15 More Things to Do in Akita
1. Visit Kumakuma-en: The Bear Zoo
In the center of Akita a few minutes drive from the Ani Matagi train station, there is a zoo composed entirely of bears. There are two types of bears at the zoo, the Asiatic black bear (ツキノワグマ) and brown bears (ヒグマ). The black bears are separated by male and females, and visitors can throw bear treats to them. The male bears were especially eager and will sit upright, make faces, and gesture with their paws for food. They’ve gotten so good they catch pieces with their mouths.
The brown bears are kept in a separate walled off enclosure and feeding them is prohibited. There are giant posters reminding visitors just how big the bears can get, so enjoy viewing from a safe distance. Near the bear zoo there is also the Matagi no yu onsen and a small museum dedicated to the Matagi, the traditional winter hunters, of Akita prefecture.
2. Visit Godzilla Rock
On the westernmost coast of the Oga Peninsula there are many odd rock formations formed by crashing waves, and one of the rocks happens to look like Godzilla. The rock is not immediately visible from the parking lot entrance, but once you walk through a few tiny labyrinths, Godzilla suddenly juts out at passing tourists. To get here take the bus from Oga station and get off at the Hakakejima (帆掛島) bus stop.
3. Climb up to Goshadou Shrine
About a half hour walk from Godzilla rock is the famous Goshadou shrine (赤神神社 五社堂). To get to this shrine one needs to climb up an old rock staircase to the top of the mountain. It's a bit of a hike, but luckily there is a bin of walking sticks located near the torii gate at the base of the mountain.
4. See Azalea at Unshouji Temple
In summer the Azalea are in full bloom at the Unshouji temple on the Oga peninsula. From the entrance to main temple buildings every inch of the ground erupts with blue azalea. Thousands of people come from all over Akita every year to walk in rows of azure blue flowers. Outside the temple grounds there are food carts lined up almost like a matsuri selling traditional and western style dishes (also two babahera carts). The Azalea bloom at their peak between the middle of June to the beginning of July.
5. The Tsubaki Forest
A little south of Yurihonjo city, behind Kumano Jinja, there is an orchard of Tsubaki trees. They bloom around March or April, and they have a distinct purple-red hue. Around the orchard there is a trail with 88 markers. These 88 markers represent one of the famous 88 shrines from the Shikoku pilgrimage as well as soil from each temple.
6. Bathe at Nyutou Onsen - Tsuru no Yu
North of Lake Tazawa there is an open air onsen where the water runs milky white. This onsen is called Tsuru no Yu, and the water contains sulfur, sodium, and calcium compounds that give the water its distinctive white sheen. There are separate indoor baths for men and women, but the open air bath was genderless. The bathing fee is 600 yen.
7. Kazuno City Mud Volcano
About a half hour drive south from Hanawa station in Kazuno City, there are several onsen up in the mountains. Due to the same volcanic activity, several mud volcanoes have also popped up in the surrounding hills. I went to one of the larger ones near the Fuke no Yu onsen. Usually the mud volcano is off limits after a certain date in November, but I received special permission to take photos. The atmosphere was eerie in late fall, but worth the trip to the far north-east of Akita. Locals recommend going during autumn while the trees are red and orange.
8. Akarenga Historical Museum
In the Oomachi district of Akita City a red brick building stands out from the neighboring izakaya. Completed in the 45th year of the Meiji period, the building was originally used as a bank. The building also contains exhibits of Akita’s traditional craftwork and art housed in rooms with elaborately carved wooden doors and marble fireplaces.
9. Akita Senshu Museum of Art
There are two art museums in Akita City, but the Akita Senshu museum of art is a little closer to Akita Station. Located on the second floor of the Atorion Building. The entrance is on the south side first floor. There is a rotating exhibit every few months featuring artists from different eras and areas of Japan.
10. Cherry Picking in Yuzawa
In the south of Akita in Yuzawa city in the summer time people can go to local cherry orchards and buy and/or pick cherries. This is called Sakuranbokari (さくらんぼ狩り), and every year people from all over Northern Japan come to local cherry orchards to purchase boxes of these tiny treats.
11. Experience Fine Dining at Branzi-no-Akita
Branzi-no-Akita is a fusion Italian-Akita food fine dining restaurant. This is the perfect place to visit for a date, anniversary, or group party. They use local ingredients to make Italian-style dishes with some inspiration from local cuisine too. A lunch or dinner set includes several courses, a main dish that’s usually either fish or steak, and a dessert or local sake.
The waiter will come by after each course to take away your plates, then bring in the next course and explain the dish. They even have special holiday dishes, like this desert cookie shaped like a human finger for Halloween.
Walk-ins are welcome, but sometimes the restaurant is booked for parties, so making reservations ahead of time can sometimes be prudent.
12. Yayoikko Village
A few minutes walk south of Aeon Mall Akita, visitors can walk through a recreation of a Yayoi era village. The site of the village is located on the spot where archeologists found ancient pottery and other artifacts dating to that era of pre-history.
Inside the huts there are items recreating what a person in the Yayoi period might have used and how they lived. This spot is also not frequently visited, and so going there feels like your own personal walk through history.
13. Riding the Nairiku Train Line
Running from Kakunodate to North Akita city, the Nairiku train line cuts right through the heart Akita’s wilderness to offer passengers views of gorgeous mountains, rivers, and ravines. Train enthusiasts can enjoy special train bento while staring out the window at hills ablaze with gold and red in fall, snowy fields in winter, and light pink cherry rows in spring.
This is also the train line where I found my first Tetsuinchou (鉄印帳), a book of stamps like the ones at shrines and temples, specifically for train lines and train stations.
14. Getting Babahera Ice
In Akita near almost every tourist spot in spring and summer there are tiny umbrella bearing carts. The carts are called babahera because a nice old lady (ばば) makes a shaved ice rose with a tiny spatula (へら) for 300 yen. There are many different flavors corresponding to different regions in Akita. The usual flavors are banana and strawberry, but the weirdest one I found were grape and there are tons more. Every time I see that little cart, I know winter is finally over, and I rush over to buy a cone.
15. Araya’s Tanka Road
The Araya district of Akita city is famous for its glass works, but when you walk down the streets one might notice one of these markers. There are 36 hand-made hand-painted Tanka, a Japanese poem of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, markers on either side of the road. They’re written in classical Japanese, but they cover all sorts of topics from modern to ancient, funny and sad. For any fan of Japanese poetry, visit this area to read poetry while stopping in at the local Hiyoshi Shrine, Araya Glass Studio, and maybe even the nearby Oomori Zoo.