Meeting Akita Dogs and Seeing the Fall Colors of Akita Prefecture

A gradient of Fall colors in Senshu Park.

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

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!

Godzilla Rock

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

Lake Tazawa

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

Food Recommendations

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!

Accommodation

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!

Venturing to the Theme Parks of Awaji Island: Hello Kitty Smile & Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato

The great Hokage watch over Awaji Island.

After we had a fantastic stay in Kobe visiting Rokko Island, Chinatown, and Harborland, we decided to take a road trip to Hyogo Prefecture’s Awaji Island—a rural tropical paradise boasting resorts, farmland, and iconic amusement parks. There are also many beaches here that you can use for recreational fishing and swimming. The main reason I wanted to come here was to see the Naruto x Boruto theme park and also go on a whirlpool cruise, which I will detail in my next article. What I liked most about Awaji is that it had a variety of fascinating attractions enjoyable for all ages. I originally debated about solo tripping and taking the local bus around here, but Awaji is best explored by car. Fortunately my friends were on board with my itinerary and we were able to split the highway tolls while having an amazing vacation here!

Getting to Awaji

Awaji is connected to Kobe and Tokushima by bridge so you can reach the island by car or bus. There are no airports or trains on the island making it hard to get around, so I would recommend renting a car. From Kobe we drove about an hour to get to the central part of the island and were able to see quite a lot during our two day stay. I recommend staying 2-3 days so you have enough time to see all of the attractions you want and spend time on the beach.

For more information on the Awaji buses, please see the official Awaji Tourism website.

Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato

Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato is a permanent theme park that is part of Nijigen no Mori, a forested area of attractions and events on Awaji Island. This theme park originally opened in 2019 but was temporarily closed due to the effects of the pandemic in 2020. It reopened in 2021 and is now fully operational but requires all visitors to wear masks. As an avid fan of the series in middle school, I simply had to go. I really wished I would have brought my Naruto headband I brought from ebay when I was 12 years old, but it is sitting somewhere at my parents’ house in Michigan. When I visit home later this year I might break it out for old time’s sake. Though I’ve moved on to other anime, Naruto will always have a special place in my heart. I really wish I could show my middle school self these pictures so she could see how badass I am in my twenties.

After purchasing your ticket at the door, you will be handed a small sack containing two ninja scrolls. Basically the whole premise is a giant stamp rally where the aim is to find as many of your ninja allies as possible and collect stamps to master ninjutsu. As soon as you enter the park you will be greeted by cardboard cutouts of all the main characters and see the iconic monument of the great Hokage. If this isn’t weeaboo paradise, I don’t know what is! You can line up on either side of the monument to start an obstacle course. We chose the Uzumaki side, but the Uchiha side is also an option. The course was pretty fun and involved light climbing, door puzzles, and had a slide. The hints are written in Japanese, English, and Chinese so we were able to get through them without issue. The weather was really hot so we were sweating at the end, but collecting our first stamp was ever so satisfying.

After the first course we decided to explore the whole entire park. Past the Hokage monument are the Akatsuki, a large statue of Kurama, and a tiny cave area you can walk through. As you walk through these areas, you can hear character voices giving you hints on where to go. If you keep walking you will eventually loop around to the food and souvenir shop near the entrance of the park. You can order ramen, drinks, and sweets that your favorite characters eat from the series. My favorite thing that I saw in the gift shop was the coconut Kakashi chapstick. As a kid I would have absolutely loved this theme park, but as an adult it was fun looking back on all of the memories this series gave me.

Overall I would recommend spending 1-2 hours here. The entrance fee is a bit pricey but honestly the pictures I took here made it worth it. I really liked how they made half of this park an obstacle course so it felt more like real ninja training instead of something with roller coasters because it wouldn’t be as fitting. I would definitely come here for the meme factor if you are an anime fan.

Address: 2425-2 Kusumoto, Awaji, Hyogo 656-2301
Entrance Fee: 3300 yen (basic admission—shows and additional obstacle courses are more money)

Hello Kitty Smile

Originally we tried to enter a pancake restaurant for breakfast this morning, but since it was located near the central resort area it was too crowded for us to enter. Instead we went to get high tea and seafood at Hello Kitty Smile, which turned out to be a super magical experience even better than our original plan!

Hello Kitty Smile consists of a resort with a fancy cafe, seafood restaurant with an ocean view, and museum of underwater themed Hello Kitty characters. We decided to split the high tea set and order caramel lattes which was a great move. I really enjoyed all of the little cakes and Hello Kitty manjuu that they included in the set. For lunch we went downstairs to the main restaurant and all ordered garlic shrimp plates. The portion sizes were absolutely HUGE!! Awaji is famous for its seafood, namely shrimp, and I can definitely see why. I am happy that we were able to have both cute and hearty meals here.

Afterwards we decided to enter the Hello Kitty “Under the Sea” area which contained a lot of projection mapped images similar to teamLab but on a much smaller scale. It was still very fun to experience and there were a ton of photo ops—namely the trippy room filled with Hello Kitty plush dolls. Additionally I loved seeing the vintage car under the neon lights, the sparkly guitar, and meeting Hello Kitty herself! There was also an arts and crafts area for kids with a bunch of carnival games. I could see this as the ideal vacation for young children, but walking around the museum as an adult was fun too. Plus the view of the ocean was simply beautiful. I felt very relaxed here and was happy with what I saw.

Address: 985-1 Nojimahikinoura, Awaji, Hyogo 656-1721
Entrance Fee: 2300 yen

Godzilla Zipline

One of the best things I saw on this trip was people casually zipling into Godzilla’s mouth outside of the Naruto x Boruto Park:

DOOM!

Unfortunately I was wearing a short skirt so I couldn’t partake, but just watching this was absolutely hilarious! You gotta appreciate the strange things you stumble upon on these rural islands. For more information, please see the Godzilla Interception Operation website.

Thank you for reading the first part of my Awaji Island article series! In my next article, I will be talking about the whirlpool cruise, beaches, and my accommodation. Please look forward to it~