[Japan: Aomori] Review: Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel
A few weeks ago, we spent a blissful weekend up in Aomori - the northernmost prefecture on Japan's main island! It was our first time visiting the area and we stayed at the Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel to explore the beautiful nature around Oirase Keiryu - a 14km picturesque mountain stream flowing from Lake Towada. The stream is part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park and one of Japan's most famous and popular destination for autumn foliage. The area is scenic year-round with unique attractions for each different seasons and in the winter time, you can see breathtaking frozen waterfalls and snowscape around the Oirase Gorge!
There are many ways to access the resort by flight or by train. From Tokyo, you can take the shinkansen to the JR Hachinohe Station (180 minutes) and then take the complimentary hotel shuttle bus to the hotel (100 minutes).
We stayed in a Mountain Stream View Japanese-style Room with fantastic views of the river and forest (click here for the room tour)! There's a sofa in the room facing the window where you can just relax and gaze at the view. The room is quite spacious with tatami mats, two mattress pads, TV, refrigerator, and private toilet & bath. Like most Japanese resorts, you are provided with pajamas and slippers which you can wear around the hotel. Other room types onsite include modern-style, rooms with living room, and rooms with private onsen.
Oirase Keiryu is famous for frozen waterfalls in the winter time, and the hotel has its very own frozen waterfall at its outdoor onsen! The hot spring comes from nearby Mt. Hakkoda with lovely views of the Oirase mountain stream - who wants to have a soak here? Please note that photography is not permitted in the onsen area - I had to ask permission to do so.
One of the first things you see when you enter the hotel is a gorgeous lounge with an awe-inspiring fireplace designed by Taro Okamoto. Titled "Mori no Shinwa" or Legend of the Forest, the bronze structure is 8.5 meters tall. Guests can relax by the fireplace with complimentary drinks including tea, coffee and apple beverages.
The other lounge is called "Kashin" or River God with another sculpture by Taro Okamoto. It is inspired by the mountain stream with 7 nymphs representing the splashes created when the water hits a rock. Guests can also relax here while reading books provided on the bookshelves along the wall.
Other facilities include a spa and a shop where you can buy souvenirs and outdoor gear to hike around the stream.
The hotel offers many activities (both complimentary and paid) depending on the season. In the winter time, the most popular activities are the guided tours to see the epic frozen waterfalls at Oirase Keiryu during the day and at night! During the day, we got to see a few different frozen waterfall spots before stopping at Lake Towada - the largest crater lake in Honshu. Our tour then ended with a little surprise from our guide where he made us coffee at another frozen waterfall spot! At night, there is a special illumination show on the frozen waterfall and in order to minimize disturbance to the wildlife, the lights are actually not installed by the waterfall, but mounted on top of a moving van just for our tour. Snowshoes can be provided if needed. This was the definite highlight of our stay at the resort!
One of the highlights of our stay at was dinner at its modern French restaurant Sonore! Opened in 2019, the restaurant features an abundance of seasonal Aomori ingredients which spans from mountain to sea. We really enjoyed our meal here as the flavors were creative and exquisite - it’s definitely worth staying at the hotel in order to eat at Sonore. There's a nice variety on wine list and the wine pairings that we had were stellar as well.
The meal started with a series of amuse bouche including Foie Gras with beetroot meringue, Yukhoe with horse meat, tartlets with pear and carrot - all with Aomori ingredients of course.
The first course is a refreshing Tart of Calamari Stew topped with frozen green apple granita shaved in front of us. Followed by a gorgeous Steamed Mussels in creamy saffron sauce with crown daisy, cauliflower and prosciutto which arrived in a whole mussel shell.
Our dinner continued with a Fresh Tuna Tartare & Seasoned Rice with yam potatoes, beets and garlic purée. The intricate cover on top was made with beets.
The Steamed Sea Cucumber & Ground Chicken in the style of “Perigueux” turned out to be our favorite dish of the meal! Sea cucumber is usually vinegared and eaten raw in Japan, but here it was served Chinese style as it was soft and tender. The Perigueux sauce (made with Madeira and black truffle) was fantastic with its rich and tangy flavors.
The Charcoal Flavored Shirako with served with Yuzu and “Jyappa-jiru” - a traditional fish based soup in Tsugaru, Aomori. The soup is usually made with miscellaneous parts of codfish along with miso and vegetables so as not to waste any parts of the fish.
The Fried Hirame & Turnip Cake with crab sauce and aged rice vinegar was our least favorite dish though. The fish was a bit tough and bland, and while the crab sauce was deliciously rich, the rice vinegar was too sour - resulting in jarring flavors.
The Charcoal Grilled Aged Beef was from Kagoshima and aged for 40 days - served with butter baked lily bulbs, aged garlic and miso.
For sweets, we had the Candied Tiger Eye Beans with quince jam and ice cream of “Grand Marnier” as a palate cleanser.
The main dessert was Caramelized Apples and “Far Breton” with chantilly cream and rich apple sauce. Lastly, we had a Madeleine served as a Nanbu Senbei - a traditional wheat cracker with crispy rim that originated in Aomori!
For breakfast, we ate at the hotel's other restaurant - Aomori Ringo Kitchen. Open for breakfast and dinner, it’s a buffet restaurant that serves Aomori apples in many imaginative ways. The breakfast buffet had many varieties to choose from including Japanese and Western dishes plus fresh apple juice, apple toast and actual apples of course!
After our wonderful stay at the Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel, we took a complimentary shuttle bus to another Hoshino Resort called Aomoriya - stay tuned for my review!