UNSEEN DESTINATIONS OF JAPAN: AKITA
Whether you prefer natural sceneries, delectable food scenes, unique shopping and souvenirs, astonishing innovation, exciting activities, or rich history and culture, Japan has it all. Tokyo is of course, the most preferred tourist destination; travellers who frequent Japan are familiar with the capital city. There are tons of Tokyo guides and articles for us to follow. For those seeking a less touristy destination that upholds the quintessential Japanese experience, let us take you to Japan’s “True North” – Akita prefecture.
Most travellers from land at either Narita or Haneda International Airports near Tokyo. From there, you can choose to take a 4-hour Shinkansen high-speed railway ride via the Akita Shinkansen line to Akita City with stops in Tazawako and Kakunodate (one way from MYR 661), rent a car for a 7-hour drive or ride an 8-hour Willer Express night bus (one way from MYR 240 to MYR 360.) However, if you prefer convenience and ease of booking, a short domestic flight from Tokyo to Akita can be added to your itinerary using Japan Airline’s Japan Explorer Pass (from MYR 210 excluding taxes, one-way). The Japan Explorer Pass is a simple and affordable way for foreign travellers to explore the unique culture and feel of local Japan, through a fixed-fare ticket to any domestic destination in Japan Airline’s network.
One might have heard about Akita from the famous dog breed, the Akita-inu. The Akita-inu represents the essence of the mountainous landscape in a region that was once home to hunter-gatherers and nomadic tribes. Akita dogs are a powerful, independent, and dominant breed with a similar coat and form to the Shiba-inu but bigger sized and more masculine in comparison. Apart from visiting the Akita kennels, the area is also renowned for its sake, samurai, dramatic natural scenery and historical sites. Here are five exceptional checklist activities in Akita prefecture that are sure to suit the likes of every member of the family.
Breathe in the fresh air at Dakigaeri Gorge
Dakigaeri Gorge in Kakunodate is listed as a National Place of Scenic Beauty. Travellers can breathe in the fresh mountain air and observe unspoiled nature of woodlands and waterfalls. The Kami no Iwashi suspension bridge sits to welcome visitors at the entrance as an iconic backdrop of the fall foliage in autumn. From the valley floor, astonishing rock formations can be seen. Dakigaeri Gorge’s breathtaking beauty is a perfect getaway from chaotic city life.
How to get there: From Akita City, take the train to Kakunodate Station, and another 15-minute taxi ride to the gorge. During peak season in autumn, there is a free shuttle bus that runs from Kakunodate Station and a paid one from Tazawako Station. You can rent a car at Akita Airport and drive for about one hour to Dakigaeri Gorge. Parking is available on-site but limited.
Pick apples and fish at Sanrokuen Orchard
Sanrokuen Orchard near Lake Towada is an apple orchard where you can wander around, pick fresh apples off the trees, and shop for seasonal local produce at a farmer’s shop. Apple picking is available from late September to early November between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The orchard also offers shipping services around the region. If you're intending to visit during earlier parts of the year, a fishing pond nearby is open for the public to fish char and rainbow trout between mid-April to early November. Note that the orchard is closed from December to April.
How to get there: From Akita City, take the train to JR Towada Minami Station, and then take a 30-minute ride in a taxi to the orchard. By car, drive on the Tohoku Expressway Towada Interchange via National Route 103. The journey is about 20 kilometres and takes about 25 minutes.
Travel back in Time in Kakunodate Samurai Village
Kakunodate is a well-preserved samurai district. The historical town is one of the best examples of samurai architecture and traditional housing in Japan during the Edo period. The village was once home to 80 samurai families, and the site remains intact to this day. Six houses are open to the public, with two noteworthy ones – Aoyagi and Ishiguro. Visitors will get to soak in the ambience of how middle class and wealthy samurai families used to live and explore the village area sheltered by dozens of cherry trees along the wide streets and large courtyards. Rickshaw rides and kimono rental are available for visitors who wish to experience the village in a traditional style. In early May when the cherry blossoms bloom, the streets are packed with people coming for ‘hanami’ – a Japanese tradition where people gather for a picnic to watch the flowers bloom.
How to get there: From Akita City, take the train to JR Kakunodate Station, and from there take a 20-minute walk or a short taxi ride. If you are arriving from Akita Airport, renting a car is a convenient option. Alternatively, you may pre-book a shared taxi- the AKITA Airportliner which costs MYR 96 per person.
Dip yourself in the milky waters of Nyuto Onsen
A trip to Japan will not be complete without an onsen or hot spring experience. The benefits range from simple relaxation, beauty, to healing. Nyuto Onsen, located inside the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, offers a collection of onsen ryokan (hot spring inns) in the mountains of eastern Akita prefecture. “Nyuto” means nipple in Japanese and is derived from the shape of Mount Nyuto nearby. It is also meant to represent the milky colour of the hot spring waters in the area. Each ryokan has their own unique hot spring source and water quality offering different experiences and benefits. Visitors can also choose from mixed gender outdoor springs and gender-separated indoor baths. Day trippers are welcome to use the facilities with a small admission fee. Tsurunoyu is the oldest and most famous ryokan out of seven of the area.
How to get there: From Akita City, take the train to JR Tazawako Station, then take the Ugokotsu bus to Nyuto Onsen (approximately 45 minutes.) The bus departs every hour and the ticket costs MYR 33. From Kyukanura-mae bus stop it is a 5 to 15-minute walk to the area. If coming from Akita Airport, you may pre-book the AKITA Airportliner shared taxi service, and the journey should take about 1.5 hours.
Ride a bicycle around Lake Tazawa
Not far from Nyuto Onsen sits Lake Tazawa, the most famous landmark of Akita prefecture. It is the deepest lake in Japan with a depth of 423 metres and is part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Visitors can rent a bicycle for a scenic 20-kilometre ride or take the bus that circles daily around the lake from its eastern end. There is a 40-minute sightseeing boat available from late April to early November, offering four services a day. The boat departs from Shirahama Port and is suitable for those who prefer to admire the views from the water and learn about the history of the lake through audio commentary. Numerous shops and restaurants are located around the lake, and visitors can also visit the Goza no Ishi Shrine along the way. Tatsuko statue, the much-photographed golden statue at the western end of the lake also holds the story of a beautiful girl who prayed for eternal beauty but got cursed and turned into a dragon, forever sunk to the bottom of the lake instead.
How to get there: From Akita City, take JR Akita Shinkansen – Komachi train from Tokyo to Tazawako Station, via Omiya, Sendai, or Morioka, reservation only. By car, it is a 1.5-hour drive or 70 kilometres from Akita City and about an hour from Akita Airport (58.5 kilometres).
There you go, five exceptional checklist activities in Akita with many more awaiting. Fly to Akita and the rest of Japan with Japan Airlines – TripAdvisor’s Best Airline in Japan 2019 and SKYTRAX’s World Best Economy Class 2019. Explore Japan seamlessly with Japan Airline’s Japan Explorer Pass that offers discounts on domestic flights across 30 cities. Fly Once, Fly Always with Japan Airlines.
Photo credits: Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization and JapanTravel.com