It’s been quite a while since my last update due to being busy with work, but I am happy to announce that as of yesterday I’ve traveled to all 47 prefectures of Japan; the last two being Akita and Iwate which I finally visited this week. Each trip took a lot of time and money, but they were worth the effort because I had the opportunity to meet many people and experience different lifestyles in this country.
This moment feels very bittersweet because when I first came to Japan over 7 years ago, everything felt so new and magical to me, but now it feels a lot more like home. There’s still a few cultural festivals I haven’t been to that I want to travel to next year, but other than that I’ve been to virtually all of the places I want to be here. Thank you everyone for supporting my dream of fully traveling the country! In this article series I will be talking about my journey to see the northernmost prefectures of Honshu. They are extremely rural but have some interesting features, including Akita dogs and wonderful soba!
Getting to Akita Prefecture
Akita Prefecture is a one hour flight from Haneda Airport or four hour train ride from Tokyo Station. The shinkansen ticket costs 18000 yen one way, so flying is definitely more cost efficient and saves time. We paid around 30,000 for a roundtrip JAL plane ticket, but you can definitely find better deals if you book in advance. Though keep in mind that JAL and ANA are the only two airlines that fly to Akita Station, so there are no discount airlines available.
When you travel around Akita, you’re definitely going to want to rent a car. Similar to Aomori, the trains are very infrequent and driving makes the trip a lot more convenient. We rented a car near Akita Airport through Times Car Rental for three days for around 20000 yen. We found this was one of the cheapest ways to get around and are very grateful we did it!
Our first stop on the list was Senshu Park in central Akita. Our mission was to see as many Akita dogs as possible and eat delicious food! If you are interested in learning more about the preservation of Akita dogs, then please check out the One for Akita Project for events and ways to help out. Fortunately there are many volunteers involved in Akita Prefecture.
Senshu Park is a beautiful area in central Akita with gardens, a castle, and Akita dogs that you can see during certain times of the day. The red leaves start to show in mid-October and there are sakura trees that bloom in the spring here too. The changing scenery around Kubota Castle is very relaxing to see during the four seasons and attract many tourists. Since we came on a weekday, the park was virtually empty and we were two of the first to see the gray Akita dog in the main square at 11am. On this particular day, we were not allowed to pet the dog but it was very fun seeing it. Akita dogs are very strong and sometimes wary of strangers, but can be affectionate and make great companions. They are such a unique breed and it was fun to see the prefecture where they originate from.
For more information on how to meet Akita dogs, please see the Senshu Park website.
Address: 1 Senshukoen, Akita, 010-0876
Entrance Fee: Free
Tea at KouFuu
Before heading off to our next destination, we decided to stop at a tiny tea shop that’s part of the Akita Museum of Art called KouFuu. Not only was the view from the shop fantastic, but the tea and sweets were very high quality. I ordered matcha and wagashi while my friend ordered affogato. I also bought an Akita dog plush from one of the nearby gift stores. Right next to this tea shop is the Akita Dog Station which is another place you can sometimes see Akita dogs, but unfortunately it was closed. Be sure to check it out if you ever get the chance!
After spending some quality time in the park, we decided to drive to Godzilla Rock for the memes. This rock is on the west coast of Akita and uncannily resembles the kaiju himself. The formation of the lapilli tuff naturally occurred from a volcanic eruption about 30 million years ago attracting a number of photographers to this obscure area of Akita. The best time to see this attraction is during sunset when the sun falls behind Godzilla Rock’s mouth and it looks like he’s breathing fire from the front. However, we still had many destinations to see so we came during the day. It was very fun to see this place because there are a number of other cool rock formations around, including one called Godzilla’s Tail. Although it was a bit of a drive, it was worth it for the pictures.
Address: Oga, Akita 010-0535
Entrance Fee: Free
Akita Dog Visitor Center
Yet another fantastic place to see Akita dogs and buy cute souvenirs is the Akita Dog Visitor Center! I was surprised to see that they not only had a towering tree of Akita dog plushies here, but also sold sake and beer made as an homage to the dogs. I bought Akita dog wine and a container of chocolate cookies. We were able to see two Akita dogs behind glass here and also a bunch of fun Halloween decorations. Our biggest regret is we got here too late to visit the Akita Dog Museum next door, but overall relaxing here was very pleasant and there weren’t that many people. This prefecture is extremely countryside but they sure love their dogs here!
Address: 1 Chome-13-1 Onaricho, Odate, Akita 017-0044
Entrance Fee: Free
Our final destination of the day was Lake Tazawa, which is Akita’s most iconic lake and the deepest lake in Japan. Many people cycle and take boats out on the lake when the weather is nice, and the water is so crystal clear you can see many fish swimming in it. At the main shore of the lake stands the golden Statue of Tatsuko, who was a girl who wished to preserve her beauty forever so she drank from a sacred spring but turned into a dragon. After this she became the guardian of the lake. Though this is just a legend, this statue was actually one of my most anticipated spots to see in Akita because the view is so stunning. I decided to book my accommodation near the lake too!
Address: Katajiri Nishikicho Saimyoji, Semboku, Akita 014-0511
Due to short staff and the ruralness of Akita Prefecture, sometimes finding good restaurants is difficult while driving around. However, we managed to stumble upon two amazing places that I would happily recommend to all of my friends. The place we went to lunch for was a udon shop near Senshu Park called Satoyosuke Akitaken. Akita is famous for its udon noodles which are thinner and flatter than other types of noodles used in udon, but are chewy and taste amazing with a variety of ingredients. I ordered mushroom udon and my friend ordered a bowl of curry udon. I was impressed with how good my meal was, especially on a chilly fall day!
Before heading back to our accommodation near Lake Tazawa, we stopped at a seafood donburi place called Urashima near the Akita Dog Visitor center. I ordered salmon roe and sea urchin donburi and told my friend (in English) how much I wanted to eat egg, and to my surprise the waiter understood me and brought out a mini plate of rolled omelettes! How lucky was that? I appreciated the complimentary service and would give this place a high rating. Donburi is certainly cheaper here than in Tokyo, and it always amazes me when people in the countryside understand my Midwest accent!
Because it’s been quite a while since I’ve stayed at a hot springs resort, I decided to splurge on a room at Tazawako Lake Resort & Onsen which was 13000 yen per night but absolutely amazing. There were expansive indoor and outdoor hot springs with a sauna and breakfast included. I stayed in the hot springs for over an hour both morning and evening and felt like an entirely new person when I got out. This is definitely one of the nicest options in the area, but there are cheaper accommodations around central Akita if you’re on a budget. I think staying by the lake is the best place to stay in Akita, but let me know in the comments if you find somewhere else that’s this scenic!
Overall, this was a very travel heavy day but the food, the dogs, and the lake made it worth it! I am not sure if I would recommend Akita to everyone, as it is quite remote and expensive to get to, but I sure had a lot of fun on this day. In my next article I will be writing about the nearby Iwate Prefecture which is also very rural and was the final prefecture on my list to visit. Please look forward to it!