All aboard! Adventures around Akita with the Akita Shinkansen
Updated as of 20 September 2023
Originally published on 04 March 2022
Have you ridden the Akita Shinkansen (秋田新幹線)? Even if you haven’t, you might have seen its iconic red train, the E6 series Komachi (こまち), around Tokyo and Eastern Japan. Beginning operations in 1997, the Akita Shinkansen links Tokyo with Akita Prefecture (秋田県 Akita-ken) in northern Tohoku, one of the snowiest prefectures in the country.
Isn’t the slender, red Komachi bullet train a beauty? Did you know that the name “Komachi” comes from Ono no Komachi (小野小町), an ancient poet renowned for her beauty, believed to be born in Akita? Akita Prefecture is said to be home to many beautiful women, and nowadays “Komachi” is used to refer to beautiful women.
Map of the Akita Shinkansen’s route. (Image credit: JR East)
Between Tokyo Station and Morioka Station, the Akita Shinkansen utilises the tracks of the Tohoku Shinkansen, and between Morioka Station and Akita Station, it utilises tracks originally built for local lines. Because local trains also run on the same tracks for the section between Morioka Station and Ōmagari Station, trains on the Akita Shinkansen need to have a narrower body (the same size as local trains) in order to run on these tracks. Due to this narrower body compared to other shinkansen trains, the Akita Shinkansen is known as a “mini-shinkansen”. If you board the train between Tokyo and Morioka, you will notice that you will need to climb a step to get on the train!
E6 series Komachi train couples with the E5 series Hayabusa train. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
When departing Tokyo Station, E6 series Komachi trains are usually coupled with E5 series Hayabusa trains, and decouple at Morioka Station. From there, the E5 trains continue northwards to Aomori or Hokkaido, while the E6 trains head towards Akita.
On 22 March 2022, the Akita Shinkansen celebrated the 25th anniversary of its operations to Akita. Let’s check out some of the amazing adventures you can experience around Akita by riding the Akita Shinkansen from Tokyo!
① Shizukuishi Station (雫石駅)
Home of the picturesque Mount Iwate
Platform of Shizukuishi Station in winter. (Image credit: photoAC)
The first stop along the Akita Shinkansen after Morioka Station is Shizukuishi Station (雫石駅), which is located in Shizukuishi Town (雫石町 Shizukuishi-machi) in Iwate Prefecture, near the border with Akita Prefecture. Shizukuishi Town is just south of Mount Iwate (岩手山 Iwate-san), Iwate’s most significant mountain, and is an area that experiences high snowfall in winter, when its many ski resorts bustle with activity.
Koiwai Farm with Mount Iwate in the backdrop. (Image credit: KOIWAI FARM,LTD.)
For a great view of Mount Iwate all year round, visitors can check out Koiwai Farm (小岩井農場 Koiwai Nōjō), a 3,000-hectare privately-owned farm scenically situated at the foot of Mount Iwate. The farm is famous for its delicious dairy products, as well as for its picturesque scenery, which resemble scenes from paintings.
While the farm is best known for the view of its solitary cherry blossom tree in spring, the view of cows grazing on the lush farm lands, with red cowsheds in the background against Mount Iwate, also make for an idyllic and relaxing sight.
Koiwai Farm is a 10-minute drive / taxi ride from Shizukuishi Station. Alternatively, the farm can also be reached by a 35-minute bus ride from Morioka Station.
② Tazawako Station (田沢湖駅)
Gateway to scenic mountains and hidden hot springs
Inside Tazawako Station. (Image credit: 掬茶 / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Continuing on from Shizukuishi Station, the next station, Tazawako Station (田沢湖駅) is the first station along the line that is in Akita Prefecture. Located in Semboku City (仙北市 Senboku-shi), Tazawako Station is the gateway to some of Akita’s mighty mountains and healing, hidden hot springs.
Statue of Tatsuko along the western shore of Lake Tazawa. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Tazawako Station is named after Lake Tazawa (田沢湖 Tazawa-ko), a caldera lake with a depth of 423m; Japan's deepest lake. It doesn't freeze in winter, and maintains an alluring blue colour all year round.
On the lake’s western shore, visitors can find Lake Tazawa’s most famous monument: the golden statue of Tatsuko. According to legend, Tatsuko was a local girl who prayed to keep her beauty forever, but was instead cursed, turning into a dragon and sinking to the bottom of the lake. From this spot, you can see the majestic Mount Akita-Komagatake, one of Akita Prefecture’s highest mountains, across the lake.
Torii gate and snow-covered walking path around Lake Tazawa. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Another place to get a good view of Lake Tazawa is by the red torii gates of Gozanoishi Shrine (御座石神社Goza-no-ishi Jinja) on its northern shore. It is said that Lord Satake Yoshitaka, the former ruler of Akita, chose this scenic spot to enjoy the view of Lake Tazawa. Visitors to Lake Tazawa can also take a leisurely stroll along the lake shore, which offers tranquil views.
View of Lake Tazawa from the slopes of Tazawako Ski Resort. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Speaking of enjoying views, during winter, winter sport enthusiasts can check out Tazawako Ski Resort (たざわ湖スキー場), a small ski resort that offers fantastic views of Lake Tazawa and its surrounding mountains. The ski resort is a 30-minute bus ride from Tazawako Station.
Lake Tazawa has three bus stops: Tazawa-kohan, Goza-no-ishi, and Katajiri. The Tazawa-kohan Bus Stop on the eastern shore is just a 12-minute ride from Tazawako Station, and from there visitors can take a 40-minute sightseeing boat across the lake to the western shore, where the Tatsuko statue is. Tazawa-kohan Bus Stop is also where visitors can transfer to other buses headed for some of Akita’s wonderful hot spring villages and mountains, which we will introduce next.
Venturing beyond Lake Tazawa and towards the surrounding mountains, visitors will realise that Akita is a hot spring haven, filled with many amazing hot spring resorts that are hidden in the mountains.
Nyuto Onsen in different seasons. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Perhaps the most well-known is Nyuto Onsen (乳頭温泉Nyūtō Onsen), a rustic hot spring village nestled at the foot of Mount Nyuto (also known as Mount Eboshi (烏帽子岳 Eboshi-dake)). Made up of eight hot spring inns (旅館 ryokan), Nyuto Onsen is surrounded by primeval beech (ブナ buna) forests, and offers spectacular scenery all year round.
Other than for overnight guests, many of the ryokan at Nyuto Onsen are also open to daytime visitors. Visitors to Nyuto Onsen should not miss out on the open-air baths (露天風呂 rotenburo), where they can enjoy the fantastic colours of nature while soaking in a relaxing bath.
For more information about Nyuto Onsen, check out this article.
Nyuto Onsen can be reached by a 50-minute bus ride from Tazawako Station.
Tamagawa Onsen. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Located at the foot of Mount Yake (焼山 Yakeyama), Tamagawa Onsen (玉川温泉) has strongly acidic hot spring waters that contain hydrochloric acid, which is unusual for hot springs. Tamagawa Onsen is known for having Japan’s most acidic hot spring waters, which are believed to have many health benefits. Although water from the source has a pH of about 1.2, as many hot spring baths dilute with water from the mains, visitors need not worry. However, they should still take caution if they have open wounds, as the water might sting.
Along the walking path around Tamagawa Onsen, visitors can get the chance to see dozens of steam vents, which create dramatic scenery. Visitors can also enjoy ganban-yoku (岩盤浴stone baths), as the path passes by bedrock heated by geothermal energy. For ganban-yoku, visitors lie down on mats spread over the hot bedrock, and cover themselves with a blanket. The warmth from the rocks is said to be able to soothe fatigue and relax muscles.
Tamagawa Onsen can be reached by an 80-minute bus ride from Tazawako Station.
Some of Akita’s most breathtaking landscapes can be found in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park (十和田八幡平国立公園 Towada-Hachimantai Kokuritsu-kōen), a massive national park located in the mountainous region that stretches across Akita, Aomori, and Iwate.
Hiking around Mount Hachimantai. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
The national park is rich in majestic mountains, beautiful forests, scenic hiking trails, and secluded hot springs. Furthermore, both Nyuto Onsen and Tamagawa Onsen are located within the Towada-Hachimantai National Park.
Hiking around Mount Hachimantai. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
One of the 100 Famous Mountains of Japan (日本百名山 Nihon hyaku-meizan), Mount Hachimantai (八幡平) is located along the border of Iwate and Akita. It has a relatively flat peak that stands at 1,613m, and is fairly easy to reach via the network of walking trails, which offer splendid views of forests and ponds.
Mount Hachimantai can be reached by a 1-hour-55-minute bus ride from Morioka Station.
Hiking around Mount Akita-Komagatake. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Hiking enthusiasts looking for even more scenic sights can head over to Mount Akita-Komagatake (秋田駒ヶ岳), the second highest mountain in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Mount Akita-Komagatake is an active volcano with multiple peaks, and features a well-maintained network of hiking trails with attractive views.
Between June and August, a large variety of alpine flowers bloom at Mount Akita-Komagatake, creating an amazing sight to behold, when delicate flowers bloom amongst the lush greenery of summer.
Hiking around Mount Akita-Komagatake. (Image credit: photoAC)
Most of Mount Akita-Komagatake’s trails can be accessed via the 8th Station, which can be reached by bus from Tazawako Station. The most popular trail is the 2.4km trail that goes around Amida Pond (阿弥陀池 Amida-ike), which is about an hour’s walk from the 8th Station. From there, hikers can continue on to Mount Akita-Komagatake’s various peaks, the highest of which is Onamedake (男女岳) at 1,637m.
For avid hiking enthusiasts, there is even a trail from Mount Akita-Komagatake that leads to Nyuto Onsen, which takes around 8 hours. Oh, what a wonderful feeling it would be to soak in a hot spring after a long day’s hike!
Mount Akita-Komagatake’s 8th Station can be reached by a 1-hour bus ride from Tazawako Station. Visitors coming from Nyuto Onsen can take a 15-minute bus ride to Arupa Komakusa, where they can transfer to another bus (25-minute ride) headed to Mount Akita-Komagatake’s 8th Station.
③ Kakunodate Station (角館駅)
Explore rich samurai history and tradition
Exterior of Kakunodate Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
The next stop after Tazawako Station is Kakunodate Station (角館駅), also located in Semboku City. Did you know? Kakunodate is best-known for the view of its weeping cherry blossom trees against the backdrop of samurai houses, so much that the train station entrance is even decorated with sakura patterns!
Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street
Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street in different seasons. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street (角館武家屋敷通り Kakunodate Bukeyashiki Dо̄ri), which is also known as the Little Kyoto (小京都 Shо̄-Kyо̄to) of Tohoku, can be reached by a 20-minute walk from Kakunodate Station. Along the street are many former samurai residences, many of which remain well-preserved and add to the historical atmosphere of the street.
Looking stunning against a backdrop of old samurai residences, some of the highlights of this area are the dramatic dark pink shidarezakura (しだれ桜 weeping cherry blossoms), with branches that fall downward. Some of these trees originated from Kyoto, and grow alongside other types of trees like maple, pine, and gingko. Visitors can enjoy fantastic views of the street and the trees all year round—vivid pink in spring, verdant green in summer, warm shades of orange and yellow during autumn, and blanketed in fluffy white snow during winter.
Inside one of the samurai residences. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)
Of the many samurai residences in the area, some are residential homes, housing descendants of samurai, while six are open to visitors. Inside, visitors can have a look at exhibitions of samurai items from the past, such as armour and swords. Fans of samurai and Japanese history would not want to miss the chance to check these out.
Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street is a 20-minute walk from Kakunodate Station.
Kabazaiku, sakura bark craft work
Kabazaiku, crafted from sakura bark. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Originating in Kakunodate during the Edo Period (1603–1868), kabazaiku (樺細工) is a unique and beautiful craft work that makes use of the bark from sakura trees. Initially, kabazaiku crafting was started to provide supplementary income for samurai, but the former rulers of Akita, the Satake family, encouraged the production of kabazaiku crafts, and developed the local industry.
Bark is collected from 70–80 year old cherry blossom trees, with the bark from Ooyama cherry trees being the most common for its good quality. One thing to note is that trees can regrow bark, which means that the same tree can produce bark to be used over many years.
Kabazaiku crafts were traditionally containers for tea, medicine, and tobacco, as their airtight and antibacterial properties helped to preserve these perishable items. Nowadays, kabazaiku plates, trays, and accessories have gained popularity for their beautiful colours and patterns.
Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate
Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate has a special E6 series Komachi room. (Image credit: JR East)
Looking for a place to stay in Kakunodate? Look no further than Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate (ホテルフォルクローロ角館), which also opened 25 years ago, together with the Akita Shinkansen. The hotel has created an E6 series Komachi themed room, which will be available to stay in.
Special Komachi-themed items for guests. (Image credit: JR East)
Some of the exciting things to expect are the room furnished with the signature red of the Komachi train, and sofas that resemble the actual train seats. Depending on the type of stay plan booked, guests using this room will also receive Komachi-themed goodies like a special edition room key, and a bottle of water in the shape of a Komachi train.
For more information about Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate’s E6 series Komachi room, check out their website here.
Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate is right outside Kakunodate Station.
Akita Nairiku Line
Train along the Akita Nairiku Line. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
At Kakunodate Station, travellers can transfer to the Akita Nairiku Line (秋田内陸線 Akita Nairiku Sen), operated by Akita Nairiku Railway. The railway connects Kakunodate Station with Takanosu Station in the northern part of Akita Prefecture, passing through Akita’s scenic inland area and offering fantastic views in all seasons.
Mount Moriyoshi during winter and summer. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
One place worth making the trip to is Mount Moriyoshi (森吉山 Moriyoshizan). During winter, giant snow monsters create fascinating scenery, and during summer, the mountain erupts in various colours as thousands of alpine flowers bloom between June and August.
For more information about the Akita Nairiku Line, check out this article.
④ Ōmagari Station (大曲駅)
A town of fireworks and more
Exterior of Omagari Station. (Image credit: photoAC)
Following Kakunodate Station is Ōmagari Station (大曲駅), located in the city of Daisen (大仙市 Daisen-shi). Did you know? Omagari is known as the “town of fireworks” (花火のまち hanabi no machi), as there are fireworks shows held every month!
Clockwise: Spring, summer, autumn, and winter chapters of the Omagari Fireworks. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Without a doubt, Omagari is best known for hosting the spectacular Omagari Fireworks (大曲の花火 О̄magari no hanabi), Tohoku’s largest fireworks extravaganza. Not only just a fireworks show, this summer event is also a national competition, where Japan’s best teams pit their pyrotechnical skills against each other to win the Prime Minister’s prize. It goes without saying that dazzling displays at this festival are nothing short of mesmerising.
Visitors who are unable to go to Omagari during summer will be glad to know that the Omagari Fireworks also has seasonal “chapters” in autumn, winter, and spring. Though not the full summer experience, these chapters are still large-scale events, and visitors will still be able to get a glimpse of impressive and high-quality fireworks.
The venue for the Omagari Fireworks is a 30-minute walk from Ōmagari Station.
Hanabium, a museum dedicated to fireworks. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Want to learn more about fireworks? Head on over to the Hanabi Tradition and Culture Preservation Museum (花火伝統文化継承資料館 Hanabi Dentō Bunka Keishō Shiryōkan), more commonly known as Hanabium (はなび・アム hanabi-amu).
Newly opened in 2018, Hanabium is a place where visitors can learn about and experience fireworks. In addition to the exhibitions—where visitors can learn about the history of fireworks, how to make them, and how to appreciate them—the museum also has interactive facilities that fireworks enthusiasts would be thrilled to check out.
One of these facilities is the Hanabi Theatre, where high-definition fireworks images are projected onto a four-sided multi-screen. Another fun activity can be found at the Hanabi Sōsaku Kōbō (はなび創作工房), where visitors can experience launching fireworks that they designed onto the screen. If you enjoy watching fireworks, definitely check out Hanabium.
Hanabium is a 10-minute walk from Ōmagari Station.
Hanabi Parfait. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Still can’t get enough of fireworks? Try the Hanabi Parfait, a decadent parfait unique to Daisen City, and the most popular dessert at Milk House Coffee & Parlor. Topped with a generous helping of colourful seasonal fruits, the parfait’s highlight is the sparkling fireworks in the centre of the dessert! Diners will no doubt be impressed by the sparkly dessert as it is served to their tables. Not just a feast for the eyes, this tasty dessert is sure to make mouths water.
Milk House Coffee & Parlor is a 5-minute walk from Ōmagari Station.
Former Ikeda Family Gardens
While Omagari is known as the town of fireworks, it is also home to a few scenic places where visitors can enjoy history and nature.
Former Ikeda Family Gardens in different seasons. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
One such place is the Former Ikeda Family Gardens, a Japanese-style garden located in a quiet part of Daisen City. Built by the Ikeda Family, who were one of Tohoku’s largest landowners, the gardens feature a wide variety of plants and flowers, which offer delightful views in all seasons.
On the grounds is also a beautiful Western-style mansion that was built in 1922, which now serves as a library. Decorated with marble columns and leather wallpaper with gold-leaf, the mansion is an Important Cultural Property of Japan, while the scenic gardens are a National Site of Scenic Beauty.
The Former Ikeda Family Gardens is a 15-minute taxi ride from Ōmagari Station. The place is is only open to the public from late-May to mid-November.
⑤ Akita Station (秋田駅)
The hub of Akita Prefecture
Exiting the gantry to Akita Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Akita Station (秋田駅) is the terminal station of the Akita Shinkansen, and is right in the heart of Akita City (秋田市 Akita-shi) the prefectural capital. Within Akita City visitors can experience the scenic Senshu Park, enjoy maiko performances, play with Akita Inu dogs, witness the exciting Akita Kanto Festival in summer, and so much more.
For more information about Akita City, check out this article.
But more than just sights within the city, Akita Station is a hub connecting to various regions of the prefecture. From the Akita Shinkansen, travellers can transfer to local train lines that stretch north, south, and west of the city, to explore stunning nature and quaint countryside towns.
Gono Line: Shirakami-Sanchi and towards Aomori
Resort Shirakami running along the coast. (Image credit: JR East)
The train gets its name from the Shirakami-Sanchi (白神山地) UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in Akita Prefecture and Aomori Prefecture, an amazing area with primeval beech trees, rare animals like the black woodpecker, and stunning lakes and ponds like Aoike.
For more information about the Resort Shirakami, check out this article.
Oga Line: namahage and the Oga Peninsula
Northwest from Akita City is the Oga Peninsula (男鹿半島 Oga Hantо̄), which can be accessed via the Oga Line (男鹿線). The region is rich in both cultural traditions and amazingly scenic natural sites.
Fierce namahage. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Mention “Oga” and one of the first things that come to mind is namahage (なまはげ), ogre-like deities that visit during the New Year to remind children to behave, adults to be hardworking, and to not be lazy. They are unique to the Oga Peninsula, and have been designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Scenic nature around the Oga Peninsula. (Image credit: 東北観光推進機構 (left) Akita Prefecture (right))
Other than namahage-related sites, the Oga Peninsula is also home to scenic natural sites such as Unosaki Beach (鵜ノ崎海岸, sometimes called the “Uyuni salt flats of Akita”), Cape Nyudozaki (入道崎), Mount Kanpu (寒風山), and the interestingly-shaped Godzilla Rock (ゴジラ岩). Nature lovers should not miss the chance to check these out the next time they are in Akita.
Uetsu Main Line: Mount Chokai and towards Yamagata
Connecting Akita with Yamagata Prefecture and Niigata Prefecture, the Uetsu Main Line (羽越本線) stretches along the coast of the Sea of Japan, and makes it convenient to access Mount Chokai (鳥海山 Chо̄kai-san), one of Tohoku’s most important mountains.
Mount Chokai. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Akita is home to many magnificent mountains, like Mount Hachimantai and Mount Akita-Komagatake mentioned earlier. Another majestic mountain can be found in the southern part of Akita bordering Yamagata Prefecture: the 2,236m-high Mount Chokai, Akita’s tallest mountain and one of the 100 Famous Mountains of Japan.
Due to its rather symmetrical peak that resembles Mount Fuji, the mountain is also known as Dewa-Fuji, with Dewa being an old name for the region. Like the mountains of Dewa Sanzan, since hundreds of years ago Mount Chokai has also been of great importance for the followers of Shugendō (修験道), an ancient religion based on mountain worship that blends Buddhist and Shintō traditions.
Hiking around Mount Chokai. (Image credit: photoAC)
Even if they are not Shugendō practitioners, hiking aficcionados can still climb Mount Chokai to admire the stunning scenery. May to October are the best times for climbing Mount Chokai, where hikers can admire alpine flowers during summer, and stunning autumn colours in fall.
While there are nine courses to climb up Mount Chokai, for accessibility I recommend the Kisakata Course (象潟口コース), which brings hikers around Lake Chokai, and continues along ridges that offer phenomenal views of the surroundings. The trail takes around 9 hours for a round trip.
The Kisakata Course of Mount Chokai can be reached by a 35-minute taxi ride from Kisakata Station. Kisakata Station is a 1-hour train ride from Akita Station via the Limited Express Inaho.
Akita’s delightful cuisine
Some of Akita’s local delicacies. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
No trip is complete without good food, and Akita has plenty of tasty dishes that visitors should not miss out on while they’re there. Think silky smooth inaniwa udon noodles, comforting kiritanpo, delicious hinaijidori chicken, smoky iburigakko pickles…the list goes on!
For more information about Akita’s delicious food, check out this article.
E6 series Komachi at Akita Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Despite its location in northern Tohoku, Akita is easily accessible via a robust railway network. The Akita Shinkansen celebrated its 25th anniversary of its operations to Akita back in 2022. Please make full use of it on your travels.
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
If you are visiting Akita, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains like the Akita Shinkansen) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥30,000 after the revision take place from 1 October 2023, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Akita (~¥36,000).
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) 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, which is really beneficial for families wanting to secure seats in a group, or individuals looking for a particular window or aisle seat.
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
Header image credit: photoAC