September 21, 2018

Hungover in Hachinohe

Seaside Hachinohe is the second largest city in Aomori Prefecture. It is home to both boozy alleyways as well as Japan's largest morning market.

A collection of busy open eateries and food stalls in Aomori Prefecture's Hachinohe

The clock struck 4:00 AM and my alarm went off with a bang. Still quite drunk from the night before, I rolled over to see what the commotion was all about. Through my alcohol induced stupor, I somehow managed to vaguely recall my reasons for coming up here in the first place. Cursing every deity in existence, I miraculously managed to drag my not-yet-hungover behind out from under the covers and into the shower. Turning the water on as cold as it could go in an effort to wake myself up, I quickly washed up and got ready to checkout of my hotel. After all, I had a morning market to go to and the fun was already beginning despite the fact that the sun had yet to poke its head over the horizon…

Welcome back to another one of my area guides. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the northern city of Hachinohe. Located up in Aomori Prefecture, this region is home to the biggest morning market in all of Japan. Every week, more than 10,000 visitors gather here to peruse the collections of hundreds of vendors. Moreover, Hachinohe also boasts a legendary nightlife scene too. Centered around a collection of alleyways that resemble Shinjuku’s legendary Golden Gai, drinking in Hachinohe is an attraction unto itself. Unfortunately, a night out on the town doesn’t combine well with the morning market, at least if you’re looking to get some shut eye. Still, one could easily justify a visit to Hachinohe based on the nightlife alone.

After visiting twice now, Hachinohe has become a place that I know quite intimately. I first came through town when traveling to Aomori’s sacred mountain-top temple complex on Mt. Osore. Thereafter, I returned for round two recently when taking family on an unforgettable tour through northern Japan. At this point, I think that I have literally sampled everything that the area has to offer. Nevertheless, Hachinohe’s morning market and awesome collection of boozy alleyways are definitely adventures I could see myself enjoying repeatedly. They are just that outstanding.

Getting to Aomori & Hachinohe

The JR Hachinohe Station in Aomori Prefecture which is a shinkansen stop

While Hachinohe is indeed quite a distance from the megalopolis of Tokyo, the process of getting there is not all that difficult. You can easily hop on any of the Hayabusa bullet trains bound for Aomori Prefecture and you’ll find yourself at the JR Hachinohe Station in a number of hours. Note that not all of the Hayabusas heading north travel to Hachinohe. As such, you’ll want to refer to our friend Hyperida or a similar service to calculate the best train for you. Trust me and be sure to do your homework here! You don’t want to get lost somewhere in northern Japan after all.

One thought you need to keep in mind is that much of Hachinohe’s action is located away from the station where the bullet train stops. Therefore, if you’re keen on sampling the nightlife scene, you’ll need to first make your way to the JR Hon-Hachinohe Station. This station is just a few minutes away by train but the departures are incredibly infrequent. As such, you need to be diligent in planning your trip while also being mindful of the incredibly early last trains. Failing to do so can easily result in an expensive taxi trip. Don’t make this newbie mistake!

Anyway, Hachinohe is best done in one and a half days. I suggest that you try to arrive around 6:00 or 7:00 PM. This will give you plenty of time to check into your hotel and freshen up before heading out for a night on the town. Just be sure not to make the huge mishap of booking a hotel near the JR Hachinohe Station where the bullet train pulls into. Instead, you’re going to want to look for something near the downtown area of Hon-Hachinohe. Personally, I recommend the Dormy Inn as it has an outdoor bath on the roof.

Drinking with the Hachinohe Locals

Since as far back as the feudal era when Hachinohe was a castle town, the Hon-Hachinohe area has been the region’s economic center. Today, the downtown area is a hub for offices, shopping, and most importantly, transportation (albeit by incredibly confusing buses). It is in this area that you’ll find the majority of Hachinohe’s nightlife. While there are several options for grabbing a drink around the bullet train station, these venues mainly cater to those traveling through on business. As the locals all know, the real action happens down in Hon-Hachinoe. As mentioned before, just be weary of the last train. The final departure of the JR Hachinohe Line leaves Hachinohe Station no later than 9:21 PM so make sure you’re on it. Otherwise, you’ll need to hail yourself a taxi.

When it comes to places to drink, Hachinohe’s Miroku Yokocho is the place to go (here’s a Google Map). This collection of approximately 26 permanent food vendors all compete to offer the very best local seafood and other specialties. As with Shinjuku’s famed Golden Gai, each stall is only about 3.3 square meters in size. This creates the perfect environment for mingling so expect that other patrons will be sure to strike up a conversation. Unlike major metropolitan areas, the residents of northern Japan have not yet been desensitize to the presence of foreign tourists and are therefore always up for a chat. To get a sense of what to expect, check out the video linked by Visit Japan that features professional skier Cody Townsend. It’s the best piece of content I’ve found to date that conveys the vibe of Miroku Yokocho.

In addition to Miroku Yokocho, there’s a whole host of winding alleyways to explore too. While few can hold a candle to the jam-packed food stall village that is Miroku Yokocho, there are some standalone establishments that are definitely worth checking out. Among these, I highly recommend checking out a joint called Prince. Extremely popular with the residents of Hachinohe, you’ll find Prince located about a few minutes walk away from Miroku Yokocho. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. While exploring Hachinohe’s nightlife, keep your eyes out for the area’s mascot. Known as Yopparai Hoyaji, this oddity is a sea pineapple that takes the shape of a drunken salary man. You just can’t make this stuff up folks…

For those of you who aren’t interested in boozing it up, don’t worry. Hon-Hachinohe has a lot of other activities to sample that won’t lead to hangovers. For starters, the Hachinohe Portal Museum, which recently recently opened in 2011, serves as both a tourism information center and display gallery for local artists. Alternatively, if you’re visiting between December and March, you can also take a tour of the Hachinohe Shurui sake brewery and watch the drink being made right in front of your eyes. Remember, you can watch and enjoy the level of craftsmanship without imbibing. Just saying…

Hachinohe’s Morning Market

First off, I am going to ask you to watch the Abroad in Japan video that I have conveniently embedded above. No matter how hard I try, the written word alone simply cannot do justice to the sheer insanity that is Hachinohe’s morning market. Frankly speaking, it’s something that one just needs experience themselves. So, rather than struggle to describe the madness, I’ll humbly defer to the video on this one. Just skip forward to around the 3:40 mark and be prepared to be amazed. Don’t worry. I’ll wait…

OK, now that we’re on the same page, let’s talk logistics. Officially known as the Tatehana Ganpeki Asaichi (lit. Tatehana Wharf Morning Market), this 800 meter strip welcomes hundreds of vendor stalls every Sunday morning. Allegedly, the morning market has seen up to 20,000 visitors at its peak and regularly tops 10,000. Among the things on offer, you’ll find a whole host of delicious goodies as well as an assortment of random trinkets. Just be sure to come hungry. Much of the fare is on the heavier side and ranges from good-eats like fried chicken to grilled fish on a stick. The taste is certainly worth the food coma that comes later though.

Things close up pretty early at the Tatehana Wharf Morning Market. Officially, the market starts around sunrise and wraps up at 9:00 AM. Moreover, by 9:30 AM, one would be hard pressed to know that anything even occurred at all. In fact, when I was visiting with family, we were enjoying a cup (or three) of amazing pour over coffee then *POOF* the whole market was gone. Given that things up and vanish like in Cinderella when the clock strikes 9:00 AM, it would behoove you to get an early start. While this doesn’t exactly mix too well with partying all night in the likes of Miroku Yokocho, the Tatehana Wharf Morning Market is simply not to be missed.

Note that the easiest way to reach the Tatehana Wharf Morning Market is to take the JR Hachinohe Line to Mutsuminato Station. From there, it’s a mere 10 minutes away on foot. To help guide you, here’s a Google Map but you’ll likely just be able to follow the throngs of people who are also heading to the market. As of this writing, if you’re coming from Hon-Hachinohe, you’ll have the option to take a 5:43 AM, 7:22 AM, 7:37 AM or 8:03 AM train. To get the most out of the market, I suggest avoiding the 8:03 AM option as it will leave you with only a few minutes to sample the fare and enjoy yourselves.

There’s Still More to Hachinohe

An exhibit of a Jomon period Japanese family at the Hachinohe City Museum in Aomori Prefecture

While Hachinohe’s nightlife and its morning market are the area’s two main draws, there’s a lot more to the region. Over my multiple visits to Hachinohe, I have sampled almost everything the city has to offer. Unfortunately, unless you’re feeling really adventurous, many of the attractions require one to either rent a car or figure out the area’s arcane bus system. Luckily, the transportation issue can be easily solved. How you ask? Simply head over to the Hachinohe Portal Museum and have the staff figure out the bus connections for you! While I’ve included directions below, it’s easier to just get them to handle it for you.

Anyway, what follows are some of my top recommendations to add on to your Hachinohe itinerary…

  • Hachinohe City Museum
    Pictured above, the Hachinohe City Museum seeks to pass on the area’s local history and culture to future generations. The museum sports a permanent exhibit that chronicles Hachinohe’s history from prehistoric times through the present. Additionally, the facility also sits next to the remains of a former castle that once held dominion over the region. Entry to the museum will run you 250 yen but you can also purchase a ticket that includes entry to the castle ruins too. Note that the Hachinohe City Museum can be reached in a couple of minutes from Hon-Hachinohe by bus. Simply hop on either the Hachinohe City Bus or the Nanbu Bus and get off at the Nejo Bus Stop.
  • Korekawa Jomon Museum
    This wonderfully done museum is located right next to an important Jomon period (1000–300 BCE) archaeological dig site. The institute curates a number of priceless artifacts from Japan’s distant past that were discovered on nearby grounds. Chief among these is the Gassho clay figure which was unearthed in July 1989 and later designated a National Treasure in July 2009. If you’re interested in learning about a different side of Japanese history then this is just the place for you! To get to the Korekawa Jomon Museum, take the Nanbu Bus to the Korekawa Jomon-kan Stop.
  • Kabushima Island
    Located on the northern Tanesashi coast, this island is a breeding site for black-tailed gulls. Each year these gulls flock to Kabushima around the beginning of March. After laying their eggs in April, the hatchlings arrive soon after in June. The island is also home to an exquisite Benzaiten Shrine (which was under reconstruction when I was there) as well as a visitor center. Kabushima island and the surrounding area can be reached via the JR Hachinohe Line. Simply take the train to the JR Same Station and then walk for about 10 minutes.

Keen on learning more? Be sure to check out Hachinohe’s official tourism information website for more details. Unlike some of the other off the beaten path destinations that I’ve covered, Hachinohe has done an incredible job of localizing everything into English.

Until next time travelers…