The classics of Hachinohe locals! How to spend nights in HachinoheArea Guide
Aomori, a prefecture in Northern Japan, is home to Hachinohe, a famous port city that faces the Pacific Ocean. It’s a place full of kind people and delicious food. Tourists swarm the bustling morning markets of Tatehana Wharf and the restaurants in Miroku Yokocho. Today, we will introduce you to the “regular nightlife" of the locals, while showcasing the culture and characteristics of Hachinohe.
What kind of place is Aomori/Hachinohe?
Located at the northernmost end of Honshu, Aomori is a prefecture where many unique cultures remain. There, snow often piles up in winter, and the northern folk, often described as patient by Japanese people, work in harmony to clear it out. You can sense their lifestyle, informed by the wisdom and spirit gained from living through the long, cold winters.
Japan has several dialects, which change slightly depending on the region. The prominent Tsugaru and Nambu Japanese dialects remain strong in Aomori. These dialects are so unique and fascinating that even Japanese people sometimes can't catch what the speakers are saying.
Today, we are featuring Hachinohe. It sits in the lower right corner of Aomori Prefecture, looking out towards the Pacific Ocean. With a population of about 220,000 people, its scale is perhaps a little larger than that of a “local city”. Hachinohe is about three hours by bullet train from Tokyo, making it a relatively accessible city. In recent years, Hachinohe has become a popular tourist spot for foreign visitors.
Made from their abundant supply of fresh seafood, Hachinohe’s sushi and sashimi are a must-eat for anyone visiting the area. Hachinohe's Senbei-jiru (Wheat Cracker Soup), made from Nambu Senbei, is also now one of Japan's best local gourmet food. It is made by adding a little salt to the Senbei wheat flour, baking it until crispy, and adding it to a soup with vegetables and chicken stock. Wait until the wheat cracker is Al Dente, then enjoy the meal.
From here, we're going around Hachinohe at night with Jackson and Angelica, current residents of Hachinohe who are originally from the U.S. We're off to experience the local charm of Hachinohe with the addition of a few friends from the area.
We met up in the center of Hachinohe and headed for Miroku Yokocho.
Yokocho (back streets) can be found all over Japan. These are rows of shops lined up in narrow alleys, usually bustling with locals during nighttime. It's a place where you can get a glimpse of the area’s night culture. Hachinohe's Miroku Yokocho has 26 shops, offering delicious dishes made from local ingredients.
Today we're dining at Takarabune (Treasure Ship). It's got Aomori sake and seafood, like squid and scallops. It’s a happy feeling to watch the staff cook on the grill before your eyes, right after your order is taken.
We gathered around Jackson and Angelica, and asked them about life in Hachinohe.
"I heard you two have been studying Japanese since you were in the U.S. After coming to Japan, what did you like about Hachinohe?"
Jackson: “I like the ‘pace’ of Hachinohe. I don't feel rushed here. I can relax and take my time. I've lived in Tokyo too, and I can really feel the difference.”
Angelica: “I love the people here, they're kind. I like going out drinking and talking to the strangers sitting next to me. They even treat me sometimes (laughs), which often leads to conversations.”
Jackson: “Yeah, I know that feeling. You sometimes also exchange LINEs (contacts) with people. For me, sometimes Tokyo's Yokocho makes me nervous and feel like, “I must have perfect manners,” and feel more stressed out by it. But In Hachinohe, I usually don't get that exhausting feeling. In Tokyo, I often feel like people give me a look, like, ’A foreigner is here!’, and I feel like too much attention is on me. I don't think people are mean or anything, and I'm sure there are good and bad points to that, but now I like Hachinohe better.”
Japan has a culture of sharing toasts during drinking parties by bumping their glasses together and saying, "Kanpai!" once all drinks are ready. Jackson said it was embarrassing for him at first, but he recommends easing into it with people next to you. If they say "Kanpai!", try doing the same in return, and you'll be fine. It’s an easy and friendly way to communicate with people around you.
The menu at Takarabune is numbered and easy to use for foreign customers. Even if you don't know Japanese, you can still order by giving them the number corresponding to the photo. They're pretty well known for their grilled chicken skewers and grilled squid.
The kind owner prepares the dishes right in front of you. We suggest giving it a try sometime.
Address: Hachinohe Yataimura Miroku Yokocho, Jurokunichimachi, Hachinohe, Aomori
10-minutes away from Hon-Hachinohe Station on foot.
※ Only about 60% of the stores in Miroku Yokocho accept electronic payment, such as credit cards, PayPay, Origami Pay, etc. Please check with each store to see what payment methods they accept. Please also note that it will get particularly crowded during the holiday seasons (August 13-16, December 29-January 3).
Next, we headed to Yoshu Kissa Prince (Western Liquor Cafe Prince).
It's a popular location behind the alleyway, five-minutes away on foot from Miroku Yokocho. It's a staple for people on business trips to Hachinohe. It also serves as the last spot many locals visit after finishing their bar hopping.
The store was almost full. Most seats were at the counter, but they also had tables in the center.
There seemed to be a lot of regulars. The stylish owner wore a leopard-print dress shirt and welcomed us with kindness.
We want to call your attention to the rather noteworthy ceiling. It's filled with business cards, put there by the customers who come to visit. It's a strange sight, but it shows how many people gather here, sit around and chat. It is easy to understand how much it is loved.
Cocktails were ordered, and our time here began with a toast. We decided to go with the Kabushima Shrine Revival Cocktail.
Kabushima Shrine, located in Samemachi, Hachinohe, is designated as one of Japan’s natural monuments as a breeding ground for black-tailed gulls. When spring arrives, the echoes of the gulls’ cries can be heard around the shrine, where the unique phrase “Fun ga tsuku = Un ga Tsuku” was created. (It means, “getting hit by bird poop is like hitting the jackpot", as both are rare occurrences) It's a place that has gathered the devotion and love of the locals for many years.
However, in 2015 it was burned down in a fire. The people of Hachinohe were heartbroken and mourned this unfortunate incident. Sasaki, the owner of Prince, has been giving his all in the recovery of Kabushima Shrine. He sells Kabushima Shrine Revival Cocktails for 500 yen, and donates 100 yen of that to the shrine’s recovery efforts. As of January 2020, the temple is still being rebuilt, but its exterior is almost complete.
“Where do you usually spend your nights in Hachinohe?”
Jackson: “When I think of Nightlife, people both in and outside of Japan would probably think ‘clubs’. But I don't really enjoy clubs very much. For me, Hachinohe has so many good bars, right? I often enjoy places like Shadow Bar. That’s a spot I really recommend. I think there are many cool, cozy places like that for people who don't usually do clubs.”
Angelica: “As for me, I usually spend my nights out drinking with friends. You can meet new people just by going to different bars, and it’s a fun community because somehow everyone knows each other.”
There are many restaurants in Kabukicho in Shinjuku, Tokyo, as well as places you can stay until morning, but the nights in Hachinohe give off a different feel. As Angelica says, you can encounter many opportunities to make new connections that don't just end there in Hachinohe. There's this feeling of spending our nights out to deepen our relationship with the community. People here are connected by a strong and gentle bond of equality.
■ Yoshu Kissa Prince
Address: Rensa Street, 18 Nagayokochō, Hachinohe
15 minutes away from Hachinohe Station on foot
Store hours: 17:00～24:00
※ Most cocktails cost 500 yen. Many cocktails are related to Hachinohe, so we suggest asking the owner for recommendations.
Photo＆Text: Aya Nishihari