The city was founded on May 1, 1929. It was a castle town during the Tokugawa era (1603–1867) and served as a small commercial centre and port for the fishing grounds off southeastern Hokkaidō. Today, the port still serves the fishing industry as well as a number of international cargo vessels.
The symbol of Hachinohe is a black horse, called the Yawata-uma, with gold saddle markings and a decorative plume attached to its head. The Hachinohe area has been known since the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) for its breed of battle horses. Their farming horses have supported the lives of the commoners and have often been used as the theme for dances and folk tales. Horses have played an important role in the people's lives; thus the art of Yawata-uma figurines, or carved and painted wooden horses emerged and has become a regional art form.
During the Meiji era, there was a debate as to whether the capital of newly-formed Aomori Prefecture should be at Hachinohe or Hirosaki; in the end the Meiji government decided to build a new town called Aomori and designate it as the capital of the prefecture.
Enburi is a city-wide festival which is also celebrated in nearby towns. The object of the festival is to pray for a bountiful harvest in the coming year. It originated as a dance with an agricultural tool (the eburi; enburi is a local pronunciation), which was used to teach people how to cultivate the land. Nowadays it is a parade of 15-20 people, with 3-5 dancers and a singer accompanied by wooden flutes, drums and bells. The festival takes place February 17–20, and marks the official end of the long, harsh winter.
Sansha Taisai is another city-wide festival and is considered to be the main festival of the town. It is also billed as "Japan's Biggest Float Festival". Sansha means "three shrines" and Taisai means "festival": It is held by three shrines (jinja): Ogami Jinja, Shinra Jinja, and Shinmeigu. Floats proceed through the main streets of the city, accompanied by people with drums, flutes and loud calls. 27 different floats are used, and they are proudly constructed and flourished by the members of various organisations, such as schools and the city hall. The floats are also accompanied by men in samurai costumes on horseback, and Tiger Dancers. On the second and third days of the festival, a traditional game of a sport similar to polo is held at the stables of Shinra Shrine. This sport (賀美流騎馬打毬 - Kaga BiRyu Kiba Dakyû) is officially an "intangible cultural asset" of the prefecture of Aomori. Sansha Taisai takes place from July 31st to August 4th every year.
The ruins of Hachinohe Castle are located in the city.