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Be charmed by Akita, where beautiful nature meets exquisite culture

Be charmed by Akita, where beautiful nature meets exquisite culture

When talking about Akita Prefecture (秋田県), many people would think of the cute and intelligent breed of dog that originated in this prefecture—the Akita dog. But aside from Akita dogs, Akita Prefecture also has a lot of beautiful nature, such as Dakigaeri Gorge and Kakunodate, a samurai district that is always beautiful regardless of the season.

 

We can also experience the culinary culture with famous local dishes like kiritanpo and hinaijidori chicken, as well as local crafts like magewappa, a valuable local product made from Akita cedar which is said to be a very fragrant wood. If you are ready, then let’s go on an autumn trip to Akita!

 

This is the second article of a three-part series covering our autumn trip to Tohoku. Check out Part 1 (Yamagata), and stay tuned for Part 3 (Fukushima) coming next week.

 

Immerse yourself in the colours of autumn at Kakunodate

Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street (角館武家屋敷通り Kakunodate Bukeyashiki Dо̄ri) is also known as Little Kyoto (小京都 Shо̄-Kyо̄to). It is famous not only as a cherry blossom viewing spot, but also as a place where you can see the dazzling colours of autumn. It is beautiful in every season, so I highly recommend you to note of this place and put it on your travel list.

 

Stunning autumn colours at Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street features many former samurai residences that hold hundreds of years of legacy. Most of the residences are well-preserved and still give off a historical atmosphere. On the road side, you will find cherry blossom trees that originated from Kyoto, along with maple, ginkgo, and pine trees that are all over a hundred years old. The atmosphere here remarkably resembles that of Kyoto, hence its nickname Little Kyoto of Tohoku.

 

Inside one of the samurai residences. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

On both sides of the street, you can find samurai residences that you can stop by to take a look inside. Some residences are still home to the descendants of samurai families that remain today. There are six residences that tourists can visit; some have an entrance fee, and some are free of charge. Inside the residences are the exhibitions of the samurai's livelihood in the past, including artifacts like samurai armour and swords that you can try touching. (Due to COVID-19, you will need to wear gloves and clean your hands with alcohol before touching the swords.)

 

Moreover, some residences have pleasant Japanese gardens for you to relax in, while others even have cafes for you to take a break. The autumn leaves together contrasting with the old buildings are beautiful, and for those who like to take pictures, I’m sure you’ll have a really good time here.

 

Ride a rickshaw around Kakunodate for a special experience. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

If you want to further immerse yourself in the historic atmosphere, I highly recommend trying a ride on a Japanese rickshaw. On the way, the person who pulls your rickshaw will explain the history of Kakunodate and its interesting points. However, do note that the narration is in Japanese. The rickshaw rides cost approximately ¥3,000/15 minutes, ¥ 5,000/30 minutes, ¥9,000 yen/60 minutes.

 

Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street (角館武家屋敷通り)
Address: Higashi-katsurakucho, Omotemachi, Kakunodate-machi, Semboku-shi, Akita 014-0331
Access:  20-minute walk from JR Kakunodate Station (角館駅)

 

Take a break and try Inaniwa Udon and Hinaijidori, two famous local foods of Akita

Lunch at Sakura no Sato. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

For lunch, we headed over to Sakura no Sato (桜の里), a diner located on the Kakunodate Samurai Residence Street. The diner is housed in an old Japanese buillding, and gives out Little Kyoto vibes. Sakura no Sato was opened in 2015, and has 12 table seats, and 12 traditional tatami seats.

 

Inaniwa udon and Hinaijidori oyakodon lunch set. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

The highlights of the local cuisine here are the freshly made Inaniwa udon (稲庭うどん) and Hinaijidori oyakodon (比内地鶏親子丼) that comes with juicy chicken meat and savory sauce. Hinaijidori is a domestic chicken is raised in a natural habitat, and its meat has low fat. If you have the chance to visit Akita, be sure to try out these local dishes!

 

Silky-smooth Inaniwa udon. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Fun Fact: Inaniwa udon is a famous udon noodle dish of Akita Prefecture that has been passed down for over 160 years. It is known for how it is made— the dough is kneaded until it is so soft that it will go down your throat smoothly as silk. And most importantly, each and every udon noodle you see is not kneaded by machines, but exclusively by hand. By making Inaniwa udon in the traditional method, the producers have managed to preserve this charming delicacy.

 

Since Sakura no Sato is a popular diner, if you visit during lunch time you might have to queue and wait a while. Therefore, I recommend that you visit in the afternoon when there are less customers, so that you don’t have to wait too long. Just take a stroll and snap some pictures, wait until you’re hungry, then head to the diner.

 

Sakura no Sato (桜の里)
Address: 9 Higashi-katsurakucho, Omotemachi, Kakunodate-machi, Semboku-shi, Akita 014-0367
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Kakunodate Station (角館駅)
Opening hours: 10:00–17:00 (meals are served from 11:00 onward)

 

Gaze at the dazzling autumn colours at Dakigaeri Gorge

Dazzling autumn colours at Dakigaeri Gorge. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Dakigaeri Gorge (抱返り渓谷 Dakigaeri Keikoku) is a natural tourist attraction of Semboku City. It is widely known among people who love autumn views, due to the vibrant leaves and the Tama River, which shines bright blue as it flows down the valley. The Tama River provides breathtaking views as it contrasts with the colours of autumn. If you visit Dakigaeri Gorge in summer, you’ll get to see the bright blue river and the lush greenery of the forest; and it’s very refreshing to look at.

 

 

Autumn colours at Dakigaeri Gorge. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Dakigaeri means ‘embracing and turning back’. The name comes from the landscape of the tall steep cliffs. In the past, the path in this area was very narrow and steep, to the point that if two people happened to be walking past each other, they’ll have to do the dakigaeri; in other words, ‘embrace one another while looking over their shoulder’. The path will take you deep into the forest of the valley, where the Tama River and many waterfalls are located.

 

 

The 1.5km nature trails brings you to beautiful views. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

From the crimson bridge Kami no Iwahashi, walk further down the 1.5km nature trail into the forest and through the rocky tunnel. Then, you’ll find the spot where you can get a bird’s eye view of the Tama River from both sides of the trail. Walk through another tunnel, and you’ll see the Mikaeri-no-taki Waterfall on your right-hand side. Immersing yourself in the sound of the waterfall below and the colours of autumn are truly rewarding.

 

Mikaeri-no-taki waterfall. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

One of the waterfalls you must visit is the Mikaeri-no-taki (見返りの滝), a large waterfall that runs down the rocky landscape, surrounded by the lush green forest. With a height of 30m above the cliffs of Dakigaeri Gorge, its majestic view will get you to experience its concept of gaeri (turning back), for the view is so majestic that you’ll have to turn back to have a look, again and again.

 

Dakigaeri Gorge (抱返り渓谷)
Address: Tazawako Sotsuda, Semboku-shi, Akita, 014-1113
Access: 15-minute ride from JR Kakunodate Station. (During the Autumn Foliage Festival, there are usually free shuttle buses available)
Admission fee: Free
Recommended seasons: Autumn (October–November), Summer (June–August)

 

Kiritanpo, Akita’s local food you can’t miss

Kiritanpo for dinner. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

For dinner, we had to try another one of Akita’s famous local foods, kiritanpo (きりたんぽ pounded rice molded into cylinders and wrapped around cedar skewers to grill). Akita Kiritanpoya (秋田きりたんぽ屋) is a diner that serves a huge variety of Akita’s local food, including kiritanpo. The interior is decorated as if you’re dining in a hunter’s cottage (マタギの家 matagi no ya)—you can find farming tools, hunting tools, and bear skins inside the diner. Hunters once roamed the mountain ranges of Hokkaido, Tohoku, and North Kanto region, where they hunted in groups and used traditional methods to capture animals.

 

Kiritanpo being grilled. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan).

 

Other than enjoying the food, we also get to see how kiritanpo are grilled with coal stoves. Apart from kiritanpo items like the regular kiritanpo hotpot, there’s another recommended menu which is the Matagi-no-kiritanpo hotpot. This menu consists of kiritanpo in miso soup, and is said to be the original way to enjoy kiritanpo. The soup also has wild game meats such as hare and boar meat.

 

 

Our dinner of Akita local food. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Other than kiritanpo, we also ordered other local dishes like Hinaijidori yakitori (skewers), and Yokote-style yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) that is served with a fried egg on top. All were very delicious and easy to enjoy.

 

(Video credit: KrobkruengJapan).

 

If you’d like see how eating at this diner was like, you can view our video clip above (Thai language).

 

Akita Kiritanpoya Akita-ekimae Honten (秋田きりたんぽ屋 秋田駅前本店)
Address: 2-7-6 Nakadori, Akita-shi, Akita 010-0001
Access: 2-minute walk from JR Akita Station (秋田駅)
Opening hours:
  Monday–Saturday: 17:00–23:00 
  Eve of Public Holidays: 17:00–0:00
  Sundays and Public Holidays: 11:30–15:00 / 17:00–0:00

 

Visit cute Akita dogs at their hometown, Odate City

The Akita Dog Visitor Center. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

If you are a dog-lover, be sure to head over to Odate City, which is said to be the hometown of Akita dogs. Here, you can find the Akita Dog Visitor Center (秋田犬の里 Akita inu no sato). Hachiko, the famous loyal dog who waited for his master until his last breath, was also an Akita dog. Inside the building, there is an exhibition corner telling us the story of Hachiko.

 

Meet real Akita dogs. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Inside, we met real Akita dogs that welcomed us warmly. But do be careful, because they are quite large and might have even more strength than us! If you like Akita dogs, you can spend a long time here.

 

Akita dog-themed souvenirs. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

At the Akita Dog Visitor Center, other than being able to meet Akita dogs, you can also purchase various souvenirs, including Akita dog merchandise. Dog-lovers will be happy for sure.

 

Take a photo with the cute green tram. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Nearby the building is a green tram that used to be a landmark of the meeting point in front of Shibuya Station. This tram was moved to Hachiko's hometown in Odate City in June 2020. We took some photos of the tram for you guys. Don’t forget to stop by and take a photo with this green tram when you visit Odate City next time. It is located only a 2-minute walk from JR Odate Station, near the Akita Dog Visitor Center. You will see a statue of Hachiko dog here as well.

 

Inside JR Odate Station. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Akita Dog Visitor Center (秋田犬の里)
Address: 13-1 Onaricho, Ōdate City, Akita
Access: 2-minute walk from JR Ōdate Station (大館駅)
Opening hours: 09:00­–18:00 (April­–October) / 09:00­–17:00 (November–March) / Closed 31 December and 1 January
Admission: Free

 

Test your craftsmanship with a magewappa workshop

Magewappa. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Magewappa (曲げわっぱ) is a traditional craft of Akita, and is considered as a craft that requires high skills, and is thus very expensive. One of the reasons is that magewappa is made exclusively from cedar trees that are several hundred years old. The harvested wood is then used to make food containers using a technique that is known to have been passed on for over 150 years.

 

Today, we got the chance to test out our skills by making our own magewappa tray at the Odate Kougeisha Handicradt Studio, a company that specializes in magewappa. Founded in 1959, all the staff here have one goal in common: to pass on this invaluable traditional craft to the new generations.

 

Magewappa dessert tray that we would be making. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Creating an 18cm-diameter dessert tray required about 1.5 hours to complete. It might sound easy, but it’s not. Through participating in this activity, I found out that the local cedar trees of Akita have their own fragrance. Interestingly, I also learnt that the patterns you see in the wood can tell the seasons in which the lines are formed­­—black lines indicate winter, and white lines indicate summer. The characteristics of Akita cedar wood are its smooth and silky texture, shiny surface, fragrance, and it has no marks from its bud. Wood from a tree that is over 100 years old will have an especially beautiful pattern; making magewappa craft very expensive.

 

Making our magewappa trays. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

In the tools set for making dessert tray, three ready-made circular wooden pieces were prepared for us to make a complete tray in no time. All we had to do was assemble the three wood pieces with glue, and hammer it gently to give it more durability. After you’ve finished assembling it, the next step is polishing and wiping off the excess glue. People who already have craft-making skills might find these steps a very easy task.

 

Completing our magewappa dessert trays and learning how to bend the wood. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

When you’re finished, the mentor will present you a certificate. Our kind mentor also showed us how to bend the wood into circular shape. This technique is done by soaking the wood in water, then squeezing out the water, wrapping it into a circular shape, and binding it with clips that the mentor himself has invented. All these steps require finely polished skills indeed.

 

As for maintenance of magewappa, you can wash it with mild dishwashing liquid. After rinsing it, place it upside down and leave it to dry, or blow it dry with a hair dryer. Doing so will help extend the usage lifespan of your magewappa item. However, avoid using magewappa to containing food that has dark-coloured sauces, as the sauce can leave dark stains on your magewappa. Also, don’t put magewappa into microwave ovens or wash it with dishwashers.

 

Magewappa souvenirs. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

Before we left, we stopped by at the souvenir corner to buy some high-quality souvenirs home. Each piece of merchandise here has great designs with high quality, and are handmade. Our choice of souvenir was the wooden chopsticks, which are very light and are finely polished.

 

Odate Kogeisha Handicraft Studio (大館工芸社ハンディクラフトスタジオ)
Address: 29-15 Ieushiro, Shakanai, Odate-shi, Akita 017-0012
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Odate Station (大館駅)
Opening hours: 10:00–16:00
*Reservations are required for the crafting experiences

 

Getting there

 

JR Kakunodate Station. (Image credit: KrobkruengJapan)

 

  • Akita: Akita Station (秋田駅) is a 230-minute bullet train ride from JR Tо̄kyо̄ Station (東京駅) on the Akita Shinkansen Line.
  • Odate: From Akita Station, take the Limited Express Tsugaru (90 minutes) to JR О̄date Station (大館駅).
  • Kakunodate: From Akita Station, Kakunodate Station (角館駅) is a 45-minute bullet train ride on the Akita Shinkansen Line. If coming from Tokyo, Kakunodate is a 190-minute ride on the Akita Shinkansen Line.

 

If you’re planning to visit Akita, I hope that this article was useful for you. And I’m sure that once you’re here, you’ll be enchanted by the charms of Akita just like we were. Stay tuned for the final part of this series, where we introduce the spectacular fall scenery of Fukushima’s Aizu region.

 

Header image credit: KrobkruengJapan

 

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