed to be the “Van Gogh of Aomori.” The grandest piece in the museum was his “Ten Great Disciples of the Buddha” (二菩薩釈迦十大弟子) (1939), considered to be his crowning achievement.

towada art center building architecture

The following day we had the pleasure of meeting a local friend, Yoko, who kindly took time to rent a car and take us to must-see places. We realized how difficult it is to travel around Aomori without a car, so her help really made our trip worth writing about!

Our first stop was the Towada Art Center (十和田現代美術館). Outside, there was free street art for anyone to enjoy.

yayoi kusama aomori sculptures art

The infamous Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生) had an art platform opposite the main building, featuring her recognizable dotted sculptures. We also saw firefighters climbing a wall that was surprisingly part of the exhibit, and a friendly ghost manifestation.

PS: see La Carmina’s review of the Stockholm Yayoi Kusama exhibit here, as well as her trip to Naoshima Island (land of the giant pumpkins).

aomori museum contemporary art towada

Also exciting was the Wish Tree, planted by Yoko Ono; you wrote your wish on a paper strip and hung it on one of the branches.

japan modern art japanese artists

I enjoyed Towada’s many interactive pieces, and slightly hidden art that you had to search for. We took fantastic photos amidst the glass walls, and enjoyed installations from artists around the globe.

aomori hiking nature tours tourism

Next, Yoko took us to the Oirase Gorge (奥入瀬渓流) – a long path for hikers, through jaw-dropping waterfalls and picturesque trees. The gorge stretches 14 km from Nenokuchi (子ノ口) on Lake Towada (十和田湖) to Yakiyama (焼山). The strong current leads through a ferocious path with many rocks.

When we went, there was mud because of rain, and the thicket of trees made the temperatures quite cool. Even in the peak of the summer, I recommend wearing rubber boots and an extra coat layer.

lake towada shrine

After a few scenic stops, we made it to the peaceful Lake Towada, the largest caldera lake on Honshu Island. On one of the rocks in the water we could spot a tiny shrine, which belongs to a god who protects the lake. Yoko took us to Towada Shrine (十和田神社), and we admired the mossy stones that are said to have healing powers.

statue of virgins takamura kotaro aomori

We also saw the “Statue of Virgins” (おとめ像) on the beach side of the lake. It’s the last remaining work of poet and sculptor Takamura Kōtarō (高村光太郎), and in our eyes, looked more like a romance between two women. Thanks to Yoko, we had a lovely day of nature and art.

mountain of dread osore japan spooky ghosts

The next day we went to Mt. Osore, the Mountain of Dread: one of the three most sacred places in Japan. It is also a main shooting location for Terayama Shuuji’s movie “Pastoral: to die in the country” (田園に死 す).

Mount Osore is home to psychic mediums called “itako” who are traditionally blind, and undergo rigorous spiritual training. Itakos can summon the soul of a dead person; they become possessed, and speak to the customer in their spirit’s voice!

mt osore japan spirits

How to get to Mt Osore: From Misawa, take the express train direct to Shimokita Staton (下北), or take the local and transfer at Noheji station. (Not to be confused with Shimokitazawa, the hipster area in Tokyo frequently shortened to Shimokita!) Then, ride one of the three daily 40 minute buses to Osore. The trip took about 2-3 hours and cost 1900 yen for the train and 800 yen for the bus ride, per person each way.

mount osore lava volcano sulphur

Arriving at Mount Osore was like entering another realm. The holy ground is said to have spirits of the dead roaming about. It is also an active volcano, and is believed in Japanese mythology to be one of the gates to the underworld.

osore mountain aomori japan

Admission info: The entry fee for adults is 500 yen, and there’s an overnight option with meals included for 12000 yen. The festivals with Itako spirit readings take place between July 20-24, and the area is open 6:00-18:00 each day between 1st of May to 31st of Oct (imagine going there on Halloween.) Osore is too cold in the winter for humans to visit… but not for spirits!

bodaiji temple osore mountain lake

The place is gigantic, so allow several hours to walk around. The main temple, Bodaiji (菩提寺), is said to be founded 1200 years ago by the monk Enʼnin (円仁), and belongs to the Sōtō division of Zen Buddhism. The sanctimonious Mount Osore contains the highly acidic waters of the caldera lake. Lake Usori is in the center, surrounded by 8 mountain peaks representing the lotus flower’s 8 petals.

japan sulfur crater volcano

The area has many fumaroles (openings of the planet’s crust) emitting steam and volcanic gases (especially sulfur dioxide… the smell was everywhere). There are exactly 108 fumaroles, representing the 108 worldly desires and the 108 hells bound to them. Some of these hells even had their own signs with dramatic names, such as: The hell of salt, The eternal hell, The hell of severe crimes, and the hell of the blood-pounding pond!

mount osore jizo children stone statues

Mount Osore looked like a demon landscape. The paths bubbled with sulphuric yellow, orange or blue, while the white sand and grey stones made the scenery look like an endless graveyard. Adding to the melancholy were hundreds of Jizou bodhisattva (地蔵菩薩), or stone figures that guard over children who have died. Many of these small stone monks were clothed in handmade baby bibs and hats.

memorial statues tombstones mausoleum osore

We saw pyres and monuments to famous monks, as well as offerings of cute pink windmill toys (風車). This famous Japanese toy represents unborn children, and is said to help them find peace in the afterlife. Seeing so many was heartbreaking and overwhelming.

japan tsunami memorial statue

Osore had other meaningful tributes to those who have passed. I saw a large urn, shaped like a giant lotus, with hand-prints (mainly of children) on the back side. This was a monument for the unfortunate souls who died in Japan’s 2011 tsunami and earthquake.

japanese spooky haunted houses

In one hut, I found heirlooms and old clothes belonging to the dead, with names of the unborn written on wood stripes all over the ceiling.

In Japanese media, the Mountain of Dread tends to be portrayed as a haunted place. It is said that you are cursed if you take any stones from the holy ground. In fact, this is a site of meaningful stillness and remembrance, which really spoke to me. While I loved the otherworldly Gothic atmosphere, I also felt this was one of the most serene places I’ve ever visited. There was no malice in the air – just a solemn peacefulness.

shark town station aomori temple

On the last day of our journey, we took a local train from Hachinohe to Shark Town station (伸), where there were an obnoxiously high number of seagulls by a shrine. These were actually “Black-tailed gulls” (Umineko 海猫). Fun fact: the word in Japanese Umi-neko is a compound of Umi – ocean and Neko – cat, so basically they are called “sea cats” or “cats of the ocean.”

japan seagull temple birds

We walked 10 minutes from Shark Station to Kabushima Shrine (蕪島神社) and as we got closer, we started hearing cat-like cries. It turned into a screeching as we approached the small harbour. Unlike regular seagulls, these beasts had black tails, a red ring around their eyes, a black mark on the beaks, and a sharp red tip: as if they’d just dug into raw flesh and still had blood dripping from their Gothic faces.

japan animal attractions tourism sea gulls

The little shrine on the hill burnt down in 2015 but was rebuilt as of last year. The workers stopped construction while the gulls were hatching their babies, so they could raise them in peace. In mid July, the hatchlings still wore a brown coat of feathers but were as large as adults. I was stunned by how they were unafraid of humans; you basically had to be careful not to step on them.

japan bird watching seagulls temple

As you can imagine there was bird poop absolutely everywhere and we were afraid of being targeted from above! I would recommend this shrine if you are a fan of animals and birds in particular, but only if you have some extra time in Aomori. On the contrary, if you have a phobia or were freaked out by Alfred Hitchcockʼs “The Birds” I would suggest never to step your foot at Kabushima shrine!

eccentric quirky art japan

Thanks to Yukiro for the eye-opening guide to Aomori! I didn’t realize there was so much avantgarde art and spiritual / Gothic scenery in this region of Japan. (Here are a few final pics from Towada Art Center.) Hopefully I can visit soon.

ghost statue japan horror art

For more from Yukiro, watch his latest (freak)show drag performance here. The entire Haus of Schwarz (Stefani ST Sl;t , Le Horla, and Angel Heart) performed, with mommy dearest Die Schwarze Frau near the end! Le Horla’s spooky makeup was put on by Haus’ Drag Dad, Weryk.

If want something unproductive to do during quarantine, watch Yukiro’s YouTube series, Witch Review. Die Schwarze Frau dishes on her favorite old school horror cult B movies, sharing her darkest thoughts with you! There are no spoilers, so you can watch these reviews in (ill)-faith.

And if you’re inspired to dress in Gothic or Punk clothing, check out Punk Rave Store — they have many dark styles for men and women.

japan goth party flyer poster

And we order you to tune in to Yukiro’s Halloween livestream extravaganza, called Casket of Horrors! All members of Haus der Schwärze will perform live, and then there will be 10 spooky videos submitted from around the globe. The winner will be crowned “The Queen (or Queer) of Halloween 2020!” Watch the live-stream online (here’s the info) on 2020/10/10 at 20:00 Japan time, if you dare.

Love it to death? Then support Yukiro by buying him a glass of red wine here!

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5 Comments

  1. Posted September 3, 2020 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Ahhh! Thank you for having me on your blog again!!
    Hopefully it will inspire people to visit Aomori and all its amazing places ‍♀️

  2. Posted September 4, 2020 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    What a great post! I’m definitely adding Aomori to be list of places to go (if I ever get to Japan again)!

    • Posted September 8, 2020 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      Me too, I didn’t know it was such a special place!

  3. Posted September 12, 2020 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never been to Japan but I love how many things are going on! Especially liking the drag queens at the beginning.

  4. Posted September 13, 2020 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    What an awesome post – I visited Japan for the first time this year and fell in love with the country, I can’t wait to go again.

    I’d never heard of Aomori, but now I would love to go visit!

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