By Peter Sidell
You can’t miss the ASPAM Building in Aomori. Firstly, ASPAM offers the best of Aomori culture, food, and tourist information. Secondly, the whole building looks like a giant pyramid! The first time I arrived at Aomori station, I could see this strange shaped building that is less than a ten minute walk away. Walking along the beautiful bay and under the area’s bay bridge, I was reminded of my home in San Francisco. Then the pyramid reminded me of Egypt. “Where am I?” I thought. Well, there's one way to find out.
The ASPAM building is actually the shape of an “A” to represent Aomori Prefecture and its capital of Aomori City. The building was established in 1986; the name ASPAM gives insight to the purpose of the building (it has nothing to do with SPAM, the meat in a can).
ASPAM stands for Aomori Prefecture Sightseeing Products Mansion. The extra “A” that is sometimes between “P” and “M” is there just to help with English pronunciation, or you can think of it as the word “and.” And there is always more to do at ASPAM. As I entered the ground floor I was surrounded by food and gift shops. The shops sell local crafts and food products you can only find in Aomori prefecture. You’ll be sure to find some delicious apple products as the prefecture is famous around Japan for its large and tasty apples. The building makes it easy to spend money by providing an ATM to withdraw cash and a mail service counter to send any goodies you buy back home or to someone special. After tasting so many free samples at the shops I felt a bit guilty. I escaped to explore the upper floors of one of the largest buildings in the city’s skyline.
Everyone can find something to do at ASPAM. Cafes, restaurants, and an observation deck offer places to lounge around and enjoy the beautiful view. There is also a panoramic movie theater where you can learn about the Nebuta Matsuri. Admission rate applies. Most important to the traveler would be the free tourist information available and the discount tickets sold for multiple attractions in the area. From the Hanafu restaurant on the 14th floor you could easily see the bay and the bay bridge.
Aomori after dark is beautiful. During the night, the bay bridge and the ASPAM building change various colors. Locals believe that if you see the bridge and the building colors match, it is good luck. I have seen it happen just twice. Keep your eyes open.
With only a short walk from the station and a plethora of local products and tourist information, the ASPAM building should be on every Aomori traveler’s to do list. ASPAM’s backyard is a relaxed walking area along Aomori Bay. The building and the open areas around it host large festivals and community events throughout the year. Its facilities can be accessed everyday with a short walk from Aomori station, use of its parking lot, or a ride from a local bus.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.