Undiscovered Akita: 7 places to visit in Akita City
A historic former castle town, Akita City (秋田市) lies almost directly in the centre of Akita Prefecture (秋田県), and is a beautiful city filled with lots of greenery. To its east lies the Dewa mountain range, and to its west lies the Sea of Japan with stunning sunsets.
Did you know? The characters for Akita (秋田) translate to ‘autumn rice fields’, and since olden times, Akita has been highly regarded for its rice, and is also well-known for being a region that produces delicious sake (酒 rice wine). In addition, if you mention Akita, the image of Akita Bijin (秋田美人 Akita beauties) comes to mind—Akita is famous for having many beautiful ladies!
Be amazed by the kanto at the Akita Kanto Festival. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Mention Akita and most people will think of the Akita Kanto Festival (秋田竿燈まつり Akita Kantо̄ Matsuri). Every summer from 3–6 August, Akita City comes to life when it holds the Akita Kanto Festival, one of the Three Great Summer Festivals of Tohoku (東北三大夏祭り).
The Akita Kanto Festival prays for a bountiful harvest, and during this festival, you can watch highly-skilled performers balancing large kantо̄ (竿燈 bamboo pole lanterns) with various parts of their bodies (palm, forehead, shoulder, hip, etc). Each kanto can have up to 46 paper lanterns attached, weigh up to 50kg and be up to 12m long! During the festival, around 260 kanto fill the streets of Akita City, drawing tourists from all over Japan and the world. (Check out this article for an experience of the Akita Kanto Festival.)
But other than the Akita Kanto Festival in summer, people visit Akita City for its culture, history, and food. Want to know what they are? Come along with us as we go on a short tour to introduce some of our recommended places to visit and activities to enjoy in our beautiful city. We visited in these places in autumn, just as the fall colours were coming out, but you can enjoy them all year round. Let’s go!
① Senshu Park: a place for relaxation
Lotus flowers blooming in summer. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
To the residents of Akita City, Senshu Park (千秋公園 Senshū Kо̄en) is a place of relaxation. Walk for about 5 minutes from Akita Station’s West Exit and you will arrive at Senshū Kо̄en Pocket Park (千秋公園ポケットパーク). In summer, people walking down the street can enjoy the beautiful lotus flowers that bloom in the moat of Otemon.
Senshu Park’s moat (top) and Honmaru Square (bottom). (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
After passing the Pocket Park and walking for another 5 minutes, you will reach Senshu Park’s Ninomaru Square. Senshu Park was designed in 1896 by Nagaoka Yasuhei, a pioneer in the design of modern gardens. The park was built on the ruins of Kubota Castle, which used to be the home of the Satake (佐竹) clan, who ruled the large and expansive Akita Domain for 267 years over 12 generations.
The rebuilt castle turret. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
For a long time, Senshu Park was just a big park without any large structures, but in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Akita City, a castle turret was rebuilt, and you can enjoy a panoramic view of Akita City from its observatory.
Kubota Castle’s main gate. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
Now, other structures like the main castle gate have also been rebuilt, and have become popular photo spots. The large castle gate looks even more imposing when it is lit up in the evenings.
Inside the park, you will find the Senshu-no-kane (千秋の鐘), a bell tower. The bell rings in the mornings and evenings to tell the time, but you can also hear it ringing on New Year’s Eve.
If you go up the stairs near the bell tower, you will find a tea room, Sen'an (宣庵). Although you cannot enter the tea room, you can have a look at its interior from the outside, so please try to find it when you visit.
Iyataka Shrine’s stone torii in spring. (Image credit: 東北観光推進機構)
In another corner of the park lies a Prefecture-Designated Tangible Cultural Property, Iyataka Shrine (彌高神社 Iyataka Jinja). The shrine is located behind a large stone torii gate, and many people come to pray on occasions such as hatsumо̄de (初詣 the first visit of the New Year), weddings, shichigosan celebrations, etc. You can also come to pray for safe travels, like I did. The area surrounding the shrine has a very serene atmosphere, and is a good place to come to clear your mind.
Senshu Park has seasonal "faces"— you can enjoy cherry blossoms and azaleas in spring, lotuses in the moat during summer, vibrant autumn foliage in fall, and a magical snowy landscape in winter. It takes around an hour to go around the park, so please wear comfortable shoes when you visit.
Senshu Park (千秋公園 )
Address: 1 Senshukoen, Akita-shi, Akita 010-0876
Pocket Park: 5-minute walk from JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
Ninomaru: 15-minute walk from JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
② Meet Akita Maiko
Meet Akita maiko at Matsushita. (Image credit: 株式会社 せん)
For visitors those who’d like to experience more of Japan and Akita, I recommend paying a visit to the Akita Cultural and Industrial Facility Matsushita (あきた文化産業施設 松下), which is located near Senshu Park’s southern entrance. Enjoying sake and Japanese sweets at Matsushita Saryо̄ (松下茶寮) and meeting maiko at Akita Maiko Shubо̄ (あきた舞妓酒房), doesn’t that sound good?
Elegant Akita Maiko. (Image credit: 株式会社 せん)
That’s right, you can meet real maiko in Akita! Prior to World War II, it is said that there were nearly 200 geisha in Akita, concentrated mostly around Kawabata, a downtown area along Akita City’s Asahi River which was lined with traditional Japanese restaurants (料亭 ryо̄tei). It is also said that the term Akita Bijin (Akita beauties) was derived from the Kawabata geisha culture.
Kawabata geisha culture died out after World War II, but in an effort to revive geisha culture in Akita, the Akita Maiko project was started in 2014. With the catchphrase of ”Meetable Akita Beauties”, Akita Maiko are attracting attention not only from Japan, but also from around the world.
Enjoying a maiko performance. (Image credit: 株式会社 せん)
Interested to meet some Akita Maiko? You can meet them at the Akita Maiko Theater (あきた舞妓劇場 Akita Maiko Gekijо̄), which is part of the Akita Cultural and Industrial Facility Matsushita located in Senshu Park.
The Akita Maiko Theater offers a wide range of services, such as a casual Akita lunch course where you can casually enjoy a maiko performance, or a more elaborate evening banquet course with the Akita Maiko. When you visit Akita, be sure to check out the history and culture of Akita Maiko.
Akita Maiko Theater (あきた舞妓劇場)
Address: 2F, 1-3 Senshukoen, Akita-shi, Akita 010-0876 (located within the Akita Cultural and Industrial Facility Matsushita)
Access: 10-minute walk from JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
*Reservations are required for most of the maiko experiences, so please check the website for booking details.
③ Experience Akita’s culture and tradition at the Neburi Nagashi Kan
If you cannot visit Akita during summer to catch the Kanto Festival, don’t worry, you can still get up close to the kanto poles all year round at the Akita City Folk Performing Arts Heritage Center, which is more commonly known as the Neburi Nagashi Kan (ねぶり流し館). You will know which building it is even before reaching, as the sight of giant kanto can be seen even while walking towards the building.
The kanto exhibition at the Neburi Nagashi Kan. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
On the first floor, there is a permanent exhibition showcasing the Akita Kanto Festival, as well as panels on other festivals in Akita such as the Tsuchizaki Port Hikiyama Festival. The high atrium extends from the first floor to the third floor, so you can have a good look at the tall kanto. On the second and third floors, you can find videos and materials introducing Akita's folk performing arts.
Try balancing a kanto. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
For a more hands-on experience, there is also a challenge corner where you can try your hand at balancing a kanto. The staff will give a short explanation and some tips on how to do it, and then let you try it out.
When we visited, I saw a lot of couples and friends who came from other prefectures around Japan. Although it was indeed very challenging to try to balance the pole, especially while walking, everyone had a lot of fun. On Saturdays, Sundays, and Public Holidays from April to October, you can also enjoy professional demonstrations of kanto balancing between 13:30–14:10.
Akita City Folk Performing Arts Heritage Center “Neburi Nagashi Kan” (秋田市民俗芸能伝承館・ねぶり流し館)
Address: 1-3-30 Omachi, Akita-shi, Akita 010-0921
Access: 15-minute walk from the West Exit of JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
Opening hours: 9:30–16:30 (Closed during the year-end and New Year holidays)
Admission fee: ¥100/adult
④ Edo Period architecture at the Old Kaneko Family House
Right beside the Neburi Nagashi Kan is the Old Kaneko Family House (旧金子家住宅 Kyū-Kaneko-ke Jūtaku), an old merchant building which was built in the architectural style of the late Edo Period (1603–1868).
Exterior of the Old Kaneko Family House. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
During the late Edo Period, the Kaneko family ran a pawnshop and second-hand clothing business, and in the early Meiji Era (1686–1912) they started a clothing business (cotton and linen). The Kaneko family operated the business until 1975, and in 1996 they donated the building to Akita City. In 1997, the building was designated as a Tangible Cultural Property of Akita City.
Inside the Old Kaneko Family House. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
Once inside, you can get a glimpse of how the shop was operated back in the early Showa Era (1926–1989). The display shows the shop’s appearance from the past, with explanations for each section You can see details like how price tags were put, how products were packed, etc.
Entering the dozо̄ . (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
Go further in, and you can see the magnificent old mud-walled storehouse (土蔵 dozо̄). The dozо̄ is flanked by grand black doors, and is currently used as a resting place, with chairs and tables inside. It can also be rented as a venue to hold small lectures and meetings.
If you are interested in old architecture, I definitely recommend checking this place out. It takes about 30 minutes to explore the Old Kaneko Family House.
Old Kaneko Family House (旧金子家住宅)
Address: 1-3-31 Omachi, Akita-shi, Akita 010-0921
Access: 15-minute walk from the West Exit of JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
Opening hours: 9:30–16:30 (Closed during the year-end and New Year holidays)
Admission fee: ¥100/adult (free if you visited the Neburi Nagashi Kan)
⑤ Play with cuddly canines at Akita Dog Station
A large fluffy Akita dog greets you at the entrance. (Image credit: ONE FOR AKITA)
Other than culture and history, Akita is also known for a cute and loyal breed of dog—Akita dogs (秋田犬 Akita inu)! Akita dogs are one of Japan’s native dog breeds, and have been designated as a Natural Monument of Japan. Known for their loyal and obedient personalities, Akita dog were originally bred as hunting dogs in the past. A fully-grown Akita dog can be 60cm tall and weigh up to 30kg.
Just a short walk from Akita Station is Area Nakaichi, which houses the Akita Dog Station (秋田犬ステーション), a place where you can meet Akita dogs, take photos, and purchase Akita dog souvenirs.
The Akita Dog Station is operated by ONE FOR AKITA, an organisation which works on the promotion and development of local communities in Akita Prefecture, including conservation activities of Akita dogs.
Get up close to Akita dogs. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch (left) and ONE FOR AKITA (right))
Perhaps because it was a weekend, on the day I visited there were many families lining up to catch a glimpse of the Akita dogs. The Akita dogs we saw were listening to and following their trainer’s commands, and were so clever and adorable!
Their round eyes and fluffy tails curled up against their large bodies are lovable characteristics of Akita dogs. Due to their loyalty to their owners, Akita dogs are gaining popularity all over the world.
You cannot touch the dogs as it might cause them stress, but you can take photos and buy souvenirs at the Akita Dog Station. Other than the Akita Dog Station at Area Nakaichi, you can also meet Akita dogs at the Akita Dog Satellite Station inside JR Akita Station. If the timing is right, you might even be able to see the Akita dogs walking between Area Nakaichi and JR Akita Station. The Akita dogs only appear on certain dates at specified times, so don’t forget to check the schedule beforehand.
Souvenir corner. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
The souvenir corner sells a large selection of Akita dog merchandise and goods, which you can buy back as a memento of your trip, either for yourself or for your friends and family back home. A portion of the sales from these items is donated towards Akita dog conservation activities.
The hometown of Akita dogs might be Odate City, but you can also meet these cute and lovable canines right here in Akita City, the gateway to Akita Prefecture, so be sure to stop by~
Akita Dog Station (秋田犬ステーション)
Address: 1F Area Nakaichi, 1-4-1 Nakadori, Akita City, Akita 010-0001
Access: 10-minute walk from the West Exit of JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
Opening hours: 11:00–15:00 (Closed on Monday, Wednesdays, Fridays)
*The Akita dogs only appear on certain dates at specified times, so please check the schedule on the website. In consideration of the health and well-being of the dogs, do note that there might be instances where you will not be able to meet them even on the designated dates.
⑥ Enjoy a night out at Akita Nagaya Sakaba
Akita Nagaya Sakaba’s unique exterior. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
After a day of exploring the city, you might be feeling tired, so let’s end the day with a feast at Akita Nagaya Sakaba (秋田長屋酒場), where you can enjoy Akita’s local cuisine together with special guests—namahage. Namahage are visiting deities (来訪神 raihо̄shin) originating from Akita’s Oga Peninsula, and are a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Even before entering the restaurant, you can see large namahage decorating the exterior.
Dining with namahage and wooden elbow rests. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Inside the restaurant, there are counter seats that surround the hearth, as well as tatami seats in the large hall. The old-fashioned interior creates a quaint atmosphere. For tatami seats, wooden elbow rests (肘かけ hijikake) are provided, and you can feel like an important minister.
After being seated, the restaurant staff will come over and recommend some of the fresh catches of the day, in local Akita dialect. This restaurant serves a wide selection of Akita’s local cuisine and local sake. If you are at a loss at what to choose, why not try out some of the staff’s recommendations?
Kiritanpo dengaku covered in miso. (Image credit: Akita Nagaya Sakaba)
The first dish that we ordered was kiritanpo dengaku (きりたんぽ田楽), which is freshly grilled kiritanpo (pounded rice cakes) slathered with a layer of miso paste and served on a stick. The kiritanpo’s exterior was crispy, while the inside was chewy, and the miso was so delicious!
Hinaijidori no kuwayaki. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
Next up, we had Hinaijidori no kuwayaki (比内地鶏のくわ焼き). This is Akita’s famous Hinaijidori breed of chicken, served with maitake mushrooms and vegetables, that is grilled on an iron plate that resembles the shape of a hoe (kuwa). The chicken skin was crispy, and the flesh was so tender and juicy…yum!
Other than the two dishes we introduced, the restaurant has a large selection of Akita’s regional specialties that you can try, such as local sake and kiritanpo hotpot, a typical local dish.
Special guest: namahage. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
In addition to the tasty food, something unique you can enjoy at this restaurant is the appearance of namahage. During certain timings, namahage will appear and talk to diners, and you can even take photos with them.
At this restaurant, you can experience both the traditions and food culture of Akita, so please stop by when you visit Akita City!
Akita Nagaya Sakaba (秋田長屋酒場)
Address: 4-16-17 Nakadori, Akita-shi, Akita 010-0001
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
Opening hours: 17:00–23:30 (Sun–Thu) / 17:00-00:00 (Fri–Sat, Eve of Public Holidays)
⑦ Feast on local food at the Akita Citizen’s Market
Enjoy local food at the Akita Citizen’s Market. (Image credit: 秋田県観光連盟)
Craving a delicious local breakfast? Head on over to the Akita Citizen’s Market (秋田市民市場 Akita Shimin Ichiba), a short walk from JR Akita Station. Affectionately known as “the kitchen of Akita”, this market houses around 70 shops, and is filled with a plethora of locally-produced food ingredients, such as freshly caught seafood from the Sea of Japan, mountain vegetables, and more.
There are also conveyor-belt sushi restaurants and local ramen shops, as well as a space where you can use freely to eat your purchased items. Do check out this market to get a taste of Akita’s seasonal food and food culture!
Akita Citizen’s Market (秋田市民市場)
Address: 4-7-35 Nakadori, Akita City, Akita 010-0001
Access: 3-minute walk from JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
Opening hours: 05:00–18:00 (Closed on Sundays)
Map of route around Akita City
For reference, below is a map of the places I introduced in this article. As you can see, the places are close to each other, and can be visited on a 2D1N trip to Akita City. Due to COVID-19, there might be some changes in the operating hours of each place, so please check their websites for updates before visiting.
Getting to Akita City
The Akita Shinkansen E6 Komachi train. (Image credit: JR East Akita Branch)
Akita City is located in north-eastern Japan, and can be accessed from Tokyo via a bullet train ride (3 hour 50 minutes) on the Akita Shinkansen to JR Akita Station (秋田駅). Alternatively, if you are coming from Niigata Station (新潟駅), you can take a ride (3 hours 40 minutes) on the Limited Express Inaho to JR Akita Station.
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
If you are visiting Akita City, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for any 5 days of your choice within a 14-day period. At only ¥19,350 when purchased overseas, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Akita (~¥36,000), and the 5 days do not have to be consecutive. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.
Header image credit: photoAC
This article was originally contributed in Japanese by JR East Akita Branch, with translations and additional text by Carissa Loh.