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Authentic Akita: My unforgettable farm stay experience at Sakekoshimai

Authentic Akita: My unforgettable farm stay experience at Sakekoshimai

I’ve always wanted to visit Akita Prefecture (秋田県 Akita-ken). Having had a taste of the other prefectures in the Tohoku Region (東北地方) from my past visits, one of the places I had set my eyes on was Odate City (大館市). This city is located in the northernmost part of the prefecture and is a hidden gem for anyone seeking for an authentic Japanese experience. From being the birthplace of the famous Akita Dog Hachiko, to rich local cuisines, I knew Odate was the place for me! 

 

Having learnt about Akita’s farm stay opportunities through the various events I’ve hosted at JAPAN RAIL CAFE, I immediately reserved my 2-Day-1-Night (2D1N) stay at Sakekoshimai (酒こし舞), a farmers’ inn hosted by Mr Yamauchi Toshitaka (山内 俊隆) and his wife.

 

Journey to the north: From Tokyo to Akita

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

My journey started in Tokyo with the 5-day JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area). Having reserved my seats on ekinet in advance, I just had to collect them at the Reserved Seat Ticket Vending Machine with the passport reader at Tokyo Station—with some time to spare for breakfast!—before boarding the early morning Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線) bound for Shin-Aomori Station (新青森駅 Shin-Aomori eki). Before I knew it, the 3-hour train ride had brought me to the prefecture of apples, Aomori Prefecture (青森県 Aomori-ken). After a quick look around Shin-Aomori Station, I took the Limited Express Tsugaru (つがる), which was just a smooth 1-hour ride to Odate Station (大館駅 Odate-eki) in Akita. 

 

Day 1

The station was under renovation during my visit, so maybe you’ll get to see the new Odate Station by the time you’re there! (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Upon arriving at the station, I was warmly greeted by my host Mr Yamauchi, who drove over to pick me up before the slated 3pm check-in time. Having booked this farm stay experience directly with the Odate Cultural Activity Promotion Committee, they have kindly arranged for me an earlier pick-up time at the station. With some extra time, we drove to a local gardening store near Odate Station to buy carrot and daikon seeds which I would be sowing during my stay. We also managed to check out the Aogaeru (青ガエル) at the Akita Dog Visitor Center (秋田犬の里 Akita Inu no Sato), a train that was in service from 1954 to 1986. Now functioning as an information centre, this stationary train symbolises the friendship between Odate and Shibuya Ward in Tokyo, where the iconic Hachiko statue stands!

 

Akita Prefecture is an area famous for rice cultivation, with vast rice fields seen during our drive. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

With our seeds in hand, we hopped back into the car and it was a 15-minute drive to Sakekoshimai. During the drive, Mr Yamauchi explained that Odate City is really vast, with the main city being near the station and other little residential areas located about a 10-minute drive apart. He had also shared with me that there are bears living in the forest surrounding Odate City, which made me a little worried. Coming from Singapore, the most I’ve had to worry about were wild boars.

 

Sakekoshimai

So homely! (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Sakekoshimai is a quaint farm inn in a quiet part of the Kasuda (粕田) district. Arriving at the inn, I was warmly greeted by Mrs Yamauchi. In Akita Prefecture, the locals speak in Akita dialect, and it was my first time hearing it! At the entrance, there was also a hand-written sign in Akita dialect “あぇー えぐきてけだナー ゆっくり してけろー” which means “Thank you for coming. Please enjoy your time here”. The inn was extremely homely, with old family and visitor photos that lined the wall and traditional tatami mats in the sleeping quarters. 

 

Farming experience

Counter clockwise from top left: The plan for the day, Mr Yamauchi writing my name in Japanese, me ready to help out on the farm, wrapping the grapes. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Having settled my bags in my room, I sat with Mr Yamauchi in the living room as he explained the itinerary for the day. First up was working on the farm. Mrs Yamauchi was extremely kind and didn't want me to dirty my clothes, so she handed me her blouse and her apron. Geared up, Mr Yamauchi gave me a quick tour around his farm. The first part of the experience consisted of packing newly grown grapes in white bags to prevent them from getting eaten by birds.

 

Clockwise from top left: Pumpkin and watermelons, the tied up garden bed, and Mr Yamauchi showing me how to remove the sweet potato leaves. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Next on the to-do list was to prepare the garden to sow the seeds. I was so surprised to see plenty of fruits and vegetables growing on their farm. There were watermelons, rockmelons, akebi (アケビ chocolate vine), pumpkin, sweet potato, cherry tomato and many more! Mr Yamauchi showed me how to prune the overgrown sweet potato leaves, explaining that it helps direct energy toward growing bigger potatoes. Donning gloves and boots, I dove into the task, and he later had me hoe the garden bed. I enjoy tending to my plants back home in Singapore, but this was another level of gardening! 

 

Calligraphy

The orange sheet is the reference paper, and then there’s mine. Not too bad if I can say so myself. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

After that sweaty but productive workout of gardening under the scorching August sun, the next activity was calligraphy (書道 shodō). Mr Yamauchi, who also runs a calligraphy school, welcomed me among his students. They were all friendly and helped explain the techniques and brush strokes. Despite my initial nervousness, Mr Yamauchi patiently guided me, making it a rewarding and enlightening experience. It was a great opportunity to speak to and connect with local Odate residents.

 

Onsen 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

After our calligraphy session, we hopped into Mr Yamauchi's car and made our way to Odate Yatate Heights (大館矢立ハイツ), a nearby onsen facility close to the Aomori Prefecture border. The short drive offered picturesque views of lush greenery and rice fields, even though it started to pour. Thankfully, the warm onsen, known as the "Golden Waters of the Mountain Pass," provided the perfect relaxation. It was the ideal way to kickstart the evening, with the stunning scenery on our drive back once the rain had subsided.

 

Tanpo time!

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Now, it was time to make tanpo (たんぽ), a unique and delicious Akita Prefecture dish. Upon my return to the inn, Mrs Yamauchi equipped me with a charming apron and headband, signalling the start of our culinary adventure. 

 

She provided step-by-step guidance, beginning with the rice. I was jokingly told to only “kill it half to death” (半殺し hangoroshi) which means to semi-mash the rice until it gets sticky. After wetting my hands and measuring 120g of rice, I shaped it into a ball and placed it on a large wooden skewer, referencing burn marks for how far down the skewer to extend the rice. 

 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Having made all the tanpo with Mrs Yamauchi, I brought them to the patio area where Mr Yamauchi had prepared the hot coals for the fire pit. Equipped with gloves, I carefully placed them close to the coals. While they were roasting, Mr Yamauchi brought out two ayu fish (鮎) to cook too. I struggled with piercing them but once done, I set them down to cook as well. To enjoy freshly roasted tanpo, Mr Yamauchi brought out a sweet miso paste to glaze my tanpo of choice. The result was a delightful combination of crispy outer rice, chewy inside, and a delectable sweet-salty glaze. As we savoured our tanpo, Mr Yamauchi cut the remaining pieces into two and placed them into the pot. What we have now is known as kiritanpo (きりたんぽ) or cut tanpo.

 

Dinner time

Kiritanpo hotpot, and my happily half-eaten tanpo on a stick. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

With the meal ready, Mr Yamauchi served it on the table and Mrs Yamauchi had crafted a hearty Japanese dinner. The highlight was the kiritanpo hotpot soup, featuring kiritanpo and locally raised hinai-jidori (比内地鶏) chicken. The meal showcased a blend of homegrown veggies and local ingredients. Amidst the delicious food, we spoke more about Akita Prefecture, its culture, my Singapore background, and the farm stay experience. Mr Yamauchi explained the concept of Japanese omotenashi (おもてなし) and tailored tomorrow's activity to my interests. After a satisfying meal, we retired early, anticipating an early start for day 2.

 

Day 2

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

The second day kicked off with an early morning local exercise (体操 taisō) with Mr Yamauchi and his cassette tape and player. Having warmed up, it was time for a pre-breakfast stroll around the neighbourhood. It was very peaceful and the warm morning sun was the perfect way to start the day. Walking around and greeting the neighbours, Mr Yamauchi introduced me to the local deity, said to protect the neighbourhood from misfortune.

 

Lunch and brick painting

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Mrs Yamauchi greeted us with a hearty breakfast once we got back to the inn. The delicious Japanese breakfast came with a bed of rice, alongside salmon, eggplant, Japanese yam, and sliced watermelon from their farm. Once done, it was now my turn to write a message on the brick outside Sakekoshimai. Mr Yamauchi rolled out a trolley with paints and paint brushes. He requested for me to draw something that represented Singapore, so I did my best interpretation of a merlion. Needless to say, Mr Yamauchi was really happy with it, and it warmed my heart. 

 

Farming 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Happy with my artwork, I followed Mr Yamauchi back to the farm, where Mrs Yamauchi taught me how to plant the carrot and daikon seeds we bought the day before. Using a tool to make holes shoulder-width apart, I was advised to sprinkle in a pinch of carrot seeds, or 3-5 daikon seeds, bury the seeds and sprinkle the ashes on top to signal where the seeds were planted. 

 

A walk through nature

As much as this was supposed to be a relaxing walk, my mind was worried a bear would pop up. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Remember when Mr Yamauchi asked me what my interest was over dinner? I told him that I particularly enjoy Japan’s natural scenery. Apparently, he had planned for a surprise trek around the nature of Odate City—just for me! Needless to say, I was really pleasantly surprised that he took what I said into careful consideration. 

 

We drove to an opening located on the foot of Mount Megami (女神山 Megami-yama), to a place known as Mizuseichi (水聖地). It is a little clearing in the forest with wooden walking paths built in. It is just a short loop and Mr Yamauchi introduced me to a variety of the trees and plants that were found there. Along the path, there was also a little pagoda hut built by Mr Yamauchi himself! He shared that he had built it so that people could enjoy the scenery. It felt like Shinrin-Yoku (森林浴 forest bathing), and "soaking" up the minus ions made me feel rejuvenated!

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

With the last activity of my farm stay over, we headed back to the inn together to have one last lunch. The meal was onigiri rice ball served with pickled cucumbers and oden. Chatting with Mrs Yamauchi over lunch made me sad that the stay was drawing to a close. Mr Yamauchi brought out the camera and we snapped a photo together. He handed me a copy and stuck the other copy onto the wall in his house. 

 

Farewell for now

JR Times_Authentic Akita 17 (Compressed).gif (3.19 MB)

It had started raining again, and it felt like the sky was also sad about the farewell. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

With my belongings packed, it was time for my departure. Waving goodbye to Mrs Yamauchi really sealed the fact that my farm stay was over and after Mr Yamauchi had dropped me off in front of Odate Station, we said our heartfelt thank yous and goodbyes and parted ways.

 

Overall, my farm stay experience at Sakekoshimai was amazing and unforgettable. Apart from experiencing Akita culture, meeting local residents, and eating home cooked meals, all in all I was truly amazed by the hospitality and warmth that Mr and Mrs Yamauchi had shown me during my short stay. All the time and effort they had put into making me feel comfortable during my stay, it felt like I was their own granddaughter helping out around their farm. I highly recommend anyone looking for an immersive and unique way to experience authentic Akita culture to reserve a stay at Sakekoshimai. 

 

Farm Inn Sakekoshimai (農家民宿 こし舞)
Address: 63 Aza Muranishi, Kasuda, Odate, Akita
Price per person (including tax): ¥8,250 (Standard Plan), ¥13,750 (Gold Plan)
Reservation: marugoto.odate@gmail.com (Odate Cultural Activity Promotion Committee)
Tel: +81 186-43-7149

 

Header image credit: Julia Yee

 

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