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Aomori Apples: How Aomori Became Japan’s Apple Capital and Where to Enjoy the Best

You’ll almost never see them today, but Japanese apples (waringo, 和林檎, わりんご, ワリンゴ) were cataloged in the Japanese dictionary Wamyō Ruijushō (和名類聚抄, わみょうるいじゅしょう) more than a thousand years ago.

Four to five centimeters in diameter and yellow or red skinned, they were grown, eaten, and used for altar offerings through the Edo period (mid 1800s) but went out of fashion with the introduction of their bigger, sweeter cousins, the Western apple, or seiyō ringo (西洋林檎, せいようりんご, セイヨウリンゴ), introduced to Japan right at the beginning of the Meiji Period. 

The Meiji Period (1868-1912) was a time of great change in Japan, with the ending of the feudal/shogun system and the restoration of imperial rule. With the toppling of the military government, the elite class consisting of around 1.9 million people lost their status. Many turned to government jobs, became merchants, or even farmers. 

Thousands of samurai in the then-Hirosaki Domain (in modern-day Aomori) were unable to find work, and they were encouraged to grow apples by the prefecture, which received its first saplings, imported from the United States, in the 1870s. One of the most famous to take up the cause was Tatee Kikuchi, a former Hirosaki Domain retainer, called the father of Aomori apples.

A close-up shot of three red Aomori apples on a tree at Hirosaki Apple Park. Only the closest one is in focus. The sun is setting in the background and two light rings reflecting in the lens give an arty vibe.
Aomori Apples ripening on a tree at Hirosaki Apple Park. © Aomori Prefecture

Why Apples in Aomori?

Aomori, with its abundant farmland, cool climate, and low rainfall, turned out to be an excellent place to raise apples. The long, cool season means that Aomori apple farmers can produce firm, stable fruit. Production slowly ramped up in the decades that followed, and new rail routes made transport to other parts of the country, and even foreign ports, more feasible. 

Today, Aomori produces about 60% of the country’s apple crop, weighing in at about 463,000 tons. The tantalizing fruit may be the prefecture’s most famous export, and it’s a point of pride: in addition to numerous apple products and apple tourism ventures, the prefectural flower is the apple blossom.

A person wearing a white top, black pants, a red beanie and black gloves is bending over arranging  yellow and red apples into an almost completed replica ukiyo-e artwork of “The Actor Otani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei” by Toshusai Sharaku next to Hirosaki Castle.
Made from 30,000 delicious Aomori apples, this replica ukiyo-e artwork at Hirosaki Castle for the Chrysanthemum and Autumn Foliage Festival couldn’t be a better representation of Hirosaki City, Japan’s top apple producer. © Aomori Prefecture

Aomori Apple Varieties

If you’ve been to a supermarket in the last few decades, you’ve probably heard of Aomori’s most famous apple, the Fuji. 

Though the name might lead you to believe that the variety was born farther south, it was in fact developed in Aomori, in the city of Fujisaki, at the Aomori Prefectural Apple Research Station. Registered as a variety in 1962, Fuji is a cross between the Red Delicious and (Virginia) Ralls Janet apples. It’s Japan’s, and Aomori’s, most famous and most popular apple, and popular around the world, ranking in the top five in the US and accounting for 70% of the apples produced in China (the world’s #1 apple producer). 

The Fuji has an excellent storability, but does require careful tending, with each apple wrapped in an individual bag to protect it from pests, improve storage, and control coloring. 

In Japanese supermarkets, you may also see a variety called “Sun Fuji.” These are the same variety, except Sun Fuji are not bagged, and have a more natural ripening process, resulting in golden streaks, as compared to the Fuji’s overall rosy hue. 

In total, there are around 50 varieties of apples grown in Aomori. The varieties tend to be sweet, as preferred by the Japanese market, versus tart, which is more preferred in Europe. Tarter varieties do exist however. Look out for:

TokiYellow-skinned, crisp, sweet, mildly tart.
Sekai IchiLarge and mild, bright red.
Jona GoldRed-skinned, tart, crisp.
Shinano GoldYellow, juicy, quite crisp, sweet-tart.
MutsuSweet and mild. This apple is, visually, the platonic ideal of an apple, so much so that its visage is used for the apple emoji. 🍎
Kurenai no YumeDark red skin, pink flesh, extremely tart. If you’re looking for a Japanese variety for pies, this is your pick.
KotokuSmall, yellowish-red. Very fragrant, crisp, high level of “honey,” low yield but high demand.

Got that? If you think you know your Mutsus from your Sun Fujis, try this apple tetris game created by Aomori Tourism, called Puyo Ringo.

Apples in Aomori, delicious in many forms

With all these apples alongside Aomori’s other agricultural products (the prefecture is one of the few in Japan with a self-sufficiency rate exceeding 100%, meaning that they grow more food than they consume), it’s no surprise that Aomorians are cooking up all kinds of delicious ways to eat– and drink– their harvest. 

Three Aomori apple pastries on a square white plate atop a red and white checkered tablecloth. The one closest to camera has pastry on top in a geometric design (the inner parts of the shapes are open revealing the apple inside). The back left is an open pastry with slices of apple arranged on top. The back right looks more like a traditional apple pie, cut into a wedge slice with chunky pieces of apple inside.
Aomori apples make delicious apple pies and Hirosaki has made it their signature product with more than 40 stores selling decadent apple-filled pastries around town. © Aomori Prefecture

If you’re like me, you might be thinking: give me the pastries! (Just me?) Head to Hirosaki to try their famous apple pie. More than 40 shops sell the flaky pastry stuffed with sweet, juicy slices. I love the pastries at Boulangerie Four, but you can eat your way across town following the Apple Pie Guidebook provided by Hirosaki Tourism. There’s even an Apple Pie Taxi to help ferry you around, complete with apple pie concierge drivers who can advise you on the best places to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

Speaking of sweets, don’t miss the ‘Asa no Hakkoda’ apple cheesecake made by Arpajon, with locations in Aomori City and Hachinohe City.

You can also find apples in liquid form. Cold, sweet apple juice sold in glass bottles can be found all over the prefecture. For adults, try apple brandy, or apple cider (cidre); Kimori Dry Cidre and Moriyama-en Tekikaka Cidre are especially good.

Aomori Apple Festivals and Fun Bits

With apples playing such a large part in the prefecture’s economy and diet, it’s no surprise that the fruit plays a part in some tourist attractions, too. 

In Aomori City, A Factory has a line up of Aomori food souvenirs and restaurants, including a good selection of ciders and an on-site cider studio where visitors can watch the brewing process, followed by samples. 

At Hirosaki Apple Park, dozens of varieties are grown over five hectares, and visitors can try apple picking in the autumn. You can also sample dishes like apple curry and apple sundaes. 

Over in the Itayanagi Town Furusato Center, the theme is apples, including a grove with over 100 varieties, a mini apple museum, a craft center where visitors can make apple sweets and try dyeing and weaving using apple tree leaves and bark; and cafes and shops. In August, the town holds the Apple Lantern Festival, to pray for good harvest. 

Underneath red apple-laden trees at Hirosaki Apple Park. The shot shows many apples trees, some with their heavy branches supported by poles. There is plastic lining the grass underneath the trees. A sun flare shines through one of the branches.
Pick your very own Aomori apples right from the tree at Hirosaki Apple Park in autumn. © Aomori Prefecture
Aomori apples: Japanese men wearing white festival bottoms and no tops are carrying a large festival float at night with red apple lanterns stacked in the shape of a pyramid for Itayanagi's annual summer Apple Lantern Festival to pray for a good apple harvest.
Aomori apples: Itayanagi’s annual summer Apple Lantern Festival to pray for a good apple harvest. © Aomori Prefecture

Hungry yet? Aomori apples are beckoning. Don’t bother trying to resist the temptation.

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Saturday 17th of December 2022

Thank you! Japanese apples are lovely in their own right but l had despaired of ever finding anything like my beloved Granny Smiths. I’m taking your guide with me next time l go apple shopping!


Monday 19th of December 2022

@Judy, Go for the Kurenai no Yume if you can find them! They are cool looking - pink inside! Your second picks are the Golds (Jona and Shinano) and the Toki, both of which may be a bit tarter than a Fuji.