15 Things to Do in Akita
Akita Prefecture hides on the east coast of the Tohoku area of Japan. Even though it is still not as popular as many other prefectures in terms of tourism, it is rich in nature and unique traditions. And here are 15 reasons for you to come to Akita and enjoy its atmosphere!
1. Explore Akita Senshu Park
Senshu Park is the main park of Akita City and one of the must-visit spots if you come here. It is located on a hill and has several levels that allow you to have a nice walk and explore it from different sides. You can also get a great view on the city from different angles, as well as on mountains. The park is full of trees and offers varieties of flowers, and has its own shrine, temple and castle, which makes you feel closer to nature and Japanese culture.
Senshu Park is the centre for celebrating Sakura Festival in Akita City. When the cherry trees reach their full blossom, the park becomes filled with food markets, performances and people having picnics and photoshoots under a bunch of beautiful trees.
Nevertheless, the park is worth a visit during any season. Whether in a sea of cherry blossom in spring, majestic gardens in summer, autumn colors in fall or snowy pathways in winter - you will definitely enjoy your time in Akita Senshu Park!
The Park is located in the city centre and is just 10-12 min walk from Akita station.
2. See the Akita Museum of Art
The Akita Museum of Art is the center of art in Akita Prefecture. The museum has 3 floors with the Public Gallery, Tsuguharu Foujita Gallery that contains exclusively Foujita's project “Events of Akita” which is dedicated to Akita's culture, and other galleries for various exhibitions.
The ticket price depends on which gallery you enter. The public gallery contains different artworks from various artists from all over the world, but the main artwork that is really worth seeing is a huge painting that represents major events of all four seasons in Akita Prefecture. If you want to learn more about Akita's unique culture, you should definitely enter the Tsuguharu Foujita Gallery to see his special art exhibits. Finally, those who are deeply interested in the arts might also consider other exhibitions offered by the museum. For example, recently there was an exhibition of paintings a famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai whose masterpieces include "Great Wave Off Kanagawa".
Akita Museum of Art is open year-round and every day from 10am to 6pm. It can be accessed on foot (a 12-minute walk) from Akita station.
3. Experience the Odate Candy Festival
The Amekko (Candy) Festival is held annually on the second Saturday and the following day of February in the Northern part of Akita Prefecture, Odate City. With a belief to stay healthy for the whole year if you love eating sweets during this festival, local people visit a big candy market in the city centre and taste different kinds of traditional and local candies while enjoying various events and performances. During the festival, Odate welcomes its visitors with more than 100 candy stands and a rich variety of sweets. The food choice is not limited to candies, of course, you can also find different kinds of seafood, meat dishes and traditional noodle soups.
One of the main events of Odate Candy Festival is a parade of Akita-inu — a breed of a dog that is originally from Akita Prefecture. Big, cute, and fluffy dogs marsh along the Omachi Hachiko Street allowing everyone to take pics and interact with them. The dogs are very friendly and kind, they pose for photographers and enjoy playing with the public. Once you get a chance to come to Akita Prefecture, it would be a great and memorable experience to see the famous dogs and interact with them!
The place of the main events of the festival is Omachi Hachiko Street which can be accessed by a shuttle from JR Odate Station (160 yen one-way). More information here (in Japanese).
4. Taste Kiritanpo
Kiritanpo is one of, if not the most, popular traditional dish of Akita Prefecture. Basically, it is a stick made of smashed rice, which is not surprising for Akita as it’s a home for high-quality and delicious rice. Originally, kiritanpo was used by hunters and woodcutters as a kind of snack. However, today it is usually served as a proper dish in a soup with chicken, mushrooms and other vegetables.
As a tradition, local people in Akita usually eat kiritanpo during the harvest season. However, everyone can try this dish in a restaurant at any time. For example, you can taste kiritanpo in many of the restaurants around Akita station in Akita City. Besides, I believe most of festivals in Akita that have flea markets will definitely serve you freshly cooked and delicious kiritanpo.
Half-cooked kiritanpo can be also bought in local markets and even supermarkets, so even if you didn’t get a chance to try it during your stay in Akita, you might consider it as a souvenir to bring back to your home country and share with your family and friends!
5. Get a Panoramic View from Akita Port Selion Tower
At first sight, Akita's architecture might seem to be not so attractive. But then I changed my mind when I got to visit the Selion Tower. This tower is 143m high and has such a cool and modern design. It will impress you even more with its illuminations if you get to see it during night time.
Once you enter, you will see a big space with a restaurant and various souvenirs shops mainly selling local foods and sweets. On the left right side of the building there are elevators that will take you to the top of the tower. From the observation deck you can get a great panoramic view of Akita City, surrounding mountains, Oga Peninsula and The Sea of Japan. On a very good day in terms of weather, you can get to see Mt. Chokai, which is one of the tallest mountains in North-East Japan, and I heard that it’s even possible to see North Korea. Unfortunately, I only got to see the view on a gloomy day, but maybe you’ll be more lucky to get a clearer view of Chokai-zan and its stunning sunset. And what’s the best thing about it? It is totally free. Also, the observation deck is open throughout the year from 9am to 9pm, so you can see catch a day-time view, sunset, or night view.
To access the Selion Tower it takes around 20 minutes from Akita Station by car, or about 25 minutes walk from JR Tsuchizaki Station.
6. Visit Tazawa Lake
The Tazawa Lake is one of the must-visit treasures of Akita Prefecture. As the deepest lake in the Japan (423 meters) surrounded by stunning mountain ranges, it provides beautiful sceneries and attracts both local and foreign tourists.
The lake is quite big, but thanks to the sightseeing bus service you can easily go around it and stop at various points to get great views from different sides. One of the best views on the lake is a spot with the bronze statue of Tatsuko who is, according to the legend, a beauty that turned into a lake-goddess.
Another worth-a-visit spot is a stunning Goza no Ishi Shrine and its Torii gates. The shrine and the gates look especially amazing during the winter when the pure white of snow contrasting with its bright red of the shrine, and all this in a combination with the light blue of Tazawa Lake water creates such a magical atmosphere. And it looks even more mysterious and interesting on a foggy day.
However, if you come on a sunny day, you can get a great view of the surrounding mountains, while also the sunlight will make the water look very vibrant. Actually, I have been to Tazawa Lake 3 times, and every time the colour of the water appeared to be different and impressive in its own way: in September I got to see light-blue water, in February it was turquoise, and finally, in April I saw a very saturated blue water.
7. Explore Mount Hachimantai
Hachimantai is a 1613m high volcanic mountain located in between Akita and Iwate prefectures. Its natural beauty and tourist-friendly infrastructure attract people during all seasons. It offers spectacular views of autumn foliage, great ski resorts in winter and early spring, and beautiful flowers in summer.
Hachimantai is a good choice especially for those who love driving or are not so enthusiastic about hiking. This is because you can literally drive though the whole mountain and get amazing views without even any attempt to hike.
But for those who still want to experience some hiking, you will be rewarded with even more memorable views. For example, in mid-June you can see a so-called "dragon eye." This is basically a lake covered by the snow which melts faster in the middle and around the lake shore, and as a result, such phenomenon makes and creates a mysterious and beautiful eye shape. It only takes a 15-20 minute walk to reach the Dragon Eye from the parking lot, but then you can walk further to get to various observation decks of breathtaking views and make a turnaround to come back to the parking spot.
As I have already mentioned, the mountain can be easily accessed by car. If you drive from Akita Airport it will take roughly 2.5 hours. But if you don’t drive - no worries - there are regular buses that will take you there. More information and schedules can be found on the official website of Hachimantai.
8. Explore the Kakunodate Samurai District
Kakunodate is a tiny yet a very special town located in the city of Semboku. So what is so special about it? Kakunodate is basically a castle town and a samurai district which once housed around 80 samurai families. Unfortunately, not even ruins are left from the castle, though you can still climb a hill where the castle was located and get a nice view. But another treasure — samurai houses — still remains there and some of the houses are open for the public to see. Kakunodate also has various museums where you can learn more about the history of this place.
Kakunodate is also very famous for its wonderful cherry blossom viewing spots, especially the 2km-long avenue of cherry trees along the Hinokinai River. Unfortunately, my trip to Kakunodate was arranged before the blossoms bloomed there, so I didn’t get to see Kakunodate's best offering. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed a wonderful atmosphere of this lovely and cozy town. Half of the sightseeing spots of Kakunodate, if not more, are free of change, and since the village is really small, you can easily walk through all of them.
With an easy access (Akita Shinkansen as well is Tazawako Line both stop at JR Kakunodate station) and unique atmosphere, Kakunodate is definitely a must-visit once you decide to explore the Tokohu area.
9. See the Scenery of Mount Chokai
Mount Chokai — an active volcano shared between Akita and Yamagata prefecture — impresses at first sight. Its roughly symmetric shape reminds local people of Mt. Fuji, but its pattern and appearance are still truly remarkable.
The mountain has several hiking trails from different sides, and generally Chokai-zan is considered a difficult mountain to climb. The most popular trail starts from the Hokodate entrance, which also has a parking lot, hut, cafe, and information centre.
The best time to hike the mountain (in terms of safety and easiness) is probably late summer or early fall when Chokai is not covered with snow. But frankly speaking, Mount Chokai looks the best when it has some snow on it.
If you’re not an adventurous type of tourist who likes hiking, there are still other ways to enjoy the beauty of this mountain. For instance, there is a Rape Blossoms (菜の花) Festival at the end of May during which you can enjoy a sea of vibrant yellow flowers with a great view on Mt. Chokai.
Besides, you can also get great experience by riding a sightseeing train of Chokai Sanroku Line of Yuri Kogen Railway. The whole line is 23 km long and gives you an opportunity to enjoy the mountain scenery as well as rice fields and flower blossoms depending on the season. In total, there are 12 stations along the line where tourists can stop by and visit various attractions recommended by the locals.
To access Mt. Chokai by car, it takes around 1.5 hours from Akita Airport. Alternatively, you can take a train from Akita station to Kisakata station (Uetsu line bound for Sakata), and then take a local bus to Hokodate which runs from July until October.
10. Hit the Slopes at Taiheizan Ski Resort
Akita is known for its snowy winters, and having the advantage of being closely located to mountains gives opportunities to enjoy winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding. The closest ski resort to Akita City is Taihei Ski Resort. It might be not the very best ski resort out there, but it's the easiest one to access by public transport (a bus number 351 departs from Akita station roughly every hour, takes 45 min and costs around 700 yen one way).
Even if you to come to Akita during other seasons besides winter, it is still worth a visit to enjoy nature by climbing Mt. Taihei, exploring Akitashi Botanical Gardens, and Taiheizan Resort Park, and walking around the Asahikawa Dam Lake surrounded by forests and mountains.
For more exciting experiences, Taihei Ski Resort offers an aqua park and gym complex called The Boon (Japanese-language page), and for those who prefer to relax, it also has some hot springs.
11. Hike Mt. Eboshi and Komagatake
As you might have already noticed by now, Akita Prefecture has a lot of mountains. Besides Chokai, Hachimantai, and Taihei, Akita has other two recommended treasures: Mt. Eboshi and Komagatake, which are 1478m and 1209m tall, respectively. These are most suitable for hiking enthusiasts and you can only reach the top of them on foot. Eboshi-dake is probably the easier one, however, Komagatake, as an active volcano, might offer you even more spectacular views.
Both mountains surround Tazawa Lake, which means once you climb them you’ll get a great view of the whole lake from above.
The best time to hike those mountains is probably October when they are fully covered with beautiful and vibrant autumn leaves.
Eboshi-dake and Komagatake are also worth a visit as there is also a very famous Nyuto Onsen in that area. Having a relaxing experience in special hot springs after several hours hike sounds like a great plan for a day-trip, doesn’t it?
The mountains can be accessed by local buses (Nyuto Line) from JR Tazawako station. The map and schedules can be found on the website for the Ugo Kotsu bus company (Japanese-language site).
12. Check out Nakajima Library
Akita is home to one of the most global universities in Japan: Akita International University. And this university has its own treasure: Nakajima Library. It is considered as one of the most beautiful libraries in Japan, and I can’t disagree. Its unique interior amazes immediately.
The library has a semi-circular characteristic which resembles the Roman Colosseum, and its unique umbrella-shaped roof structure represents the idea of a traditional Japanese umbrella. The main material used for construction is Japanese cedar tree grown in Akita Prefecture. The design of interior along with the smell of the wood creates such a special atmosphere which makes you feel comfortable, calm, and closer to the nature of Akita.
The library keeps a collection of around 81,000 books, 163 journals, as well as a lot of audio or video materials. More than that, more than a half of the collection contains materials in foreign languages which is another bonus for foreign visitors.
Nakajima Library remains open 24 hours a day, 365 days a week for students, but can be also accessed by the general public for free during weekdays from 8:30am to 10pm, Saturdays and Holidays from 10am to 6pm, and Sundays from 10am to 10pm.
Nakajima Library is located on the Akita International University campus and can be accessed by car 25 min from Akita station, or by bus from AEON Mall which will take 10-15 min.
13. Visit the Namahage Museum
Akita Prefecture is also famous for its Namahage legend. Namahage a demon-like being wearing ogre masks and capes decorated with straw, and according to the legend, he comes to houses and checks whether the kids behave well or not. It is believed that Namahage first came to Oga Peninsula, and this is where the Namahage Museum is located.
At first, when you hear ‘museum’, you might think of something boring. However, Namahage museum is an exception. This is a place where you can really experience what is it like when Namahage comes to your house. The museum provides its visitors with a spectacular and memorable performance of Namahage. Also, after the performance the visitors can enter the space with stands and pictures and get more information if they want to learn more deeply about the legend of Namahage. Besides, it gives visitors a chance to try the Namahage costume and imagine themselves as one of the famous creatures.
The museum can be accessed by Namahage shuttle from JR Oga station, however a prior reservation is required. More information about the museum is available on its official website.
14. Visit Iyataka Shrine
Japan is generally famous for its traditional shrines, and Akita is not an exception. Iyataka Shrine, which is probably the biggest shine in Akita City, was built in 1881 and is currently located inside the Senshu Park, and both the main and the inner shrines remain the property of Akita Prefecture. Interestingly, the original name of the shrine was “Hirata Shrine”, however, in 1909 it was renamed to “Iyataka Shrine”.
Iyataka Shrine is massive and it immediately impresses with its beauty and unique atmosphere. It also has some restaurants with local and traditional cuisine.
As a main shrine of Akita City, it holds a lot of events and major celebrations. For example, in Iyataka Shrine you can experience a rice making event in December which will definitely make you feel closer to Akita culture. Furthermore, the shrine is especially popular among students who pray to successfully pass their exams.
As already mentioned, the shrine is located in the Senshu Park, therefore it can be easily accessed on foot from Akita station which will take roughly 10-15 min. More information on the Iyataka Shine can be found on its official website.
15. See the Akita Kanto Festival
One of the most important events happening in Akita Prefecture is the Kanto Festival which is held annually from 3rd to 6th of August. During the festival, local people perform and present their skills of balancing kanto (long bamboo poles with arrays of 46 paper lanterns). The festival has a long history and a important meaning: while doing their best performing the Kanto, local people pray for a good harvest of wheat, rice, beans, foxtail millet and Chinese millet. Just to impress you a bit, the longest pole can reach 12 meters and 50 kilograms, and those 46 lanterns have actual candles inside. Each performer starts with a short kanto and passes it to another performer while extending the length of the pole gradually.
Unfortunately, despite staying almost a year in Akita, I won’t have a chance to see the actual festival this year. However, I got to see small Kanto performances which were still impressive and memorable. Moreover, I see how the students of Akita International University practice hard almost every day, and it makes me really admire how much effort they put in and how important this festival is for them. If you, same as me, can’t come to Akita in August, don’t worry — you still have a chance to see the Kanto Performance. For example, the students perform during the AIU festival in mid-October and also after the matriculation ceremony in early April and September.
So obviously the Kanto Festival is a must-see in Akita Prefecture, but even if you miss it, you can still enjoy a smaller but still impressive performance of Kanto!