Sitting at the northern tip of Honshu, Japan’s main island, Aomori is a pleasant though unremarkable port city. It does, however, serve as the ideal base to explore a region that most foreign visitors never see. For those looking to experience cherry blossom without the coaches that inundate hotspots like Kyoto, Hirosaki is one of Japan’s best kept secrets. 2,500 cherry trees bloom around the original Edo-era castle here in late April. But if hordes of people don’t faze you, the taiko drum rhythms and giant lantern floats of the Nebuta fire festival in early August are a mesmerising experience. From June until October, paddy field rice art – or tanbo in Japanese – can be viewed at nearby Inakadate. In autumn there are glorious vistas of leaves on the long cable car ride up Mt Hakkoda south of the city, and ‘snow monsters’ (frozen trees shaped by the wind) in winter.