Seitai Hoshikai in Japanese means the Institute of the Handmaids of the Holy Eucharist. It is a community of nuns living a life of dedication in a convent near Akita City, possibly one of the most peaceful cities on earth. It is located in a semi- rural area with rice fields and forests eight kilometers north east from Akita City/JR Akita Railway Station, on Highway Route 15. On the way you may pass the Akita Hot Springs, and it is before Mount Otaki.
You don’t have to be Catholic or Japanese to visit this place, and while the nuns here do not speak much English, the language of peace and contemplation is universal. There are a number of gardens and spots for prayer and meditation in the grounds, such as the Garden of the Lamb. There is a mix of Japanese and European influences in the gardens and chapels. One of the more tranquil spots is the Japanese Garden, with trees donated from various parts of Japan. Many volunteers worked on this garden which is a labor of love. Visitors should note that this is more like a convent than a church. There is mass at 0730, but that is not open to the public.
Many people come here on a pilgrimage, to see the statue of Mary, also called Our Lady of Akita. It was carved in 1963 by Mr Saburo Wakasa, a local sculptor. From 1975 to 1981, it shed tears over a hundred times, with more than two thousand witnesses. One of the nuns, Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa, was cured of her deafness during a mass in 1982.
Seitai Hoshikai is easily accessible as a day trip or half day trip from Akita City. From the west exit of JR Akita station, go to bus stand 12 Bus numbers 351, 352, 353, 360, 361, 362 should go to the Yuzawa stop, the nearest stop to the church. Buses are quite frequent, approximately every half an hour during daylight hours. If you need more information, the English speaking staff at the tourism information center is on top of JR Akita Station near the ticket gates.
Ensure you have enough coins or 1,000 yen notes for the bus trip. Alternatively you can purchase a 1 day bus pass which is a bit more than a return fare to Seitai Hoshikai, except you can have unlimited trips within a day. The bus pass is available in the bus office on the west side of Akita Station. You can also buy some take away food and drink from the shops at Akita Station, as there is not much in the way of eating places near Seitai Hoshikai.
When you get on the bus, you need to take a ticket. The ticket has a number on it. When you get off the bus, look at the fare corresponding to the ticket and then pay the fare in the ticket box. They also provide change from 1000 yen notes. The bus takes 20 minutes and soon after the Akita Expressway crossing, get off at the Yuzawa bus stop. It is then a ten minute walk up the hill from the bus stop to Seitai Hoshikai.
Alternatively, you can get off at the Yomogidakamityou bus stop, and then walk up the hill for 20 minutes. At the top of the hill, turn left and left again. You will pass a cemetery, and then Seitai Hoshikai is on your right. The Chapel is open from 9:00am to 11:30am, and again after lunch from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm.
Please note the return bus timetable when you get off, just in case you miss the last bus and have to wait 30 minutes for the next one. Alternatively you can catch a taxi from Akita Station, which is a good alternative if you are traveling in a group of 3 or 4 people, as you can ask for their business card and then call them to pick you up when you are ready to return. It is about 8 kilometers from the city and there is parking on site at the Church and Convent. The fare is approximately 2800 yen each way.
If you are coming from Tsuchizaki (Nishi) Cruise Ship Port or the Selion Tower which is 8 kilometers north west of the city, you can either take a train or bus south east to the JR Akita Station and then a bus north east to the church. Buses and trains are quite infrequent, so the whole trip could take up to 2 hours. If you use the 800 yen all-day bus pass it is the cheapest way to get there.
A taxi from Tsuchizaki (Nishi) Cruise Ship Port direct to the church would save you the cross country runaround. The 10.5 km taxi trip will take around 30 minutes and cost around 3500 yen each way.