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Awesome autumn at Akita’s Dakigaeri Gorge

Awesome autumn at Akita’s Dakigaeri Gorge

When you think of Akita Prefecture (秋田県Akita-ken), the first things that come to mind are probably the loyal and lovable Akita Inu dogs, picturesque weeping cherry blossoms at Kakunodate, hidden hot springs like Nyuto Onsen, Japan’s deepest lake—Lake Tazawa, or incredible festivals like the Akita Kanto Festival or the stunning Omagari Fireworks Festival. Yes, there’s so much to see and do in Akita!


One thing I’ve always wanted to experience in Akita is its nature in autumn, and last October, I finally got to. I have been to Akita many times in spring, summer, and winter, but hardly ever in autumn. Although I still haven’t reached my dream of climbing Mount Akita-Komagatake or Mount Chokai, I did get to visit the gorgeous Dakigaeri Gorge, so let’s take a look at what it was like!


A beautiful day at Dakigaeri Gorge. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Located in Akita’s Semboku City (仙北市 Senboku-shi), Dakigaeri Gorge (抱返り渓谷 Dakigaeri Keikoku) is a scenic nature spot that it well-known for its dazzling autumn colors, which contrast well with the deep blue Tama River (玉川 Tama-gawa).


In autumn, there is usually a bus service from Tazawako Station (田沢湖駅 Tazawako-eki), but since the bus timings did not fit well with our schedule, we took a 15-minute taxi ride from Kakundate Station (角館駅 Kakunodate-eki) instead.


We visited in late October 2022, and although it was still a little bit early in autumn and the autumn colours were only just beginning to start, the weather was fantastic, with vivid blue skies that made the scenery even more stunning.


Gorgeous view at Dakigaeri Gorge. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Fun story about the gorge’s name: “dakigaeri” means "to embrace and turn back". The gorge is filled with tall and steep cliffs, and in the past, the paths to walk along the gorge were very narrow. When people coming from opposite directions wanted to pass each other, they needed to walk sideways and “dakigaeri”—embrace one another while looking over their shoulders as they passed one another along the narrow path.


Paths leading toward Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Nowadays, the paths have been widened so visitors do not have to “dakigaeri” as much anymore. When I visited, I even saw senior citizens with walkers and families with baby strollers walking along the path, so it has also become much more accessible.


Starting our walk to Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


We got off at the parking lot near Dakigaeri Shrine (抱返神社), and from there it is about a 1.5km, 30-minute walk to Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall (回顧の滝 Mikaeri-no-taki), an elegant 30m-high waterfall that is one of the highlights of Dakigaeri Gorge.


Crossing the Kami-no-Iwahashi Bridge. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


After passing the shrine, we crossed the vermillion Kami-no-Iwahashi Bridge (神の岩橋), and the view of the Tama River (玉川 Tama-gawa) was spectacular. This 80m-long bright red suspension bridge is the oldest suspension bridge in Akita Prefecture, having been completed in 1926.


Here, the river’s waters are still, making it like a gigantic mirror reflecting the azure blue skies and fluffy white clouds above. Autumn was just beginning, so we could see varying colours of leaves on both sides of the gorge; the fiery yellows and oranges just waiting to erupt.


Walking alongside the Tama River. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


The trail towards Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall is a scenic and easy-to-walk one; walking along a path lined with tall trees, with the soothing sounds of the Tama River’s flowing waters. As you walk along the trail, you’ll see peeks of the Tama River on your left; some glimpses through the trees, before opening up into a full view of its turquoise waters further down the trail.


My favourite spot at Dakigeri Gorge. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Before you know it, you’ll see a tunnel come into view, and once you reach the tunnel, you know you’re nearing the waterfall. But before going through the tunnel, take some time to admire the scenery of the gorge and the river below. To me, this is the most scenic area of Dakigaeri Gorge, and I spent a long time here just gazing at the view.


Gorgeous blue waters of the Tama River. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Looking down at the Tama River, the water is a stunning blue colour, but at some parts it’s also very still that the sky gets reflected. I can only imagine how much more beautiful it will be when the colours of the leaves are in their full autumn glory, ablaze in warm hues of orange and yellow.


Walk through the tunnel and you’re nearing the waterfall. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Do take caution when entering the tunnel as the ceiling might be low at some parts. After exiting the tunnel, we could finally what we had been waiting for: Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall. “Mikaeri” means “to turn around for another look”, and it’s not hard to understand how the waterfall got its name.


Mikaeri-no-taki, the end of the trail. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall has thin threads of water that fall for about 30m down rocky cliffs, surrounded by lush trees and vegetation. We were running out of time so we couldn’t stay for long, but watching the gracefully cascading waters of Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall, I couldn’t resist the urge to turn around again and again as I was walking away from the waterfall. Farewell for now, but I will be back again someday.


Dakigaeri Gorge (抱返り渓谷)
Address: 139 Kurokura Sotsuda, Tazawako, Semboku-shi, Akita, 014-1113 (Dakigaeri Shrine)
Access: 15-minute taxi ride from JR Kakunodate Station (角館駅)
Admission fee: Free


Strolling through Kakunodate

From Dakigaeri Gorge, we took a taxi back to Kakunodate Station, and took a leisurely stroll over to explore the Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street (角館武家屋敷通り Kakunodate Bukeyashiki Dо̄ri). Tip: there are no taxis waiting at Dakigaeri Gorge, so I recommend reserving one in advance if you are planning to take one.


Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Known as the Little Kyoto (小京都 Shо̄-Kyо̄to) of Tohoku, Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street was once home to many samurai. Although you can no longer see sword-wielding samurai on these streets, you can still see many well-preserved samurai houses. Some of these houses have been turned into establishments like museums, restaurants, and gift shops, while some remain residential homes.


We admired the old houses, which looked fantastic with the changing colours of the trees; an atmosphere that transported us back in time. We also wandered around the souvenir shops and tried some snacks like this “miso macaron”. Shaped like kiritanpo (きりたんぽ pounded rice shaped into a cylinder), one of Akita’s famous foods, this was actually a macaron! It was a cute and delightful sweet treat to end the day.



Inside Aoyagike. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Before heading back to Kakunodate Station, We paid a visit to Aoyagike (青柳家)—also known as the Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum—the largest samurai residence museum in Kakunodate. It is the former home of the Aoyagi family.


Inside, we could explore certain sections freely. There were displays of old items from the 17th to 20th centuries, such as samurai swords, armour, and helmets, as well as old documents, scrolls, utensils, and more. There were even some experience corners in the museum where visitors could try lifting the swords or putting on the samurai helmet.


Vintage cameras and gramophones. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


The museum was really interesting to go around, and I would love to go back again. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love it! Not just limited to samurai-related items, there are also vintage cameras and gramophone records, which were a treat to look at.


Aoyagike (青柳家)
Address: 3 Omotemachi Shimocho, Kakunodate, Semboku-shi, Akita 014-0331
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Kakunodate Station (角館駅)
Opening hours: 9:00–17:00
Admission fee: ¥500/adult


If you want to know more about Kakunodate, check out my previous article here, when I visited in the shinryoku season.


Getting there

E6 series Komachi shinkansen at Kakunodate Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


Dakigaeri Gorge is just a 15-minute taxi ride from JR Kakunodate Station. I recommend visiting the gorge, then going back to Kakunodate to explore the Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street, which is stunning in every season. Alternatively, during autumn, there are usually shuttle buses between Tazawako Station and Dakigaeri Gorge, so you can explore the Lake Tazawa area before or after visiting the gorge, depending on what fits your travel itinerary.


Akita is filled with amazing and incredible nature, and Dakigaeri Gorge is just one of its awesome autumn places. There are still so many places to explore and discover, and I really do hope to be back soon!


JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)


If you are visiting Dakigaeri Gorge and Akita Prefecture, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥30,000, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Kakunodate (~¥34,000). You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains and some Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.


The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)


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: JR East / Carissa Loh


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