Akita – Relax and be a samurai. Just watch out for the demons.
Welcome to another entry in the Japanese Prefectures column. Today you will join us on our journey to the Akita prefecture. What’s on the program? Festivals, demons searching for lazy children, tons of hot springs and samurai villages.
Geography and history
Akita shares its borders with the Sea of Japan in the west, the prefecture of Aomori in the north, the prefecture of Iwate in the east, the prefecture of Miyagi in the southeast and the prefecture of Yamagata in the south. On its coastline, you can find the Oga Peninsula, famous for its Namahage Festival and much more. The eastern border is defined by the Ōu Mountains, the longest mountain range in Japan with a length of about 500 kilometers. The prefecture’s industry is mostly focused on agriculture, fishing and forestry but it is especially known for its rice farming and sake brewing. It is also the prefecture with the highest consumption of sake. Akita City is the capital of the prefecture and has a population of about 317,236 people. It’s a lively city with an amazing variety of cultural activities and festivals. Lastly, Akita is thought to be the origin place of the Akita inu, the cutest dog in existence.
Akita’s history is quite comparable to the rest of the prefectures located in the Touhoku Region. Being isolated due to the mountain ranges on its borders, Akita was only made part of the Japanese empire around 600 CE. The native people were conquered around 658 by Abe no Hirafu, a governor of the Koshi Province located south from modern day Akita. He built a fort along the Mogami river and made Akita part of the governed land. During the Japanese mission to drive the native inhabitants away from the Touhoku region, Akita city was established as a base in 733. After years of different clans having control over the prefecture, it was finally reconstructed in 1871 into what is now known as the Akita prefecture.
Akita has so many places that must be visited and things to do that it is impossible to mention all of them in this article. That is why we decided to pick the most important ones for you.
First of all, let’s focus on the city of Akita, the capital of the prefecture. This old city borders the Sea of Japan and, as said before, has quite a lot to offer concerning culture and festivals. You can also find a lot of interesting historical sites in the city. For starters, you can always visit the Akita Castle that was the base of operations in the region for centuries. After having been under control of different clans, a lot of historical artifacts can be found here. The city of Akita also houses a nice collection of museums for those who value culture and art. It is recommended to visit the Akita Museum of Art if you visit the city. But Akita is mostly known for its Kanto Festival that takes place from the 3rd of August until the 6th. During this festival long bamboo poles with an array of paper lanterns attached to them are paraded through the city. Performers balance these poles on their heads or hands and create a superb festival feeling.
For travellers with an interest in Japanese folk tales, Oga Peninsula is the place to be. This peninsula is home to the Namahage Museum and Namahage Festival. Namahage are typical Japanese demons or oni. Their appearance is that of a man wearing a demon mask and a straw cape and armed with a knife and a wooden bucket. Their purpose is to berate the lazy children or those with bad behaviour. They march in pairs or threes past the houses and stop at every door, looking for children that they can punish. In the museum, you can find different dolls of the different Namahage. During the annual festival that takes place on New Year’s Eve, people dress up as Namahage and visit the different people. After receiving sake and mochi or ricecakes, they leave the house and bless the family with eternal good health, a good catch and a splendid harvest. Next to the folky vibe that exists on the Oga Peninsula, it is also the perfect place for sightseeing and hiking. The peninsula hosts an amazing nature and if you’re lucky, you’ll even see the Godzilla Rock. Which is a rock, shaped like Godzilla. Yes. A Godzilla-shaped rock.
Oh, you’ve always wanted to know how samurai lived and what they did every day? If that’s the case, you might want to visit Kakunodate. This city used to be a castle town that was established in 1620. Today you can’t find the castle anymore but the old samurai district and merchant district that were built around it, are still there and still look the same. This is one of the best places in Japan to witness the old samurai architecture. And if that’s not enough, it is also one of Touhoku’s most popular cherry blossom spots. More than a million visitors visit Kakunodate yearly and enjoy hundreds of beautiful trees that are losing their blossoms.
Lastly, Akita also has a vibrant and beautiful environment. This is seen in Hachimantai, a mountainous region in northern Akita. You will not only find a volcanic landscape there, but the region is also filled with rustic onsen or hot springs. You can find a great number of different onsen but our favourite is probably the Nyuto Onsen, which is a collection of eight different onsen. One is even ranked as best of the best and is definitely a must-visit. Its name is Tsurunoyu Onsen and its ryokan, or Japanese inn, was built during the Edo Period (1603-1867). It is a hot spring at its best. If you would rather go hiking, a trip to Mount Hachimantai is recommended. This mountain has a collection of hiking trails that offer some of the best sightseeing spots in the region combined with a breathtakingly beautiful landscape.
How to get there?
You can travel to the Akita prefecture by many ways. By train, you can take the Akita Shinkansen from Tokyo and there are also smaller lines that take you to Akita from different places in the Touhoku region. If you have a rental car, you can always take the Touhoku Expressway. This expressway runs from Kawaguchi, near Tokyo, to Aomori through the entire region. And finally, you can always take the plane to one of the two different airports in the Akita prefecture.
This was our short intro to Akita. We hope that we have showed you the different reasons to visit this lovely place. If you want to know more about traveling to Akita, leave a comment, send us a mail or please visit this page.
We will be back with another Japanese prefecture in June when we will tell you more about Yamagata.